Our Team

Nicholas Hillman
Bonniejean Zitske
Associate Director for Strategy and Operations
Kathryn Boonstra
Research Analyst
Amberly Dziesinski
Research Analyst
Viviana Rodriguez
Postdoctoral Fellow
Kim Dancy
Student Researcher
Elise Marifian
Student Researcher
Kate Westaby
Graduate Assistant
Eunji You
Graduate Assistant
Ellie Bruecker
Research Affiliate
Qi Zheng
Research Affiliate
Cori Splain
Director for Strategic Initiatives & Chief of Staff for the Division of Enrollment Management


The Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab is housed in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Office of Student Financial Aid in collaboration with Dr. Nicholas Hillman, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Lab’s mission is to use applied academic research to guide, support, and partner with practitioners whose work aims to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for current and future college students.

We believe that better academic research on financial aid can expand college access and student success in lasting ways. We do this by collaborating with practitioners to develop and implement research studies addressing their specific needs and capacity constraints. We bring an equity-oriented and evidence-based approach to these partnerships, where our team collects, manages, and analyzes data with the goal of improving policies and practices to better promote student success – particularly for underrepresented students.


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