35th Annual SFARN Conference
Austin, TX
June 7-8, 2018

Info | Presentations | Speaker Biographies

Dominique Baker, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Education Policy in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and an Associate in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on the way that education policy shapes and influences the access and success of underrepresented students in higher education. She earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.

Katie Berger is a senior policy analyst on Ed Trust’s higher education team, where she develops and advances policies in support of a more equitable system of postsecondary education. Prior to joining Ed Trust, Katie spent five years as a Coordinator for Federal Relations at The University of Texas System where she represented faculty, students, and administrators from across the UT System’s fourteen institutions and was the primary contact for congressional staff and executive branch officials. Before that, Katie was a Public Policy Coordinator at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), where she advocated for state and federal policies aimed at improving college access and success among underserved students. A native Texan, Katie received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin with majors in Government and Plan II Honors. While at UT, Katie participated in the Archer Fellowship Program in Washington, DC and interned with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Ellie Bruecker is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include student loan borrowing and repayment, FAFSA filing, and the impact of high schools on college access.

Valerie Crespín-Trujillo is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research explores how public policies and institutional decision-making impact postsecondary access and outcomes for students at the national, state, and campus levels.

Austin Buchan is the CEO of College Forward, a Texas-based nonprofit whose intensive, culturally-appropriate mentoring programs propel students from underserved backgrounds to collegiate success. Since joining in 2010, Austin has redefined College Forward’s vision to “scale impact without scaling the organization”. He has established long-term partnerships with college and university leaders to build sustainable coaching programs for first-generation, low-income collegians — a model that has grown to serve over 8,000 students throughout Texas. Austin began his career in the midst of the 2008 presidential election, managing strategic initiatives for a political consulting firm based in Boston, MA. Immediately before joining College Forward, Austin directed a non-profit in rural Nicaragua focused on breaking generational poverty through the power of a college degree.

Karen McCarthy is the Director of Policy Analysis at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) Karen began her career in student aid working in the financial aid offices at several large, 4-year institutions, including Boston University, Miami University of Ohio, and The Ohio State University. She began work in what is now NASFAA’ training and regulatory assistance department in 1999 before joining NASFAA’s policy team in 2010. She serves on the Department of Education’s FAFSA Design Team and has served as NASFAA’s representative at negotiating rulemaking sessions, both as a resource for school-based negotiators and as a negotiator herself. She has served as a staff representative on various NASFAA task forces including Reauthorization, Campus-based Allocation Formula, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Graduate and Professional Issues, and R2T4. A native of Massachusetts, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree from The Ohio State University.

Margaret Cahalan is the Vice President for Research and Director of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). Over a 30 year career she has directed numerous large sample surveys and evaluation studies. After working at Westat, Mathematica Policy Research and RTI, she joined the US Department of Education from 2004 to 2011. In this role she served as the Leader for the Secondary, Postsecondary and Cross Cutting Division of the Policy and Program Studies Services (PPSS). In this essay she shares lessons learned from her experience as a supervisor of the Technical Monitors and as the Technical Monitor herself in the final year of the last of three contracts for the long running National Evaluation of Upward Bound.

Kim Dancy is a senior policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She works with the Higher Education Initiative, where she conducts original research and data analysis on higher education issues, including federal funding for education programs, quality assurance, and consumer protection, and provides general data and analytic support. Prior to joining New America, Dancy worked for the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, where her work focused on the use of competency-based education in career and technical fields, as well as the alignment of educational programs with labor market needs. Kim holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University.

Wenhua Di joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in March 2006. Her current research interests include consumer finance, program evaluation and housing. Before she joined the Dallas Fed, she was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. She taught probability and statistics, econometrics, environmental economics, and resource economics. She also worked in the development and research group at the World Bank. She holds a PhD in public policy with a concentration in environmental economics from Harvard University, an MS and a BS from Peking University in China.

Charlotte Etier is the Assistant Director of Research and Grants at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) where she contributes to research and policy needs. Prior to joining NASFAA in the summer of 2014, she worked as the Dallas Martin Endowment Policy Intern at NASFAA, where she contributed to work related to policy and advocacy efforts. Charlotte began her career in higher education as a graduate assistant in the Financial Aid Office at Central Connecticut State University and as a Financial Aid Officer at UConn. She received a master's in student development in higher education at Central Connecticut State University and BS in political science and women’s studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Wendy Erisman, Ph.D., owner of Strix Research LLC, specializes in research, evaluation, and organizational development around efforts to support underserved students in adult and higher education. Dr. Erisman works with foundations, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and postsecondary institutions to help them better understand the needs of underserved students and to develop and evaluate programs aimed at increasing educational access and success. Recent Strix Research projects include evaluations of the Kresge Foundation’s FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant Initiative and the Department of Education’s Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities program.Dr. Erisman formerly worked as a senior research specialist with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Prior to returning to her native Texas, she served as director of research and evaluation at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, DC. In this role, she managed several major evaluation projects — including a multi-year national evaluation of the College Goal Sunday financial aid access program — and led research studies on topics such as college access and success for specific student populations, state higher education policy, and corporate investment in college access and success. Dr. Erisman received her doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, her master's degree in sociology from Yale University, and her bachelor's degree in sociology from Rice University.

