Leah Lessard

Postdoctoral Fellow


UConn Rudd Center

Research Interests

Despite ongoing efforts to promote equity in education, achievement disparities remain persistent across different groups of students. Interestingly, underperformance is most common among socially marginalized youth, who often lack the academic support and relational capital important to do well in school. Emphasizing the academic value of social relationships, my research focuses on how peer experiences, in particular, affect educational trajectories during adolescence – a developmentally critical time when the stakes associated with achievement rise and many youths fall off track. Driven by interests in both basic psychological processes as well as translational science, my studies specifically address: (1) Why social marginalization increases academic vulnerability; and (2) How certain peer contexts can promote educational resilience among socially marginalized adolescents (e.g., based on social class, race/ethnicity, body weight). By identifying multiple risk and protective factors at different contextual levels (e.g., friendships, school norms), my research offers potential points of intervention to promote inclusion within schools so that all students have the opportunity to succeed. At UConn, I will be working with Dr. Rebecca Puhl to examine mechanisms of reducing weight stigma in the school setting.


Ph.D., UCLA, 2019

Recent Publications

Juvonen, J., Lessard, L.M., Rastogi, R., Schacter, H.L., & Smith, D. (in press). Promoting social inclusion in educational settings: Challenges and opportunities. Educational Psychologist.

Lessard, L.M., & Juvonen., J. (2019). Cross-class friendship and academic achievement in middle school. Developmental Psychology, 55, 1666-1679. doi: 10.1037/dev0000755

Lessard, L.M., & Juvonen., J. (2019). Body weight and academic achievement: the role of weight diversity in urban middle schools. School Psychology, 34, 253-260. doi: 10.1037/spq0000317

Lessard, L.M., Kogachi, K., & Juvonen., J. (2018). Quality and stability of cross-ethnic friendships: Effects of classroom diversity and out-of-school contact. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48, 554-566. doi: 10.1007/s10964-018-0964-9

Lessard, L.M., & Juvonen., J. (2018). Losing and gaining friends: Does friendship instability compromise academic functioning in middle school? Journal of School Psychology, 69, 143-153. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2018.05.003

Juvonen, J., Lessard, L.M., Schacter, H.L., & Enders, C. (2018). The effects of middle school weight climate on youth with high body weight. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29, 466-479. doi: 10.1111/jora.12386

Lessard, L.M., & Juvonen., J. (2018). Friendless youth: Do perceptions of social threat account for their distress and continued friendlessness? Journal of Research on Adolescence, 28, 277-283. doi: 10.1111/jora.12388

Juvonen, J., Lessard, L.M., Schacter, H.L., & Suchilt, L. (2017). Emotional implications of weight stigma across middle school: the role of weight-based peer discrimination. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 46, 150-158. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188703

Lessard, L., Grossman, A., & Syme, M. (2015). Effects of gender and type of praise on task performance among undergraduates. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 20, 11-17.

Contact Information
Phone(860) 380-1212
Mailing AddressOne Constitution Plaza Suite 600 Hartford, CT 06103 United States