With decades of collective expertise in the teacher preparation space, our team is focused on amplifying the unique contributions that MSI’s offer in training highly effective diverse educators for America’s classrooms.
Director of Organizational Effectiveness
Most recently, Mark served as the Senior Manager of Data Strategy and Analytics at New Leaders, where he helped lead much of the organization's surveys and data collection work while supporting program evaluation and key organizational learning efforts. Mark received his Bachelor of Science in Economics from Michigan Technological University.
Coordinator of Events and Special Projects
Donna holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management from the esteemed Virginia State University. After completing her degree, Donna worked for ten years as a Director of Hospitality in five-star hotels, such as The St. Regis, the Grand Hyatt, and the Bristol Plaza.
After leaving the hotel industry, Donna moved to the District of Columbia where she obtained the position, Patient Ambassador and Training Manager for Washington Hospital Center. In the role as Patient Ambassador, she met with all incoming patients within twenty-four hours of their arrival at the hospital to ensure they received quality care during their stay. In doing so, Donna significantly increased Washington Hospital Center’s Press Ganey scores, the rating system for all hospitals. During her tenure, Donna also trained transformed single mothers over 500 employees, throughout the hospital, on workplace safety procedures.
After leaving Washington Hospital Center, Donna served as the Director of the GED program for young mothers, Mothers Obtaining Victor in Education, at Atlanta Technical College. Under her leadership, young mothers received their GED and successfully transitioned into higher education and/or the workforce. During her 10 years at Atlanta Technical College, she partnered with Morehouse School of Medicine, University of Georgia, The Thurman Group, and other community-based organizations, bringing workshops in nutrition, parenting, anger management, HIV/AIDS awareness, health and wellness, and countless others to the young mothers
Donna is a single parent to two awesome children, Danielle and Michael. Danielle is currently a student at Howard University, enrolled in a Master’s Degree program in Social work and Public Help. Michael is a senior at Bard College with a concentration in Jazz Performance. After graduation, Michael would like to continue his studies and obtain a Master’s Degree in education.
Dr. Luzelma Canales
Vice President for Community Engagement and Partnerships
Dr. Luzelma G. Canales is the Associate Vice President of Leadership Learning and Activation at the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED). Prior to joining BranchED, she served as the Senior Associate Vice President for Student Success for The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). She was responsible for the overall leadership and administration of programming and services leading to student success in academic, college life, and the transition of students to the workforce or graduate school. In addition, Dr. Canales had a key leadership role in ensuring excellent and ongoing academic and student support services for all students, designed to increase retention and graduation rates while maintaining the highest standards of academic excellence. Dr. Canales served as the founding executive director for RGV FOCUS, a collaboration with Educate Texas. Dr. Canales provided leadership for a large-scale collective impact initiative launched to transform college readiness, access, and success across a four-county region in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. The collaborative is comprised of over forty partners including four postsecondary institutions, eleven school districts, two workforce boards, private funders, and numerous community based organizations and nonprofits. Dr. Canales served as a community college and university administrator for over twenty-five years. She led numerous institutional community college national reform initiatives including Achieving the Dream, Breaking Through, and several with Excelencia in Education. Dr. Canales serves on local, state and national boards related to closing equity gaps in voter turnout and educational attainment. She was born and raised along the Texas-Mexico border in deep South Texas. She and her family migrated to Washington and Oregon to work in the fields during the 1960s and 1970s. Her lived experience includes participating in the integration of schools and witnessing the efforts of the United Farm Workers to bring to light concerns over working conditions of migrant farm workers. These and other experiences formed her commitment to work with organizations to identify and eliminate barriers that are faced by Latino students as they navigate the high school and college experience. Dr. Canales earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Pan American University, master’s in business administration from the University of Texas – Pan American, and doctorate of philosophy in human resource development from Texas A&M University.
Executive Assistant to the President & Board Liaison
Dr. Cassandra Herring
Founder, President, and CEO
Prior to founding BranchED, Dr. Herring served as Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Hampton University for nearly 10 years. Under her leadership, struggling education programs were transformed, earning state approval and highest commendations by accrediting bodies. She doubled her school’s enrollment through strategic recruitment efforts and secured external resources for student support. In addition to her work within the school of education, Dr. Herring conceptualized and spearheaded Hampton U Online, the university’s virtual campus for the delivery of online degree programs, and opened the Hampton University International Office, a central hub for supporting international students and faculty, promoting study abroad, and building global connections.
