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Meet the RRJ Team

Dr. Rich Milner is the Founding Director of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. He serves as the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education and Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt’sPeabody College. Dr. Milner is a researcher, scholar and leader of urban education and teacher education. Recently, he delivered the fifteenth annual Brown Lecture of the American Educational Research Association. The article is now available in Educational Researcher. The second edition of his widely-read book, Start Where You Are But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms was published in 2020.








Dr. Jacob Bennett is Associate Director of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. He taught high school social studies, economics, and U.S. History in Atlanta, GA and Nashville, TN from 2008-2014. Central to his teaching philosophy is that learning best occurs when teachers and students share in trusting and meaningful relationships. Since leaving the classroom, Jake is working toward the development of an empirical knowledge base to show the power of small-scale design-based research to inform and support teachers in working with historically resilient youth across educational contexts. Click here for his most recent scholarship.







Dr. Wonder Drake is Associate Director of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. She is a Professor with tenure at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her career focus has been to investigate the role of infectious agents in fibrotic lung disease, with an emphasis on adaptive immune dysfunction during disease progression and its effects on clinical outcomes. Dr. Drake was also the first to identify novel mycobacterial DNA sequences within sarcoidosis granulomas, and the first to report that secreted mycobacterial virulence factors are the targets of the adaptive immune response, a question that had eluded the scientific community for decades.







Dr. Graham Reside is Associate Director of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. He is also the executive director of the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, and assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. In addition to his work in leadership development, his interests include ethics, sociology of culture and religion, sociology of the professions and the sociology of emotions. Dr. Reside’s research and teaching focus on the role of social institutions as vehicles of social goods and schools of moral form.


Dr. Dena Lane-Bonds is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar for RRJ. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri. Dena’s research focuses primarily on four areas. Homelessness and housing insecurity in higher education; policies and programs that enhance the academic success of marginalized college students; social justice and equity in graduate education; and career development of international students. Her recent study explored how graduate students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity navigated their education. She has published articles in the Research in Education Journal and the Journal of Negro Education. Prior to joining the University of Missouri, Dena earned a bachelor’s degree in African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Psychology, a minor in Social Science and Medicine, and a certificate in Neuroscience from Indiana University, and her master’s degree in Educational Psychology from Northern Arizona University.







Ashley Best is a Project Manager for the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. After spending nearly a decade working for a Fortune 500 company, Ashley understands how to effectively manage, motivate, inspire and organize a team. Her most recent accomplishment has been earning her Master’s degree in Organizational Management from Ashford University while working full time. Ashley also holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Community Health from Georgia Southern University.

Laura Fittz is a Graduate Research Associate for RRJ and a doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Laura is pursuing her Ph.D. in Justice and Diversity in Education, and she is interested in student voice, equitable discipline, and teacher preparation – particularly in urban education settings. Her current research aims study how listening to – and working with – students can improve school culture, disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, and improve teacher preparation.







Bryant O. Best is a Graduate Research Associate for RRJ, Russell G. Hamilton Scholar, and doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Bryant is pursuing his PhD in Justice and Diversity in Education, and his areas of research are urban education, education policy, and culturally responsive teaching and leadership. His current research project aims to better understand policies and practices that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline so that he can help disrupt and dismantle it.







Kayla Bach is a rising fourth year student at Vanderbilt University double majoring in Early Childhood Education and Second Language Studies with a concentration in teaching linguistically diverse learners. She is originally from Barrington, Illinois. Kayla enjoys working with Project REAL scholars because of their unfathomable amounts of curiosity and powerful desires to learn.







Nia Beverly is a rising fourth year student at Vanderbilt University double majoring in Secondary Education and Mathematics. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina and her favorite part about working with Project REAL is being able to witness all of the energy and creativity that REAL Scholars bring to the program.