Faculty Policy Experts

Meet the MSSP Program faculty experts. Together with other faculty in the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) and faculty across the University, we are here to help you develop your own area of policy expertise. Join us in our work toward a more humane world through policy change.

Ezekiel Dixon-Román, PhD

Headshot of Ezekiel Dixon-Roman

Ezekiel Dixon-Román is the Director of the program. An expert in education and social policy and in the philosophy of science of measurement and statistics, he teaches MSSP 897: Applied Linear Modeling in the MSSP program, and serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. He also teaches the elective course MSSP 690: Policy and ‘Difference’ in Postmodernity and the MSSP+DA required course MSSP 710: Democratizing Data: Analytics for Social Change. Dixon-Román was a Harold Gulliksen Psychometric Research Fellow of Educational Testing Service and an Institute of Education Sciences postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. His research is on the cultural studies of quantification, education, and social policy. Specifically, he is interested in the social reproduction of ‘difference’ (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, and dis/ability) in education; the production of knowledge with the methods of quantification and the ways in which the instruments used in these methods are reconfiguring the boundaries of ‘difference’; and critical inquiry on social policies that seek to address issues of inequality, social mobility, and education. Dixon- Román is lead editor with Edmund W. Gordon on the 2012 volume, Thinking Comprehensively About Education: Spaces of Educative Possibility and Their Implications for Public Policy. In his forthcoming book, Inheriting ImPossibility, he deconstructs the foundational assumptions of nature and culture in theories of social reproduction in education and the philosophy of science of quantification. His emerging work critically examines the ontologies of computational and data analytics, governmental topologies, and the enacted reconfiguring boundaries and assemblages of ‘difference.’ He was a member of the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education and serves on the Advisory Board of the Out-of-School Time Resource Center.

Read more about Ezekiel Dixon-Román, PhD.

Amy Castro Baker, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Amy Castro-Baker

Amy Castro Baker, PhD serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. She teaches MSSP 628: Policy Analysis. Dr. Castro Baker’s research explores how economic and social policies contribute to existing disparities, particularly within housing and lending markets. She was awarded the GADE Research Award, the Society for Social Work and Research Outstanding Dissertation Award, and the Nina Fortin Memorial Award for her work on women and risky lending markets in the subprime foreclosure crisis. She is currently developing a cost-effective mixed methods approach to supervised machine learning and Big Data policy analysis that involves direct partnership with public policy interest groups. Dr. Castro Baker also has more than a decade of non-profit experience and sits on the leadership team of the SPARK Movement, an interdisciplinary organization pioneering new methods of systems level social change in a digital age. Prior to her time at Penn she served as a Philadelphia mayoral committee member for the Blueprint to End Homelessness and worked with the Honorable Marjorie Margolies at Women’s Campaign International.

Read more about Amy Castro Baker, PhD.

Dennis Culhane, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Dennis Culhane

The Dana and Andrew Stone Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Policy and Practice at The University of Pennsylvania, Dennis Culhane, serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. Culhane is also a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Population Studies and the Director of Research for the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a leader in the integration of administrative data for research and directs the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy initiative, a MacArthur-funded project to promote the development of integrated database systems by state and local governments for policy analysis and systems reform. Culhane’s work has resulted in federal legislation requiring all cities and states to develop administrative data systems for tracking homeless services in order to receive HUD funding. Along with Abt Associates and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he has co-authored the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) since its inception in 2007. His work has also been instrumental in a national shift in how cities address chronic homelessness and family homelessness. Culhane’s recent research has focused on the aging homeless population, and how homeless adults may gain access to housing stabilization services under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Read more about Dennis Culhane, PhD.

Richard J. Gelles, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Richard Gelles

Professor Richard Gelles is the Joanne and Raymond Welsh Chair of Child Welfare and Family Violence in the School. He teaches MSSP 628: Policy Analysis and an MSSP elective, SWRK 706: Policies for Children and Families, and serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. Gelles is also the Co-Director of the Field Center for Children’s Policy Practice & Research and the founding Director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. An internationally known expert in domestic violence and child welfare policies and programs, Gelles was instrumental in the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.His highly influential book, The Violent Home, was the first systematic investigation to provide empirical data on domestic violence. His more recent books, The Book of David: How Preserving Families Can Cost Children’s Lives and Intimate Violence in Families (3rd Edn.), have also significantly influenced the study of child welfare and family violence. A recent policy-focused book, The Third Lie (2011), offers new directions for universal entitlement programs. Gelles has provided invited testimony to House and Senate committees for more than 2 decades, as well as to state government committees, and provided a position paper for the 1980 White House Conference on Families.

