Jason T. Downer

Professor of Education; Program Area Director, Clinical and School Psychology; Director, CASTL

  • Ph.D., University of South Carolina-Columbia, 2003
  • M.A., University of South Carolina, 2001
  • B.A., University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, 1996
Why I Became A Psychologist

I was driven to become a psychologist by a desire to help others and in particular those vulnerable children and youth who may experience educational inequities. What stood out to me early in this pursuit were the limits to traditional clinical psychology with its focus on psychopathology and intensive, one-on-one interventions, rather than on promotion of well-being through setting-level changes. Given that schools have a significant contextual influence on children’s development and well-being, I believe that psychologists should be actively engaged in understanding, supporting, and enhancing classroom and school contexts to help youth reach their full potential. This places a high priority on studying and implementing interventions that sit at the intersection of school psychology, developmental science, and education, with an explicit emphasis on prevention and promotion. My attention has been on the prek-elementary school period, when academic and social-emotional skills are tightly coupled. I am particularly focused on the potential of teachers as key agents of change to influence sustained, longer-term impacts on the trajectories of at-risk youth.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

As program director, I am committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, with the goal of providing an enriched, supportive climate for all members of our learning community. It is important to me that the program promotes an open dialogue about culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, disability, among other identities; I see this as critical to producing the next generation of mental health leaders who bring cultural humility to their scholarship and practice. In my own line of work, I am passionate about understanding the diversity of experiences that students have within classrooms – as just one example, does teacher-student racial-ethnic match contribute to a student’s classroom opportunities and success?  I am also interested in studying universal, mental health promotion efforts in schools that foster social-emotional skills of all students. In particular, how do we train and support teachers so that they can connect with their full range of students, including those from historically marginalized groups? In your graduate application, please share with me the ways that you could see us working together to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools.

Dr. Downer will be accepting a student to start Fall 2023 in the Clinical and School Psychology program.

View CASTL's Early Childhood Initiatives


    Select Publications

    • Rucinski, C.*, Sutton, E.*, Carlton, R.*, Downer, J., & Brown, J. (in press). Classroom racial/ethnic diversity and elementary students’ academic, social and emotional development. Applied Developmental Science.
    • Downer, J.T., Williford, A., Bulotsky-Shearer, R., Vitiello, V., Bouza, J.*, Reilly, S.*, & Lhospital, A. (2018). Using data-driven, video-based early childhood consultation with teachers to reduce children’s challenging behaviors and improve engagement in preschool classrooms. School Mental Health, 10, 226-242.
    • Sabol, T.*, Bohlmann, N., & Downer, J. (2018). Low-income children’s engagement as a predictor of school readiness above and beyond preschool classroom quality. Child Development, 89, 556-576.
    • Downer, J.T., Goble, P., Myers, S., & Pianta, R.C. (2016). Teacher-child racial/ethnic match within pre-kindergarten classrooms and children's early school adjustment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 37, 26-38.
    • Downer, J. T., Stuhlman, M., Schweig, J.*, Martinez, J. F., & Ruzek, E. (2015). Measuring effective teacher-student interactions from a student perspective: A multi-level analysis. Journal of Early Adolescence, 35, 722-758.
    • Downer, J. T., Lopez, M. L., Grimm, K., Hamagami, A., Pianta, R. C., & Howes, C. (2012). Observations of teacher-child interactions in classrooms serving Latinos and dual language learners: Applicability of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System in diverse settings. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 21-32.

    Active Research Projects

    • RULER - IES-funded randomized controlled trial of emotion-focused, universal social-emotional learning approach in 60 K-6 schools
    • 4Rs+MTP - IES-funded randomized controlled trial of social-emotional curriculum paired with video-based coaching in 60 elementary schools
    • P2K - NIH-funded longitudinal study of children's development from preschool through kindergarten