About Us

Launched in October 2012 under a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Great Lakes and Midwest Comprehensive Centers are part of the federal comprehensive center network that includes 15 regional comprehensive centers and seven national content centers.

The Great Lakes and Midwest Comprehensive Centers build SEA capacity to:

  • Use research-based knowledge to inform planning and decision making
  • Develop efficient organizational structures
  • Implement, support, scale up, and sustain key initiatives
  • Communicate effectively with stakeholders
  • Lead and support districts and schools
  • Connect and collaborate with external partners including other states

Our Staff

The Regional Deeper Learning Initiative is managed by a team from the Great Lakes and Midwest Comprehensive Centers.

Project Lead, Great Lakes & Midwest Regional Deeper Learning Initiative

Wendy B. Surr has more than 30 years of experience leading research and evaluation studies and other educational initiatives, with extensive expertise in the development of assessment instruments that measure student-centered and competency-based practices and associated deeper learning outcomes.

As a senior researcher at American Institutes for Research, Surr leads a multi-state deeper learning initiative to advance state-level levers that drive deeper learning practices. In addition, Surr serves as the content lead for a project to develop and validate student and teacher surveys and design a personalized learning framework for LEAP Innovations, a private, non-profit network of personalized learning schools in the Midwest. Surr also leads the development of survey instruments to measure competency-based education practices in three states for a study funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. In recent years, Surr has served as a senior researcher on a study of student-centered teaching practices in high school mathematics classrooms; cocreated a comprehensive assessment system for Massachusetts's 21st Century Community Learning Centers, including the development and psychometric testing of the Assessment of Afterschool Program Practices tool (APT) and the Survey of Afterschool Youth Outcomes tool (SAYO); and served as co-principal investigator and project director for a multi-year observation instrument validation study funded by the William T. Grant Foundation.

Director, Great Lakes Comprehensive Center

Gary Appel is director of the Great Lakes Comprehensive Center and a senior consultant at American Institutes for Research. As director of Great Lakes, he focuses on managing capacity-building technical assistance to the state education agencies in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Previously, Appel worked for the Michigan Department of Education, where he was a professional development coordinator for a statewide mathematics and science systemic reform initiative. Prior to that, he directed the Life Lab Science Program, an elementary science curriculum and professional development initiative.

From 1990 to 1993, he was a Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Fellow. Appel is the coauthor of Leading Lesson Study: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Facilitators and The Growing Classroom: Garden-Based Science. He earned a master’s degree in science education from the University of Michigan and taught elementary science in Santa Cruz, California.

Director, Midwest Comprehensive Center

Alicia Garcia is a principal policy analyst at American Institutes for Research and director of the Midwest Comprehensive Center, which provides technical assistance to state education agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Garcia has more than 9 years’ experience in education law and policy. She is the director for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. In her role as director, she manages the center’s work to build the capacity of state education agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to design, sustain, and implement reforms that support student success. Projects carried out by the center focus on several federal priority areas including supporting opportunities for teacher and leader development, implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments, and turning around low-performing schools. Garcia was formally deputy director for the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, a research center funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). She also previously served as an alliance liaison for the REL Southwest Texas Hispanic STEM Research alliance and as Minnesota State Manager for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. Garcia also works on other projects requiring education policy expertise and contributes to AIR’s Education Policy Center. Prior to joining American Institutes for Research, Garcia was a practicing attorney in the field of education law. Garcia earned a master’s degree in cultural and educational policy studies from Loyola University Chicago and a juris doctor degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Deputy Director, Midwest Comprehensive Center

Lisa Shimmel is deputy director of the Midwest Comprehensive Center and a senior policy analyst at American Institutes for Research. As deputy director of Midwest Comprehensive Center, she focuses on managing technical assistance to the state education agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota.

Shimmel also leads technical assistance projects designed to support state education agency staff in three Midwest region states. She leads the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest communication and engagement activities, which include the development of the REL Midwest website, social media accounts, interactive mapping applications, events, blogs, videos, data visualization, and other collateral. Shimmel's REL Midwest responsibilities also include technical assistance, outreach, and research as a senior policy analyst. She examines and tracks trends in current education-related legislation and policy issues. Prior to joining AIR, Shimmel worked for Los Angeles Universal Preschool, where she gained experience in preschool supply and demand and program quality. In each of these roles, Shimmel has provided support to policymakers and other education stakeholders regarding the use of evidence-based practices and the need for research to supply policy change. In addition, she has two years of teaching experience at the high school level and volunteered for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA as a community outreach coordinator for "I Have a Dream" in East Palo Alto, California. Shimmel earned a master's degree in public policy at the University of Southern California and a master's degree in secondary education at the University of Michigan.