Christopher Mullin, Ph.D., joined Strong Start to Finish as its director on November 6, 2017. Prior to serving in this role, Chris was the executive vice chancellor of the Florida College System, where he oversaw academic and student affairs, research and analytics, and financial policy for 28 institutions. Chris earned his doctoral degree in higher education administration, as well as his bachelor’s degree, from the University of Florida. He also holds a master of education degree from Teachers College of Columbia University.
Previously, Chris served as the assistant vice chancellor for policy and research at the State University System of Florida, Board of Governors, and as the program director for policy analysis of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Washington, DC. Before that, he worked for the Illinois Education Research Council, an entity statutorily charged with providing policy research for the state's P-20 Council. Chris has taught at the early childhood, elementary, middle and high school levels, and at four universities. He continues to serve as a guest lecturer at institutions across the country.
A prolific researcher and writer, Chris has co-authored books, journal articles, and policy briefs on the influence of state P-20 education structures on the educational decisions of both institutions and individuals. His work has been reported on in The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and EdWeek. He was recognized with the Barbara K. Townsend Emerging Scholar Award in 2012, and selected as a National Education Finance Conference Distinguished Research & Practice Fellow in 2014.
Denise Miller serves the Senior Project Manager of Strong Start to Finish at Education Commission of the States. Prior, Denise served as program director of Meritus College Fund, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focusing on college and career success for students from low-income communities. Denise has more than 14 years of leadership and service experience in organizations aiming to increase opportunities for underserved students.
Denise earned her doctoral degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy from Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, where she conducted a mixed-methods capstone on the influence of student affairs on first-year college student success. Denise is passionate about the P20 continuum, has worked with students of all ages, and holds a master’s degree in Elementary Education from Hunter College.
At Strong Start to Finish, Denise aims to support postsecondary and philanthropic leaders as they coordinate best practices and resources to achieve equitable outcomes for low-income students, students of color, and adult learners. She is motivated daily by the passion and insight each Strong Start to Finish stakeholder brings to this effort.
Maxine Roberts is the Knowledge Manager for Strong Start to Finish at the Education Commission of the States. Prior to joining ECS, Roberts earned her PhD in Urban Education Policy from the University of Southern California, where her research focused on the mathematics identity of Black students who succeed in developmental mathematics and on working with practitioners to achieve equitable student outcomes in developmental education. While at USC, she served as a Research Assistant with the Center for Urban Education where she worked extensively with faculty, administrators, and staff in community colleges to explore the ways their behaviors and institutional practices impact student success.
Previously, as a leader in New York City-based non-profit agencies, Maxine designed, implemented, and directed after school education initiatives and college preparatory programs at Bank Street College of Education’s Institute for Leadership, Excellence and Academic Development and Liberty LEADS programs. Both programs focus on expanding college access opportunities for students of color.
At Strong Start to Finish, Maxine aims to learn how SSTF’s grantee partners achieve equitable outcomes among their students and to share those lessons with practitioners, academics, and policymakers who are committed to improving developmental education.
Brian A. Sponsler, Ed.D., is the vice president of policy and director for the Postsecondary and Workforce Development Institute at the Education Commission of the States. In his role, he oversees the strategic direction of the organization's policy work, leads the team's policy research portfolio, and cultivates and maintains relationships with funding partners, higher education policy researchers, policymakers and postsecondary administrators. Brian’s research interests include college access for disenfranchised student populations, student development and success, geographic impediments to college-going, and policy-adoption theory. Brian holds a doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University.
Holly joined Strong Start to Finish as the administrative assistant in March 2018. Prior to joining the team, Holly was a project assistant at the Colorado Education Initiative, where she provided administrative support to the Health and Wellness team. Holly received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hofstra University.
Sara Olán joined Education Commission of the States in January 2017 as the Administrative Assistant to the postsecondary team. In her role, Sara provides administrative and meeting support to the Strong Start to Finish Initiative and other project directors. Prior, she was a meeting planner at Kinsley Meetings and a brand ambassador for the Colorado Lottery. Sara is the first in her family to graduate high school, let alone attend college where she earned her degree in Event Management.
Matt Padilla joined Education Commission of the States in August 2015 and currently serves as the chief financial officer. In this role, he oversees the organization’s financial and operational activities. Prior, he spent time in similar leadership roles with The Center, Urban Peak and Children’s Hospital. Matt holds a MBA from the University of Colorado, Denver.