GUSP Alumni Profiles

Dr. Cristina Benton

Cristina Benton

Dr. Cristina Benton, a PhD graduate from Michigan State University—in Geography and GUSP (2014)—is a Senior Consultant with Anderson Economic Group (AEG), directing the Market & Industry Analysis practice area. At AEG, Dr. Benton has led economic development studies, and has directed many industry and market analyses. She has managed numerous economic impact studies on tourism and special events. Dr. Benton has also worked with automobile dealerships in matters of sales performance assessments, geographic territory analyses, market opportunity studies, and expert testimony. Among the clients for whom she has worked are State of Michigan; the City of Trenton, New Jersey; Michigan State University; St. Clair County, Michigan; Automation Alley; and Experience Grand Rapids. She has also authored numerous studies, articles, and book chapters, and has provided lectures and presented at local, statewide, and national conferences. Prior to joining AEG, Dr. Benton worked as a community and economic development assistant with the City of East Lansing, MI where she provided analysis and support to the city’s economic development efforts. She has also been a graduate Instructor in the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University.

Dr. Twyla Blackmond Larnell

Twyla Blackmond Larnell

Dr. Twyla Blackmond Larnell received her PhD from Michigan State University in 2013. She is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago. Her research concentrates on the impact of policies on social and economic conditions of low-income and minority communities in urban areas. She co-authored a chapter in The Urban Agenda (Michael Pagano, editor). The role of community colleges as a tool for local economic development in these communities was examined. She co-authored a study investigating Chicago’s controversial use of Tax Increment Financing in Economic Development Quarterly. Dr. Larnell also worked on an analysis of the availability of government subsidized housing in majority-minority areas. The Journal of Poverty recently published this study. At present, Prof. Larnell is collecting data on mayoral rhetoric via Twitter post and is analyzing Twitter survey data on Chicagoan’s perceptions of local government, policing and economic development to compare perceptions about urban spaces; particularly those composed of different racial groups. Dr. Larnell has been awarded the Gannon Center for Women Leadership Faculty Fellowship and LUC’s Office of Research Services Research Support Grant. She was also nominated for the Sujack Teaching Award and named a Master Teacher in 2015.

Dr. Melanie Bowers

Melanie Bowers

Dr. Melanie Bowers is an American Politics and Public Policy scholar with academic appointments in the Departments of Political Science and Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University, Camden. Her research is motivated by a deep desire to understand the political and institutional drivers of inequality and falls into three categories: housing and homelessness policy, LGBTQIA+ politics and policy, and urban politics, with a focus on intergovernmental dynamics and responsiveness.  In her current book manuscript, she combines her professional and volunteer experience working in community and economic development with her academic interests in urban politics and housing policy to investigate the drivers of municipal responses to homelessness, arguing that municipal homeless policy reflects rational choices between competing political forces. In addition to the book, her research is currently investigating a variety of questions including how institutional and political arrangements affect localities’ ability to reduce homelessness, how state identification laws have influenced transgender political participation, and the drivers of public opinion on transgender rights legislation. Her research has appeared in journals like Political Behavior, Social Science Quarterly, and Human Ecology, among others. In addition to research, she is a dedicated teacher with a particular love for undergraduate education. She was recently honored with a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Dr. Shannon Lynn Burton

Shannon Lynn Burton

Dr. Shannon Lynn Burton received her PhD from Michigan State University in 2012. She is the University Ombudsperson at Michigan State University, as well as Co-Ombuds for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and an Adjunct Professor of Management at Aquinas College.  Her research centers on organization and administration in higher education, conflict resolution, dialogue and deliberation, as well as the role and history of the ombuds practice and profession. Current projects include an examination of ombuds in professional academic research associations in response to harassment and discrimination and the impact of conflict on at-risk and marginalized undergraduate student success. In her various roles, Dr. Burton aspires to treat individuals as conscious beings able to actively participate in creating solutions through reflection and increase capacity for conflict resolution and engage processes that build democracy. Ultimately, her goal is to develop human capital in managing conflict. Shannon serves the broader professional community through her work as one of the International Ombudsman Association's (IOA) inaugural co-chairs for the Research and Assessment Committee and as Editor for the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association (JIOA). Additionally, Shannon is an active member of the Michigan Caucus of Educational Ombuds, as well as the American Bar Association's (ABA) Ombuds Committee.



