Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Economic and Racial Equity Concentration

Ophelia Akoto

Ophelia Akoto

Ophelia Delali A. Akoto is a doctoral student in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration. Her research interests include the wage gap amongst minorities, systemic racial poverty, women entrepreneurship in Africa, and gender equity. She holds a Master of Public Service degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and an MBA from the University of Central Arkansas. Before joining the Heller School, Ophelia worked as a research and evaluation fellow at Vital Voices Global Partnerships in Washington DC, where she examined the impact of COVID-19 on the women within the Vital Voices network. She also worked as a researcher for the Newport Economic Development Committee, where she conducted extensive research on barriers preventing women from participating in the labor force in Newport, Arkansas. She hopes to better understand the intricacies of economic and racial equity research. She received her BA in Business from Henderson State University.
Christian Bijoux

Christian Bijoux

Chris Bijoux is a PhD candidate in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration at The Heller School at Brandeis University. He received an MPH in Health Management & Policy from Drexel University and a BA in Psychology from CUNY City College. Chris currently serves as Deputy Director for Equity and Racial Justice at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University. As a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University and member of the CJJR senior leadership team, Chris advances a race equity framework in all CJJR’s programs and initiatives, including the Crossover Youth Practice Model, Breakthrough Series Collaborative, and a new juvenile justice system assessment project in Tulsa, OK. Chris’ research interest includes the exploration of effective antiracist approaches for improving the life outcomes of legal system-involved youth, particularly racially marginalized youth.

Habiba Braimah

Habiba Braimah

Habiba Braimah is a doctoral candidate in Social Policy at The Heller School at Brandeis University. She received her MA in Higher & Postsecondary Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and her BS in International Business & Marketing at SUNY Plattsburgh. Prior to her doctoral studies, Habiba served as an Academic Advisor for the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs at the City University of New York at LaGuardia Community College, where she worked closely with students from underserved communities, providing a range of financial, academic, and personal support. Her research interests include college access and exploring the recruitment and retention of faculty of color at predominantly white institutions.
Kaitie Chakoian-Lifvergren

Kaitie Chakoian-Lifvergren

Kaitie is a doctoral candidate studying Social Policy at the Heller School and Sociology through the College of Arts and Sciences. Her academic and professional work has centered on gender-based violence. She is currently a Graduate Research Assistant in the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity (formerly IASP) working on an action research project evaluating a new national training and technical assistance program for agencies that support survivors of human trafficking. She has also done research on the impact of sexual harassment on home health workers, the experience of female black college students who experience racial and sexual harassment, and Boston Builds Credit, a citywide campaign to improve financial outcomes for Boston residents. Kaitie earned an MEd from Northeastern University and a BA from Simmons College. Prior to the PhD program at Brandeis, Kaitie worked in the gender-based violence movement doing direct service, volunteer management, and community mobilization work. She is a Commissioner on the Upper Middlesex Regional Commission on the Status of Women. Future research will examine instances of gender-based violence and the myriad sites and causes of loss of agency, as well as survivor resistance, with a focus on the effects of trauma on embodiment.
Aaron Coleman

Aaron Coleman

Aaron D. Coleman is a PhD candidate in Social Policy at Brandeis University. He received an MSW from Boston University, of Boston, Mass., in 2012 and a BSW from Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C., in 2009. Prior to his doctoral studies, Aaron became a teacher in a title one public school located in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. As a program coordinator at the Boston Public Health Commission, he also lobbied Massachusetts legislatures to include enumeration efforts for anti-bullying and piloted health education programs within Boston Public High Schools. A recipient of the rigorous and renowned Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars fellowship, Aaron’s research interests include education inequality, the culture of poverty, social movements, community network systems, syndemics and HIV/AIDS among Black men who have sex with men. His current work includes a study aiming to understand the role of religious doctrine on congregational health programming efforts.
Ofa Liz Ejaife

Ofa Liz Ejaife

Ofa Liz Ejaife is a doctoral candidate in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. She received an MA in Community Psychology and her BA in Psychology, both from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML). Prior to her doctoral studies, Ofa worked as a program manager at Suffolk University Law School. She also previously worked as a program evaluator at the Center for Community Research and Engagement at UML, focused on various community-based projects, such as: advancing wellness in the workplace, reducing crime and recidivism, promoting cultural competence in healthcare delivery, amongst others. Currently, Ofa’s research explores occupational landings by race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and social determinants of Black sexual minority women’s health and well-being.

Fernanda Escobar

Fernanda Escobar

Fernanda Escobar is a doctoral candidate in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration. Her research interests include American immigration, intergenerational mobility, and poverty and equality of opportunity in the United States. She holds a Master's degree in Public Policy with a concentration in poverty alleviation from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Prior to her doctoral studies, Fernanda was a research associate at the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity (formerly IASP), where she did quantitative analysis of national data to help understand the impact of policies on the racial wealth gap. Her prior jobs at the Consulate of Ecuador in Boston and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition provided her with a better understanding of how sound and well-developed policies can tackle the economic and social disparities between the immigrant community and American society. In addition, Fernanda has worked with disadvantaged communities in her home country, Ecuador, where she interned at the World Bank and volunteered with several NGOs.