Dr. Herring has served on numerous national and international boards, including on the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Equity and Diversity Committee, the Board of Directors of Data Quality Campaign, and advisory boards for the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Teachers College at Western Governors University. Previously, Dr. Herring served on the Board of Directors of the international Online Learning Consortium, the External Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Educator Quality Data Dashboard, the advisory board for the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education, and as Chair of the NAFEO Academic of Deans of Education Council. She has been recognized as a Salzburg Global Institute Fellow at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria. Currently, Dr. Herring is a distinguished Emerson Collective Dial Fellow.
Dr. Herring earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Policy from Georgia State University, and Master of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
Professional Development Associate
In addition to her work at BranchED, Kim consults with international educational organizations such as Teach for Nigeria and Instill Education in South Africa. She also partners with her husband, who serves in the state legislature in Nigeria, to help local schools throughout his district. Together, they have three children: Joseph, David and Olivia who inspire their work every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Lisic
Continuous Improvement Coach
Dr. Elizabeth Lisic joins BranchED as a Continuous Improvement Coach. Before joining BranchED, Dr. Lisic was Assistant Director of the Center for Assessment and Improvement of Learning (CAIL) at Tennessee Tech University, where she leads regional training workshops to prepare institutions for the implementation of the Critical-thinking Assessment Test (CAT) as a performance measure of student critical thinking and as a faculty development tool and provides ongoing support to institutions across the country in the implementation of the CAT at multiple institutional levels. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Tennessee Tech University teaching information literacy in psychology, quantitative research methods, experimental psychology and senior thesis. Educator with over 10 years of experience focused on professional development and student learning assessment and improvement, specifically related to outcomes such as critical and creative thinking and lifelong learning. Dr. Lisic earned her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Lee University and her Ph.D. from Tennessee Tech University.
Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton
Senior Vice President
Patricia Alvarez McHatton, Ph.D. is BranchED’s Senior Vice President. As Senior VP, Dr. Alvarez McHatton oversees all MSI Educator Preparation Program faculty and leader facing programming, including capacity building and professional learning initiatives. Most notably, she overseas BranchED’s National Teacher Preparation Transformation Center and BranchED’s Inclusive Rigorous Content Hub & Professional Learning Center (aka The Birch Center). Dr. Alvarez McHatton brings to BranchED a wide range of experience in higher education. She previously served as Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Success, and P-16 Integration at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) where she also served as the founding Dean of the College of Education and P16 Integration. As Dean, she led multiple initiatives to enhance educator preparation programs within the college, expand the educator pipeline, and cultivate and maintain strong, collaborative partnerships with districts and community members. She is the author and contributor of over fifty reports and publications and has presented at numerous conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Alvarez McHatton earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education Behavior Disorders and Learning Disabilities, a master’s in Special Education Varying Exceptionalities, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Special Education and Urban Education, from the University of South Florida.
Chief Financial Officer
Dr. Amy Murillo
Continuous Improvement Coach
Amy Murillo is an experienced educational leader having served almost two decades in public schools at the secondary level. She has served as a classroom teacher, a world languages department chair, and as a building assistant principal in large comprehensive high schools. Some of her past experiences include work in curriculum and assessment, teacher development, as well as initiatives related to culturally responsive teaching and educational equity. She is passionate about centering students in schools and ensuring all students have access to quality educational experiences; especially students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. Additionally, she has personal and professional experiences working with Latinx communities and first-generation college students. Dr. Murillo holds a bachelor's degree in English education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from University of St. Francis, and a doctoral degree from Lewis University in the area of Leadership in Teaching and Learning.
Suzy holds a Master of Management degree from Troy University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in Marketing from Saint Louis University.
Dr. Alicia Gonzalez Quiroz
Dr. Alicia Gonzalez Quiroz’s experience is varied and multifaceted having worked in higher education in providing instruction and in student support services and administration for several years and over ten years in public health administration, promotion, policy and research. Dr. Quiroz’s area of interest is in the area of research methodology, analysis and interpretation, having extensive experience in statistical analysis for outcome assessments and program evaluations. Major roles have included developing, coordinating, administering and evaluating services to provide guidance and support; using her credentials as a Registered and Licensed Dietitian to teach in the college setting; and collaborating with national researchers to add to pool of knowledge in the areas of education, health and public policy.
Dr. Alicia Quiroz is a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship recipient. She earned her Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Our Lady of the Lake University, her Master of Science degree in Nutrition from The University of the Incarnate Word, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin. She is pursuing her second doctoral. degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition from the North Dakota State University. Dr. Quiroz is bilingual in English and Spanish to fully encompass the nuance for Hispanic-serving populations.
