Wheelhouse Team

Wheelhouse Team



Susanna Cooper, Executive Director
Before coming to UC Davis to establish Wheelhouse, Ms. Cooper served as an independent consultant and as longtime advisor on pre-K-to-14 education issues for the leader of the California State Senate. In that role, she shaped and shepherded the Pro Tem’s education agenda, provided counsel on state education budget matters, and led multi-year campaigns to increase quality pre-kindergarten opportunities for low-income children, reduce the number of high school dropouts, and strengthen pathways to college. She is Special Advisor to the Stuart Foundation, President of the Board of Directors of the nonprofit EdSource and a Director of the James B. McClatchy Foundation. She brings deep experience in project initiation and management, policy development and advocacy, research translation, communications, government affairs and philanthropy.
Francisco Rodriguez, Chancellor in Residence
Dr. Rodriguez is the Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the nation with nine colleges enrolling 250,000 students and an annual budget of $5.8 billion. His career spans 30 years as an educator, faculty member and administrator within California public higher education. Previously, Dr. Rodriguez served as President of Cosumnes River College and Superintendent/President of the Mira Costa Community College District. His engagement with Wheelhouse is a homecoming, having earned his BA in Chicano Studies and his masters in community development from UC Davis. At Wheelhouse, he conducts and provides counsel on community college research, directs the Wheelhouse Institute on Leadership and facilitates Wheelhouse Wednesday leadership convenings. He earned his PhD in education from Oregon State University.
Michal Kurlaender, Lead Researcher, Professor
Dr. Kurlaender is Department Chair and a Chancellor’s Fellow at the UC Davis School of Education. She investigates students’ educational pathways, in particular K-12 and postsecondary alignment, and access to and success in postsecondary education. She has expertise in alternative pathways to college and college readiness at both community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Kurlaender works closely with national data and administrative data from all three of California’s public higher education sectors systems. She also studies the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on student outcomes. She recently served as a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation and was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2020.
Edward Bush, Senior Fellow
Dr. Bush is President of Cosumnes River College. He is an innovative leader with over 21 years of experience in higher education with 18 of those years in the California Community College system. Dr. Bush has a history of developing programs and services that foster both student access and success as well as creating successful targeted programs for historically underserved populations. He has served as Vice-President of Student Services, Dean of Student Services, tenured associate faculty member in student activities, and an adjunct professor for several graduate programs. At Wheelhouse, he conducts and provides counsel on community college research and leads sessions in the Institute on Leadership. He earned his doctorate from the Claremont Graduate University.


Nancy Acevedo-Gil, Scholar in Residence
Dr. Acevedo-Gil is an Associate Professor of Education at California State University, San Bernardino, and is the first Wheelhouse Scholar in Residence. She is an interdisciplinary scholar focusing on the experience of Latina/o/x and other students of color as they navigate transitions along the higher education pipeline, using critical race and Chicana feminist theories to examine educational (in)equities and develop additive policies and practices. She earned her PhD from UCLA.
Claudia Escobar, Associate Director of Learning and Research
Dr. Escobar earned her Ph.D. in School Organization and Education Policy at the UC Davis School of Education in 2020. She has served as a graduate student researcher with the California Education Lab and UC Davis Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She is a former researcher and policy analyst for the UC Office of the President. She is the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree and now a doctorate.
Elizabeth Friedmann, Research Fellow
Dr. Friedmann is a postdoctoral researcher for both Wheelhouse and its partner center, the California Education Lab. She received her PhD in Education with an emphasis in School Organization and Education Policy from UC Davis. Her research focuses on college access and success, financial aid and transfer pathways from community colleges. Dr. Friedmann produces independent research and provides administrative and organizational support for the Wheelhouse Institute on Leadership and the Scholars’ Network. She also lectures at CSU East Bay.
Nicole Lei, Undergraduate Student Intern
Nicole is a fourth year Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior student and Guardian Scholar at UC Davis. She aids in research and administrative projects for Wheelhouse. Previously, she worked as an Undergraduate Student Intern for the California Education Lab, working on identifying the structural and instructional changes in K-12 schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, she volunteered for San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program and worked as a youth leader and administrative assistant at Donaldina Cameron House, a nonprofit community support organization in San Francisco’s Chinatown. 
Robbie Linden, Graduate Student Researcher
Robbie Linden is a fourth year Ph.D. student in Education with a concentration in School Organization and Educational Policy. His research interests include education economics and higher education finance. In his current research with the California Education Lab and Wheelhouse Center, he describes how funding outcomes in community college districts were affected by the state’s recently adopted Student-Centered Funding Formula. Robbie holds a master’s in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Davis and a bachelor’s in public policy from the University of Michigan.
Divine Otico, Wheelhouse/California Education Lab 
Operations and Creative Projects Coordinator

Ms. Otico provides creative, events & administrative coordination for both Wheelhouse and its partner center, the California Education Lab. She earned her bachelor’s in cognitive science with an emphasis in linguistics phonetics from UC Davis in 2019, and an AA from Mt. San Antonio Community College in 2017. Previously, she was a program and events coordinator for the Center for Leadership Learning at UC Davis Undergraduate Education. She is a Mentorship & Professional Development Fellow at the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis, and a Crankstart Transfer Reentry Scholar. She is a proud first-generation, non-traditional and community college transfer student and graduate. 
Wendy Zhai, Undergraduate Student Intern
Wendy is a third-year student at UC Davis majoring in Statistics with an emphasis in Data Science. She aids in research and administrative projects for Wheelhouse. Formerly, she was a Group Instructor for Galileo Learning, where she independently prepared and taught science lessons to elementary schoolers. She is also an incoming Data Fellow for Bluebonnet Data, a nonprofit organization that recruits people with interests and skills in data science to aid campaigns and other nonprofits.

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