Education Commission of the States’ staff is listed in alphabetical order on the page below or may be accessed via department or policy expertise in the drop down menu. You may also use our chat feature or request assistance form.
- President: Jeremy Anderson, 303.299.3610, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Accounting/Finance: Matt Padilla, 303.299.3693, email@example.com
- Administration/Convenings: Antionette Garcia, 303.299.3610, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Arts Education Partnership: Jane R. Best, 303.299.3638, email@example.com
- Communications: Amy Skinner, 303.299.3609, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Early Learning: Bruce Atchison, 303.299.3657, email@example.com
- High School and STEM: Jennifer Dounay Zinth, 303.299.3689, firstname.lastname@example.org
- K-12: Sharmila Mann, 303.299.3670, email@example.com
- Knowledge and Research: Jennifer Thomsen, 303.299.3633, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Postsecondary and Workforce Development: Brian A. Sponsler, 303.299.3615, email@example.com
- State and Commissioner Relations: Sara Shelton, 303.299.3667, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Strategic Initiatives and Partners: Matt Jordan, 303.299.3686, email@example.com
- Strong Start to Finish: Christopher Mullin, 850.661.5784, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sort by Department or Policy Expertise
Melissa joined Education Commission of the States in April 2017 and is currently our accountant. She focuses on our day-to-day finances and supports our chief financial officer. Her prior role here was administrative assistant/receptionist. As a native Coloradan, Melissa enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, taking advantage of all that Denver and beautiful Colorado offers. She enjoys camping, fishing, hiking and rooting for the Denver Broncos.
Jeremy Anderson is the president of Education Commission of the States, a national education policy organization that serves as a partner to state policymakers. In his role, Anderson works with all state education leaders, from governors to chief state school officers – from both political parties – to provide unbiased information, personalized support and opportunities for collaboration. Anderson is committed to helping states create informed education policy and better education systems for students, from early learning through postsecondary and the workforce. Jeremy is in airports more than the office, traveling frequently to visit with Education Commission of the States Commissioners and deliver key note presentations around the country. Jeremy has served in multiple policy and governmental affairs roles for governors on state and national education initiatives and his passion for education runs deep; he was raised by two amazing teachers in Kansas and his wife is an early learning teacher in Colorado where they currently reside with their three children.
Lexi Anderson joined Education Commission of the States in August 2013 as an intern and then full-time in February 2014. Lexi works on many postsecondary topics including adult learners, attainment and completion, transfer and articulation and credit accumulation. Prior to working at Education Commission of the States, Lexi worked on multiple college campuses in academic advising and orientation programming. Lexi earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in leadership in student affairs and a doctorate in higher education. In her free time. Lexi enjoys running marathons, climbing, skiing the rocky mountains and keeping up with her hilarious toddler.
Stephanie works on a number of K-12 policy areas, focusing most of her efforts on issues related to teacher recruitment, development, advancement and retention. Stephanie holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, as well as a master’s degree in public policy/education policy from the University of Denver’s Institute for Public Policy Studies. Outside the office, Stephanie enjoys cooking, running, dreaming alongside her husband David and keeping pace with her always curious, always active son Elijah.
Bruce Atchison is the principal of early learning initiatives and has been at Education Commission of the States since 2014. He brings more than 30 years of experience working in education. He has served as: chief of staff for a lieutenant governor; on a governors’ cabinet and senior leadership team; executive vice president of a child advocacy organization; worked in a governor’s policy office as the Head Start State Collaboration Director; Executive Director of Denver Public Schools Family Resource Schools; Director of the City of Boulder’s Children’s Services; and was president and CEO of a nonprofit child care center. He served on the faculty at the University of Denver and the University of Colorado, Boulder as a child development specialist. Most importantly he was in the classroom for more than 10 years. He has been honored as the “Educator of the Year,” and he received the Edna Oliver Nancy Swank Early Childhood Lifetime Achievement Award. When not working you can find him fly fishing in the Rocky Mountains.
Jane R. Best
Jane Best directs the Arts Education Partnership, a national network of organizations dedicated to securing high quality arts education for children. She has extensive experience working among practitioners, policymakers and researchers. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, she was the Chief Development Officer at My Student Survey and the Chief Strategy Officer for McREL International. She has also worked for Learning Point Associates (now American Institutes for Research) and the National Conference of State Legislatures. She started her career in education as a high school French and ESL teacher in Columbus, Ohio. Jane holds a Ph.D. in education policy from Vanderbilt University, a M.A. in education from The Ohio State University, and a B.A. in communications with a minor in art history from Indiana University. In her spare time, Jane enjoys hiking, traveling, and is an avid college football fan.
