Meet Our Experts

Board Advisor

optimal board advisor

Dr. Richard Vedder

Dr. Richard Vedder

Professor Emeritus at Ohio University, Author, & Higher Education Change Advocate

Vedder is an esteemed figure in the higher education sector, writing frequently for numerous notable outlets including Forbes, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Opinion, and Inside Higher Ed. He has also authored several books regarding issues within the higher education sector, including "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much" and "Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America." Much of his writing challenges the current American higher education system and proposes solutions for economic, societal, and institutional changes.

Expert Contributors

expert contributor

Sara Austin

Academic Researcher

Sara Austin is an academic researcher and technical writer with an M.Ed in Instructional Technology and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership. Her most recent research focuses on classroom equity and strategies for unlocking the limitless potential of all students through positive representation and culturally relevant instruction.

expert contributor

Jenni Jacobsen

Licensed Social Worker

Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker, university faculty member, and health and fitness professional with an interest in the relationship between physical health and mental wellness. She has experience as a writer and researcher on numerous topics within psychology and the social sciences, and she is in the dissertation process for a doctorate in psychology.

expert contributor

Walter M. Kimbrough

Former President of Two HBCUs

Walter M. Kimbrough has more than twenty years of senior leadership at HBCUs, including presidencies at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arizona, and Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He presently serves as the interim executive director of the Black Men's Research Institute at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

expert contributor

Clinton Parrilla

Education Advocate

Clinton works at Northwest Education Access (formerly Seattle Education Access) as an Education Advocate supporting low-income students and reengaging at-risk youth to achieve their higher education goals. Before joining NWEA, Clinton was an AmeriCorps Member with College Access Now as an 11th and 12th Grade College Coach.

expert contributor

Stephanie Sasseen

Personal Finance Writer

Stephanie Sasseen writes about personal finance, travel, music, and parenting. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, The Penny Hoarder, LendEDU, Podreacher, and Money Under 30.

expert contributor

Dr. Amy Young

Professor of Communication

Dr. Amy Young earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and is currently a Professor of Communication and Chair of the Department of Communication at Pacific Lutheran University. Her research interests are in the ways experts use rhetorical style to connect with non-expert public audiences to solve social, cultural, and political problems.

Internal Writers

internal writer

Usmaan Farooqui

Usmaan Farooqui is a writer with over 10 years of combined experience in journalism, academia, and online content. In the past, he spent time working directly with students and in the NGO sector. Usmaan holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

internal writer

Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a content writer with a BA in communications, advocacy, and relational communications from Marylhurst University in Oregon. Prior to coming to Optimal, Liz worked for several years as the lead health and wellness writer for a healthcare advocacy nonprofit in Portland, Oregon.

internal writer

Jennifer King Logan

Jennifer King Logan specializes in covering business, marketing, and finance topics within higher education. Before joining Optimal, Jennifer worked in content development and creation for two of the largest college textbook publishers in the U.S. Her recent experience earning an online Master of Arts in Marketing has inspired her enthusiasm for distance learning.

internal writer

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy is a writer for Optimal, where he creates long-form content for all of the company's websites. He's previously fact-checked textbooks, edited lessons for online college courses, and written content to help 260,000 employees understand their insurance and other benefits.

internal writer

Taylor Nichols

Taylor Nichols is a journalist covering community colleges and four-year universities with a focus on student outcomes, career pathways, and alternative credentials. Prior to her work at OnlineU, she spent six years in newsrooms at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University, where she earned her bachelor's in journalism. She is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Education Writers Association, and a college mentor with Seattle-based nonprofit The Mentoring Project. When Taylor isn't writing, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, reading, and traveling anywhere with palm trees.

internal writer

Shadi Bushra

Shadi Bushra covers the labor market and other economic factors that impact college students and recent graduates. He specializes in Gen Z and Millennial experiences of higher education, as well as trends in student mental health.

Ana Staples

internal writer

Ana Staples

Ana Staples is a journalist specializing in personal finance and advice for young people. She’s shared her expertise on Buy Side from WSJ, NextAdvisor, Bankrate, Bloomberg, Business Insider, and more. Recently, she’s expanded her portfolio to include higher education trends and insights.

Freelancers

Anna Baluch

freelancer

Anna Baluch

Anna Baluch is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She enjoys writing higher education content to help students and their families make the most informed decisions. Her work can be seen on Forbes, OnlineColleges.com, Credit Karma, LendingTree, and many other publications.

Holly Johnson

freelancer

Holly Johnson

Holly Johnson is the co-author of "Zero Down Your Debt." She attended Ball State University and was given the Best Contributor/Freelancer for Personal Finance at the 6th annual Plutus Awards Ceremony. Johnson has written for Forbes, CNN Underscored, U.S. News, and Bankrate.

Seph Anderson

freelancer

Seph Anderson

Seph Anderson has 15 years of higher education experience in student academic and career advising as well as over a decade in higher education content marketing. His bachelor's was in business marketing and his master's in higher education from The University of Mississippi.

Margaret Wack

freelancer

Margaret Wack

Margaret Wack is a freelance writer with an interdisciplinary master's degree from St. John's College. She has written for brands that include U.S. News, Investopedia, Bankrate, Angi, and ArtfulTea. She has also worked as a tutor helping students become college-ready.

Jordan Beliles

freelancer

Jordan Beliles

Jordan Beliles is a fact-based reporter and writer with over 10 years of experience compiling research in a wide variety of industries. His words have appeared in print magazines, digital media, marketing campaigns, and hundreds of pieces of online content.

Taneia Surles

freelancer

Taneia Surles

Taneia Surles is a public health professional and freelance writer specializing in health and education content. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public health from the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

James Holbrook

freelancer

James Holbrook

James Holbrook is a writer with five years of experience in fiction writing, academia, and copywriting. They have a master's in theatre history and work as a dramaturg for several theater companies in the DC area.