Read more about Richard J. Gelles, PhD.

See also a New York Times commentary on child abuse and the Great Recession and an audio of Dr. Gelles’s participation in January 2013 on a gun control panel on WHYY radio.

Amy Hillier, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Amy Hillier

Amy Hillier teaches MSSP/SWRK 730: Community Mapping and serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. Her primary faculty appointment is with SP2 and she holds a secondary faculty appointment at PennDesign, in the Department of City & Regional Planning. Dr. Hillier’s research has focused on spatial disparities in housing and public health within US cities, including historical mortgage redlining, affordable housing, access to healthful foods, park use, and exposure to outdoor advertising. Most recently, she conducted an evaluation of the impact of the opening of a nonprofit food market in Chester, Pennsylvania—an area known as a “food desert.” Since 2016, her research has focused on the experience of transgender and gender non-confirming students in high schools and the needs of transgender kids and their families from schools, health care providers, and social service agencies. Dr. Hillier collaborated with staff and youth from The Attic to write the policy supporting transgender students in the School District of Philadelphia. With Dr. Amy Castro Baker, she conducts critical participatory action research and policy-related research through the SexGen Policy Lab.

Read more about Amy Hillier, PhD.

Ioana Marinescu, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Ioana Marinescu

Ioana Marinescu teaches MSSP 630 Quantitative Reasoning and MSSP 668 Economics for Social Policy. Professor Marinescu is an economist who studies the labor market to craft policies that can enhance employment, productivity, and economic security. To make an informed policy decision, it is crucial to determine the costs and benefits of policies. Dr. Marinescu’s research expertise includes online job search, workforce development, unemployment insurance, the universal basic income, and employment contracts.

Dr. Marinescu’s research has been published in leading academic journals such as the Journal of Labor Economics and the Journal of Public Economics. She is the economist leading the Data@Work Research Hub, a workforce data gathering and sharing project funded by the Sloan Foundation. She writes a monthly op-ed for the French newspaper Liberation, and a monthly blog post on hiring and management tips backed by research at CareerBuilder.com.

Dr. Marinescu is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. You can follow her on twitter @mioana and check out her research on her website, marinescu.eu.

Read more about Ioana Marinescu, PhD.

Joretha Bourjolly, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Jerri Bourjolly

Dr. Bourjolly is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and serves on the MSSP Governance Committee. Her research examines personal, cultural, and social factors that impact healthcare access and racial disparities in clinical outcomes. Her particular focus is on substantive issues for vulnerable populations including minority women, consumers of behavioral and home healthcare, and children. Her research has examined provider and patient perspectives of managed care on health seeking behaviors and medical decision making. She has also investigated barriers to the recruitment of minorities to clinical trials, racial differences in coping and functioning with cancer, and the use of social and religious supports. More recently, she has examined staff, agency, and health system factors that contribute to inequities in home healthcare outcomes and assessed maternal and provider perspectives on accessing pediatric healthcare for children living in homeless shelters. To ensure her research has practical utility in practice and policy communities, Dr. Bourjolly partners with social service and medical providers during the research design, implementation, and dissemination processes.

Read more about Joretha Bourjolly, PhD.