Chris Fernandez is a research analyst at Trellis Company, where he studies a variety of topics in higher education policy with a focus on financial aid and financial barriers to access and success. His major projects thus far include leading a qualitative assessment of online student loan counseling as well as work on student loan repayment, financial aid among transfer students, student loan default rates, and the condition of higher education in Texas. Prior to joining Trellis, Chris earned his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College, where he also worked as an admissions coordinator and writing tutor. Chris has also held policy internships at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the US House of Representatives.

Jacklyn John Fischer is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jacklyn's research interests include financial aid policy and college-to-workforce transitions.

Carla Fletcher has worked at Trellis Company since 2005 in the Research Department and currently is a Senior Research Analyst. She has helped develop and maintain numerous public policy reports, including the State of Student Aid and Higher Education in Texas, the School Fact Sheets, and analyses of the risk factors for dropping out of college. She has also developed reports and online tools related to student loan debt to income ratios, FAFSA completion, and the efficacy of student loan counseling. Before Trellis Company, Carla worked as a Researcher in the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Carla earned her master’s degree from Texas State University – San Marcos.

Kevin Fudge works with policy makers, state agencies and non-profit organizations to improve college access, college completion rates and successful higher education debt management through raising public awareness about the intricacies of the college financing process and championing all pathways in post-secondary education. As a diligent advocate for consumers in the national conversation about student loan debt and higher education policy, he provides innovative research and insightful analysis of federal student aid and workforce development trends to elected officials, secondary school administrators, higher education professionals, and think tanks. Kevin holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard University.

Nicholas Hillman is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is also a faculty affiliate in the LaFollette School of Public Affairs and co-chairs Madison’s Scholars Strategy Network. Professor Hillman’s research examines how state and federal policies affect postsecondary outcomes, namely around issues of college access and affordability.

Kasey Klepfer is a Research Analyst for Trellis Research, a department of Trellis Company (formerly TG,, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that supports students, families, institutions, and communities through research, outreach, and philanthropy programs. Kasey earned his Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas 5 years ago, and has been working for Trellis Research ever since. Kasey is dedicated to increasing the educational opportunities and attainment of traditionally underserved populations through data-driven policies and best practices. He is currently the project lead for the Student Financial Wellness Survey.

Abby Miller is a founding partner at ASA Research, LLC, an educational research firm located in Bethesda, MD. She has more than 15 years of experience directing and conducting research related to postsecondary education access and success. Her areas of interest and expertise include low-income and first-generation students, nontraditional student pathways, financial aid, and the college-to-workforce transition. Abby previously worked in senior research positions at Coffey Consulting, JBL Associates, and The Pell Institute. She holds a master’s degree in education policy and leadership with a concentration in higher education from the University of Maryland, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis.

Jeff Miller is a Senior Analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). He is a member of the Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, and his higher education work has covered student loan borrower participation in income-driven repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, service members who receive interest rate caps on their student loans, the characteristics of online education, and college textbook affordability. While at GAO, he has also conducted quantitative and qualitative research on the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers, Workforce Investment Act outcome measures, Head Start, D.C. Public Schools, Hurricane Katrina housing recovery, and the Federal Housing Administration. Before joining GAO, he worked as a statistician for the Internal Revenue Service’s Statistics of Income (SOI) division. He holds a B.S. in Statistics from Virginia Tech and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from George Washington University.

Laura Perna is James S. Riepe Professor and Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania. Using varied methodological approaches, her research focuses on identifying how social structures, educational practices, and public policies promote and limit college access and success, particularly for groups that continue to be underrepresented in higher education.

Eleanor Eckerson Peters is a research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), where she is a member of the policy research team. Her research interests include college access and affordability; student outcomes; and federal higher education policy. Prior to joining IHEP, Peters was a research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Her work on IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative focused on supporting students with dependent children who are pursuing postsecondary credentials, such as by improving access to quality on-campus child care. Before shifting to higher education policy, Peters worked to elevate teachers’ voices in state and national K-12 policy conversations and to improve access to educational opportunities that lead to college success for underserved students in Boston. Peters earned an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in women’s studies from The George Washington University. She holds a B.A. in women’s studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

David Radwin is a senior research associate in the Education and Workforce Development division of RTI International. As the analysis and dissemination task director for the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) under contract to the U.S. Department of Education, Mr. Radwin oversees reporting and supports item development, data review, and quality assurance. He is currently working on NCES publications comparing outcomes of transfer students to students who start at 4-year institutions and examining patterns of Free Application for Federal Student Aid submissions across states and over time. In 2018, he helped research and develop a financial aid reform proposal for the state of California. Previously, Mr. Radwin worked as an institutional research analyst at the University of California, Berkeley.

