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.
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.
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.
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.
Claudia Escobar, Research Fellow
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.
Anna Lawrence, Associate Director
Ms. Lawrence brings 18 years of experience with nonprofits and government agencies. Prior to coming to UC Davis, Lawrence was an Assistant Program Director for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, where she developed service-learning projects in four states and supported leadership development programming for 18-24 year olds. She has worked in event production, foster care, youth mentoring, education, grant making, and was an AmeriCorps volunteer. She holds an MA in social service administration from the University of Chicago and BA in sociology from UC San Diego.
Divine Otico, Wheelhouse/California Education Lab Administrative Assistant
Ms. Otico provides administrative support for both Wheelhouse and its partner center, the California Education Lab. She earned her BA 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.
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.