As Executive Director of California Competes, Lande Ajose spearheads the organization’s work calling for a Higher Education Investment Board to provide innovative solutions for coordinating the state’s education and workforce challenges. An expert in education and job training of low-income adults, Lande has extensive experience in developing effective change strategies through her work at Informing Change where she directed complex client projects related to education, poverty alleviation, workforce development and issues of inequity. Community college success was a major focus of Lande’s previous work both at MDRC, where she managed a comprehensive evaluation of the Achieving the Dream initiative, and during her tenure at the James Irvine Foundation. Named to the California Student Aid Commission by Governor Jerry Brown, she currently serves as interim Chair. Lande holds a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Studies from MIT and an M.A. in Urban Planning from the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Occidental College.
Ria Sengupta Bhatt
Ria Sengupta Bhatt joined California Competes as Deputy Director in 2017. In this role, she develops and directs the organization’s research agenda, manages the internal team, and works closely with the Executive Director to set the strategic direction of the organization. Ria brings more than a decade of experience in education—engaging in policy research, providing strategic consulting, and conducting program evaluation. Prior to California Competes, Ria directed consulting projects for nonprofit and philanthropic clients at Informing Change in the areas of education, workforce development and youth engagement. She managed a project on the college application process for low-income students at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. She also researched and wrote publications on public higher education systems and K-12 school finance as a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California. Ria holds a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in Domestic and International Education Policy from Georgetown University, and a BA in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Senior Research Analyst
As California Competes’ Senior Research Analyst, Sebastian Castrechini is responsible for conducting and communicating rigorous research to inform and make progress on the organization’s policy priorities. Sebastian brings experience from a variety of roles in education. He has worked as a secondary teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools, an administrator in Los Angeles, and a debate coach in Oakland. He also has ten years of research and evaluation experience with Policy Studies Associates, Inc., in Washington DC, the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University, and the San Francisco Unified School District. His research spans topics in K-12, postsecondary, and out-of-school time but is tied together by a passion for high-quality research that drives policy and practice discussions to improve outcomes for youth. Sebastian received his Master’s in Education Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and his BS in Secondary Social Studies Education from Penn State University.
Policy and Research Analyst
Taylor Myers serves as Policy and Research Analyst for California Competes, supporting the project’s legislative agenda as well as policy analysis for key higher education issues across the state. She joined California Competes in 2017 after graduating with her MPP from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. While studying, she held internships with the Learning Policy Institute, the UC Office of the President, and the U.S. Department of Education, in the Office of Postsecondary Education. Prior to graduate study, Taylor spent four years working as a data and research manager at Spark, a national middle school mentoring organization. She is proud to be a product of public education and a recipient of federal and state financial aid. As a first generation college graduate, Taylor is deeply committed to improving equity and access in higher education. Taylor earned her B.S. from the University of Florida.