Zachary Hylton

Zachary Hylton is a doctoral student in the Economic and Racial Equity Concentration at the Heller School. He received a Master of Development Practice from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology Anthropology and Political Science from Saint Olaf College. Prior to his candidacy, Zachary worked in government administration coordinating strategic projects to transform systems in homelessness, public safety, budgeting, and more. His research interests focus on organizational development, racial equity, community engagement, and how institutions can evolve to define success through improvements in the wellbeing of their most harmed communities.
Jonathan Jacob

Jonathan Jacob

Jonathan (Jon) Jacob is a doctoral student in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration. His research interests include issues of labor, social inequality, culture, race, and ethnicity. Jacob’s current research examines how the myth of the “model minority” has been deployed in American political discourse, and the ways in which it is internalized among Asian-Americans. Prior to joining the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Jacob worked as a high school educator for the Claremont Unified School District in Los Angeles County. He holds a MA in social sciences from The University of Chicago and a BA in business from Brandeis University.
Teresa Kroeger

Teresa Kroeger

Teresa Kroeger is a doctoral candidate in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration at the Heller School. She researches policies that affect the lives of socioeconomic disadvantaged individuals and families and those who are subject to gender and racial discrimination. At IERE, Teresa's work focuses on occupational segregation and racial wealth gaps. Prior to joining the Heller School, Teresa conducted research at the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the American Institutes for Research. Her recent research and publications focused on minimum wage violations, paid sick leave, collective bargaining, and the labor market for young graduates. Teresa holds a BA in Economics and Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Kaili Mauricio

Kaili Mauricio

Kaili Mauricio is a PhD candidate concentrating in Economic and Racial Equity at the Heller School. He received an MA in Economics from the New School and a BA in economics and history from Tufts University. His research interests include understanding the health impacts of financial stress, national trends on aging, and equity surrounding the use of personal debt. In addition to his role at the Lurie Institute, Kaili also serves as the quantitative methods student liaison for PhD students at Heller. Prior to the PhD program, Kaili worked for ten years at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston as a Community Development Policy Analyst and a Small Bank Risk Analyst.
Jamie Morgan

Jamie Morgan

Jamie Morgan is a doctoral candidate at the Heller School in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration. She received her Masters of Public Affairs from Indiana University South Bend. Her MPA research examined the individual economic impact of state level abortion regulation on the accessibility of care through a reproductive justice framework. Prior to her doctoral studies, Jamie served the City of South Bend as senior staff in the Office of Mayor Pete Buttigieg where she managed policy, special projects, and legislative affairs. As the director of Pro Choice South Bend, she spent three years helping Whole Woman’s Health Alliance open the only abortion clinic in Northern Indiana.
Janelle Ridley

Janelle Ridley

Janelle Ridley is a doctoral student in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration. Ridley has dedicated her career to serving youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has been a social worker, a teacher, and the founder of Transition HOPE, a program designed to give system-involved youth purpose, pathways, and encouragement.

After a 16-year career serving youth, she is excited to tackle research critically with a goal of finding the next direction for her work and youth services in general. She hopes her time in the doctoral program will “… allow me to think about the direction for HOPE and for the work moving forward. And joining the staff at Heller is exciting because I get to share what I’ve learned over the past 16 years with other young people… sharing the positives, but also the negatives to this work – the joys you get when you know you make an impact, and the burden you carry when you see that these systems are so dysfunctional.”  Ridley received her undergraduate degree from Lasell College.

Rachel Steele, PhD student in the Economic and Racial Equity Concentration

Rachel Steele

Rachel Steele is a doctoral candidate who received an AM in social service administration (2011) from the University of Chicago, an MA in religious studies (2009) and a BS in political science (2006) from Concordia University Chicago. Prior to entering the doctoral program at Heller, Ms. Steele worked as a data strategist and project manager at the University of Chicago, Network for College Success where her work focused on improving postsecondary outcomes of students in the Chicago Public School system. She also has experience in international development where she has worked to eradicate diseases of poverty. Rachel's research examines how individuals understand and reconcile their religious identities and their political identities, especially around policy issues related to economic inequality.
Emily Su Ni Thoman

Emily Su Ni Thoman

Emily Su Ni Thoman is a Phd candidate in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration at the Heller School at Brandeis University. She received her MS in Criminal Justice with a sub-concentration in Strategic Management and her BA in Political Science and History with a minor in Education, both from Boston University. Prior to her doctoral studies, Emily worked as a college advisor with College Advising Corps at Charlestown High School in Charlestown, MA. Her primary research interests focus on the impact of the Model Minority Myth on Asian subgroups within the political, education, and criminal justice systems, with a focus on the way policy in all three arenas has impeded racial equity and solidarity in America. 
Vilma Uribe

Vilma Uribe

Vilma Uribe is a PhD student in the Economic and Racial Equity concentration at The Heller School at Brandeis University. She received an MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence from The Heller School at Brandeis University and a BA in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and Comparative American Studies from Oberlin College. Vilma currently serves as Director of Policy and Systems Advocacy at REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, where works to address systemic and legislative barriers and to expand the ecosystem of support for survivors of domestic violence. Vilma’s research focus is on policy-based approaches to support the collective economic power of survivors of violence and people of color.