Community College Research Initiatives

About us

Mission and Values

The Community College Research Initiatives (CCRI) group is dedicated to research and development focusing on equitable college access, progression and transfer, degree completion, and employment in family living-wage careers for all learners. Current projects of the CCRI group focus on transfer pathway, career pathway and new baccalaureate degree policies and practices implemented in the United States, including the state of Washington. A strong focus is placed on studying reforms that enroll underserved student groups that have used community colleges as their entry point to higher education. The CCRI group is dedicated to understanding the role that these institutions play in student educational and employment outcomes. The work of CCRI is funded by the University of Washington and several national foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Our staff

Debra D. Bragg, Ph.D., Director
Dr. Bragg is the director of the Community College Research Initiatives group, which resides in the Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity. Prior to joining University of Washington, Dr. Bragg spent over 25 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she was founding director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) and Gutgsell Endowed Professor. Dr. Bragg is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association and 2016 recipient of the Distinguished Career Award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Lia Wetzstein, Ph.D., Research Scientist
Dr. Lia Wetzstein has varied research interests which revolve around education equity. These include community college transfer, science, environmental and sustainability education and improving the educational experiences of students underrepresented in higher education. Prior to her education research work, she worked in the natural sciences in higher education in multiple roles, including teaching, curriculum design, K-12 and community outreach.

Theresa Ling Yeh, Ph.D., Research Scientist
Ling’s research focuses primarily on educational access, engagement, and persistence across the K-16 pipeline. Her areas of expertise also include community engagement, mixed-methods research, and program evaluation. In addition to research, Ling has over 15 years of professional experience working in the higher education and non-profit sectors, focusing on postsecondary access and retention, males of color, service-learning, diversity, and federal TRIO programs.

Elizabeth Meza, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst
Prior to joining the University of Washington Elizabeth spent eight years as an administrator and faculty member at several community colleges in Washington. In 2011 she earned an Institute of Education Sciences(IES) Fellowship in the CREST program at the University of Washington and completed a PhD with a mixed methods dissertation focusing on institutional program and policy factors associated with student success in developmental math in Washington. Her research expertise centers around equity in higher education, community college policy and practice, and mixed methods designs.

Grant Blume, Ph.D., Affiliate Faculty
Grant Blume, a faculty member in the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, teaches and conducts research in such areas as policy analysis, program evaluation, race and equity, and mixed methods. He earned his Ph.D. in 2016 from the Evans School and was a fellow of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) pre-doctoral training program at the University of Washington. Grant’s quantitative research experience includes working with large statewide data sets, analysis with multilevel models, and writing statistical code in R. He has also served as lead evaluator for a four-year U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant at a Washington State community college.

Maria Claudia Soler, M.A., Research Assistant
Maria Claudia is a Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program with a concentration in Higher Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She holds an MA in International Education and Policy Analysis from Stanford University, an MA in Clinical Psychology, and a BA in Psychology from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Her research interests include higher education access and success policies, especially those related to college choice, financial aid, student support programs, and career pathway models. She and Dr. Bragg have published several research reports on applied baccalaureate degree policies in the U.S..

Katie Kovacich, M.Ed., Research Coordinator
With a background in cultural anthropology, Katie, recently earned a master’s degree in Educational, Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration in Leadership in Higher Education. Prior research contributions were with the Knowledge in Action AP+ Research Study advancing equity outcomes in urban high schools using project based learning and DBIR methodologies at the University of Washington. Her research interests include higher education retention, degree completion and successful transitions to careers utilizing community engaged activities to assist developing student success attributes and equitable outcomes for all minoritized students. Additional interests include program evaluation. During her graduate studies, Katie conducted a readiness assessment for the UW Seattle to explore applying for the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.