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Recent M.P.P. Graduates

Kathryn Zekus, M.P.P. '14 

T. McDole

Kathryn serves as a senior associate for federal policy at Advance CTE, the longest-standing national nonprofit that represents state directors and state leaders responsible for secondary, postsecondary and adult career technical education across the United States. In her role, Kathryn leads government relations efforts, including advancing federal legislative priorities, engaging members in advocacy efforts and maintaining and growing meaningful partnerships with relevant stakeholders. 

Prior to joining Advance CTE, Kathryn was part of Achieve’s strategic initiatives team, where she supported state-level advocacy efforts for college and career readiness policies.

Originally from Tucson, Arizona, she received a B.A. in political science and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. She completed her M.P.P. practicum at the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a nonprofit that drives collaboration on policy and practice to ensure student success across Tennessee. As a SCORE graduate fellow, she analyzed focus group and survey data and researched a variety of education policy issues.

“During my time at Peabody, my interest and passion for education policy grew," Zekus said. “Peabody pushed my critical thinking skills and provided me with many opportunities to analyze the political and contextual factors that affect how policy is made. I learned that there is too often a disconnect between between research, policy, and practice  – I left Peabody knowing that’s where I fit in, that I wanted to be part of the solution to bridge those gaps." 

Payton Richardson, M.P.P. ' 15

Payton Richardson

Payton currently works as a research analyst at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. As a quantitative analyst, he performs regression and other statistical analyses to study the effects of educational models on students’ academic performance across the country. His qualitative work revolves around the study, evaluation and measurement of non-academic student outcomes. 
Originally from Mount Vernon, New York, Payton received a B.A. in business administration education from Albertus Magnus College. Upon graduation, he worked in the private sector as a data specialist, managing data reporting teams and relational databases.
While at Peabody, Payton completed his practicum at the Achievement School District, where he was heavily involved in Memphis community outreach initiatives and the onboarding of new and returning teachers. Later, as a State Collaborative on Reforming Education graduate fellow, he integrated data and research into SCORE’s comprehensive guide on education policy. He also prepared case studies describing best practices among Tennessee school districts related to innovative teaching practices and Race to the Top initiatives. 
“My time at Peabody left me asking more detailed and informed questions,” he said. “The unique experience of applying lessons from the classroom directly to areas of legislation, policy or research is Peabody’s greatest asset.”

Molly Weiner, M.P.P. '14 

T. McDole

Molly serves as the director of Policy at Texas Aspires Foundation, a state-level education advocacy group focused on ensuring quality education for all Texas students. In her role, Molly is responsible for research and policy regarding increasing student achievement, ensuring effective educators in every classroom, promoting high-quality options for families and ensuring strong accountability for schools and districts. 

Prior to Texas Aspires Foundation, she served as program director for Urban Leaders Fellowship, recruiting and leading Nashville fellows through an intensive policy and leadership experience. She also worked as a high school math teacher for several years in Austin, Texas, after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in psychology and B.B.A. in accounting.

While at Peabody, she interned with the Tennessee Department of Education’s teachers and leaders division and completed her practicum with Urban Leaders Fellowship. Her practicum involved working part-time at Stand for Children Colorado, conducting research on teacher preparation, literacy and how transportation affects school choice. She also worked part-time for the office Colorado senator Mike Johnston, working with other fellows on state policies issues and their impact on the local community. 

“Through the experience, I was able to translate the research and classroom-based experiences I had at Peabody into tangible, on-the-ground work at both the state and local levels,” she said. “The mix of policy and politics, with a strong focus on what the implementation of policy looks like, sharpened my advocacy skills and illuminated a future career path. My time at Peabody and the network it created (I was hired by an M.P.P. alum in Austin!) allowed me to think through weighty education issues, dive deep into research and best practices, and discover a path where my interests and skills could be best used in the service of furthering educational equity. In my current work, I use the things I've learned and the people I've been connected with to inform my daily practice and advocate for meaningful policy that benefits students, teachers, schools and systems.”

Alex Poon, M.P.P. '15

Mark Dunn

Alex currently works as a data analyst for the Tennessee Department of Education. He is primarily responsible for creating an accountability framework to evaluate Tennessee schools and school districts based on student achievement and other indicators of quality. He also uses data to evaluate district and school performance each year and communicate these results to school leadership and the public.

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Alex graduated from McMaster University in 2012 with a B.S. in mathematics and statistics. His strong math background proved valuable during his time at Peabody, where he completed a data-focused practicum at the Tennessee Department of Education.

“The M.P.P. program at Peabody prepared me to make data-driven policy decisions in my position at the Department of Education,” he said. “Learning about the successes and unintended consequences of prior accountability policy through the program has informed my work with evaluating and redesigning Tennessee’s accountability system. Whatever your interests in education, Peabody’s M.P.P. program will allow you to explore your interests from multiple disciplinary perspectives and prepare you to take on any role that meaningfully affects policy.”

Mark Dunn, M.P.P. '12

Drew Jacobs

Markis currently the Director of Outreach and Recruitment for Yale University’s Undergraduate Admissions Office.

“I began the M.P.P. program in 2010 after three years of working as an undergraduate admissions officer, with an itch of curiosity about the larger policy frameworks shaping how students prepared for and entered college. I was attracted to Peabody for its emphasis on opportunities outside of the classroom, and its many connections with state and local policymakers. During my two years in the program I pursued different internships with very different organizations – bolstering both my résumé and my sense of where to make my next career move. As someone whose interests straddle both K-12 and higher education, I was able to pursue coursework in both fields including several courses that bear directly on the intersection of the two. I also greatly improved my fluency and capacity with quantitative analysis and data-driven decision-making. I use these skills and many of the lessons I learned on a daily basis in my current position at Yale. “

Amy Owen, M.P.P. '14

Sara Waly

Amy currently serves as director of policy and research for the Tennessee State Board of Education. Some of her responsibilities include managing the board’s policy agenda to create a strong foundation for student success and securing external grants to support strategic, high-priority work.  

Prior to the Tennessee State Board of Education, Amy worked for the Tennessee Department of Education in two roles: First, she served as a policy analyst for the special populations division and then later served as director of academic strategy for the Office of Academic Strategy and Operations.

Originally from Bethesda, Maryland, Amy received a B.A. in history and minor in social studies education from Wake Forest University. Upon graduation, she gained classroom experience by teaching AP world history, eighth grade American history and more.  

While at Peabody, she completed her practicum with the Tennessee Department of Education, working on several cross-divisional projects. One project involved revising Tennessee’s special education finance formula, and this summer project eventually evolved into adaptations to the state formula that went into effect in 2016.

“It’s the people that make Peabody’s program so strong,” she said. “The professors balance their impressive research agendas with making time for coffee breaks with students, brainstorming options for internships and even picking up the phone and calling a prospective employer on a former student’s behalf years after graduation. (I know that last one from experience!) The experience of developing relationships with your cohort across two years is also incredibly valuable. My cohort was incredibly supportive whenever someone was experiencing challenges at school, work or in their personal lives.”