Interim Director
Jesse Senechal, Ph.D.

Through his work with MERC, Dr. Jesse Senechal has led a wide range of applied research and evaluation projects in close collaboration with surrounding Richmond-area school divisions, local non-profits, institutions of higher education, and state agencies including the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council for Higher Education. His current projects include , a mixed method study of racial disproportionality in K12 disciplinary practices, a study of Professional Development for Cultural Diversity, and a study of new teacher preparation for an Urban Teacher Residency program. Dr. Senechal has also led an regional Teacher Action Research program for the 5 years. Prior to his career as an educational researcher, Dr. Senechal spent 14 years teaching in public high schools in Chicago and Richmond.


Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation
David Naff, MA

David Naff is a former high school counselor and current PhD candidate in Educational Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. His research focuses on the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes and the decision-making processes of first-generation college students. David leads MERC’s evaluation efforts and is the host of the podcast, Abstract



Graduate Research Assistant
Samantha Hope, M.T.

After receiving her undergraduate degrees from Virginia Tech, Samantha Hope obtained her Master’s degree in teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University. She taught elementary school for seven years. Ms. Hope is currently a second year PhD student studying Educational Psychology at VCU and is interested in studying teacher professional identity. Her current research interests also include digital recognition for teacher professional development opportunities.


Graduate Research Assistant
Ashlee Lester, B.S.Ed.

A recent graduate of UVA’s Youth and Social Innovation program, Ashlee M. Lester is a first year PhD student studying Educational Psychology at VCU. Lester’s budding research interests focus broadly on educational equity, policy, and practice.  Specifically, her interests include the intersection of poverty and education within urban school settings.  She also has an interest in assessment and evaluation as tools to understand how we can create environments and conditions that promote both youth development and academic achievement.  She views evaluation as a vital stepping stone in the development and continuation of any functioning program.


Research Associate
Amy Corning, Ph.D..

Amy Corning is Assistant Professor in the School of Education, and also holds an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist at the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. At MERC, she is currently engaged in a study of college access needs and resources throughout the state of Virginia. Her prior research focuses on collective memory – specifically, the influence of generation on memories of national and world events – and her work appears in a book, Generations and Collective Memory, co-authored with Howard Schuman, as well as in published articles. In connection with both her collective memory research and other work, she has been involved in survey research projects in the United States as well as in Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Her Ph.D. is in Sociology from the University of Michigan.

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