Meet Our Experts

Midwest Evaluation has assembled a team of senior-level social scientists. Collectively, this team has over 100 years of experience in community psychology, public administration, economic development, program management, and adult education with a focus on research, program evaluation, policy analysis, and technical assistance. The Midwest Evaluation team is prepared to help its partner non-profit organizations successfully compete for federal funding by utilizing its full complement of employees, consultants, and strategic relationships to implement projects of any scale.

Matthew Shepherd, PhD

President + CEO

With more than 20 years of experience, Dr. Shepherd has a tremendous impact on the organizations that Midwest Evaluation partners with and on the problem areas in which it works. Having overseen and provided technical assistance to more than 500 evaluation projects for programs within the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, and Foundations, Dr. Shepherd is a nationally recognized expert in program evaluation. Dr. Shepherd also provides consultation on evidenced-based practices, healthy relationship and fatherhood programming, and public health infrastructure. Some of Dr. Shepherd’s accomplishments include:

  • Interviewed as an expert for regional newspapers, radio, and television
  • Provided expert testimony before Kansas State Legislature Committees and crafted bills and testimony submitted to the U.S. Senate
  • Prepared reports used as handouts by the Obama Administration
  • Created a community/systems level framework for employing low-income, low-skilled individuals that was used to allocate $750 million dollars in federal funding
  • Helped partners win more than $50 million in federal grant funding
  • Conducted Random Control Trial (RCT) evaluations for federally funded program evaluations

Aaron Larson, MBA

Chief Financial Officer

Aaron Larson attended Emporia State University, where he earned both his master's and bachelor's degrees in business administration. His academic journey was marked by a specialized focus on information systems, equipping him with a unique blend of business acumen and technological insight. Currently, Aaron holds the position of Chief Financial Officer at Midwest Evaluation and Research. In this role, he is entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing a diverse range of budgets, from individual projects to departments and the organization as a whole. His approach to financial planning has not only streamlined operations but has also brought about significant positive change in the financial health of the organizations for which he has served.

Beyond his corporate responsibilities, Aaron has a deep-rooted passion for the non-profit sector. Over the past five years, he has dedicated his time and expertise to various charitable causes. He has served as a board member for multiple non-profits, offering them invaluable insights into budgeting and grant acquisition. His consulting services have been pivotal in securing funds and ensuring the financial sustainability of these organizations. Moreover, Aaron has played a crucial role in the inception and growth of several start-up non-profits, guiding them through their initial challenges. Aaron also possesses an in-depth understanding of federal funding platforms, including,, and JustGrants. This knowledge ensures that he is always at the forefront of securing opportunities and resources for the entities he collaborates with.

In addition to his professional and charitable endeavors, Aaron is deeply involved in his local community. He has consistently been an active participant in various local task forces, commissions, and committees, contributing his financial expertise to benefit community projects and initiatives.

Penny Tinsman, MA

Director of Partnership Development

Penny Tinsman has more than 25 years’ experience providing training and technical assistance and program evaluation services to a variety of federal clients. Penny has extensive experience in meeting preparation/coordination, continuous quality improvement, training and technical assistance, and both qualitative and quantitative analysis. She is skilled in project management, fiscal controls, processes and considerations that permit evaluation of program components, assessment of project activities, and development of evaluation frameworks to assess future progress.

She has conducted and coordinated research, events, and trainings in the fields of workforce development, family strengthening, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), supportive services, substance abuse treatment and prevention, victim services, and mental health.

Chahnna Johnson, MS

Director of Human Resources

Chahnna Johnson completed her Master of Science degree in sociology from the University of Cincinnati, as well as a bachelor's degree in business administration with a focus in human resources from The Ohio State University. She brings over 10 years of corporate experience to the human resources director position and is experienced in program evaluation, continuous quality improvement, strategic decision-making, organizational process improvement, performance measurement data collection, and analysis. Over the past three years, she has managed the evaluation for 10 programs focused on teen pregnancy prevention and sexual risk avoidance, funded by various Health and Human Services offices and departments. Prior to working with MER, CJ worked as a contract consultant for many organizations, including the City of Cincinnati Health Department OEI.