Karole Dachelet joined the policy team at Education Commission of the States in August 2018. As a policy analyst, Karole analyzes legislation and assembles and prepares data to assist policymakers with evidence-informed decision-making. She works on a range of policy issues, with an emphasis on postsecondary and workforce development policy. Karole previously worked for the Legislative Audit Bureau and the Institute for Research on Poverty in her home state of Wisconsin. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In her time outside of the office, Karole loves to treasure hunt at yard sales and antique stores for all things from the mid-century era; and she enjoys taking her dog for long walks in the many beautiful public spaces of Denver.
Mary Dell’Erba is the project manager with the Arts Education Partnership. In this role, she primarily focuses on STEAM initiatives, and the intersection of school choice and arts education. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, she worked for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance where she served in a variety of capacities in programming, administration and policy. Mary holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She has over 20 years of ballet training, and in her free time enjoys teaching dance, baking, and spending time at home with her husband
Louisa Diffey joined Education Commission of the States in July 2016 as a policy researcher focusing primarily on early learning. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Louisa taught middle school Special Education in Colorado Springs as a Teach for America Colorado corps member. She has also taught Special Education in Denver Public Schools. Additionally, she has worked for a member of the Colorado House of Representatives and completed a fellowship with Leadership for Educational Equity. Louisa holds a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado Denver. Outside of the office, you can find Louisa on the ski slopes or backpacking in the mountains.
Alyssa Evans joined Education Commission of the States in September 2018 as a policy researcher. Prior, she worked at a Colorado nonprofit focused on civic engagement, the Colorado General Assembly and most recently, a special tribunal in The Hague. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in public policy and international law from the American University of Paris. When she’s not in the office, Alyssa likes exploring the local food scene and taking her dog on outdoor adventures, and she is always on the lookout for new podcasts or books.
Lauren joined the state relations team at Education Commission of the States in August 2018. Prior, Lauren was the state government relations manager at Save the Children Action Network in Colorado. She has also worked in policy roles at Clayton Early Learning, National Conference of State Legislatures and with several members of the legislative and executive branches in Colorado. Lauren holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Colorado State University and is currently working toward a master’s degree in public administration at University of Colorado–Denver. Out of the office, Lauren is an amateur florist, avid hiker and connoisseur of all things true crime.
Mary Fulton is a veteran staff member of Education Commission of the States. Mary focuses on issues related to governance and accountability, remedial education, and college readiness and completion, and also serves as a generalist on higher education topics. Mary is the author of several policy briefs on postsecondary education and was one of the co-authors of Blueprint for College Readiness and Developmental Strategies for College Readiness and Success. In her role as senior project manager, she assists with coordinating the postsecondary and workforce development project work and activities. Previously, Mary served as a K-12 generalist in the Information Clearinghouse and was a lead staff member for the organization’s work on No Child Left Behind, arts education and school finance, and was responsible for the e-Clips publication. Mary spends most of her spare time with family, in art galleries and museums and engaging in community service.
Antionette Garcia directs the Convene unit for Education Commission of the States. She oversees the planning and execution of all events, including our National Forum on Education Policy, Winter Commissioners Meeting and Arts Education Partnership Annual Convening. She also serves as the point person for our executive office – staffing and advising our President, Jeremy Anderson. She has worked in nearly every Education Commission of the States’ division over the years, including finance, administration and policy. Her institutional knowledge and longstanding relationship with Commissioners, partners and foundation officials are invaluable to the work of Education Commission of the States. She strives to be a good team leader, member, mother and wife (in no particular order). If you’re on this site and not sure who to contact … start with Antionette. We bet she knows the answer.
Mike Griffith has worked in the field of school finance policy for the past 19 years with Education Commission of the States, the consulting firm of Augenblick & Myers and the Michigan State Senate. His research has focused on the condition of state budgets, the adequacy and equity of state finance formulas, and promising practices in funding programs for high-need students. Mike is an expert resource to national news media and has been quoted more than 300 times by such outlets as CNN, Education Week, NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio and The New York Times. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in public administration from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in education management from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. When he is not focused on the issue of school finance, Mike can be found rooting for his Michigan State Spartans (Go Green!).
