Meet the team of researchers and campus practitioners behind Degrees When Due.
Lexi Shankster, PhD
Lexi Shankster, Ph.D. is the director of student success and mobility at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In her current portfolio, Shankster directs the Degrees When Due project and supports other practitioner-facing initiatives.
Shankster previously served as the Director of Research at Washington State’s Student Achievement Council, where she led research on adult reengagement efforts and low-income high school students’ perceived obstacles to postsecondary participation. She also brings campus staff experience, working in both the institutional research and financial aid offices of University of California, Berkeley. She holds a B.A. in cultural anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, an M.S. in economics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in political science from University of California, San Diego.
Julie Ajinkya, PhD
Julie Ajinkya, Ph.D., is the vice president of applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In her current role, she provides strategic oversight to the Degrees When Due initiative, as well as other practitioner-facing initiatives on the applied research team.
Prior to joining IHEP, Ajinkya worked at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she focused primarily on the importance of equity and public policy and the impact that demographic change has on a diverse portfolio of policy issues. Ajinkya also serves as a visiting professor of government at Cornell University’s campus in Washington, DC, where she teaches courses on race, inequality and public policy.
She earned her B.A. in political science from Amherst College, and both her M.A. and Ph.D. in government from Cornell University.
Calista H. Smith serves as a master coach for Degrees When Due specializing in the reverse transfer strategy.
As president of C H Smith & Associates, Smith facilitated the strategic planning process to merge the best of the Credit When It’s Due and Project Win-Win into Degrees When Due. She has been involved in a variety of completion and degree attainment work with the Ohio Department of Higher Education since 2011 and gained practical knowledge in this field as a project coordinator for Ohio’s implementation of Credit When It’s Due.
Smith holds a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and bachelor’s degrees in Communications and the Honors Program from Villanova University. She also holds a project management professional credential.
Chris Baldwin, PhD
Dr. Christopher Baldwin is an independent consultant partnering with the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) as a Master Coach for Degrees When Due. As a long-time advocate for student success, Dr. Baldwin has spent the past 15 years pushing for the adoption of practices and policies that increase the likelihood that students will complete a postsecondary credential. Prior to launching his consulting business in 2017, Chris was Associate Vice President at Jobs for the Future, where he led the effort to secure a substantial investment from private foundations to expand the number of state-level intermediaries know as Student Success Centers. Leveraging his tenure as the founding Executive Director of the Michigan Center for Student Success (MCSS), Chris and his JFF colleagues engineered the growth of the national network of these centers to 15 states. During his four-year stint with MCSS, Chris also led statewide efforts to implement Project Win-Win and Credit When Its Due strategies at Michigan colleges. These two initiatives are important antecedents to the current Degrees When Due project.
Dr. Baldwin’s commitment to and observation of reforms in the field are detailed in his 2017 book, The Completion Agenda in Community Colleges: What It Is, Why It Matters, and Where It’s Going. The volume, which based in part on his doctoral research, bridges the gaps between practice, policy, and research to provide the reader with a holistic view of community college response to the external pressure to improve student outcomes. Chris earned his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Michigan, a M.A. from Ohio University in International Studies, and a B.A. in Political Science and History from Baldwin-Wallace College.
Jason Taylor, PhD
Jason L. Taylor, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah. He is leading the research agenda for the Degrees When Due project in partnership with IHEP.
His broad research interests are at the intersection of community college and higher education policy, and educational and social inequality. Taylor was the Co-PI for the research on the Credit When It’s Due (CWID) initiative, a multi-state initiative aimed at developing and implementing reverse transfer policies. His research on reverse transfer has been published in policy reports and briefs, as well as peer-reviewed journals such as The Review of Higher Education and the Community College Journal of Research and Practice. He received his Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a research specialization in evaluation methods and concentration in public policy.
Leanne Davis is a research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), where she is a member of the applied research team. Her research interests include equitable access to higher education for all students, higher education financing, and non-traditional college students.
Prior to joining IHEP, Davis worked as a research associate focusing on adult college completion and college financing topics. Davis spent eight years as a college counselor which led to her interest in understanding how students make decisions on where to attend college, and how the resources available to them play a role in that decision. Before shifting to higher education, Davis worked for several years in various non-profit management and fundraising settings.
Davis earned her M.A. from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University, with a concentration in higher education policy and finance. She previously graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a B.S. degree in Political Science and served as a Naval Aviator.