Amanda Janice Roberson is a senior research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), where she is a member of the policy research team. Her research interests include college access, affordability and success; using data to inform policy and practice; and federal higher education policy. Much of her work at IHEP centers on postsecondary data, metrics, and infrastructure, including contributions to the postsecondary metrics framework. Prior to joining IHEP, Amanda served as the assistant director for the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria, managing the scholarship program, assisting students with college financial aid, and tracking outcomes of program participants. This position sparked a passion for college access and success for low-income and underserved students. Amanda earned her M.P.A. from the George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and B.A. in political science, both from Ohio University.

Jamey Rorison is a senior research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), where he is a member of the policy research team. He manages the organization’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery (RADD) project and provides support for other initiatives related to postsecondary data and metrics. Rorison’s research interests include: college access, choice, and affordability; federal, state, and institutional financial aid policy; higher-education finance; and using data to inform higher education policy and practice. Prior to joining IHEP, Rorison was a research associate with the Institute for Research on Higher Education and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, where he worked on a five-state case-study project examining the relationship between state- and institution-level policies and higher education performance. Rorison earned his Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation focused on the ways in which students from low-income families use financial aid and other resources to persist through bachelor’s degree completion. Rorison also holds a master’s degree in higher education and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

Amrita Sen is a Senior Analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). She works for the Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, where her higher education experience has included working on Congressional requests related to borrower interest rates for federal student loans and state funding trends and policies for higher education affordability. While at GAO, she has also conducted quantitative and qualitative research on retirement savings, state workforce systems, federal budget and government operations, and the criminal justice system. Before joining GAO, she researched international worker protection issues in the nonprofit sector. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from American University.

PJ Tabit is a supervisory policy analyst in the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, DC. His work is primarily focused on auto finance, student loans, and credit scoring. PJ holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Scranton and master’s degrees from the George Washington University and Northwestern University. He is the chair of the board of directors of the Wiki Education Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit, and a member of the University of Scranton alumni advisory board.

Jessica Thompson leads TICAS’ work on Pell Grants and other grant aid, education tax benefits, higher education data issues, simplifying the federal financial aid application process, and improving tools to help students make wise choices about costs and debt. Before joining TICAS, Jessica spent six years as a higher education policy analyst for the University of Washington, focused on national, state and institutional funding and policy issues. Additionally, she has worked on policy and administrative problems related to energy assistance, homelessness, and mental health. She received her MPA with a focus in Public Policy from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU, and her BA in Psychology from the University of Southern California.

Lindsay K. Wayt, Ph.D., is an assistant director of research and policy analysis at the National Association for College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Lindsay works on NACUBO’s annual tuition discounting study of private, non-profit four-year institutions; an annual student financial services benchmarking report; and other studies on higher education finance issues. Previously, she was a graduate research associate at the American Council on Education. Prior to working at higher education associations, Lindsay completed her doctoral work focused on educational leadership and higher education. In addition, she has experience working in student affairs (advising, planning, and teaching for a learning community that served a large population of low-income, first generation, and/or minority students) and several years of teaching experience at the secondary level.

Jeff Webster has worked for TG since 1986 and now holds the position of Director of Research. Jeff has overseen numerous studies on student loan default, debt burden, student retention, and the demand for student aid. His area pioneered the use of predictive modeling to improve student loan default prevention efforts and developed the first consumer facing tool to show student debt-to-income ratios by major by institution. Jeff has presented to many groups including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission.

Josh Winters is a senior consumer financial services analyst in the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, DC. His work is primarily focused on providing data analytics support to the division in the form of statistics, machine learning, natural language processing and data visualization. Current projects include work on studying economic and financial conditions of low-moderate income communities and consumers. Josh holds a MS in Business Analytics from The George Washington University and is avid supporter of all things data science at the Board.

Jeremy Wright is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (Penn AHEAD). He previously worked in a variety of administrative roles supporting first-generation and low-income students in the Chicagoland area. He completed his master's in education at Bowling Green State University.

Mika Yamashita is a senior researcher and data analyst at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, Council for Opportunity in Education. She is a program evaluator and worked as both internal and external evaluator of college access and other social services programs.