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National Education Nonprofit, Research for Action, Announces New Executive Director

National Education Nonprofit, Research for Action, Announces New Executive Director
October 2021

Philadelphia, Pa. – The Board of Directors of Research for Action (RFA)—a national nonprofit education research organization based in Philadelphia—has announced the selection of a new Executive Director after a nine-month nationwide search.

Dr. Kate Callahan took the helm on October 15, 2021 and will advance the organization’s growing influence in education research, policy, and social justice across the United States.

“We could not be more excited and confident about Kate Callahan’s appointment to serve as RFA’s next leader,” said James Earl Davis, Chair of RFA’s Board. “Kate distinguished herself during this search with her vision, her commitment to social and racial justice and to RFA, and her methodological training and expertise as a research leader. She is the right person for the job at this pivotal moment for RFA.”

“I am grateful to RFA’s board, staff, and the many stakeholders who played a critical role during this search process,” said Callahan. “I bring a deep and abiding commitment to RFA, its work, and its people to this new position. I look forward to leading RFA and our collective work to leverage research, collaboration, and partnership to advance racial and social justice in education so that all students, families, and their communities have the resources and support to develop their potential and thrive.”

In the coming year, RFA will conduct on a strategic planning process to codify its commitment to becoming an education research organization focused on advancing racial and social justice and continue to solidify and grow its reputation in the field for high-quality, rigorous, and actionable research.

“On behalf of the staff of RFA, we are eager to work with Kate to embark on the ambitious vision for both external impact and internal culture-building that she laid out,” added Saxon Nelson, RFA’s Director of Community Engagement and a member of the staff search advisory committee.

Dr. Callahan, a 12-year veteran of RFA, most recently served as Chief Research Officer, in addition to serving as Interim Executive Director since December 2020. She has played an integral role in expanding RFA’s research portfolio, including securing the organization’s first competitive research grant from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, and has led many of RFA’s national studies. Earlier in her career, Callahan worked as a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, served as an Associate Director of the A Better Chance, Inc. program in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, and provided professional support to teachers in a community-based education, health, and wellness center in La Paz, Bolivia. She has a Ph.D. in Urban Education from Temple University.

Callahan has been instrumental in the growth and development of RFA, both internally and externally. Callahan’s research has focused on increasing college access and success from high school through college, and she has directed influential national projects, including multi-state studies of national postsecondary finance policies including outcomes-based/ student success funding and college Promise programs funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation; and a study of a the impacts of a statewide competency-based learning initiative in New Hampshire high schools for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Internally, Callahan has developed rigorous quality assurance systems for RFA’s mixed-methods research practices; engaged in hiring strategies that have increased diversity at RFA; and served as a chief architect for RFA’s fundraising strategy, including raising more than $10 million in grants and contracts the last 5 years.

Callahan succeeds former RFA Executive Director, Dr. Kate Shaw, who left the organization in December 2020 after ushering RFA through more than a decade of significant growth, influence, and impact.

The national search for RFA’s Executive Director was led by Allison Kupfer Poteet and Cara Pearsall from the executive search firm Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group LLC (NPAG).

About Research for Action

RFA has a nearly 30-year history of conducting robust research and providing actionable guidance on the most pressing educational issues of our time. The organization’s impactful research is grounded in its mission to make education systems and programs more equitable, effective, and accessible. Learn more at