The American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Established in 1946, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of education, health and the workforce. AIR’s work is driven by its mission to generate and use rigorous evidence that contributes to a better, more equitable world. With headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AIR has offices across the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit www.air.org.

Decision Information Resources, Inc. (DIR)

Decision Information Resources, Inc. (DIR) is a certified small, minority-owned business with experience in leading the design and implementation of large multisite studies (including random assignment studies and quasi-experiments) and small third-party program evaluations. DIR provides technical assistance to enhance the capabilities of program providers to collect and use data for performance measurement, program planning, and outcome analysis.

Our Team

Project Leadership

Eboni Howard

Eboni Howard
Principal Investigator and Project Director

Eboni Howard, PhD, is a managing researcher at AIR and is the principal investigator and project director of the BEST Study. Dr. Howard has more than 28 years of research and evaluation experience. She has served as a senior advisor, principal investigator, or project director on more than 45 projects related to home visitation, preschool education, welfare support, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, family engagement, prekindergarten-to-third-grade alignment, educator quality, quality rating and improvement systems, early childhood mental health, kindergarten assessment, child welfare, and community comprehensive services, all with a focus on low-income and minority populations.
Hans Bos

Hans Bos
Senior Advisor

Hans Bos, PhD, is a senior vice president at AIR and a senior advisor for the BEST Study. He specializes in early childhood research and brings 29 years of experience in evaluation design and research methods. He has evaluated community-level interventions for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the California Endowment. He directed MDRC’s New Hope Project in Milwaukee, which included an extensive qualitative and quantitative evaluation of its impact on young children and their families.

Study Leads

Patricia Garcia Arena

Patricia Garcia-Arena
Deputy Project Director and Ethnography Study Lead

Patricia Garcia-Arena, PhD, is a principal researcher at AIR. She serves as Deputy Project Director and leads the ethnography study for the evaluation. She has more than 15 years of experience in educational research and technical assistance. Her research experiences and interests have included such topics as human development, literacy, cross-cultural child development studies, language socialization, assessment development, and the educational attainment of minority students.

Gabriele Fain

Gabriele Fain
Process Study Lead

Gabriele Fain, MA, is a principal researcher at AIR and is the lead for the process study within the evaluation. Fain has more than 20 years of experience working on evaluation, research, and technical assistance (TA) projects for local, state, and federal agencies. Her areas of expertise include early childhood mental health, early childhood education, and family support services. She led the Project LAUNCH TA team for SAMHSA, which supported federally funded early childhood mental health grantees nationwide. She also served as the project director of the five-year Preschool for All Process Evaluation, a review of universal preschool efforts.

Sylvia Epps

Sylvia Epps
President & Acting Director of Research Operations, DIR

Sylvia Epps, PhD, is the President and acting director of Research Operations at Decisions Information Resources. She has 18 years of evaluation and research experience. She currently leads the national evaluation of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework for the Kellogg Foundation, a multisite initiative to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion and racial justice.

Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh

Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh
Data Collection Lead, DIR

Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh, PhD, is a senior researcher at Decision Information Resources (DIR), with more than 14 years of experience in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research and management of large-scale and complex field, survey, and evaluation efforts.

Research Team

Emily Weinberg

Emily Weinberg
Senior Researcher

Emily Weinberg, MA, is a senior researcher at AIR focusing on early childhood and K-12 education policy. She contributes to the outcome/impact study for the evaluation. Weinberg has more than 13 years of experience conducting and contributing to evaluations of educational programs and policies. In addition, she has provided support to foundations, counties, and other local organizations in California on planning for expanding preschool access and quality. For example, she provided guidance on preschool and early education planning, including guidance on funding options, for Long Beach Unified School District’s Educare Center, Sonoma County, and to the City of Oakland.

Stephanie Dsouza

Stephanie D'Souza
Senior Researcher

Stephanie D’Souza, PhD, is a researcher at AIR and contributes to the outcome/impact study for the evaluation. She supports a variety of early childhood research and evaluation projects at AIR. Her primary responsibilities include implementation support and conducting analyses of program outcomes using advanced quantitative methods. Prior to joining AIR, Dr. D’Souza accumulated 10 years of education research and evaluation experience in professional and academic settings covering a wide range of prekindergarten–12 and postsecondary topics, including student mobility, high school reforms, and kindergarten readiness.

Stephanie McCarty

Stephanie McCarty
Project Coordinator and Research Assistant

Stephanie McCarty is a research assistant at AIR and the project coordinator for the BEST Study. She also supports the process, outcome/impact, and ethnography studies for the evaluation. Prior to working at AIR, McCarty worked as a research assistant at Northwestern University where her work focused on the impacts of parent engagement on cognitive development in children. Her research interests include family engagement in early childhood education and community impact on youth development.

Cecilia Zhang

Cecilia Xuning Zhang
Researcher

Cecilia Xuning Zhang, M.Ed., is a researcher at AIR and supports the recruitment, partner outreach, and data collection for the evaluation. Her past experiences include conducting early childhood research at Vanderbilt University’s Infant Learning Lab and an internship with Sesame Workshop. She is passionate about early childhood education and has worked with families and educators both domestically and internationally.

Le, Vivian

Vivian Le
Research Associate

Vivian Le, MA, is a research associate at AIR and contributes to the ethnography study for the evaluation. She supports a variety of early childhood research, evaluation, and technical assistance projects at AIR. She has prior experience working at a childcare center and a school for students with autism spectrum disorder. Her research interests include early childhood education, children with developmental disabilities, and the experiences of minority youth.

Rich Patrick

Patrick Rich
Researcher

Patrick Rich, MSc, is a quantitative researcher at AIR, with a decade of experience in language and literacy development and research-practice partnerships. At AIR since 2022, he works on a variety of projects in the areas of English Learners and literacy. Prior to AIR, he served as data fellow/chief-of-staff on an elementary literacy research study (Model of Reading Engagement), as well as evaluating and supported multilingual programming at Denver Public Schools. In these roles, he has led a series of longitudinal studies on students’ language and literacy development, working with stakeholders to facilitate policy implications.