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EPOL Department - Student Spotlight

Meet our EPOL Graduate Students!

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  • Gina Karlin

    Gina is pursuing an Ed.D in EPOL with a concentration in Global Studies. She is an experienced educator with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education industry. Her research is focused on international education policies and access to higher education for underserved communities. 

  • Aaron Schlessman (he/him)

    Aaron is a doctoral candidate in EPOL with a concentration in Diversity and Equity. He has nearly 20 years of experience in training and education, first as a training supervisor with the U.S. Navy then as a high school teacher, administrator, and instructional leader. Academically, he has completed all coursework and exams and has moved into the disseration phase. His primary interest is in establishing clear guideposts that can help to operationalize anti-racism for classroom teachers so they have a path to follow to ensure that their approach with all students is as racially equitable as possible. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Denice Ward Hood 

    Expected Graduation Year: 2023

    Academic Background: 

    B.A. Justice Studies - Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois

    M.Ed. Educational Policy, Organization, & Leadership - University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

    Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/aschlessman

  • Yaning Cao

    Yaning Cao is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. Her concentration is Global Studies and her research is in international higher education collaboration. Her work experience in a one joint-venture university in China leads her to consider efficient ways for higher education institutes to collaborate and in what ways education policy can benefit students to become global citizens in the future.

  • Nakisha Griffin, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, ACC

    Nakisha Griffin is an EDD student in the Human Resource Development concentration in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership.  She has over fifteen years of human resources leadership experience with a specialization in recruitment strategy, workforce planning, and organizational development. Her research interests are building world class human capital functions within startup organizations, connecting people and business strategies, and leadership team dynamics. Nakisha has over fifteen years of human resources leadership experience. She currently serves as the Head of Human Resources for Neustar Security Services based in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan. 

    Advisor: Wen-Hao (David) Huang

    Expected Year of Graduation: May 2026

    Educational Background:

    M.P.S.  in Human Resource Management,  University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

    B.S. of Management Science,  Kean University, Union, NJ

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nakishagriffin/

     

  • Erich Stolz Spencer, EdD, MBA (he/him)

    Hello, I am Erich Stolz Spencer and I am a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Human Resources Development and Diversity & Equity in Education. My intended research focuses on exploring the barriers to equitable development and performance management in our current workplace. Specifically, how does our current definition of effective talent development and performance rating systems exclude individuals that are traditionally underserved? As part of this, I would like to examine the traditional methods of talent development, and if these methods are rooted in bias not already identified. Professionally I currently lead Global Diversity & Inclusion for a large healthcare technology organization and I have previously taught Human Resources in the Health Services Management program at the University of Minnesota. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Jessica (Jie) Li

    Expected Graduation Year: 2025

    Academic Background:

    EdD (in progress) Education Policy, Organization & Leadership – Human Resources Development / Diversity & Equity in Education – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - est. 2025

    MBA - Marketing - University of Toledo - 2009

    BBA - Human Resouces - University of Toledo - 2008

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erich-stolz-spencer/ 

  • Thong M. Trinh, PhD (he, him)

    Thong M. Trinh is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education. His research focus is higher education policy with a focus on finance. Thong has published in the areas of student willingness to pay, university budgeting and related topics of higher education policy.

    Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Delaney

    Expected Graduation Year: 2027

    Academic Background: 

    • PhD (2022-Present) Education Policy, Organization & Leadership – Higher Education – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
    • MSc in Business Analysis and Consulting – University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom - 2022
    • BSc International Business - Banking Academy of Vietnam - 2019

    Websites:

    Homepage, Google Scholar

  • Tiffany P. White-LaPierre

    Tiffany is a doctoral student in EPOL with a concentration in Human Resource Development. She is working on her dissertation where she intends to explore the perceptions of former students on their undergraduate internship experience within parks, recreation, tourism, and related professions. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Jessica Li 

    Expected Graduation Year: 2023

    Academic Background: 

    BS Recreation, Sport, and Tourism - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    MS Sports Managerment - American Public University 

    MA Management (Human Resource Management concentration) - American Public University

    Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tiffanypwhite/ 

  • Ryan Medina (he/him)

    Ryan Medina is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership with a concentration in Philosophy of Education. His research interests revolve around epistemic injustice and the role of education in mitigating that. 