Kate joined Education Commission of the States in October 2017 as the Human Resources Assistant. She provides oversight of policies and programs, covering all functional areas of employee relations, including payroll, benefits, maintenance of personnel records and reports. She has a bachelor’s degree in social and environmental justice from Appalachian State University, and previously worked as a grant administrator for several nonprofits in Denver. She keeps busy running around after her 6-year-old triplets and their French Bulldog puppy! When she can find spare time, she enjoys hiking, snowboarding, soccer, all mediums of art and seeing live music.
Holly Haynes joined Education Commission of the States in March 2018 as the administrative assistant for Strong Start to Finish. In her role, Holly provides support to the director of Strong Start to Finish and other team members. Prior, Holly was a project assistant at the Colorado Education Initiative, where she provided administrative and event support to the Health and Wellness team. In her spare time, Holly enjoys reading, practicing yoga, and mastering new skills, from hula-hooping to throwing pottery.
Neal Holly joined Education Commission of the States in February 2017. He provides project management, staff supervision and development, and budget oversight to large-scale projects. He stays current on states’ political and governance structures, as well as policy climates to better serve their postsecondary and workforce needs. Prior, Neal served as Vice Chancellor for Policy and Planning for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical Education. He has also served multiple staff roles at public and private colleges and universities throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Wingate University, a master’s degree in higher education administration from Appalachian State University, and a doctorate in philosophy in higher education administration from the College of William and Mary. He enjoys fishing, camping, and spending time with his wife and two beagles.
John Ivey is the lead person in Central Services. He has been with Education Commission of the States since February 1996 and in his current position since September 1999. Prior to Education Commission of the States, he worked for 15 years in the printing industry. John attended the University of Colorado, the University of Colorado at Denver and holds a Bachelor of Business Management from the University of Phoenix. His hobbies include bicycle riding, music appreciation, cinema and reading.
Matt started his career as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Mississippi Delta, which ignited a passion for bringing people together to tackle tough problems and build healthy communities. As director of strategic initiatives at Education Commission of the States, he is responsible for advancing the organization’s mission through partnerships with corporations and foundations. Matt brings expertise in engaging stakeholders, creating cross-sector collaborations and launching social enterprises from 20 years working in community and organizational development. A key lesson learned throughout his career is the important relationship between education, workforce development, economic development and community vitality. Matt lives in Denver with his wife and son, where they indulge in books, chess, basketball and pizza.
Tom Keily joined Education Commission of the States in January 2018 as a policy researcher. In his role, Tom researches a range of educational policy issues and contributes to the work of the Arts Education Partnership. Prior, he researched banking and housing policy issues at a nonprofit based in Buffalo, New York and spent time teaching in Milwaukee. Tom holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in secondary education from Canisius College, and he is pursuing a second master’s degree in public policy from the University of Denver. In his free time, he enjoys exploring Colorado’s great outdoors and learning more about the state’s rich history.
Adrienne joined Education Commission of the States in January 2016. In her role, she manages the brand, ensuring the integrity, consistency, and accuracy of all publications, marketing materials, video and web content. A Northern Virginia native, she has been a graphic designer in the nonprofit sector since the start of her career, working with several organizations in the D.C. metro area. When she isn’t honing her design skills, Adrienne enjoys painting, skiing, and watching WVU basketball and football.
Heidi Macdonald joined Education Commission of the States in May 2018 as a policy researcher. Prior, she worked as a fiscal analyst with the New Mexico Legislative Education Study Committee for four years, focusing on Indian education and teacher issues. Before that, Heidi spent two years as a policy analyst with the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department in Santa Fe. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and German studies from Guilford College and a law degree from the University of New Mexico, and is a licensed New Mexico attorney. Heidi is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana. In her free time, she loves running, playing basketball, hiking and exploring the mountains with her wife.
Sharmila Mann serves as the director of K-12 policy at Education Commission of the States. In her role, she provides leadership on K-12 initiatives in policy and research, and fosters internal and external relationships that expand the reach of Education Commission of the States’ products and expertise. She brings more than 15 years of education policy experience to her role, including 10 years at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association engaging with state and federal policymakers, funders and national associations in pursuit of policy to smooth transitions between education sectors. Sharmila holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University, as well as a master’s and doctorate in human genetics from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys inventing recipes, hiking in the mountains and reveling with her husband in the antics of their young daughter.