Jiang Chang

Dr. Jiang Chang received his Ph.D. in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences from Michigan State University, with a specialization in GUSP in 2022. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at Shanghai University. His research broadly focuses on urban (re)development processes and their impacts on local residents, with a special focus on gentrification and place attachment in the Chinese urban context. His current research explores a range of topics in these areas, including 1) gentrification processes, their spatial distribution, and impacts on the underprivileged; 2) the determinants and outcomes of community attachment, place attachment, and life satisfaction in a variety of urban neighborhoods among different groups of residents; and 3) the role of class, race, and culture in determining travel and health outcomes. Dr. Chang’s work focuses on exploring how urban (re)development and local policy can improve the condition of cities and the quality of life of their residents. He has published more than ten peer-reviewed articles in both English and Chinese journals, including Landscape and Urban Planning, Housing Studies, and Housing Policy Debate.

Dr. Jeanette Eckert

Jeanette Eckert

Dr. Jeanette Eckert currently works as an Associate Director of Research Compliance at Ohio University. Dr. Eckert received her PhD in Geography from Michigan State University in 2018. While at MSU, she also completed graduate certifications in Global Urban Studies and Animal Studies. Her research interests focus on U.S. post-industrial cities and their food landscapes. She is interested in how people access or produce food, and the spatial inequalities that influence these activities and opportunities. Her research questions include how income, class, and race influence travel behavior to food outlets, the role of the built environment in decision-making related to food, and consumer attitudes toward local food or alternative food movements. She is also interested in the relationship between local food systems and urban sustainability, and how zoning laws may facilitate (or limit) urban food production. Her previous research has focused on the cities of Detroit, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio. Her co-authored research has been published in journals such as Applied Geography, Cities, and Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. She has also contributed to several book chapters on the topic of urban environments. She continues to collaborate on research projects and serve on graduate student research committees.

Dr. Jia Feng

Jia Feng

Dr. Jia Feng received his Ph.D. from Geography at Michigan State University in 2016. He has been working as a geography lecturer in the History Department of Washburn University in Kansas since 2017. As the only geographer at Washburn University, he taught a variety of geography classes. In the past few years, he has developed a GIS curriculum and has also been preparing a Kansas Geography class with the support of Curriculum Development Grants. His research focus is on urban enclaves, marginality, and rural-to-urban migration studies with a regional focus on rapidly expanding Chinese cities. He has also participated in a few spatial data analysis studies that focus on urban shared-bike systems, and box turtle habitat studies. His research is published in the Sage Handbook of Contemporary China and a forthcoming chapter in an edited volume on Migration, Displacement, and Belonging.

Dr. Sanghoon Kang

Sanghoon Kang

Dr. Sanghoon Kang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tourism Management at Dong-A University, Republic of Korea. He teaches a variety of tourism courses including Tourism Development and Tourism Marketing. His research focuses on the planning, development, and management of tourism resources and destinations, and has appeared in journals, such as Annals of Tourism Research, Journal of Travel Research, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, International Journal of Hospitality Management, Current Issues in Tourism, Journal of Destination Marketing & Management, Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, Leisure Studies, Journal of Business Research, The Social Science Journal, among others. Dr. Kang is particularly interested in understanding of social phenomenon through tourism perspectives.

Anthony Knapp

Anthony Knapp

Anthony Knapp received his M.S. in Geography with a GUSP specialization from Michigan State University in 2009. His research focused on ethnic enclaves, immigrant entrepreneurs, and urban redevelopment. He has spent 10 years working for the Census Bureau. He currently is a demographer for the Population Division with the challenging task of estimating international migration flows as well as demographic composition and geographic distribution of recent immigrants. He has published articles on Houston’s Chinatowns in Urban Geography and Journal of Urban Affairs and has authored working papers for the United Nations on topics relating to emigration and recent trends in international student mobility. He has served as a media consultant on issues related to U.S. immigration statistics. He is actively engaged with state and federal agencies as well as international organizations on improving international migration statistics for the federal statistical system, an important public resource for policymakers and planners.

