Students in our pioneering PEN program gain state-of-the-art Cognitive Neuroscience training in how humans learn, with a special strength in the neuroplasticity of visually guided learning processes. While Cognitive Neuroscience includes studies of learning and higher cognitive processes across the lifespan, its sister discipline, Educational Neuroscience, includes intensive study of five core domains that are crucial in early childhood learning, including language and bilingualism, reading and literacy, math and numeracy, science and critical thinking (higher cognition), social and emotional learning, and includes study of action and visual processing. PEN students become expert in one of the world’s cutting-edge neuroimaging methods in the discipline of Cognitive Neuroscience (e.g., fNIRS, EEG, fMRI, and beyond), study Neuroethics, gain strong critical analysis and reasoning skills in science, and develop expertise in one of the core content areas of learning identified above. While becoming experts in both contemporary neuroimaging and behavioral experimental science, students also learn powerful, meaningful, and principled ways that science can be translated for the benefit of education and society today.

This doctoral program is a research-focused program where students develop a specific research focus, conducting supervised research within their mentor’s lab as well as developing their own lines of research through independent research projects. Students accepted into the program receive four years of funding as follows: tuition scholarship for up to the domestic rate + $25,200 annual stipend + health insurance option.

Students benefit from access to in-house, research-dedicated neuroimaging facilities where students can also choose to become certified in fNIRS (functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy), one of the world’s most advanced neuroimaging technologies. Students graduate from the program prepared to become groundbreaking scientists!

The PEN program opened its doors to the first class of Ph.D. students in Fall 2013. This is Gallaudet’s first interdisciplinary Ph.D. program and has its administrative home in Gallaudet University’s National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning, VL2. Learn more about VL2 and its cognitive neuroscience and translational labs, all of which provide PEN students with unparalleled lab research experience and opportunities.

Deadline to apply for this program: February 15, 2023 (Early applications will be considered)

Areas of Study


Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience (PEN)

The Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) was founded at Gallaudet University by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (Chair, PEN Steering Committee) and Dr. Melissa Herzig (Assistant Program Director, PEN). Students in...

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Action & Brain Lab

The Action & Brain Lab (ABL), founded by Dr. Lorna Quandt, investigates how sign language impacts spatial processing and how action-related and language-related brain systems interact within the context of signed language. We also investigate the neural substrates of action perception related to visual language...

Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab (CAN)

In the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (CAN) Lab at Gallaudet University, we understand complex learning processes and improve educational outcomes for deaf and hearing children by developing flexible and implementable educational strategies based on research. We investigate the cognitive and affective processes that influence learning...

Motion Light Lab (ML2)

Motion Light Lab (ML2) is an award-winning research and development lab housed at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Our focus is on a variety of ASL-centered projects ranging from bilingual storybook apps to 3D digital avatars. Creative literature + digital technology = the ML2 formula!

Numeracy and Educational Neuroscience Lab (NENS)

NENS investigates the cognitive and neural foundations of numeracy and how the use of a visual language from birth can support the acquisition of early number skills. NENS examines how humans process exact numerical information, how children learn numbers and become proficient in arithmetical operations,...

Petitto Brain and Language Center for Neuroimaging (BL2)

The state-of-the-art Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2) was founded and is led by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, the Science Director and Co-Principal Investigator of the Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University. The Center features one of the world’s most...


PEN students benefit from Gallaudet University’s local university consortium, which provides students access to courses taught in the Washington, D.C. area. PEN students also have access to a national network of more than 20 cognitive neuroscience labs throughout the world, through formal Memoranda of Understanding.

In the BL2, students can choose to become certified in one of the world's most advanced neuroimaging technologies that is suited for the study of young children and individuals across the lifespan, fNIRS (functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy).

Faculty and Staff

Caroline Solomon

Dean, Faculty

Rachel Pizzie

Assistant Professor

Lorna Quandt

Associate Professor

Bradley White

Senior Research Manager

Crystal Padilla

Research Services Coordinator

Melissa Malzkuhn

Director, Motion Light Lab

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Educational Neuroscience

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