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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, teacher 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. 

David Naff, PhD

Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation

David Naff is a recent graduate of the Educational Psychology PhD program at Virginia Commonwealth University. 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 Achieving Racial Equity in School Disciplinary Policies and Practices study as well as the Teacher Retention 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.

Amy Corning, PhD

Lead Evaluator

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.

Melissa Cuba

Evaluation Specialist

Before joining the MERC team, Melissa supported local evaluation, applied research, and program development efforts as a graduate research assistant and a research study team associate. She is also a doctoral student in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before moving to Richmond to pursue her doctorate in education, she was a specialized teacher in Arlington County, where she helped pilot a program for English learners with disabilities. In addition to her work in Arlington, she was a foreign language teacher in Washington, D.C., South Korea, and Peru. Her research interests stem from her experiences as an educator and her prior work in the international development field. Her areas of research include: the disproportionality of English learners in special education, the intersectionality of race/ethnicity, disability, and language, and policies and practices for English learners. She has published articles on instructional practices that support English learners with disabilities and research on contextual factors that impact opportunities and outcomes for English learners.

Zoey Lu

Graduate Research Assistant

Zoey (Chu Yi) Lu is a second year doctoral student in Curriculum, Culture, and Change track at the School of Education of Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her research interests in multiculturalism, diversity, and equity in education are the outcome of her own culturally diverse life and working experience. Zoey was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Uruguay, and later received her higher education in the U.S. Before  coming to VCU, she worked as a language instructor in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for the last two years. Prior to working in Taiwan, Zoey worked as a research and teaching assistant at the Department of Sociology of Brigham Young University. She has extensive qualitative and quantitative research experience. One of the projects she worked on during her study at BYU was evaluating and analyzing a federally funded after school program on its efficiency and quality in assisting and supporting the academic performance of low-income and/or low-performance students in Utah County (2012-2015). 

Hannah Sions

Research Assistant

Hannah Sions is a a third year doctoral student in Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests stem from her experience as a public school teacher, focusing on multicultural issues, equity pedagogy, and applying theory to practice. Coming from an art education background, she brings a different perspective to issues of diversity and intersectionality within the school system. Hannah serves as a graduate research assistant on the CodeRVA evaluation team. In her spare time, Hannah enjoys knitting, reading, photography, and hiking with her husband and their dog, Addy.