Akira Drake Rodriguez, PhD, MPA

Akira Drake Rodriguez

Akira Drake Rodriguez is a lecturer both in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School and the School of Social Policy and Practice. Her research examines the politics of urban planning, or the ways that disenfranchised groups re-appropriate their marginalized spaces in the city to gain access to and sustain urban political power. Using an interdisciplinary and multiple method approach, her research engages scholarship in urban studies, political science, urban history, black feminist studies, community development, urban policy, and critical geography using both qualitative and quantitative data and methods. This research agenda is particularly relevant in these politically unstable times, where cities continue to marginalize underrepresented minority groups by defunding public institutions, promoting urban policies that subsidize their displacement while limiting affordable housing options, and continuing the funding and support of a militarized police force. Prior to her fellowship, Dr. Rodriguez taught in the Planning department at Temple University and the Political Science department at Rutgers University–Newark. Dr. Rodriguez is currently working on her manuscript, Deviants in Divergent Spaces: The Radical Politics of Atlanta’s Public Housing, which is under contract with the University of Georgia Press. The book explores how the politics of public housing planning and race in Atlanta created a politics of resistance within its public housing developments. This research offers the alternative benefits of public housing, outside of shelter provision, to challenge the overwhelming narrative of public housing as a dysfunctional relic of the welfare state.

Azahara Palomeque, PhD

Headshot of Azahara Palomeque

Azahara Palomeque provides administrative, academic, and strategic support to the MSSP Program. In her role as Associate Director, she manages admissions and recruitment initiatives, advises students, builds relationships with alumni, and collaborates with faculty and staff to bring professional enhancement and academic success to the MSSP community. She teaches the Global Seminar MSSP 797: Whose Colony? Politics, Identity and Social Policy in Revolutionary Cuba (1959-2017), and serves on the MSSP Governance Committee.

Palomeque’s research engages Spanish, Latin American and Brazilian politics and cultures, focusing on postcoloniality, politics of modernity and underdevelopment, sovereignty and governmentality, social movements, identity and memory – topics on which she has published peer-reviewed articles, essays and a book chapter. She is currently working on a book that dissects the role of hispanismo in creating political alliances between Spain, México, Cuba and Argentina by analyzing the cultural production of exiles and immigrants at times of political turmoil, including the Spanish Civil War and the Cuban Revolution.

As a poet, she is the author of the books RIP (Rest in Plastic) (RiL Editores, 2019), En la Ceniza Blanca de las Encías (La Isla de Siltolá, 2017), American Poems (La Isla de Siltolá, 2015), and the bilingual chapbook El Diente del Lobo/ The Wolf’s Tooth (Carmina in minima re, 2014). She has published poems and short stories in cultural journals in México, Cuba, Spain, Perú and the United States; her poetry has been partially translated into English and Greek, and has been included in a number of anthologies. In addition, Palomeque reports on US social issues for the prestigious Spanish newspaper CTXT, and maintains a bi-weekly Op-ed in El Periódico Extremadura.

Palomeque holds a dual bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Communications, and Media Studies from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, a MA in Luso-Brazilian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and a MA and a PhD in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Princeton University.

Geri Summerville, MSW, LSW

Geri Summerville teaches MSSP 629: Research and Evaluation Design in the MSSP program. She consults with foundations and nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning, capacity building, program development, evaluation, and scale. Over the past several years, Ms. Summerville has facilitated the business plan competition for the Social Impact Exchange, which is a national association dedicated to building a capital marketplace that scales proven social programs. She has more than 15 years of senior management experience and as Executive Vice President for Public/Private Ventures, she worked closely with local, state, and federal governments advocating for the creation of policies that would promote, fund, and sustain evidence-based practice. Her areas of expertise are home visiting, maternal/child health, teen pregnancy prevention, mentoring, and after-school programming. Ms. Summerville has written several publications that inform both policy and practice, including: Copy That: Guidelines for Replicating Programs to Prevent Teen PregnancyLaying a Solid Foundation: Strategies for Effective Program ReplicationGrowing What Works: Lessons Learned from Pennsylvania Nurse Family Partnership Initiative; and The Power of Plain Talk: Exploring One Program’s Influence on the Adolescent Reproductive Health Field. See these pieces at (www.issuelab.org).

Read more about Geri Summerville, MSW, LSW.

Fernando Chang-Muy, MA, JD

Fernando Chang-Muy, MA, JD

Fernando Chang-Muy is the Thomas O’Boyle Lecturer in Law at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He teaches at both the Law School and at the Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice on topics such as US Immigration Law, International Human Rights and Refugee Law, and Nonprofit Leadership.

He served as Legal Officer with both the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), AIDS Program. He also served as the first director of Swarthmore College’s Intercultural Center, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, advisor to the Provost on Equal Opportunity, and lecturer on International Human Rights in the Peace and Conflict Studies.

