CARA staff bring a range of experiences to their work and share a common passion for working with young people, expanding educational opportunity, and addressing issues of equity and social justice.

  • Janice Bloom, Ph.D.

    Co-Director |

    Janice co-founded CARA in 2011, and continues to act as its co-director. She has been involved in urban school reform in New York City since graduating from Brown University more than 25 years ago, as a teacher, staff developer, researcher and professor of educational studies. After teaching at Central Park East Secondary School and East Side Community High School, two of New York City’s early small public high schools, she earned a Ph.D. in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center. She was an assistant professor at Eugene Lang College/The New School and has worked as a teacher-mentor and school design coach in schools across New York City.

  • Lori Chajet, Ph.D.

    Co-Director |

    Lori co-founded CARA in 2011, and continues to act as its co-director. A former high school history teacher and staff developer, Lori has been involved with school change in New York City since 1993. She completed her doctorate in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she focused her research on college persistence for first-generation, low-income students. Prior to founding CARA, Lori was Acting Director of The Institute of Urban Education at Eugene Lang College/The New School. She earned a BA from Brown University in Educational Studies and Public Policy and an MA in Social Studies Education from Columbia Teachers College.

  • Sonia Szymanski

    Co-Director of College Inquiry Programming |

    Sonia co-leads the development of CARA’s College Inquiry model. She coaches principals, counselors, and teachers on developing college access and exploration programs as essential components of their schools; she also works in collaboration with the other co-director to update all of CARA’s College Inquiry materials. Sonia has served low-income and first-generation college students for over a decade, in Philadelphia and New York as a Guidance Counselor, and more consistently as a Director of College Counseling. She earned her BA in Sociology at Hofstra University and an MS in Education for Professional Counseling at the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience in education includes working for the College Bound Initiative, a Young Women’s Leadership School in Philadelphia and KIPP Philadelphia.

  • Allyson Hurder Levy

    Co-Director of College Inquiry Programming |

    Ally co-leads the development of CARA’s College Inquiry model. She coaches principals, counselors, and teachers on developing college access and exploration programs as essential components of their schools; she also works in collaboration with the other co-director to update all of CARA’s College Inquiry materials. She previously served New York City students for ten years as an English teacher, Dean, and Literacy Coach at several small public schools in Brownsville and the Bronx. Prior to teaching, Ally was a Development Associate for the education nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves. She is a graduate of Trinity College (BA in English and Women’s Studies), City College New York (MA in Secondary English Education), and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Leadership Academy (SBL certification).

  • Shalema Henderson

    Director of College Allies |

    As Director of College Allies, Shalema is developing CARA’s resources, coaching, and consulting model for college success work. She has 10+ years of youth development experience working in non-profit educational programs. She worked at Henry Street Settlement as a Middle School Program Coordinator, where she designed and piloted one of just two Middle School Success Center programs in the city that utilized CARA’s Youth Leadership model. Before that, she held several positions at Harlem Children’s Zone including Senior Student Advocate, and College Manager for the College Bound Program. Shalema holds her BA in Sociology from The City College of New York.

  • Leigh McCallen, Ph.D.

    Director of Research and Evaluation |

    Leigh is responsible for conducting impact evaluation of CARA’s programs and leading research projects that translate CARA’s work to practitioner, policy, and academic audiences. She brings expertise in using quantitative, qualitative, and participatory approaches to examine key issues in equitable higher education access and success. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Vassar College and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from The Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). Prior to joining CARA, Leigh worked in various capacities across the CUNY system, including as an analyst at Institutional Research and as a research associate with the Center for Teaching and Learning at Queens College.

  • Rebecca Kruge

    Director of Right to College |

    Rebecca’s work as Director of the Right to College program includes developing Youth Leader training, extensive coaching at new Student Success Center sites, and providing support to existing Right to College sites throughout New York City. A graduate of Fordham University with a degree in counseling and personnel services, she is an experienced college counselor. Before joining CARA, Rebecca transitioned into the non-profit sector with East Side House Settlement, where she worked to create and implement the Student Success Center at Lehman Educational Campus in the Bronx.

  • Paula Kashtan

    Director of College Bridge |

    As Director of College Bridge, Paula supports our coaches and supervisors to implement CARA’s full-year near-peer matriculation model. She has substantial experience supporting low-income and first-generation students, both as a teacher and through non-profit organizations. At Step Up, a non-profit in Los Angeles, she helped under-resourced teen girls prepare for college using the program’s unique mentorship model. Before that, Paula taught English at a high school in South Los Angeles, where she also advised the school newspaper and developed college preparation curriculum for advisory. While completing her M.Ed. in Urban Education at UCLA, she conducted research on the role newspapers can have in developing student voice. She also holds a BS in Journalism from Northwestern University.

  • Melody Benitez

    Program Associate |

    Melody’s work at CARA includes peer leadership programming, research, and support for operations. She has over 5 years of professional non-profit experience and has been deeply involved in youth development and advocacy since high school. Prior to CARA, she served as Director of Youth Development at the Ya-Ya Network, building organizational capacity through partnerships and strengthening its programming and supports, including college and career counseling for youth organizers working in their communities. Before that, she was a Research and Advocacy Associate at Class Size Matters, working directly with parent leaders to address issues of equity in education. Melody obtained her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Education Policy and Leadership at Villanova University.

  • Michelle Fine, Ph.D.

    Research Advisor

    Michelle Fine is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education and Women’s Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Chair of the Social/Personality Psychology program. She has received numerous awards and published innumerable books and articles across the many fields in which she works. Her most recent book is Just Research in Contentious Times: Widening the Methodological Imagination, published by Teachers College Press in 2018.

  • Bo Yan

    Research and Evaluation Intern

    Bo earned her BA in Economics from Queens College CUNY and expects to obtain a MA from Queens college CUNY in the spring of 2019. She is majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Program Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

    Bo has worked as a research analyst intern at the Office of Research, Evaluation and Program Support (REPS). After completing the internship at the REPS, she has developed a strong interest in policy analysis and program evaluation and she would like to pursue a career in non-profit educational programs.

  • Ismail Hasaballa

    College Bridge Intern

    Ismail, also known as Izzy, is an English student at Hunter College. He previously attended Eugene Lang College, and is a third-year Bridge Coach at the Academy for Careers in Television & Film. Before joining CARA Izzy worked for organizations such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, Free Arts NYC, and Studio in a School. Izzy expects to graduate in spring 2020 and pursue teaching in the New York City public school system to continue supporting its students.