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Student Biographies - Ph.D. Higher Education

Our students hail from around the country and the globe. Their diverse personal and professional backgrounds contribute significantly to the learning environment and provide unique opportunities to build strong and lasting networks.

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Toni Amason

Amason is an emerging scholar and doctoral student at the University of Houston. Her research interests are centered around equity and justice in higher education as it relates to access, success, and completion. Currently, Amason is working on projects studying public-private partnerships in higher education, as well as whiteness and white student development. Prior to entering the program, she spent time on various college campuses and at a nonprofit scholarship program as a leadership educator, helping students to recognize and utilize their potential as change agents. In her free time, Amason loves to engage in critical conversations, spoken word poetry, true crime podcasts and her comedy!

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Yolanda Barnes

Barnes is a scholar-activist and proud native Houstonian. She is currently a full time Ph.D. student at the University of Houston studying Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. As a researcher, Yolanda is looking at the ways in which federal and state policies unintentionally create college access barriers for underserved student populations. Additionally, she is exploring the stigma that is often associated with attending a community college and the equitable pathways towards college affordability through sustainable resources and financial support. Professionally, she served as a leadership educator at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As an educator, Barnes worked closely with students to provide space and opportunity to explore their leadership potential, social identities and calling to be justice-centered leaders. She also worked in Washington, D.C. for the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), as their coordinator for student and new professional initiatives.

Barnes graduated from Texas A&M University (Whoop!) with a B.S. in psychology and a M.S. in educational administration. In her spare time, she enjoys reconnecting with the city that raised her, being a “cool aunt” to her nephew, watching soap operas with her grandmother, travelling and fighting against the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

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Cassie Bruner

Bruner is a doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program. She received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas State University. She also has worked as an adult probation officer in Austin for one year before deciding to change career. Bruner began working as a law librarian in Fort Worth. After gaining a few years’ worth of experience there, she accepted a position as a reference & outreach librarian at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson. A year later she took over as the director for the library and learning services departments, a position held since December 2014. Cassie is also an advisor for the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society chapter on campus. Bruner wants to help remove the stigma on community college students and prove that they are just as successful and just as worthy of an education. Right now, her research interests include anything that has to do with community college transfer students, the benefits of student engagement outside of the classroom and the effects of campus culture on students. In her free time, she enjoys checking out new spots in Houston, watching movies, spending time with her 11-year-old chocolate lab and dancing.  cjbruner@uh.edu 

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Christopher Burnett

Burnett is a student in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program. He has received a B.A. in communication from the University of California, San Diego and an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston. His research interests are in accountability policies, institutional planning and accreditation. Prior to his doctoral journey he has worked primarily with K-12 STEM educators and helped develop curricula and educational resources. Burnett became interested in higher education policy and decided to pursue a doctorate after becoming involved in institutional effectiveness and supporting a successful reaffirmation of accreditation.

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Michael Johnson

Johnson is a third year doctoral student in the Higher Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program. His research interest include understanding the social, economic, and wellness concerns of transitioning service members and veterans, and particularly the role of higher education in the transition experience. He currently serves as Chief of Staff of the University of Houston. Prior to coming to UH, Michael served in various administrative and leadership positions in enrollment management, student service and advancement at Purdue University, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from The Citadel and a master’s degree in higher education from George Mason University.

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Ashley Mullen

Mullen is a fourth-year part-time PhD student in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies Program.  She works full time at Baylor College of Medicine, where she is the director of the orthotics and prosthetics program in the School of Health Professions. Mullen is active clinically through Hanger Clinic and has served on the board for the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists. She received her undergraduate degree from Rice University and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Her research interests include health professions clinical education, preceptorship, competency-based education, program and student assessment and faculty development.  Her candidacy work explored the relationship between clinical autonomy and trainee success during residency. When she is not working or studying, she is spending time with her two kids, Ethan and Audrey, and her husband, Dan.

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Katerina Wingfield

Wingfield is a doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program. She had the pleasure of serving in positions on both the secondary and post-secondary side of education in the areas of leadership, program coordination, and student services. Wingfield also has teaching experience as a high school and college instructor. She currently serves as manager of articulation for Lone Star College where she can combine her secondary and post-secondary education experience managing P-16 initiatives and programs. It was while spending most of her career working with underserved students, that she came to broad research interest in the area of minority student access, persistence and completion at higher education institutions in relation to pre-college preparation.  krwingfield@uh.edu