Emily Mesiano joined Education Commission of the States in September 2018. As a communications specialist, Emily manages social media strategy and the Ed Clips and Ed Beat newsletters. Emily earned her bachelor’s degree in communications with a specialty in public relations from the University of North Florida. She recently gave up the Florida beaches for the Rocky Mountains and loves her new home. In her free time, Emily enjoys gardening, going to the farmers market, hiking with her dog and eating vegan donuts.
Jill Mullen joined Education Commission of the States in December 2017 as a policy researcher. Prior, she worked as a policy staffer at the Colorado General Assembly. Jill holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from New York University and a law degree from the University of Denver. In her free time, Jill enjoys paddleboarding, tacos and audiobooks.
Christopher Mullin joined Education Commission of the States as the director of Strong Start to Finish on Nov. 6, 2017. Prior, Chris was the executive vice chancellor of the Florida College System, where he oversaw academic and student affairs, research and analytics, and financial policy for 28 institutions. Chris earned his doctoral degree in higher education administration, as well as his bachelor’s degree, from the University of Florida. He also holds a master of education degree from Teachers College of Columbia University. A prolific researcher and writer, Chris has co-authored books, journal articles and policy briefs on the influence of state P-20 education structures on the educational decisions of both institutions and individuals. He was recognized with the Barbara K. Townsend Emerging Scholar Award in 2012, and selected as a National Education Finance Conference Distinguished Research & Practice Fellow in 2014.
Sara Olán joined Education Commission of the States in January 2017 and provides support for a variety of meetings. Prior, she was a meeting planner at Kinsley Meetings and a brand ambassador for the Colorado Lottery. Sara is the first in her family to graduate high school, let alone attend college where she earned her degree in Event Management. In her free time, Sara enjoys spending time with her family, watching documentaries, learning new phrases in different languages, and being a cliché outdoor-loving Colorado native with a craft beer in hand.
Matt Padilla joined Education Commission of the States in August 2015 and currently serves as the chief financial officer. In this role, he oversees the organizations financial and operational activities. Prior, he spent time in similar leadership roles with The Center, Urban Peak and Children’s Hospital. Matt holds a MBA from the University of Colorado, Denver.
Emily Parker joined Education Commission of the States in December 2015 as a policy analyst. In this role, Emily supports states on issues of school finance across the entire P-20 continuum. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Emily worked at the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where she helped launch Ben Bernanke’s Blog. While in grad school, she worked at the Colorado Department of Higher Education and on the Emmy Award winning Truth Test Team at 9NEWS/KUSA in Denver. A proud Pioneer, Emily earned her bachelor’s degree and her Master of Public Policy from the University of Denver. Outside of the office, Emily enjoys board games, show tunes and trivia.
Damion joined the policy team in October 2018. As a policy analyst, he works on a broad range of education topics from early learning to workforce development. Previously, Damion worked with the Colorado General Assembly as a senior research analyst for the Legislative Council and focused on education issues. He holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Colorado–Denver and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Colorado–Boulder. During his free time, Damion enjoys puzzles, opera, baseball and hanging out with his family.
Zeke Perez Jr.
Zeke Perez Jr. joined Education Commission of the States in September 2014. His policy interests include statewide longitudinal data systems, campus safety, and student life issues including student mental health, financial literacy and student athletes’ issues. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Zeke completed his Master of Public Policy at the University of Denver while interning in a variety of positions, including with the National Endowment for Financial Education and the Colorado State Senate. In his spare time, Zeke is an avid fan of every Colorado sports team. He is a former pro mascot and a current stat keeper for the DU hockey team.
Sarah supports states by providing analysis tailored to student financial aid and college affordability policies. A data wonk at heart, she also prepares research, authors reports and organizes convenings designed to help policy leaders learn from one another. Prior to working at Education Commission of the States, Sarah held various positions within three institutional financial aid offices. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, a master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and a doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Denver. When she isn’t knee deep in policy research, Sarah can be found cross-country skiing, bouncing around with her daughter or practicing her French.