He began his legal career as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia serving as Director of the Southeast Asian Refugee Project, providing free legal aid to low-income immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia. He is also past founding director of the Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture, a project of Lutheran Children and Family Services, established to serve newcomers fleeing human rights violations.

In addition to teaching, he combines his experience in academia and operations, as principal and founder of Solutions International, providing independent management consulting, facilitation and training to philanthropic institutions, non profit organizations and government agencies. His areas of expertise include designing and facilitating large group, action-focused strategic planning processes, board governance retreats, staff internal communications systems, and resource development plans and individual donor campaigns.

In 2008, former Philadelphia Mayor Nutter appointed him as a Commissioner to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. He is former Board member of Philanthropy Network, The Philadelphia Award, The Merchants Fund, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Coalition. He is author of numerous articles on diverse topics dealing with immigration & refugees, public health and management, and is co-editor of the text Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees (2nd ed. NY: Springer Publication, 2016). He is a graduate of Loyola, Georgetown, Antioch and Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. He is a recipient of both the 2011 and 2018 Penn Law Public Interest Supervisor/Advisor of the Year Award honoring outstanding project supervisors and advisors; and the 2016 recipient of the Law School Beacon Award, recognizing exemplary commitment to pro bono work by a Penn Law faculty member.

Rosemary Clark-Parsons, PhD

Rosemary Clark-Parsons, PhD

Rosemary Clark-Parsons received her PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication in 2018, where she currently serves as the Associate Director for the Center on Digital Culture and Society. She also holds an appointment as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Annenberg and is a Research Affiliate with Penn’s Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality & Women.

Clark-Parsons is a researcher, teacher, and activist working at the intersection of technology and gender justice. Her research agenda centers on questions of how digital platforms and their users are reconfiguring the face and reach of contemporary feminist social movements in the United States. Her book project, Doing it Ourselves: The Networked Practices of Feminist Media Activism, is based on her dissertation project, which won ICA’s Activism, Communication, and Social Justice Interest Group’s Outstanding Dissertation Award and focuses on feminists’ turn toward the digital. At the same time that emerging media platforms enable activists to quickly reach wide audiences at little or no expense, digitally networked movements face online harassment, commercial cooptation, and activist burnout. Drawing on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, Clark-Parsons demonstrates how activists are taking up networked media to pursue a do-it-ourselves-style feminism, building movements and communities from the ground up, all while juggling the affordances and limitations of their media tools. Key pieces of her analysis have been published in leading journals, including New Media & Society, Communication, Culture & Critique, and Feminist Media Studies. Her research and commentary have also been featured in Wired, Bitch Media, The Inquirer, Quartz, and on Good Morning America.

In the classroom, Clark-Parsons has worked with a diverse range of students, from high schoolers to undergraduates to continuing adult learners, to develop media and communication strategies for social justice. She has also been involved in a number of activist projects, both inside and outside the academy, always with an eye toward merging communication scholarship and social justice work. Prior to CDCS, she helped found the Media Activism Research Collective at Penn and the ICA’s Activism, Communication, and Social Justice Interest Group. In Philadelphia, she has collaborated with grassroots feminist collective Permanent Wave Philly to explore media-based practices of empowerment and has helped organize the city’s annual March to End Rape Culture. In addition to her research and teaching, Clark-Parsons offers consulting for social justice and higher education organizations on media strategies for community outreach.

Clark-Parsons is a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area. Prior to Penn, she attended Ursinus College, where she received her BA in Media and Communication Studies, English, and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. She currently lives in West Philly, with her partner, Ryan, and their daughter, Robyn.

Erin Coltrera, MSSP, MSW

Erin Coltrera in front of mural

Erin Coltrera, LSW, MSW, MSSP, received a Master of Social Work (’14) and Master of Science in Social Policy (’14) from the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works for as the Research and Program Officer for the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) and has nearly a decade of relevant experience working with a range of diverse populations and contributing to the development of complex, people-oriented policies and programs.

