About me

I am an Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver and the Director of Partnerships for the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges (ARRC). From 2021-2022, I was a University of Denver Public Impact Fellow. In 2022, I was selected as a TEDxMileHigh speaker where I gave a talk that dismantled misperceptions about Regional Public Universities and their students. I have been a guest on NPR’s Code Switch podcast, and I have been quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd, Open Campus, Newsy, CBS 42, Chalkbeat Colorado, and other news sources.

My research and teaching are informed by my experiences as a working class, first generation college student who received maximum Pell grants to attend college. I am personally familiar with the transformative nature of need based financial aid and colleges and universities designed to expand postsecondary access after attending Linn Benton Community College, a Rural-Serving Institution (RSI), and Portland State University, a Regional Public University (RPU). Simply put, attending an RSI and RPU changed my life. I have devoted my career to expanding understanding of and appreciation for RPUs and RSIs so that other students might enjoy the same opportunities I had, and so that higher education’s contributions to equity and democracy are protected and advanced.

I have worked to bring exposure to RPUs and RSIs and improve research, funding, policy, and media coverage of these sectors. With support from the Spencer Foundation, I led a research study that identified and defined RPUs and produced a quantitative dataset of RPUs. Prior to this study, no official list of RPUs existed, and RPUs and their students suffered from invisibility in quantitative research and consequential policy discussions. I was also part of the ARRC research team that developed a novel metric to identify and define RSIs, work that has received significant media and policymaker attention.

I am passionate about leveraging research and teaching to improve the conditions for learning and upward mobility for first-generation college students. I regularly give workshops and keynote addresses about how colleges might lead student-centered, equity-focused organizational change. I also support policy think tanks and policy leaders in designing public policies that support RPUs and RSIs and their students and promote digital equity in rural communities. I currently serve on the Technical Review Panel for the Carnegie Classifications which is creating a new classification system that will illuminate campus contributions to social and economic mobility.

From 2006-2011, I directed the American Democracy Project (ADP), a national civic engagement initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). ADP involves 240 RPUs and 2.3 million students focused on higher education’s role in fostering and supporting civic and political engagement among students, faculty, and staff. In my role, I directed eight national initiatives and brokered partnerships with The New York Times, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.

I was the recipient of the received the Helen C. Bailey Alumni Award from the University of Pennsylvania, the Crimson and Gold Faculty Award from the University of Denver, and AASCU’s John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement. My research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the Ascendium Education Group, and the Joyce Foundation. I hold a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in political science from Portland State University.