    Advisor: Dr. Nicholas Burbules

    Anticipated Graduation: 2027

    Academic Background

    Ph.D., (in progress) Education Policy, Organization and Leadership - University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    M.A., Education - California State University, Sacramento

    B.A., Philosophy -  California State University, Sacramento

    LinkedIn: Ryan Medina

  • Derek Meyer, EdD (he, him, his)

    Derek Meyer is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Global Studies in Education and a graduate minor in Gender Relations in International Development. Derek’s research focuses on connections between China Studies, Chinese education policy, comparative US-China ethnicity studies, gender studies, DEI in higher education, and the internationalization of higher education. Derek currently serves as the Senior Manager of International Affairs at Westlake University in Hangzhou, China where he leads international recruitment and admissions for PhD programs and undergraduate study abroad programs.

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Allison Witt

    Expected Graduation Year: 2025

    Academic Background:

    EdD (in progress) Education Policy, Organization & Leadership – Global Studies in Education – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    EdM Education Policy, Organization & Leadership – Global Studies in Education – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - 2019

    B.A. International Relations – Kent State University – 2016

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/derek-meyer-德瑞-96809447/

     

  • Kelsey W. Knutson, Ed.D Student (she/her)

    Program of Study, Research Interests & Professional Profile:

    Kelsey Knutson is a doctoral student of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, concentrating in Global Education and Diversity and Equity at the University of Illinois. Kelsey's continued research and studies center on inequities in access to digital learning, teacher-student relationships and the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender, grading bias in multicultural and multiracial classrooms, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and sustainable international education policy. Kelsey has recently entered the world of education consulting and is in a 6-month doctoral internship for the education sector of the U.N., specifically the Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems and Teacher Development departments, at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. Kelsey is a full-time social studies teacher, D.E.I. facilitator and coordinator, and newly appointed travel and foreign exchange director in Phoenix.

    Advisor: Dr. Hyun-Sook Kang

    Expected Graduation: 2025

    Academic Background:

    • Ed.D., (In-progress) Global Studies; Diversity & Equity, in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
    • M.Ed., Education, Arizona State University, 2016
    • B.A., Global Studies: Human Rights & Justice; Spanish, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, 2013

    LinkedIn: /kelseyknutson or Kelsey W. Knutson's LinkedIn

  • Corinne Smith (she/her)

    Corinne Smith is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership with a concentration in Diversity and Equity in Education. Her research interests focus on the intersectional identities of rural and small-town students and the college access barriers many of them face. Corinne currently serves as an Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University. Previously, she worked in undergraduation admissions as well as athletic advising at Northwestern University. Recently, Corinne co-authored a book called the College Essay Journal, which helps students brainstorm and write their college applications. 

    Advisor: Sharon Lee

    Expected Graduation: 2024

    Academic Background:

    Ed.D. (in progress) Education Policy, Organization & Leadership | University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    M.S. Higher Education Administration and Policy | Northwestern University

    B.A. Political Science and Sociology | Northwestern University

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/corinnesmith13/

    Website: https://www.collegeessayjournal.com/

  • Gariel Pierce

    Gariel Pierce is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Social Sciences and Education Policy. Her focus of research is on the school to prison pipeline with an emphasis on holistic principles and practices.

    Driven by passion and experience, Gariel believes all students deserve an equitable education in a nurturing environment. Currently she is a joyful fourth grade teacher.

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Bernice Barnett

    Anticipated Graduation: 2026

    Academic Background:

    Ph.D., Education Policy, Organization & Leadership | University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

    M.Ed., Teaching & Learning | Francis Marion University

    B.A., Elementary Education | Blackburn College

  • Christine (Chrissy) Steffen (she/her/hers)

    Chrissy is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education. Her specific focus of research is on mental health and student engagement among Division I student-athletes. Chrissy currently serves as an Academic Advisor in the College of Health & Human Services at Bowling Green State University. Previously, she was an Academic Counselor in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at Illinois for 3 years after a 2.5 year stint at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Academic Advisor in Athletics.

