Institute of Urban Policy

Staff Bios

Danielle Wright, PhD, Associate DirectorDanielle C. H. Wright, PhD | Associate Director
d.wright@austin.utexas.edu | 512-471-4728 | GWB 4.108
Dr. Danielle C. H. Wright is the Associate Director for the Institute. Dr. Wright oversees all policy, research and strategic planning for the center and has over twenty years of experience in higher education, community engagement, and strategic consulting. Dr. Wright served as higher education administrator at New York University, The University of Texas at Austin, and as faculty at The University of Texas at Austin and The New School, NY, where she taught courses on policy, critical lines of inquiry and qualitative research methods. Dr. Wright’s areas of expertise include higher education and community engagement. Her research areas cover critical inquiry, race and identity, social cultural analysis, critical policy analysis, and P-20 education.

Ricardo Lowe, MS, Research AssociateRicardo Lowe, Jr., MS | Research Associate and Demographer
ricardo.lowe@austin.utexas.edu | 512-471-4551 | GWB 4.114
Ricardo Lowe, Jr. is a Research Associate for IUPRA and Doctoral Student in Applied Demography at UT San Antonio. He served five years as a federal statistician and is well-versed in statistical application and quantitative methods. His research interests are broad, but typically involve suburbanization, maternal health, and education. Ricardo also is a trained sociologist, and holds membership with the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS), along with two nationally renowned Honor Societies – Alpha Kappa Delta and Alpha Chi.

Annika Olson, MA, MPP, Policy CoordinatorAnnika Olson, MA, MPP | Assistant Director of Policy Research
annika.olson@austin.utexas.edu | 512-471-4225 | GWB 4.116
Annika Olson is passionate about using research and legislative analysis to inform policies that impact the lives of vulnerable members of our community. At IUPRA, she serves as the liaison to the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, community members, and policy makers at all levels. She received a dual Master’s degree in Psychology and Public Policy at Georgetown University and her Bachelors in Psychology from the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst.  Annika previously served as an AmeriCorps member with at-risk youth in rural New Mexico and Austin, Texas.

Mikkel Leveriza, MBA, Grants & Contracts SpecialistMikkel Leveriza, MBA | Grants and Contracts Specialist
mikkel.leveriza@austin.utexas.edu 
Mikkel Leveriza is a Grants and Contracts Specialist for IUPRA. He is an experienced higher education professional and previously worked at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His areas of expertise include grants and contracts management, program administration, and higher education finance. Mikkel has a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis and an MBA from St. Edward's University. 

Lorna Hermosura, PhD | Research Associate  
lorna.hermosura@austin.utexas.edu 

Lorna Hermosura, PhD is the Principal Investigator and Project Director of STEP UP Texas: Improving Juvenile Justice Outcomes through Trauma-Informed and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Training – a project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. STEP UP seeks to reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) in engagement with the juvenile justice system by providing training and policy revision support to organizations in critical contact points, including school districts, law enforcement, and judicial staff. STEP UP currently serves Williamson County, Texas and is a partnership between IUPRA, Williamson County Juvenile Services, and Bluebonnet Trails Community Services. In addition, Dr. Hermosura teaches Restorative Practices in the College of Education as an Asst. Professor of Instruction. Her research areas are Restorative Practices, Trauma-Informed Practices, Implementation, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Dr. Hermosura holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT, an M.S. in Counseling from San Francisco State University, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. Prior to earning her doctorate, Dr. Hermosura worked for over a decade directing programs that support college access, college success, and dropout prevention for low-income students. 

headshotCristina Tejeda, BA | Administrative Associate                   
cristina.tejeda@austin.utexas.edu | GWB 4.104
Cristina Tejeda Cervantes is an Administrative Associate for IUPRA. Her areas of expertise include supporting executive level management, binational environmental issues, grants and contracts, and social media management. She holds a B.A. in Government from The University of Texas at Austin and has worked in state government for over 10 years.

Interns & Research Assistants

Rudjy Ponceja, MEd
rjponceja@gmail.com
Rudjy Ponceja graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a M.Ed. in Counselor Education, specializing in Higher Education, and a B.S. in Applied Learning and Development, specializing in Youth and Community Studies. Having previous research experience with social psychological issues that Asian Americans face, he is passionate in advocating for mental health and breaking down the stigma within the Asian American community. His research interests include the relationship between mental health, specifically depression/anxiety, and identity development within marginalized communities.

Meera Sam
meerasam18@gmail.com
Meera is a third-year Government and Sociology major with a minor in Arabic. She is specifically interested in analyzing intersectional resistance efforts in the global south to develop broader ideas about effective protest strategies and frameworks for liberation. Her ultimate goal is to empower marginalized communities by creating accessible resources, amplifying narratives, and developing comprehensive policy approaches.

Shaina Hall
shainahall@utexas.edu
Shaina is a third-year Doctoral Student in Counseling Psychology. She currently serves as the Co-President of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA). Her experience as a student leader has facilitated her passion for advocacy, community building, and making Black lives and experiences matter. Her research interests are mental health advocacy and policy, race-related stress, and social determinants of mental health in Black women. Shaina also works at the Community Mental Health Center as a practicum student where she continues her work with Black students and helping them find their voices and meaning in their experiences.

Tarun Chinta
tarunc@utexas.edu
Tarun is a second-year undergraduate student studying Management Information Systems. His research interests include how rural communities of color are socioeconomically disadvantaged and how minorities are disproportionately affected by the digital divide. He hopes to use statistical analysis and modeling to understand the various ways in which marginalized groups are disadvantaged and the effectiveness of policies that combat these issues.