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, Chair of the Board of the James B. McClatchy Foundation, past President of the Board of Directors of the nonprofit EdSource, and a member of the board of the non-profit Ten Strands. 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 provides counsel on and conducts 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 Professor and 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 has been 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 and a founder of African American Men in Education and Development. He is an innovative leader with over 21 years of experience in higher education — 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.


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.
Karina Jimenez, Administrative Assistant 
Karina Jimenez is the Administrative Assistant for the California Education Lab and Wheelhouse. She assists with research and administrative activities across the two centers. Before working for the School of Education, Karina worked as a Peer Advising Counselor and Special Projects Assistant for the UC Davis Center for Educational Opportunity Program. Karina holds a B.A. degree in History and two minors in English and Latin American and Hemispheric Studies from the University of California, Davis, and graduated with High Honors.
 Aidan Johnson, Student Assistant 
Aidan is a dedicated and motivated undergraduate administrative assistant at the Wheelhouse, where she plays a crucial role in preparing and organizing initiatives that contribute to the advancement of community college leadership. Currently in her fourth year at the University of California, Davis, Aidan is pursuing a major in Sociology. In addition to her major, Aidan is double-minoring in Spanish and Education, showcasing her passion for fostering inclusive and diverse learning experiences. Aidan has hands-on experience in K-12 classrooms, where she adeptly teaches multiple subjects in Spanish. Her ambition is to continue working in the education field as a teacher, she envisions herself transitioning into the realm of education research, where she can contribute to the evolution and improvement of educational practices on a broader scale.
Robbie Linden, Research Fellow
Robbie Linden is a research fellow at Wheelhouse and an affiliate of the California Education Lab. In this role, he conducts quantitative analyses on student outcomes in the California Community Colleges. His completed reports include an evaluation of how the Student-Centered Funding Formula affected student financial aid receipt and a description of how student enrollment patterns changed following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Robbie holds a PhD in Education and master’s in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Davis and a bachelor’s in public policy from the University of Michigan.  
Mayra Nunez Martinez, Research Fellow
Mayra is a fourth-year Ph.D. student studying Education with an emphasis in School Organization and Educational Policy at UC Davis. Her research interests focus on examining the educational inequities impacting college access, retention, and completion for Latina/o/x students in rural areas. Mayra previously worked as a high school biology teacher and college access advisor in California’s South San Joaquin Valley. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Nutrition from the University of Pennsylvania.
Hilary Strain, Associate Director
Hilary Strain is a passionate and dedicated professional with a rich background in the field of higher education technology. With over 17 years of experience, Hilary has made a significant impact on college institutions through her diverse roles in the ed tech sector. Throughout her career, Hilary developed a deep appreciation for community colleges and the vital role they play in promoting equity and social justice. Driven by a desire to make a more direct impact on the educational landscape, Hilary sought to transition to a hands-on role within a college environment. This aspiration led her to discover the perfect opportunity at Wheelhouse.

Kairo Weber Kairo Weber, Project Manager
Kairo Weber is the Project Manager for the California Education Lab and Wheelhouse. He assists with research and project coordination across the two centers. Before working for the School of Education, Kairo worked as a peer advisor for the UC Davis sociology department. He is a qualitative researcher with experience doing in-depth interviews and data coding. He completed an undergraduate thesis titled “Gender Confirmation Work, Rest, and Symbolic Boundaries in (Trans)Gender Support Groups” in his areas of expertise, gender and social movements, and won a departmental award for his work. Kairo holds a B.A. degree in sociology and a minor in human rights from University of California, Davis and graduated summa cum laude.
 Jacqui Zuniga-Dunkin, Events Manager       
Jacqui Zuniga-Dunkin is the Events Manager for Wheelhouse. With over a decade in the hospitality industry, she has extensive program development and marketing experience. Jacqui led events at Walt Disney World, Austin Business Journal, and Autism Speaks before joining the UC Davis team. She holds a bachelor’s degree in merchandising and marketing from Johnson & Wales University – Charlotte and an MBA from Baylor University.

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