    AdvisorDr. Denice Hood

    Anticipated Graduation: 2025

    Academic Background:

    Ph.D. (in progress), Education Policy, Organization & Leadership | University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    M.S. Recreation & Sport Management | University of Tennessee, Knoxville

    B.S. Secondary Mathematics Education | Bowling Green State University

    LinkedIn: Chrissy Steffen

  • Shamez Mukhi

    I am pursuing Ed.D in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Diversity & Equity. My Ed.D research will focus on the role of the civil society in providing underprivileged children (in poverty) equitable access to primary education in Pakistan. I am based in Karachi and work for a private university as Director Student Life.

    Advisor: Jon Hale

    Expected Graduation: 2024

    Academic Background:

    MA. Global Diplomacy - SOAS, University of London, England

    MSc. in Computer Science - University of Kent, England

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shamez-mukhi-b5226212/ 

  • Tasia Fields

    Tasia is an online doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Diversity and Equity. Her research interest includes Best Practices of Equity Directors in a K-12 setting. 

    Currently, Tasia is the Director of Equity and Inclusion for Waukegan Public Schools and an adjunct professor for the College of Lake County.  Education has always been her passion, she founded a website called Great Minds TEACH Alike where she writes and offers consulting services. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Denice Hood 

    Expected Graduation Year: 2023

    Academic Background: 

    Ed.D., Student, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Ed.S., Educational Leadership, National Louis University M.Ed., Curriculum & Instruction, Concordia University Chicago B.A., Elementary Education, Western Michigan University 

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tasiafields

    Website: www.greatmindsteachalike.com

  • Bethanie Couri, EdD (She/Her)

    Bethanie Couri is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership with a concentration in Human Resource Development at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Bethanie's research interest involves the increase millennial turnover rate. 

    Advisor: Dr. Jessica Li

    Expected Date of Graduation: May 2024

    Academic Background:

    MBA | Bradley University

    M.S. in Marketing | Bradley University

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethanie-couri-mba-666b25b7/

  • Paapa Nkrumah-Ababio

    Paapa Nkrumah-Ababio is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership with a double concentration in Global Studies in Education and Social Science and Education Policy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Paapa's research interest lay in the intersections of education and national development in African countries centered around literacy, citizenship, human development, and educational funding issues using quantitative research methods. Paapa is an international student from Accra, Ghana and is driven in his doctoral journey by the desire to bring a world-class education to the doorstep of every African child.

    Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Hinze-Pifer

    Expected Graduation: 2025

    Academic Background:

    Ph.D. student, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana Champaign

    M.S. Ed., Higher Education and Student Affairs, Baylor University, Texas

    B.S., Petroleum Engineering, Marietta College, Ohio

    LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/paapa-nkrumahababio

  • Alicia L. Ross, ABD (She/hers)

    I am a doctoral candidate excited about the experiences I have had at UIUC. My research focuses on DEI in international education and leadership. I have presented at several conferences including NAFSA (Nat&Reg), IEI, HEI Butterfly, LINKS Incorporated. My volunteer experiences include AERA, NAFSA, IEI, UNDP, UIUC-GSC, and Alumni Club(s) of University of Chicago.

    Teaching Assistant: Communications Department-Public Speaking

    Publication: "Digital Divide In Developing Countries". GIMPA Journal, Ghana.

    Certifications: Learning Design Leadership (LDL)

    LinkedIn Profile

    Inspiring Others

  • Aidana Sirgebayeva (she), PhD Student

    Aidana is a full time PhD student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education. Her research interests focused on internationalization of universities, autonomous higher education institutes. She has worked in university settings for eight years. 

    Academic Background:

    PhD Student, Higher Education, EPOL, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

    MSc in Educational Leadership, Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan

    BEd., Foreign Languages, Abay Kazakh National Pedagogical University, Kazakhstan

    Advisor: Dr Rebecca Taylor

    Expected Year of Graduation: 2028

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aidanasirgebayeva-16b768135/

     

  • Kristy Krisher, EdD

    Kristy is an online doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Human Resource Development. Her research areas of interest center around Career Development. She has worked in HR for eight years and has recently transitioned to a new role as the Associate Director of Employer Relations and Internship Development at Monmouth College in Monmouth, IL. 