Sarah joined Education Commission of the States in June 2017 as a policy researcher. Prior, she interned at multiple policy and service organizations during graduate school. Before that, Sarah spent three years as an elementary school teacher in Aurora, Colo. She holds a master’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University, and still enjoys rooting for the Wildcats at every opportunity. Sarah grew up in Colorado and loves participating in outdoor activities in all seasons, going to concerts as frequently as possible, building furniture and listening to too many podcasts.
Andrea Pulskamp joined Education Commission of the States in October 2018. As a senior project manager for Strong Start to Finish, Andrea supports funded sites as they work to significantly increase the number and proportion of low-income students, students of color and returning adults who are succeeding in college. Andrea previously worked at the Colorado Education Initiative, where she oversaw a large project centered on assessing policies and practices in K-12 schools that promote health, safety and other non-academic strategies. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado. As a Colorado native, Andrea enjoys hiking, camping and exploring with her husband and two young, active and incredibly fun boys.
Cassandra Quillen joined Education Commission of the States in May 2016 as a communications specialist. Prior to Education Commission of the States, Cassandra worked in Providence, R.I. as a communications and member engagement coordinator at a postsecondary institution member organization and also as a communications/engagement assistant for a public/private partnership initiative consisting of Rhode Island’s 11 colleges and universities. Cassandra earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and her master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. When she is not happily editing policy reports, Cassandra enjoys hiking, hanging out with her two dogs, listening to music and spending time with friends.
Alyssa Rafa joined Education Commission of the States in November 2015. As a policy analyst, Alyssa focuses on various topics related to K-12 education, including school climate, accountability, assessments and school improvement. Prior, Alyssa worked and interned for several nonprofit organizations, holding positions in policy, development and administration. Alyssa holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University, San Bernardino and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Outside of work, Alyssa enjoys spending time with her family, coaching youth volleyball and traveling with her husband.
Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Maxine earned her doctoral degree in urban education policy from the University of Southern California, where her research focused on the mathematics identity of black students who succeed in developmental mathematics, and on working with practitioners to achieve equitable student outcomes in developmental education. While at USC, she served as a research assistant with the Center for Urban Education, where she worked extensively with faculty, administrators and staff in community colleges to explore the ways their behaviors and institutional practices impact student success. Previously, as a leader in New York City-based nonprofit agencies, Maxine designed, implemented and directed after-school education initiatives and college preparatory programs at Bank Street College of Education’s Institute for Leadership, Excellence and Academic Development and Liberty LEADS programs. Both programs focus on expanding college access opportunities for students of color. Maxine holds master’s degrees in education from Teachers College Columbia University and Bank Street College of Education, as well as a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mount Holyoke College. A native New Yorker, Maxine enjoys traveling to fun food cities and looks forward to trying more of Denver’s cuisine scene.
Joshua Ruiz joined Education Commission of the States in June 2018 as the senior accountant. In his role, Joshua develops and maintains accurate grant/contract budgets and financial reports, assures compliance with federal grant management requirements, coordinates the month-end close and performs other accounting duties. Prior, he was an auditor for a CPA firm in California that was ranked among the top 100 firms in the nation, where he audited federal programs, state programs, bonds, internal controls and financials for school districts, charters and not-for-profits in multiple states. He is currently licensed as a CPA in California. When he is not working with numbers, Josh enjoys hiking, painting, eating Thai food and snowboarding with his fiancée.
Molly serves as an executive assistant and a policy researcher at Education Commission of the States. In her role as a policy researcher, she is primarily focused on a comparative analysis of state financial aid policies, state-based authority for policy implementation and recommendations for best practices for foster youth education attainment. She also serves as a resource for state constituents on a variety of education policy issues including free community college, organization and governance, and the college completion agenda, and supports the overall strategic plan for the institute. She earned her Master’s in Higher Education from the University of Rochester, and has extensive experience in higher education administration, student affairs, and nonprofit leadership. Molly is currently a full-time PhD student at the University of Denver. In her rare free time, she enjoys exploring beautiful Colorado, and participating in multiple community engagement and advocacy activities.
Deven joined Education Commission of the States in May 2017 as a policy researcher. She provides support on a portfolio of work primarily focusing on education leadership, ESSA and social and emotional learning. She is now an active member of the state relations team. Deven brings experience from both the state and national policy arenas, having held positions in a governor’s office and the U.S. Senate. She earned both a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Dakota. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on Minnesota sports teams, listening to podcasts and exploring the unfamiliar mountains of Colorado.