Jennifer Lawlor

Jennifer Lawlor

Jennifer Lawlor received her PhD in Ecological-Community Psychology from MSU in 2019. She is currently a research fellow in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. She is working with a team to prototype a community research ecology (CoRE). The CoRE will provide a space for researchers and practitioners in education to share and synthesize information related to problems of mutual interest. Her research focuses on understanding how people collaborate and share information to manage complex problems in community settings, with a particular focus on place-based coalitions. She also studies how tools from complexity science and systems thinking can improve understanding of social issues. Dr. Lawlor has published work in a number of venues, including the American Journal of Community Psychology, Evaluation and Program Planning, and Educational Research Review. She was recently honored with the Carol Weiss award from Evidence and Policy for a co-authored article about how educators and policymakers think differently about research. Dr. Lawlor is an active member of the Society for Community Research and Action, the International Network for Social Network Analysis, and the American Evaluation Association.

Dr. Jieun Lee

Jieun Lee

Dr. Jieun Lee is an assistant professor in the Geography, GIS, and Sustainability Department at the University of Northern Colorado. She teaches a variety of courses including Introduction to GIS and GPS, Urban GIS, Geospatial Statistics, Crime Mapping, and Cartography as well as world regional geography courses. Her research focuses on urban environmental and social sustainability, including spatial analysis of built environments, transportation, travel behavior, and accessibility. Through the lens of sustainability, she maintains a particular research interest in class, ethnic/racial, gender and health disparities. Dr. Lee has been involved in various research projects in Detroit, New York City, Seoul and Piura (in Peru). Her recent grant explores interconnectedness between housing affordability and mental health problems in Colorado. She has published in journals such as Urban Studies, the Journal of Urban Design, the Journal of Urban Affairs, and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. She has also authored several book chapters—including in the Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Geography and the Handbook of Global Urban Health—and has published in the London School of Economics Urban Centre’s Politics and Policy blog. Her research work has been widely recognized at national conferences, through various national and international media outlets, as well as in podcast and video interviews.


Xiaomeng Li

Xiaomeng Li

Dr. Xiaomeng Li graduated from the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. She is currently a Lecturer at the School of Global Integrative Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her research interests include urban travel behavior, urban networks, and urban modeling and simulation. Her current research focuses on daily travel behavior in the Detroit region, with the goal to provide a deeper understanding of urban travel in distressed urban regions and assist in the achievement of efficiency, social equity and inclusion. She has co-authored articles in journals such as Cities and Economic Development Quarterly. She has also co-authored book chapters in the Handbook of Global Urban Health, Obesity in Childhood and Adolescence, and Critical Perspectives on Suburban Infrastructures.

Ian Magnuson

Ian Magnuson

Ian Magnuson received a Master of Public Policy with a focus on Global Urban Studies from Michigan State University in the spring of 2018. Building off his GUSP coursework in urban sustainability planning, his capstone project was a streamlined guide to explain the principles of sustainability to city leaders with limited prior experience in environmental action. He is currently the Communications and Program Associate for Colleagues International, Kalamazoo, Michigan’s community-based member of the Global Ties U.S. network and enactor of the International Visitor Leadership Program for the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. He facilitates grassroots citizen diplomacy by connecting international visitors with U.S. domestic counterparts in a variety of fields to learn and exchange ideas. Visitors are also often hosted by American families to build meaningful connections, alongside cultural visits to various institutions and organizations in West Michigan. Ian hails from Battle Creek, Michigan and attended Western Michigan University where he double majored in Global and International Studies and German. Afterwards, he spent a year working in Detroit and subsequently completed a Fulbright assistantship in Leipzig, Germany. He is now serving as the Vice Chair of the Kalamazoo Environmental Concerns Committee and is a new board member for the West and Mid-Michigan Chapter of the Fulbright Association.

Dr. John (Jake) Parcell

John Parcell

Dr. John (Jake) Parcell received his PhD in Planning, Design, and Construction from Michigan State University with a Specialization in GUSP in 2020. During the PhD program Jake studied decision-making under crises, with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and planning for disruptive technologies. Following graduation Jake shifted the focus of his work and started a position as the Deputy Director at the Wayne County Land Bank Corporation. At the Wayne County Land Bank, Jake helps to lead stabilization and revitalization projects for neighborhoods throughout Wayne County, Michigan. This includes working with partners for grant-funded community projects, assisting community members in staying in their homes and rehabilitating their properties, and shifting the focus of the land bank towards being a more community-oriented public entity as the community recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Albert Rice