Lizzie Friedman, MPH

Chief of Staff

Lizzie Friedman completed her Master of Public Health in Administration degree from the Northwest Ohio Consortium for Public Health, and she holds a BS in biology from Bowling Green State University. She is the Chief of Staff at MER, serving as a member of the executive strategy team and overseeing MER's internal systems and processes including but not limited to project staffing, staff training and professional development, and organizational culture. Lizzie has extensive expertise in facilitative leadership and group training, data analysis, continuous quality improvement, strategic planning, systems development, and client relationship management, and a talent for organizing and maximizing people. Her prior employment experiences included providing strategic direction and coaching for data managers at Head Start programs across the country and educating healthcare community benefit professionals on community assessment and program planning.

Seri Irazola, PhD

Director of Evaluation

Seri Irazola is the director of evaluation for Midwest Evaluation and Research (MER). Dr. Irazola is a social scientist and applied researcher with a demonstrated commitment to informing policy and practice through knowledge development and scientific evidence, and she is experienced in leading mixed-methods and complex studies on a variety of topics that interrelate with behavioral and public health. She is a seasoned collaborator, possessing strong ties with practitioners and academics as well as those with lived experience. Additionally, she excels at oral and written communication and translating research to practice through presentations and publications in peer-reviewed journals, technical reports, social media, and practitioner journals, and she is committed to inclusive research that elevates the diverse perspectives of those most impacted into justice system policy and practice. Dr. Irazola received her master's and doctorate degrees from American University in Washington, D.C. and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She resides in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where she lives with her husband and three girls.

McKenna LeClear, MA

HMRF Team Lead

McKenna LeClear is a senior research consultant who brings expertise in research design, program evaluation, data analysis, report writing, and project management. As the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) team lead, she oversees the organization’s 12 HMRF evaluation projects. She earned her master’s in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and her bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Tulsa. Prior to joining MER, McKenna conducted program evaluation and public policy research at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dodie Doudna, BA

Tracking Manager

Dodie Doudna joins Midwest Evaluation as a tracking manager. She brings over 15 years of administrative experience in office management and human resources, along with valuable skills from her time working for non-profits in the social service field. In her position with Midwest Evaluation, Dodie oversees the tracking and implementation of all of the HMRF (Healthy Marriage Responsible Fatherhood) projects' 12-month follow-up surveys.

Michelle Jackson, MS

Positive Youth Development (PYD) Lead

Michelle Jackson earned a Master of Science degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Emporia State University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pittsburg State University. She has been with the company since 2017. As a consultant, Michelle serves as the project lead for community foundation and grant evaluation projects and is the evaluator for MER’s non-profit organization, the Social Innovation Laboratory (SIL). In her role as the Positive Youth Development line of business lead, Michelle oversees projects involving youth in the fields of sexual risk avoidance education (SRAE), teen pregnancy prevention (TPP), and personal responsibility education program (PREP). In addition, Michelle completes all Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements and reports for all of MER and SIL’s research projects. She has experience with survey creation, data collection, one-on-one and focus group interviews, continuous quality improvement (CQI), participant tracking, project registration, report writing, data analysis, and grant writing. In 2019, Michelle was selected as a Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) Emerging Scholar by the Office of Policy, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE).

Megan Grau, MS

Senior Consultant

Megan Grau completed her Master of Science in Health Promotion degree from the University of Delaware. She has over a decade of experience in family and community engagement with deep expertise in spearheading training and technical assistance initiatives, overseeing project lifecycles, and cultivating collaborative relationships with diverse stakeholders. She currently works as a senior consultant at Midwest Evaluation and Research (MER) and manages all technical assistance efforts related to HUD's Distressed Cities and Persistent Poverty Technical Assistance program. This initiative aims to enhance the capacity of local governments of small communities experiencing economic distress and assist them and their nonprofit partners in alleviating persistent poverty. Prior to working with MER, Megan worked as the director of family engagement and health services for Acelero Learning, a leader in the early childhood education space.


Think you or someone you know would make a great addition to our team? Send us a message. We'd love to hear from you.