University of South Floroda College of Education
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Faculty Research Profiles: Sarah Kiefer

Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, Program Coordinator

Phone: 813-974-0155

Psychological and Social Foundations
4202 E. Fowler Avenue EDU105
Tampa, FL 33620

Research Biography

Dr. Sarah Kiefer is an assistant professor in Educational Psychology in the College of Education. Her work specializes in adolescent motivation and development and focuses on the transition in and out of the middle school. Her research focuses on supporting the adolescent learner by examining the interplay between social and academic factors at school. Kiefer has three active and interrelated strands of research: (a) adolescents’ academic and social motivation, how it develops over time, and how it relates to social, psychological, and academic adjustment; (b) adolescents’ help-seeking beliefs and behaviors; and (c) fostering developmentally responsive learning environments. In order to support students’ transition in and out of the middle school, enhance students’ motivation, and foster adaptive help-seeking beliefs and behaviors, it is important to understand adolescents’ developmental needs and to provide developmentally responsive learning environments. Kiefer’s main research goal is to increase researchers’ and practitioners’ understanding of motivation during early adolescence in order to help all students function well socially, be engaged in school, and perform up to their academic potential.

Kiefer earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois. Even though a relatively new faculty member, Kiefer has published in some of the leading journals for educational psychologists, including Developmental Psychology and The Journal of Educational Psychology. She presents regularly withover 25 national conference presentations focused on young adolescent motivation, help-seeking beliefs and behaviors, and developmentally responsive learning environments.


  • 2007 Ph.D., Educational Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • 2003 M.A., Educational Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


  • Miller, J., Kiefer, S. M., Kohlburn, J., Linder, P., & Rowe, W. (2010). ArtPASS: Positive Approach to School Success: Teaching academic and socio-emotional self-regulation skills to youth transitioning to middle school utilizing a standards-based art curriculum. Institute for Education Sciences Grant Application. US Department of Education.
  • Kiefer, S. M. (2010). Perceptions of the learning environment: Relations with young adolescents’ motivation, engagement, and school belongingness. USF New Researcher Grant.
  • Kiefer, S. M. (2008). Striving for social dominance over peers: Implications for relational self-worth during early adolescence. USF Mini-Grant.

Selected Publications

  • Ojanen, T., & Kiefer, S. M. (in press). Instrumental and reactive functions and overt and relational forms of aggression: Trajectories and longitudinal associations during middle school. International Journal of Behavioral Development.
  • Ellerbrock, C. R.,& Kiefer, S. M. (2013). Extending a community of care beyond the ninth grade: A follow up study. The Journal of Educational Research, 106(4), 319-331. doi: 10.1080/ 00220671.2012.692728
  • Kiefer, S. M., Matthews, Y., Montesino, M., Arango, L., & Preece, K. (2013). The effects of contextual and personal factors on young adolescents’ social goals. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(1), 1-24. doi:10.1080/00220973.2011.630046
  • Shim, S. S., Kiefer, S. M., & Wang, C. (2013). Help-seeking amongst peers: The role of goal structure and peer climate. The Journal of Educational Research, 106(4), 290-300. doi:10.1080/ 00220671.2012.692733
  • Kiefer, S. M. & Ellerbrock, C. R. (2012). Caring and fun: Fostering an adolescent-centered community within an interdisciplinary team. Middle Grades Research Journal, 7(3), 1-17.
  • Jones, M. H., Audley-Piotrowski, S. R., & Kiefer, S. M. (2011). Perceptions of friends' academic and social behaviors, academic self-concept, and math performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 19-31.doi:10.1037/a0025596
  • Kiefer, S. M., & Ryan, A. M. (2011). Perceptions of characteristics associated with social success: Changes over time during early adolescence. The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 218-226. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2011.05.002
  • Kiefer, S. M., & Ellerbrock, C. (2010). Relationships matter: Supporting young adolescents’ student-student relationships and perceptions of the peer world through interdisciplinary teaming. Middle School Journal, 48-54.
  • Ellerbrock, C., & Kiefer, S. M. (2010). Creating a ninth grade community of care.Journal of Educational Research, 103, 393-406.
  • Ryan, A. M., Shim, S. S., Lampkins uThandi, S., Kiefer, S. M., & Thompson, G. (2009).  Do Gender Differences in Help Avoidance Vary by Race?:  An Examination of European American and African American Students During Early Adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 45(4), 1152-1163.
  • Kiefer, S. M., & Ryan, A. M. (2008).  Striving for social dominance over peers: The implications for academic adjustment during early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 417-428.

Areas of Interest/Expertise

  • Adolescence
  • Middle School/Jr. High
  • Primary/Elementary
  • Multiple Methods
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quantitative Research
  • Motivation
  • In-service Teachers
  • Pre-service Teachers
  • Teacher Beliefs