Albert Rice

Dr. AJ Rice completed his Ph.D. in African American and African Studies, with a specialization in Global Urban Studies, at Michigan State University. He is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Rice was also a 2020-2021 President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Political Science. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations with honors from the James Madison College at Michigan State University and a Master of Arts degree in Politics from the New School for Social Research. Dr. Rice is an interdisciplinary scholar of Black politics, global urban studies, critical political economy, and Black Studies. His current research examines how resistance to urban dispossession develops in Black cities, and traces how the restructuring of public institutions has contributed to the neo-liberalization of racial capitalism. Dr. Rice has served as a Visiting Instructor at the James Madison College from 2016-2020, and in 2019, was selected as an inaugural fellow for the Transdisciplinary Graduate Fellows Program at the Center for Interdisciplinarity at MSU. His work has been published in Text and Performance Quarterly, and he has forthcoming articles in both Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society and the Popular Culture Studies Journal.

Cassie Richard

Cassie Richard

Cassie Richard received her Master of Public Policy degree in 2017. She currently works as an Operations and Policy Analyst for the Oregon Commission for the Blind, an agency dedicated to assisting Oregonians with vision loss live independently and achieve their employment goals. She began her work with the Oregon Commission for the Blind as a Hatfield Fellow through the Center for Public Service at Portland State University. An Operations and Policy Analyst Position became available soon after. Her work includes federal data reporting, case management system administration, vendor contract management, quality assurance, and training coordination. Cassie has been working to bring a program evaluation lens to the Commission's work to serve Oregonians with vision loss.

Josh Vertalka

Josh Vertalka

Dr. Josh Vertalka received his PhD from Michigan State University in 2017 in the Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences department. During this time, he completed his graduate certificate in Global Urban Studies Program. Josh has approached his education and career through the lens of data science especially as it intertwines with social sciences. Josh helps organizations better use data science and social sciences to further understand the social determinants of health, optimize site-selection for electrical vehicle charging stations, and apply natural language processing to quickly comb through complex text regarding our nation’s critical infrastructure security. He has over 10 publications that range from understanding the spread of influenza and examining Twitter as a Big Data source for situational awareness to identifying the contributing factors of dog bites in Detroit and understanding the geographic dimensions of neonatal mortality in Africa. Josh continues to use his keen spatial analysis knowledge and urban studies at Accident Fund Group in downtown Lansing while building a data science consultancy firm called Lucid Spaces.

Eric Walcott

Eric Walcott

Eric Walcott received his Master of Public Policy degree from MSU in 2013. He is now a State Specialist with Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Community Vitality programs. He works with faculty on campus and Educators throughout the State to develop and implement educational programs related to state and local government. Eric’s work focuses primarily on good governance, civic engagement, and fiscal sustainability, seeking to build capacity of state and local government officials, help communities develop strategic plans, as well as educate Michigan residents on issues related to state and local government and encourage their informed participation. Eric is involved in teaching programs like MSU Extension’s New Commissioner School, which provides fundamental training for county commissioners and was awarded the national Excellence in Community Development Programming award by the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals in 2019. Eric co-leads the Fiscally Ready Communities program, a collaboration with the Michigan Department of Treasury which helps build capacity of local governments in Michigan. His research on Public Policy Education in Cooperative Extension has appeared in the Journal of Extension and his current research focuses on barriers that women and people of color face in deciding to run for public office.

Minting Ye

Minting Ye

Minting Ye is a data scientist at Meta. Minting received her Ph.D. from the Department of Geography at Michigan State University. Her main research areas are in urban and regional development, real estate development, land use, and urban environmental planning. She has published a dozen articles, including in journals such as Urban Affairs Review, Urban Geography, Economic Development, American Review of Public Administration, International Journal of Remote Sensing, and Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. Before joining Honeybook, Minting was a Senior Research Analyst in the real estate industry. Her research while working for Pacific Union International/Compass has centered on affordability, gentrification, housing accessibility, and the impacts of housing policy on the Bay Area market. ArcGIS and R were used to conduct data analysis, data modeling, and data visualization on a daily basis. Most recently, Minting also completed a professional development fellowship with Insight Data Science, where she consulted for a real estate start-up and used her big data analytics skills to predict the market size of accessory dwelling units in California cities.