Sara joined the Education Commission of the States in February 2016. As a member of the State Relations team, Sara strives to serve all stakeholders of Education Commission of the States by cultivating relationships and building partnerships. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Sara directed civic engagement initiatives at The Civic Canopy, a local non-profit, where she helped build and support a statewide Civic Health Network. Sara also spent ten years at the National Conference of State Legislatures working on state education policy. Sara holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Montana and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado at Denver. Sara enjoys spending her free time exploring the rugged Rocky Mountains with her adventurous kids and husband.
Lauren Sisneros joined Education Commission of the States in August 2015 and is currently a member of the State Relations team. Prior, she was a Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States, primarily focused on postsecondary issues. Lauren has also held positions at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Colorado Legislative Council Staff and Adams State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Colorado State University-Pueblo and completed a master’s degree in Education and Human Resource Studies through Colorado State University in May 2015. Lauren is a Colorado native, and enjoys spending time with her husband and two children exploring the outdoors of Colorado.
Amy Skinner joined Education Commission of the States as the director of communications in September 2014. In her role, Amy oversees all communications activities including strategic communications, media relations, branding, web development and social media. Prior to joining the Education Commission of the States team, Amy served as the director of communications with the Colorado Department of Education, where she was charged with supporting Colorado’s education goals and driving successful implementation of education reform efforts. Amy’s education experience also includes developing and executing communications and outreach strategies while working with Denver Public Schools. When not immersed in a job that she truly loves, she is passionate about finding peace and building strength on her yoga mat and enjoying life’s simple pleasures with her two daughters.
Brian A. Sponsler
Brian A. Sponsler is the vice president of policy at Education Commission of the States, and Director of the postsecondary and workforce development team. In his role, Brian provides strategic direction for the organization’s policy portfolio across the early learning to workforce development spectrum. He chairs Education Commission of the States’ policy leadership team, inclusive of director-level policy staff, and provides leadership to a policy staff of 30 professionals. Brian is responsible for fundraising and outreach efforts with strategic partners and represents the organization to multiple constituents, including state policy officials, national partner organizations, education agency staff and academics. Brian has significant experience with large-scale, high-visibility, and high-stakes project development, management and execution in nonprofit and higher education settings. His subject matter expertise is in state higher education policy, with a focus on bridging the research to policy divide, college access and success issues, and structural/ geographic impediments to educational opportunity. A creative and dedicated executive with a track record of leading successful teams, and recruiting and developing diverse staffs of policy professionals, Brian holds a doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University and lives with his family in Denver.
Jennifer Thomsen joined the Education Commission of the States as a researcher in December 2013 and currently serves as a director. In her role as a director, Jennifer oversees many of ECS’ foundational services. To maintain a big-picture view of the education landscape, she monitors news, reports, data and other materials from states and from national organizations for current developments and research activities in education policy. Jennifer oversees the state policy database, responds to requests for information, writes and edits materials, and conducts and synthesizes research on state education policy. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, she spent 13 years working for the Colorado General Assembly, first in the Office of Legislative Legal Services as a legislative editor and then in the Legislative Council as a policy and research staffer focusing primarily on education issues. When she’s not keeping her finger on the pulse of current education policy issues, Jennifer is working hard at her real job, which is being mom and chauffeur to her lovely (and busy) teen and pre-teen daughters.
Claus von Zastrow
Claus von Zastrow oversees efforts to improve statewide longitudinal data systems and provide state-by-state data on STEM education. Claus has held senior positions in education policy and research for more than 15 years. He was chief operating officer and director of research at Change the Equation, where he led initiatives to disseminate better STEM education data and scale the nation’s most effective STEM education programs to millions more children across the country. Claus began his career in education policy and research as a policy director at the National Alliance of Business, where he developed and managed initiatives to promote access to higher education and formulate sound workforce development strategies. He has been quoted by dozens of news outlets, including PBS, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In his free time, Claus enjoys painting, hiking, visiting museums with his wife and daughter, and (thanks to his forbearing wife) occasional dumpster-diving.
Madi joined Education Commission of the States in August 2018. As a member of the state relations team, Madi works to build relationships with and among education policymakers, thinkers and stakeholders in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Madi worked for five years at the National Conference of State Legislatures, serving as one of the organization’s experts on early learning and opportunity gaps. She also spent four years as a public achievement coach in Denver Public Schools, where she organized six classrooms of at-risk youth to tackle community problems like access to healthy food. Madi holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Denver, and she spends her free time hiking and camping in the Rocky Mountains and painting watercolor landscapes.
