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EPOL Department - Student Spotlight
Diversity & Equity

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  • Judith Kom Nguiffo

    Judith is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership with a concentration in Diversity and Equity in Education. Her research interests include access to equitable computer science education for minority students, immigrant students' achievement, and teachers' working conditions. Her work involves program evaluation, survey design and delivery, management of large datasets, and data analysis to support policymaking.

    Advisor: Dr. Curtis Mason

    Expected Graduation: 2025

    Educational Background:

    • EdD (in progress) – Educational Policy, Organization & Leadership – Educational Administration and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign 
    • Certificate (2016)- Education Policy and Program Evaluation, Georgetown University
    • MS (2006)- Economics and Statistical Engineering, ENSEA Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
    • Bs (2003) – Statistics, ENSEA Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire


  • Nina Frye, M.Ed (she/her)

    Nina is a doctoral candidate in the EPOL department’s Diversity and Equity in Education program. She is the proud wife to Thomas and mother to Winola (8), Maybelle (6), and Barrett (4). A 16-year veteran educator, Nina teaches Language Arts at Urbana Middle School. She strives to empower her students, especially those from historically marginalized groups. Nina’s research interests include encouraging student voice within the classroom, investigating the efficacy of workshop pedagogy, and promoting antiracist ideologies among preservice and practicing teachers. Upon graduation, Nina will continue teaching and begin amateur rock tumbling. 

  • Kelly Fishman, MEd

    Kelly Fishman is a doctoral student in the Education Policy, Organization, & Leadership program with a focus on Diversity & Equity in Education who is being mentored by advisor Dr. Curtis Mason. Her research focuses on sense of belonging in high school, black, male, special education students. She is currently the Anti-Defamation League's Education Director for Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, & Western Pennsylvania where she utilizes her more than a decade of experience as a pulic high school teacher to help schools implement anti-bias and anti-bullying programming for students of all ages. She plans to graduate in 2023. LinkedIn

  • Mario D. Marquez, MPA

    Mario D. Marquez is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership, with a concentration in Diversity and Equity, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mario is currently a Management Analyst with the District of Columbia Government. He previously served an adult school in Washington, DC where he oversaw dual-enrollment, workforce development, career coaching, and alumni services. A native of the Inland Empire, Mario earned a Master of Public Administration from California State University, San Bernardino, and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and Sociology from the University of California, Riverside. He spent the early stages of his career supporting college access programs, community-based public health organizations, and transportation planning agencies. Mr. Marquez volunteered with Queer Alliance at UCR, Associated Students, Inc. at CSUSB, and The Next Step/El Próximo Paso’s Board of Trustees. His professional interests include school choice models, performance management, public education finance, and nonprofit governance; and his research interests concern access policies, excluded populations, and postsecondary education.

  • Chiquita R N Toure, Ed.D Student

    Chiquita Toure is a doctoral student in Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership with a concentration in Diversity and Equity . As an educator- librarian her research interests include ethnic diversity in literature for grades PK12  soft censorship among school librarians, history of African American public education, oral history and Black Girlhood narratives. She has served in the Columbus City School disrict for over 27 years.

    Advisor: Dr Sharon Lee

    Expected graduation date: 2026

    Educational Background:

    Ed.D. student, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Concentration: Diversity and Equity

    M.Ed., School Library and Information Technologies, Mansfield University ,Mansfield, Pennslyvania

    M.Ed., Educational Policy Studies, Policy Analysis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

    B.S., Elementary Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • Nicole M. DelMastro-Jeffery

    Nicole M. DelMastro-Jeffery is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. Nicole’s research focuses on the intersection of community determinants of health and educational trajectories of marginalized collegians. Her quantitative approach to mapping proximity of educational institutions to quality basic needs, such as access to clean drinking water, is a genuine passion of hers. Over the past decade she has served in a variety of leadership roles across 2-year and 4-year colleges. Nicole is excited about the future upstream sustainable transdisciplinary approach to ensuring students’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing on their way to graduation.

  • 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



    Current CV

  • 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