Welcome 2022 PEAR Fellows!

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Mycaeri Atkinson

Mycaeri Atkinson is pursuing a PhD in education policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to receiving the PEAR Fellowship, Mycaeri was a policy fellow at Research for Action, where she conducted research on postsecondary education finance and access. At Research for Action, Atkinson conducted studies on promise programs, racial equity, community college, immigration policy, student success funding, and emergency funding.

Previously, Atkinson was a research analyst and writer for the Virginia Department of Health and a third grade teacher in the Teach For America Greater New Orleans Corps. She received a BA from New York University and an MA from Brown University’s Urban Education Policy program. At Brown, Mycaeri assisted with community democracy research with an emphasis on racial equity, intersectionality, and imbalances in deliberation.

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Erin Huffer

Erin Huffer is a PhD student in economics and education at Teachers College. She studies the long-term effects of public investments in education, particularly whether early learning environments affect students’ educational and labor market choices in the future.

Huffer holds a BA in economics and public policy from Dartmouth College. Before graduate school, she worked as a research assistant at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, where she studied various topics related to fiscal federalism, including the intersection of state, local, and federal tax and spending programs.

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Tia Monahan

Tia Monahan is a PhD student in economics and education at Teachers College and a research assistant at the Community College Research Center. Her research interests broadly lie in increasing equity and access in higher education, specifically in the two-to-four-year-college pipeline for low-income and underserved communities; the effects of college and university funding structures on student success; and faculty, staff, and departmental characteristics that affect both short- and long-term outcomes for low-income students.

Prior to joining the TC community as a PhD student and PEAR fellow, Monahan served on the board of the Master of Economics Student Association at Columbia as academic, research, and PhD chair, where she developed programming to improve the student experience, increase advising opportunities, and create program-specific career services. She has worked in several educator roles, including teaching courses in the University of Oregon’s Clark Honors Introductory Program and serving as its director, tutoring university student athletes in math and economics, working with high school students on SAT/ACT prep, and working as the upper school technology coordinator and yearbook digital art instructor at a Seattle-based independent K-12 school. Additionally, she performs contract work with ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest with a strong education and social policy sector.

Monahan holds a bachelor of science in economics from the University of Oregon Clark Honors College and a master of arts in economics from Columbia University.

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Jessica Steiger

Jessica (Jessie) Steiger is a PhD candidate in the Sociology and Education program at Teachers College. Prior to joining TC, Steiger worked with the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (NJ OSHE) leading a portfolio related to creating safer and more inclusive learning environments and promoting student success. She began her work with NJ OSHE as a policy analyst and later transitioned to director of legislative affairs. In her roles, Steiger worked with a variety of stakeholders across all New Jersey institutions of higher education, sister agencies, and other state higher education executive offices to develop and improve statewide higher education policies and programs.

Prior to NJ OSHE, Steiger worked in the greater Newark area helping high school students pursue higher education. She worked with the Seton Hall University Upward Bound program and a community-based college access organization. Steiger is passionate about helping develop high-quality pathways that promote college and career readiness.

Steiger holds an MA in educational theory and policy and a BS in education and public policy from the Pennsylvania State University.

2021 PEAR Fellows

Selena Cardona

Selena Cardona is pursuing a PhD in education at Teachers College in the Sociology and Education program. Prior to receiving the PEAR Fellowship, she served as a staff assistant in the New York City office of U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and worked as a research consultant for the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) in Washington, DC. At PNPI, she was also a 2019 Summer Scholar. In addition to this, she has taught English abroad on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Bogotá, Colombia. Her research interests include inequities in college access, financial aid policy, workforce development, and the evolving role of the community college.

Cardona is a graduate of New York City public schools, where she was a 2013 recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Cardona holds an AB in sociology from Cornell University and an MA in education policy from Teachers College. As a master’s student, she specialized in data analysis and research methods and higher education policy.

Reggie Gilliard

Reggie Gilliard is a PhD candidate in Teachers College’s Economics and Education program. His research interests include dual enrollment, alternative school models, and program evaluation.

Prior to accepting the PEAR fellowship, Gilliard was a research analyst at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. While there, he worked closely with New York City’s community-based organizations and the NYC Department of Education. Gilliard taught for two years before joining the Research Alliance.

Gilliard holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MSEd in education policy, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

Melissa Herman

Melissa Herman is a PhD student in the education policy program at Teachers College. She conducts qualitative and quantitative research on the college transition and persistence of New York City public school students. Most recently, she was the director of Graduate NYC, a college access and completion initiative housed at the City University of New York. In this role, she led Graduate NYC’s flagship project, the College Completion Innovation Fund, a collaborative fund supporting innovation in college persistence and higher education.

Prior to joining Graduate NYC, Herman was the associate director for partnership support at PENCIL, overseeing a team of partnership managers and developing the organization’s college and career readiness programming. During her tenure at PENCIL, she worked extensively within the New York City public school system on strategic partnership development, as well as college readiness and project-based learning programming for students. Prior to PENCIL, Herman worked at the International Organization For Adolescents within their youth development initiative.

A native New Yorker, Herman holds a bachelor of arts in psychology and history from the University of Pennsylvania and a master of public administration from New York University.

CJ Libassi

CJ Libassi is a PhD student in economics and education at Teachers College and a senior research assistant at the Community College Research Center, where he focuses on college access and financial aid.

Prior to joining CCRC, Libassi worked in research and policy at the College Board, the Center for American Progress, and the University of Michigan’s Education Policy Initiative. Before that, he taught English in a secondary school in Madrid as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and foreign language in Prince George's County Public Schools as a Teach For America corps member.

Libassi holds a BA in English, Spanish, and philosophy from the University of Scranton, a master of arts in teaching from American University, and a master of public policy from the University of Michigan.

Taylor Myers

Taylor Myers is a PhD student in the education policy program at Teachers College and a senior research assistant on the guided pathways team at the Community College Research Center. She studies the impacts of attending and completing college on the lives of students and their families, particularly among first-generation and returning college students.

Before joining CCRC, Myers was an analyst at the education think tank California Competes, where she supported the development of statewide higher education policy recommendations and analyzed the effects of previous interventions on special student populations in regions across the state. Earlier, Myers was a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, and served as a graduate instructor in the School of Public Policy and the Sociology Department at Cal.

Myers holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in community health education and a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley.

Astrid Pineda

Astrid Pineda conducts quantitative research on the intersection between education and economic opportunity, with a focus on causal analysis. Before coming to Teachers College, Pineda worked as a research fellow at the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB), assessing the impact of the IDB’s work in Mexico, Argentina, and Haiti. Prior to that, she worked with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) on impact evaluations of education interventions in the Dominican Republic.

Pineda is a student in the Economics and Education PhD program at Teachers College. She holds an MPA/ID from the Harvard Kennedy School and a BA in economics from Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic.

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