Dr. Angela Schroeder
Continuous Improvement Coach
Dr. Angela Schroeder is an experienced educator that has been working in P-16+ education for over 15 years. She has been a highly effective secondary classroom teacher in both face-to-face and online settings while working for Title I campuses. As a professional learning community leader, she identified opportunities to close achievement gaps and increase educational equity. While working in higher education, she served on academic initiatives and curriculum committees performing analyses of educator preparation data and strategizing for continuous improvement. Additionally, she has published articles and written presentations focused on using data to find solutions for teacher shortages and improving teacher preparation programs. She is passionate about the profession of teaching and ensuring that classroom teachers are prepared to address the needs of today’s diverse learners. Dr. Schroeder holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas, a master’s degree in Student Development and Leadership from Angelo State University, and a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Tech University.
Dr. Sedef Smith
Director of Educator Preparation Program Transformation Services
Dr. Smith is a Director of Educator Preparation Program Transformation Services at BranchED. She previously worked as Executive Director of Instruction and Faculty Development at University of Houston Downtown’s (UHD) Marilyn Davies College of Business, establishing strategy and direction for the College’s Office of Instructional Excellence and collaborating with deans, department chairs, and faculty to develop appropriate policy and guidance for the success of online, hybrid, and on campus courses/programs. Prior to her appointment at UHD, Dr. Smith taught teacher education courses at Lamar University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a tenure-track professor.
Dr. Smith earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the State University of New York at Albany and completed her masters in Curriculum and Instruction/TESOL at Temple University. Her scholarly interests focus on two lines of work: online teaching and learning; and linguistic, socio-cultural, and political complexities of academic literacy. She has presented and published widely on these topics.
Dr. Smith has been an active participant in several professional communities. She served on committees for the TESOL International Organization and the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), served on the National Screening Committee for Fulbright U.S. Student English Language Teaching Assistantships Program, and served as an advocacy officer and board member for TexTESOL Houston Branch. She is currently on the Effective Practice Award Committee for the Online Learning Consortium.
Dr. Ruby Stevens-Morgan
Dr. Stevens-Morgan is a Data Coach for BranchED's National Educator Preparation Transformation Center. She comes to BranchED with more than 18 years data management and analysis experience in K-12 and higher education. She previously served as the Director of Strategic Planning and Analysis with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and the Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Prairie View A&M University where she established strategy and direction for data management, analysis, and reporting. Prior to relocating to Texas, Dr. Stevens-Morgan served as an education administrative consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education and as a high school business teacher with Fayette County Schools in Lexington, KY. She has taught business, education and psychology courses at 4-year and 2-year higher education institutions.
Dr. Stevens-Morgan earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kentucky and her B.S. in Business Education at Auburn University. Her scholarly interests include factors impacting student educational outcomes, equity-based leadership, and positive psychology. She has been actively involved as a community volunteer for more than 20 years and is the founder of a non-profit organization with a mission to empower underserved youth with the social and academic skills to achieve personal and educational goals.
Dr. Stevens-Morgan has been an active participant in professional learning communities where she has conducted training and presented sessions on using data tools, understanding and using data for program improvement, reporting for grant-funded programs, and reporting data with an equity lens. She has a passion for work that involves improving education outcomes and, ultimately, people’s lives.
Director of Communications
Marissa Villa is BranchED’s Director of Communications. Previously, she was Director of Communications at UP Partnership, a cradle-to-career collective impact network in San Antonio, where she led the organization’s communications strategy and implementation. With more than 15 years of experience, she’s served as a communicator at The University of Texas at San Antonio, UT Health San Antonio, and as a journalist at the San Antonio Express-News and Wichita Falls Times Record News. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication from Midwestern State University.
Dr. Kate Zimmer
Director of the BIRCH Professional Learning Center
Dr. Kate Zimmer is BranchED’s Director of the BIRCH Professional Learning Center. In this role, Dr. Zimmer collaborates with the BIRCH professional learning and development team to create goals and design trainings for in-person and virtual programs, resources, and learning communities. In addition, Dr. Zimmer leads BranchED's mixed reality simulation lab. This lab provides individuals with a powerful and interactive learning experience that allows the participant to purposefully practice skills that prepare them for real world situations.
Before joining BranchED, Dr. Zimmer was the Director of the AVATAR Lab and an Associate Professor of Special Education at Kennesaw State University. During her directorship, she helped serve over 7,000 students, 937 in-service teachers, and collaborated with over 19 academic disciplines.
Her scholarship centers on teacher preparation and quality, with an emphasis on innovation and educational inequities. To date, this work has yielded over fifty national and international presentations, numerous articles, and external funding.
Dr. Zimmer earned her bachelor of arts degree in Early Childhood Education from Saint Leo University and a master’s in education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Central Florida. She holds a Ph.D. in Special Education with a focus on literacy and Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of Florida.