Meet the Board!

Katherine (Katie) Brendli is a second-year doctoral student studying Special Education and Disability Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests include self-determination, culturally-responsive practices, and post-secondary transitions for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). As a lover of learning, with a passion to make positive change, Ms. Brendli’s ultimate goal is to conduct quality research, to make influential contributions to the special education field, and to develop innovative means to best support individuals with IDD in the post-secondary transition process. Specifically, Ms. Brendli hopes to foster greater opportunities and experiences in post-secondary education for individuals with IDD through powerful advocacy, research, and collaboration.


Virginia Palencia is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership, Social Justice and Policy department at VCU. Her research focuses on educational inequity in terms of segregation, access and language policy in the hopes of creating greater opportunity for marginalized students. Palencia taught high school English in public schools for eight years in the Hampton Roads area. Current research projects include a mixed-methods examination of racial discipline disproportionality in Richmond area schools, a content analysis of sexual abuse policies in public schools, as well as an evaluation of school-community partnerships as means of school desegregation and integration. Her dissertation will examine tracking policies and Latinx students in the Richmond area. She is also part of the English Learner Research and Evaluation Team with the Metropolitan Education Research Consortium (MERC) at VCU. In addition, she works with a girl’s orphanage in Costa Rica in creating greater access to education and nutrition.


Chantel will complete her Masters of Education in Counselor Education in May 2019. She will work with high school level students as a school counselor in Ashland, Virginia. Research interests include culturally-responsive practices, trauma-informed care, and resiliency building. In addition to working with students in schools, Chantel enjoys bridging educational gaps through community engagement. Other educational and leadership engagements include serving as an Assistant Hall Director for VCU Residential Life & Housing and further promoting equity and inclusion within the Richmond Community.


Yingying Jiang is a first-year doctoral student and graduate assistant studying Research, Assessment and Evaluation at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Ms. Jiang obtained her BS in Experimental Psychology from Purdue University and an MA in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University. Her Master’s degree project focused on bilingualism, creativity, and cognitive development during adolescence and early adulthood. Currently, Ms. Jiang’s research involves educational statistics and advanced quantitative methodology.



Ashlee Lester is a doctoral student in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education studying Educational Psychology. Her research interests focus on student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts such as afterschool programs.  Secondarily, she focuses on educational equity, and as such, she is engaged in various projects that investigate racial disproportionality in discipline practices, explore demographic change in local school systems, and consider how these two overlap.  As an educational psychologist, she often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding these larger questions of equity, access, and motivation in our education systems.  Her recent work includes a meta-analysis of student outcomes from afterschool programs, a profile analysis of school level demographic change as it relates to disproportionate discipline, and a mixed methods exploration of student engagement in afterschool programs.  The underlying theme in this variety of work is an emphasis on equity in all educational contexts.  She believes that the foundation of student success is equitable access and opportunities across all contexts.


In her 13th year at VCU, Kristin Smith currently serves as Senior Assistant Registrar in Records and Registration and is finishing her first year of the Ed.D. in Leadership program at VCU. Kristin’s professional interests are in the areas of higher education, student success, and data analytics. Also of interest to Kristin is improving process efficiency through technical reasoning and technology.  She spends her free time reading and constructing/crafting with her hands, and lives with her husband and daughter in Midlothian, Virginia.