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Our Team

Learn more about our team at the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium. 

Jesse Senechal, PhD


Jesse Senechal is the director of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium. Through his work with MERC, Dr. 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 study of professional development for success in culturally diverse schools, action research teams for culturally responsive teachingteacher retention, and a study of new teacher preparation for an Urban Teacher Residency program. He has also led regional cohorts of teachers conducting action research in their schools. In 2016, Dr. Senechal served was the principal investigator of MERC’s Understanding Teacher Morale study, which explored the factors leading to demoralization and how to support teachers as professionals. Prior to his career as an educational researcher, Dr. Senechal spent 14 years teaching in public high schools in Chicago and Richmond. Dr. Senechal earned his PhD from the Research, Assessment, and Evaluation program in the VCU School of Education. 

David Naff, PhD

Associate Director

David Naff is a graduate of the Educational Psychology PhD program in the VCU School of Education. His research focuses on the decision-making processes and possible selves of students first-generation college students, particularly those attending schools of concentrated, urban poverty. Dr. Naff is a principal investigator on the MERC Equitable Access and Support for Advanced Coursework and Supporting Mental Health in Schools studies. He was previously a principal investigator on the MERC Achieving Racial Equity in School Disciplinary Policies and Practices study. He also leads evaluation efforts for MERC, is the host of the MERC podcast Abstract, and leads planning efforts for the annual MERC Conference. Prior to coming to MERC, Dr. Naff served as a high school counselor for four years in North Carolina.

Paula Ogston-Nobile, PhD

Evaluation Coordinator

Paula Ogston-Nobile, PhD is the Evaluation Coordinator for the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium. In this role, Paula coordinates and designs research and evaluation projects for wide-ranging educational programs. Her background bridges higher education, the nonprofit sector, state agencies, and public education. Paula’s research interests and professional goals are focused on ensuring that students, families, and educators have the resources they need to thrive. Prior to joining MERC, Dr. Ogston-Nobile worked in research and evaluation with VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities as well as VCU’s Literacy Institute. Dr. Ogston-Nobile received her PhD from the Department of Psychology's Developmental Program in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences.

Amy Corning, PhD

Lead Evaluator, CodeRVA Regional High School Evaluation Partnership

Dr. Corning is currently Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an appointment as an Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist at the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. At VCU, she is engaged with the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium on a study of college access needs and resources throughout the state of Virginia, and is currently the lead evaluator on our longitudinal evaluation of CodeRVA Regional High School. She has worked for a number of years on National Science Foundation-funded research on collective memory coordinated through the University of Michigan, in connection with which she has co-authored a book and published articles. Her experience in planning and managing research projects and her background in a range of research methods will support the proposed project. She has been involved in studies relating to survey methodology, and has worked extensively with surveys, from design and planning to analysis of survey data. In addition, she has carried out qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews, as well as of responses to open-ended survey questions.

Albion Sumrell, PhD

Research and Evaluation Assistant

Albion Sumrell has worked with numerous schools, colleges, and non-profits as an
administrator, teacher, and counselor. Most recently, he has been involved in supporting
educational organizations with program development and evaluation through consulting
projects. Due to his various roles in education, Dr. Sumrell understands the complex challenges
that educators encounter in supporting their students. His research interests include college
and career readiness and building effective pipelines between secondary and postsecondary
institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of New

Meleah Ellison, EdD

Research and Evaluation Assistant

Meleah Ellison serves as a Research and Evaluation Assistant for the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium. In this role, she supports a wide scope of research and evaluation projects in order to improve educational outcomes, as well as the experience of all stakeholders within our education system. Meleah has a plethora of experience across multiple settings including K-12 education, mental health, higher education, and philanthropic initiatives, with an emphasis on educational equity, college access, social consciousness, and leadership development. Her research interests center on amplifying the voices and experiences of individuals, families, and communities who have been systematically excluded from equitable educational and professional opportunities. Meleah received her EdD from Northeastern University.


Dana Ainsworth

Graduate Research Assistant

Dana Ainsworth is a third-year doctoral student in the Educational Leadership, Policy, and Justice program at VCU's School of Education. Prior to that, she was a high school English teacher. Dana's research focuses on the causal pathway linking exclusionary discipline with incarceration in trauma-exposed youth, commonly referred to as the Trauma to Prison Pipeline (TPP). She is particularly interested in the use of trauma-informed MTSS and mindfulness interventions as a means of interrupting the TPP. 

Riley Jenkins

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Riley Jenkins is a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in Social Work and Psychology. Riley aspires to have a career in the mental health field and/or working with children and students in the foster care system. She understands the importance of making mental health care accessible to everyone and aspires to be a part of providing children with the tools and opportunities needed to succeed. Additionally, she is passionate about research because it gives her the opportunity to learn about different communities. She believes the insight provided by research is invaluable and can be used to improve the quality of life of others. In her free time Riley enjoys listening to music, especially Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers, as well as hanging out with her dog Lincoln. 

Jamie Nervil

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Jamie C. Nervil is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Science on a pre-medical track, coupled with a minor in Political Science. Since her early childhood years, she has had her eyes set on one day finding her place within the vast array of occupations in the medical field. Because of her interest in public health, she is passionate about research centered on racial equity in education and how certain school policies/practices and socioeconomic factors can negatively impact minority students’ learning capabilities as well as their mental and physical health. Her work with MERC primarily involves extensive research and collecting/organizing data, but she has also served other roles such as helping coordinate the annual MERC Conference, supporting MERC social media platforms, and transcribing episodes of the MERC podcast, Abstract. She is an avid music lover and singer (sometimes way too much) and will read anything aloud in a British accent if you ask her to.

Ciana Cross

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Ciana is an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University and is studying Biology with a pre-physician assistant track, and a minor in sociology. She has always wanted to be in the medical field to help with the inclusion of diversity and most importantly to help people in need. With studying sociology, she finds it interesting to do research about advanced programs and how the diversity of a school and advance programs correlates. She likes to write creative stories and exercise in her free time and spend time with my friends and family.