Beyond Financial Aid

Meet the BFA Team

Lumina Contacts

Thomas Major, Jr., serves as corporate counsel & strategy officer for Lumina Foundation. Thomas develops and implements strategies to advance Goal 2025 – increasing the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.  In addition to supporting Lumina’s general counsel/chief of staff on a variety of legal and fiduciary matters, Thomas’ work focuses on supporting efforts that engage higher education systems and institutions… More »


Nicole McDonald works as a Strategy officer at Lumina Foundation and is responsible for developing strategic approaches to increase the educational attainment of college students. Her portfolio includes initiatives to help institutions plan and implement policies, partnerships, and practices to increase student success, and the creation of quality credential systems and pathways to increase attainment. More »


About the Authors

Priyadarshini Chaplot is a higher education consultant whose efforts support college practitioners in redesigning institutional programs, services and practices through use of research and evidence. She partners regularly with the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group), Jobs for the Future, WestEd and individual community colleges and districts. In this work, she researches current issues in higher education, develops audience- specific communications, designs interactive learning opportunities for diverse groups of college practitioners, and provides technical assistance. Previously, she served as the director of professional development and a senior researcher with the RP Group, as well as a research analyst and math and English instructor at Mt. San Antonio College. Having worked at or with postsecondary institutions for more than 12 years, she is passionate about improving students’ educational experiences and addressing issues of student equity and success.


Darla M. Cooper, director of research and evaluation for the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group), has worked in the California community college system for more than 15 years. She previously held institutional research director positions at Santa Barbara City College, Oxnard College and Ohlone College. She has extensive experience serving as an external evaluator for several federal and private foundation grants and leading Student Support (Re)defined, a research project that examined what supports student success. In addition, she has worked on projects including the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Bridging Research Information and Culture (BRIC), Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project, and the Accreditation Study. Cooper also has direct experience helping students achieve their education goals in her previous work at the University of Southern California, where she served as director of research and information, student services counselor and ombudsperson.


Rob Johnstone, founder and president of the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, works to help two-year and four-year colleges create structures and processes that increase student completion and learning and improve labor market outcomes. His approach to inquiry and improvement fuses the world of foundations, initiatives and system-level policy changes with the ground-level work of college practitioners and college leaders. He has worked with more than 100 colleges around the country — both directly and as part of several foundation-funded initiatives. He served for more than a decade in the California community college system, working as a director, dean and provost. Prior to his work in higher education, he was a strategic consultant to industry, giving him more than 20 years of consulting experience in industry and higher education.


Kelley Karandjeff is an independent consultant who focuses on making evidence useful for community college practitioners and promoting success for all students. For more than 16 years, she has worked directly with community colleges and secondary schools to develop, deliver and improve innovative career technical education (CTE) programs and student success initiatives, most recently at City College of San Francisco. She now serves as a researcher with an interest in dissemination designed to support practitioner action. She partners regularly with the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group), WestEd and individual California community colleges, providing qualitative research, project management, communications and facilitation services. She currently is directing an evaluation of CTE bridge programs for low-income learners, leading communications for a pioneering study of student support, and has directed efforts related to contextualized teaching and learning and transfer.