After graduating from SP2, Erin worked as a Child Advocate Social Worker at the Support Center for Child Advocates (SCCA). As a child advocate, she helped develop statewide child welfare policies and procedures and also co-authored the Advocacy and Legal Services section for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ human trafficking manual. While at SCCA, Erin participated in the development of a special project to address the unique needs of children who have experienced trafficking and then moved into the role of Project Manager. As Project Manager, Erin provided guidance for the development and execution of agency policy and positions involving child survivors of trafficking, performed policy and legislation analysis, and worked to advance SCCA initiatives and advocacy objectives related to anti-trafficking. Her work included co-authoring the accredited Pennsylvania Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting course, as well as preparing and giving testimony to the PA Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Safe Harbor Legislation, which was successfully passed in October 2018.

After several years at SCCA, Erin moved to the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia (AVP) to become Project Director of the Enhanced Response Initiative to Intra-Familial Homicide. While at AVP, Erin worked to increase collaboration among agencies and organizations in the government and non-profit sectors. She has assisted and taught with Dr. Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania in the Master of Science in Social Policy and Master of Social Work programs at SP2 since 2016.

Ted Dallas

Ted Dallas teaches the elective course MSSP 601: The power of partnerships between government, non-profits and the private sector.

Dallas is the President and Chief Operating Office of Merakey, a human services provider with approximately 11,000 employees in ten states. The company serves individuals living with intellectual disabilities, behavioral health issues, and substance use disorders and also provides education and autism services to children and young adults.

Prior to that, Dallas served as the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in Pennsylvania and in the State of Maryland. During his tenures as Secretary, he implemented a variety of initiatives for both Governor Wolf and Governor O’Malley including a full Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act and other significant reforms to help seniors, individuals living with disabilities, and children. Dallas also served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor O’Malley in Maryland, the Executive Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and First Deputy Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. He also worked in the private sector for a Fortune 500 company.

He was chosen to receive a national award from Casey Family Programs for his contributions to the child welfare field and his efforts to improve the lives of children and families, and the Thomas J. Zuber Memorial Patient Service Award recognizing his efforts for implementing the Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania. He also received the Nourish Award from MANNA in for his work helping individuals access healthy food as part of their medical treatment.

He is also a proud alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Bum Chul Kwon, PhD

Headshot of Bum Chul Kwon

Bum Chul Kwon is a Research Staff Member at IBM Research, where he is a member of the AI for Healthcare team. He teaches MSSP 634: Capstone I: Telling Stories with Data. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University. His research goal is to enhance users’ abilities to derive knowledge from data using interactive visual analytics systems. His work has been published at premier venues in visualization and human-computer interaction, such as IEEE InfoVis, IEEE VAST, TVCG, ACM SIGCHI. He also serves on the program committee for top-tier conferences and workshops, including IEEE InfoVis, PacificVis, and Visual Analytics in Healthcare Workshop. Prior to joining IBM Research, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in University of Konstanz, Germany. He earned his PhD and MS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and his BS from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read more about Bum Chul Kwon, PhD.

Anne Esacove, PhD, MPH, MSW

Anne Esacove (she/her/hers) brings a number of years of experience teaching sociology and gender studies, as well as professional experience at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the Seattle-King County Public Health Department, to her scholarship. She is particularly committed to developing programming which bridges research and practice (broadly defined).

Esacove’s research has explored how health promotion efforts and social movements attempt to create meaning about and control bodies, sexuality, and gender. She is the author of Modernizing Sexuality: U.S. HIV-Prevention Policy in Sub-Saharan African, based on research funded by a Fulbright African Regional Research grant and Social Science Research Council Sexuality and Policy Postdoctoral Fellowship. Esacove received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan and Master Degrees in Public Health and Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the SexGen Policy Lab at the School of Social Policy and Practice.

Elijah Mayfield, MLT

Elijah Mayfield is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Carnegie Mellon University, where he researches how human decision-making and biases are encoded in machine learning systems. He also teaches two MSSP courses, including MSSP 607: Practical Data Science and MSSP 608: Practical Machine Learning. Previously, he was Vice President of New Technologies at Turnitin, managing machine learning and NLP research for educational products used by more than 30 million students globally. He joined Turnitin when they acquired LightSide Labs, which he founded as CEO with support from the Gates Foundation, the College Board, the US Department of Education, and others. Mayfield has coauthored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications on language technologies and human-computer interaction, receiving awards including a Siebel Scholarship, an IBM PhD Fellowship, and being named to Forbes 30 under 30 in Education.

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