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, Ph.D.

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 dollars in federal grant funding
  • Conducted Random Control Trial (RCT) evaluations for federally funded program evaluations

Chahnna Johnson, M.S.

Director of Human Resources + Senior Consultant

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. Ms.Johnson brings over 10 years of corporate experience to the Human Reseources Director position.  She is also the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Line of Business lead at MER. Ms. Johnson 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, M.P.H

Director of Research Services

Lizzie earned her Master of Public Health in Administration from the Northwest Ohio Consortium for Public Health, and she holds a B.S. in Biology from Bowling Green State University. She is a Senior Evaluation Consultant at MER, where she oversees evaluation projects for MER clients and manages company publication efforts. 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 health care community benefit professionals on community assessment and program planning.

Penny Tinsman, M.A.

Director of Partnership Development

Ms. Tinsman has more than 25 years’ experience providing training and technical assistance and program evaluation services to a variety of Federal clients. Ms. Tinsman 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.

Aaron Larson, M.B.A

Director of Operations

Aaron Larson graduated from Emporia State University with both a Master's and Bachelor's degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Information Systems. He acts as the Director of Operations for Midwest Evaluation, performing administrative and Human Resource duties, as well as facilitating the business practices of the organization. He plays a crucial role in the Information Systems of MER, maintaining our website, socials, and project databases.

Lila Balla, M.A.

Director of Analytics

Lila is a Biostatistician and Health Economist who has worked in health research in both the public and private sectors for more than 15 years. She holds a Master’s in Applied Economics from Binghamton University and a Master’s in Biostatistics from Saint Louis University.  As a trained researcher her work focuses on modeling and forecasting trends in health care data as well as formulating outcomes in evaluation studies. Having extensive experience in statistics and health economics, she has taught in several accredited universities and colleges in the past decade. Her work has spanned several disciplines and has been published in multiple prestigious journals.


McKenna LeClear, M.A.

HMRF Team Lead

McKenna earned her master's degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Tulsa. As an HMRF Team Lead, she oversees the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood evaluation projects. She is skilled in project management, data analysis, and report writing. Prior to joining MER, McKenna worked as a Senior Research Associate with the Child and Family Research Partnership at the University of Texas at Austin evaluating child welfare programs and analyzing the impact of state-level maternal and child health policies.

Michelle Brown, M.S.


Michelle Brown 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. While working toward her master’s degree, Michelle created and evaluated a standardized training program for a student-based assessment center which was accomplished completely virtually.  As a Consultant, Michelle serves as the project lead for community foundation and grant evaluation projects.  She facilitates the data collection and survey tracking process for research assistants. In addition, she completes Institutional Review Board (IRB) reports and requirements, and helps with publication and report writing and survey creation.

Robert H. Merth, M.S.


Robert holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Psychology, and is currently working on his PhD in Educational Psychology studying in the Research, Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics track at the University of Kansas. During his time at Midwest Evaluation and Research, Robert has worked on a variety of projects spanning across multiple areas of research and practice that include: family strengthening, parenting, fatherhood, reentry, child support, teen sexual risk avoidance/education, and organizational culture. Robert specializes in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research designs, data analysis, report writing, and technical assistance consultations. In addition to these applied research areas at MER, Robert conducts his own research at the University of Kansas that examines issues of equity and distributive justice in education, and equal access to STEM education.

Elvis Sevilla, M.A.


Elvis Sevilla completed his Master of Arts degree in Criminology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake and a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Criminal Justice specializing in Human Behavior from Nova Southeastern University. Elvis has research interest in various areas that include Biosocial Criminology, Violence and Delinquency, Latinx Behavior, Immigration, and Rehabilitation. Elvis is also an Adjunct Instructor for Myrtle Beach College in South Carolina. Prior to work with MER, Elvis worked as a Bilingual Case Manager in various areas in Immigration contracted with the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Refugee and Resettlement.


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.