    She is also a published author of three women's and new adult contemporary fiction novels.

    Academic Background:

    EdD, Student, Organization & Leadership, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

    M.P.A., Public Administration, the University of Illinois at Springfield

    B.A., Psychology, Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.

    Post-Baccalaurette Certificate, Health Services Administration, Western Illinois University

    SHRM-SCP Senior certified human resources professional

    Expected graduation year: 2023

    Links:

    LinkedIn: Kristy Krisher, MPA, SHRM-SCP - Associate Director for Employer Relations and Internship Development - Monmouth College | LinkedIn 

    Website: https://kristyleeauthor.com 

  • Kelly Searsmith, BA (English & Psychology); MA, PhD (English); EdM (Higher Education)

    Kelly Searsmith is a doctoral student in EPOL (Higher Education) whose advocacy research focuses on the inclusion and success of diverse people with disabilities in higher education, especially neurodiversity with a special focus on autism and mental health concerns. She is autistic and the parent of a successful autistic son. Her other research interests include incorporating humanities and creative modes of knowledge production and expression across the disciplines and the organization and ethics of research administration.

    Advisor: Bill Cope

    Member: AERA, AHEAD, NCURA

    Connections: ORCID, LinkedIn

  • Taylor Masamitsu (he/they), Ed.M.

    Taylor is a PhD student in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. He studies the dislocating rhetoric that affects queer Asian American students. 

     

    PhD, Social Sciences and Education Policy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    EdM, Diversity and Equity in Education, Unviersity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    MA, Vocal Music Education, Columbia University, Teachers College

    BFA, Vocal Performance, California Institute of the Arts

     

    Advisor: Dr. Yoon Pak

    Expected Year of Graduation: 2025

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taylor-masamitsu-edm-799b6586/

    Website: taylormasamitsu.com 

    Current CV

  • Jenny Rowell, M.Ed. (she/her)

    Jenny is an online doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Learning Design and Leadership with emphasis in e-learning in higher education. She joined the New Students Programs department at UIUC in 2022 where she supports the development of new student programming and activities. Her research interests are e-learning, cultural competence, study abroad, and learning ecologies. 

    Her previous work experience allowed her to live internationally for almost a decade. This inspired her passion for working with students to enhance their learning experiences, deepen their cultural awareness and improve their cultural competence. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Bill Cope

    Expected Graduation Year: 2026

    Academic Background: 

    Ed.D. Student, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

    M.Ed., International Higher Education, Loyola University Chicago

    BBA,  Human Resources Management, Loyola University Chicago

    LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-rowell-735a2111/

     

  • Billy Green, M.Ed. (he/him/his)

    Billy is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership with a concentration in Learning Design and Leadership. His research interests include effective professional development for teachers in educational technology, effective staff support in K-12 educational technology implementation and game-based technologies.

    Billy currently works as the Director of Technology at Liberty Local Schools in Youngstown, Ohio. Prior to the Director of Technology position, he was a fourth grade teacher, also at Liberty Local Schools. 

    Graduate Advisor: Dr. Bill Cope

    Expected Graduation Year: 2024

    Academic Background:

    B.S., Early Childhood Education, Youngstown State University, 2017

    M.Ed., Learning and Technology, Western Governors University, 2018

    M.S., Special Education (K-12), Western Governors University, 2019

    LinkedIn: Profile

     

  • Tammy Orahood

    Tammy is a doctoral student in Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Global Studies in Education. Her research interest focuses on cultures of learning in higher education. She is currently the Director of Global Programs for the Brown School at WashU.

    She has experience in global education, having published, taught, and presented at numerous conferences on study abroad and career development, globalization, global competency and comparative education. 

    Advisor: Allison Witt

    Expected Graduation: 2023

    Academic Background:

    • EdD (in progress), EPOL, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign A.,
    • International Affairs, American University A.,
    • International Studies/ French, Bradley University

    LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tammy-orahood-a6a17420