H. Luke Shaefer

Luke Shaefer

H. Luke Shaefer, an associate professor at the U-M School of Social Work and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, is the inaugural director of Poverty Solutions. His research on poverty and social welfare policy in the United States has been published in top peer-reviewed academic journals in the fields of public policy, social work, public health, health services research, and history, and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, among other sources. Shaefer has presented his research at the White House and before numerous federal agencies, has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and has advised a number of the nation’s largest human service organizations as well as numerous community-based agencies. His work has been cited in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, Vox, and the LA Times, among other media outlets, and he has been featured on such programs as Marketplace and CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. His recent book with Kathryn Edin, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2015 by the New York Times Book Review, and won the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, among other awards. Shaefer also serves on the Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity for the state of Michigan.
Office phone: 734-615-5997.

Julia Weinert
Managing Director

Julia Weinert, MPH, works closely with the Poverty Solutions director and leadership team to shape strategy for the initiative. She oversees the research projects, programs, outreach efforts and day-to-day operations. Prior to working with Poverty Solutions Ms. Weinert managed the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, a community-based participatory research partnership conducting research and interventions to reduce and ultimately eliminate health inequities in the City of Detroit. She worked closely with community, government, and health and human service agencies to promote and implement action-oriented research. Prior to that, Julia lived in San Francisco, during which time she worked as a research and evaluation consultant for Change Lab Solutions and a research study coordinator for Kaiser Permanente.  She has a bachelors degree in microbiology and a master’s in public health in health behavior and health education both from the University of Michigan. Phone: 734-615-5353 | Email: 

Kristen Kerecman
Communications and Public Engagement Director

Kristen KerecmanKristen Kerecman is part of the University of Michigan’s central communications team, housed in the Office of the Vice President for Communications, and works closely with the Poverty Solutions director and leadership team to drive communications strategy and outreach for U-M’s poverty work. She also works with leadership to help guide the initiative’s public engagement strategy with external stakeholders, such as policymakers. Prior to joining Michigan in August 2014, Ms. Kerecman managed outreach and communications efforts for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Before heading overseas, Ms. Kerecman managed communications campaigns for a national environmental policy organization in Washington, DC and during her time there also worked with the Obama Presidential transition team. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer and has worked as a backcountry park ranger in Yosemite National Park, California, and in Colorado. Phone: 734-604-2891 | Email:

Kate Naranjo
Strategic Projects Manager
Based in Washington, D.C.

Kate NaranjoKate Naranjo manages two large-scale Poverty Solutions projects, Deepening Our Understanding of America’s Most Vulnerable Communities and the Mobility from Poverty Network. Kate’s previous work at Poverty Solutions focused on incubating strategic projects during the first years of the initiative. Before returning to graduate school, Kate worked as a schools manager for EverFi, an education technology company, building relationships with schools across the Midwest. She also served two years in low-performing middle schools with City Year, a national Americorps program working to end the dropout crisis. She’s also worked as a strategic consultant on gender in the workplace and as a fellow with Year Up’s National Program Team on workforce development curriculum. Kate holds an MPP from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a BA from Tufts University. Email:

Jennifer Erb-Downward
Senior Research Associate

Jennifer Erb-DownwardJennifer Erb-Downward, MPH, joined Poverty Solutions from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in New York, NY. There she was the principal policy analyst for initiatives aimed at bringing awareness to family homelessness and for framing the city’s policy agenda on this issue. Jennifer has extensive experience in policy analysis, program implementation and best practice research around family homelessness, behavioral health, chronic illness and the reduction of health disparities. She has been involved in the development of novel research programs in mental health and cancer prevention, and is passionate about addressing child homelessness here in Michigan, where she grew up! Jennifer holds a master’s degree in public health from New York University and works as a senior research associate with Poverty Solutions, developing new projects and proposals related to family homelessness. She also oversees several other research projects and assists with the analysis and translation of research findings to inform local, state and federal policy recommendations. Phone: 734-764-5435 | Email:

Trevor Bechtel
Student Engagement Coordinator

Trevor BechtelTrevor Bechtel engages students who seek to connect to Poverty Solutions by facilitating a variety of programs, events and research opportunities which seek to ignite and deepen student understanding. Working closely with the Poverty Solutions team, he manages academic initiatives like the Poverty Solutions Certificate (housed within the Community Action Social Change minor at the School of Social Work) and the Real World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions course, oversees research assistants, and liaises with student groups across the university. Previously, he served as Dean of Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Canada and Associate Professor of Religion at Bluffton University in Ohio. In addition to his academic work, which included launching a certificate program aimed at New Canadians, Trevor was known for building close connections to students whether formally in positions like Honors Director at Bluffton, or creatively through initiatives like Anabaptist Bestiary Project, a student rock and roll band. Trevor holds a Ph.D. in Constructive Theology from Loyola University Chicago and has published The Gift of Ethics (2014) and Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically With a More-Than-Human World (2018) with Cascade Press. Phone: 734.615.0216 | Email:

Damien Siwik
Administrative Coordinator

Damien Siwik works closely with the Poverty Solutions director and leadership providing overall administrative services, event planning, and support to research-related activities. Before arriving at the University of Michigan, Mr. Siwik completed a 22-year career in the United States Army, where he cared for the sick and wounded as a medic. While in the military, Siwik also served as an instructor, training manager, field researcher, and quality assurance auditor. Prior to the Army, he worked as a blanchard grinder in Detroit. He has two degrees from the University of Michigan-Flint: a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in public administration. Phone: 734-615-5997 | Email:

Sylvia Robles
Post-doctoral fellow at the Education Policy Initiative 

Silvia Robles is a post-doctoral fellow at the Education Policy Initiative and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She received a PhD from the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Her research interests include the economics of education and labor studies. Her work has focused on studying barriers to higher education among under-represented minority and low-income students in the U.S., and has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among other sources. She is currently working with Poverty Solutions to understand tax foreclosure in Detroit. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked for two years for Innovations for Poverty Action implementing large scale randomized trials of microcredit interventions in Peru.
Phone: 734-763-2319 | Email:

Richard Rodems
Post-doctoral research fellow with Poverty Solutions

Richard RodemsRichard Rodems is a post-doctoral research fellow with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. His research interests include material hardship in the United States, poverty measurement, and racial disparities in material hardship rates. He also has research lines on the connection between conceptions of social justice and forms of civic participation, and on the welfare state as a system of stratification. At Poverty Solutions, he primarily works on initiatives related to homelessness among public school students. During his fellowship, he is also working with Professor Fabian Pfeffer (Institute for Social Research and Sociology) on the dynamics of affluence in US-German comparison. He holds a joint PhD in social work and sociology and an MSW, both from the University of Michigan.


Patrick Cooney
Assistant Director, Detroit Partnership on Economic Mobility

Patrick CooneyPatrick Cooney is the assistant director of economic mobility at Poverty Solutions, overseeing the Partnership on Economic Mobility between the University of Michigan and the City of Detroit. In this role, he manages existing projects between U-M and the City, and fosters new opportunities to deploy U-M resources to help evaluate, enhance, and inform City initiatives to promote economic mobility and alleviate poverty. Prior to joining Poverty Solutions, Patrick worked as a policy associate at Michigan Future, Inc. (MFI), contributing research, policy analysis, and writing to MFI projects, focused on influencing state economic and education policies. At MFI, Patrick also managed the college success program for the Michigan Future Schools initiative, which funded and supported new college-prep high schools in Detroit. Patrick also taught middle-school math at Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn, NY; was a Teach for America Corps Member in the Rio Grande Valley, TX; and was an Education Pioneers fellow at Chicago Public Schools. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Boston College, and a master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan.
Phone: 248-798-6421 | Email:

Ashleigh Johnson
Community Engagement and Relationship Manager

Ashleigh Johnson develops and sustains partnerships with community organizations and institutions in Detroit. This is a dual-role at both U-M’s Ginsberg Center and Poverty Solutions. Prior to joining the team, Ashleigh worked as a planner and outreach manager at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and as a policy specialist in the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department. Ms. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in urban planning, both from the University of Michigan. She is also certified through the American Planning Association as a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Ashleigh works out of U-M’s Detroit Center and in Ann Arbor.
Phone: 734-763-3548 | Email:

Karen Otzen
City of Detroit Mayor’s Office Affordable Housing Policy Fellow

Karen works within the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department on the Policy and Implementation Team supporting its efforts to develop plans and strategies for lasting housing affordability and single-family housing stabilization in Detroit. Her role is a unique partnership between the University’s Poverty Solutions initiative and the city, meant to facilitate the implementation of action-oriented research. Prior to joining Poverty Solutions, Karen worked as a marketing research analyst for a consulting firm in Cincinnati, OH and recently completed her masters in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. She also holds a bachelor’s degree is in business economics from Miami University and a minor in international business.

Joshua Rivera
Data and Policy Advisor

Joshua RiveraJoshua Rivera provides data analysis, policy research, and program implementation assistance to City of Detroit partners as a data and policy advisor at Poverty Solutions. Prior to working at Poverty Solutions, he was a dually appointed fellow at the Mayor’s Office, City of Chicago and Education Pioneers, where he worked on evaluating and improving workforce development and education initiatives. Josh currently sits on the strategic advisory board of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL). He is also on the board of FIERCE Empowerment, a human services non-profit organization in Detroit, and on the executive board of New Leaders Council (NLC) – Detroit. In the past few years, he has spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, published in the New York Times, and cited in the Washington Post, the Economist, and Slate. Josh is a proud alumnus of the Public Policy and International Affairs fellowship and is first-generation Saluki and Wolverine with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Southern Illinois University and a master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Phone: 734-615-4648 | Email:

Contact the Poverty Solutions team at

Poverty Solutions Deans’ Governing Board 2017

Michael Barr
Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Roy F. and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law

Rosario Ceballo
Interim Associate Dean for Social Sciences; Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Psychology, College of Literature, Science and the Arts

Scott DeRue
Edward J. Frey Dean of Business, Ross School of Business; Stephen M. Ross Professor of Business

James P. Holloway
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs

Sharon Kardia
Senior Associate Dean for Administration and Professor of Epidemiology, School of Public Health

David Lam
Professor of Economics, College of Literature, Science and the Arts; Research Professor, Population Studies Center;  Director, Institute for Social Research

Elizabeth Moje
Dean, School of Education; George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Faculty Associate, Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research

Kathleen Sienko
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Mechanical Engineering; Miller Faculty Scholar Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering; Miller Faculty Scholar Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering

Lynn Videka (Chair)
Dean, School of Social Work; Professor of Social Work