Brooke joined Education Commission of the States in May 2018 as the digital media specialist. In her role, she focuses on design support, assisting with anything from social media to print design. Brooke holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Ohio University. In her free time, Brooke enjoys going to concerts, drawing and exploring all the city’s best coffee shops.
Erin Whinnery joined Education Commission of the States in April 2017 as a policy researcher. Erin contributes to the Lumina Foundation’s Strategy Labs project. Her policy interests include adult learners, community college workforce development and regional engagement, and supporting equity in college access and success. Erin previously worked at the National Conference of State Legislatures, specifically in the criminal justice program and foundation, planning educational meeting opportunities for state legislators. Erin is completing her master’s degree in higher education administration at the University of Denver. On the weekends, Erin enjoys running, embroidery and quilting.
JoAnne Wilkins has enjoyed being a part of the Education Commission of the States team for more than 30 years. She has worked with all departments and is responsible for designing and implementing databases and information systems in support of the mission, as well as maintaining and supporting existing software. Prior to Education Commission of the States, JoAnne and her husband managed a remote fly fishing guest ranch in Colorado. Wilkins received her bachelor’s degree from Southern Oregon University and holds several industry certifications. In her free time, she loves visiting her children, spending time in nature and volunteering with a Destination Imagination school enrichment program.
Micah Ann Wixom
Micah is a policy analyst with Education Commission of the States and leads the organization’s work on school choice issues. She has been with Education Commission of the States since 2013. Previously, she worked for the Legislative Counsel Bureau in Nevada and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, and as a legislative auditor in Arizona. Micah has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and history. She enjoys puttering around the kitchen, enjoying Colorado’s beautiful outdoors and taking in the many cultural events available in Denver.
Kate Wolff is the assistant director of the Arts Education Partnership and a member of Education Commission of the States’ State Relations team. In this dual role, Kate works closely with AEP partner organizations across the country to engage and inform their efforts to expand access to the arts in education and serves as a resource on broader education policy issues for Education Commission of the States Commissioners and states in the mid-Atlantic and Eastern parts of the U.S. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Kate served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a variety of capacities in the Office of the Secretary, the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, and the Administration for Children and Families. Kate enjoys living in our nation’s capital, taking advantage of free museums and getting around the city car-free.
Julie Rowland Woods
Julie Rowland Woods is a senior policy analyst. In her role, Julie researches and analyzes K-12 education policies and provides support to policymakers on education issues, with a focus on standards, assessments, accountability and federal law. Julie earned her law degree and master’s degree in education policy from the Pennsylvania State University and is a Colorado licensed attorney. She has taught legal research and writing to attorneys from around the world and taught English as a second language to immigrants. Julie is a proud Texan but married a Midwesterner and is raising a Colorado native daughter.
In this role, Mandy leads the editorial and design process for Education Commission of the States’ reports and other external-facing resources. She also manages the Ed Note blog, contributes to outreach strategy and develops writing abilities among staff. Prior, she worked in education nonprofits in Washington, D.C., editing and writing policy and research materials. Mandy began her career as a journalist, covering education for various small dailies across the country, before moving to Spain to learn Spanish and teach English. She misses the classroom, so she volunteers at a local elementary school to fill that void. Outside of work, she does anything to stay active—triathlons, hiking, yoga—and enjoys it even more when it involves traveling to new places.
Jennifer Dounay Zinth
Jennifer Dounay Zinth first joined Education Commission of the States in 1997. In her current role, Jennifer conducts research and analysis, and counsels states on numerous issues related to high school/college-readiness/transitions to postsecondary, and on STEM topics from early learning through postsecondary. Previously, Jennifer served as the co-director of Education Commission of the States’ Information Clearinghouse, where she honed her expertise on high school issues while performing, coordinating and overseeing research, analysis and technical assistance across issues from early learning through postsecondary. Jennifer’s education experience also includes teaching adult English as a Second Language (ESL) in Slovakia and in Denver. When not bent on saving the world through better education policy, she loves travel, yoga, cooking (including inflicting new recipes on her reluctant husband), watching documentaries, and spending time with her husband, son and daughter.