Serna-Wallender joined MDRC in 2014 and specializes in managing projects, providing technical assistance, and developing relationships with postsecondary research partners. In addition to her work at MDRC, Serna-Wallender also served as the founding deputy director at the Urban Education Institute at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her work centers on postsecondary education, highlighting ways to improve college access, persistence, and success for first-generation students, students from low-income families, and nontraditional students. Serna-Wallender’s current and recent projects focus on evaluating and building comprehensive student supports programs, testing text message support for adults returning to college, and improving offerings for students assessed as needing developmental (remedial) education. She works out of San Antonio, Texas, and holds a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from Trinity University and a master’s in public affairs from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Putting Evidence to Work for Student SupportMarch, 2023
The Tools for Postsecondary Schools interactive toolkit is designed to help staff members and administrators at two- and four-year colleges use evidence-based practices to support students. It draws on over 20 years of MDRC research and technical assistance and can help practitioners at any stage in the program-development process.Issue Focus
GIFs and Memes as Tools for EngagementJuly, 2019
The July 2019 In Practice web series looks at how to use a range of media — and humor — to keep program participants engaged in services. Find out how memes and GIFs can transform an outreach strategy.Brief
Early Findings from a Study of the Dana Center Mathematics PathwaysMay, 2017
A promising new community college intervention involves a revised developmental math course that emphasizes statistical and quantitative reasoning skills to align with students’ fields of study. In a random assignment evaluation at four schools in Texas, students report a qualitatively different experience with math instruction.
ProjectsMichelle Ware, Alexander Mayer, Colleen Sommo, Leigh Parise, Elena Serna-Wallender, Jálynn Castleman-Smith, Shawna Anderson, Rae Walker, Melissa Wavelet, Katie Beal, Melissa Boynton, Diane Wren, Sumner Perera
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected colleges’ operations and students’ educational experiences, severely strained budgets, and created unprecedented financial and emotional stress for students, faculty, and staff. As colleges adapt to an evolving landscape, they need immediate solutions to support and retain students, as well as to...Colleen Sommo, Alexander Mayer, Alyssa Ratledge, Michelle Ware, Osvaldo Avila, Katie Beal, Melissa Wavelet, Leigh Parise, Colin Hill, Rae Walker, Austin Slaughter, Hannah Dalporto, Elena Serna-Wallender, Stanley Dai
MDRC’s Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS) seeks to improve graduation rates for traditionally underserved students at two- and four-year colleges, by helping states and institutions align their resources with evidence-driven practices. SUCCESS ...Alexander Mayer, David Navarro, Caitlin Anzelone, Evan Weissman, Dan Cullinan, Elena Serna-Wallender, Stanley Dai, Sumner Perera
The college enrollment process is complex and includes many steps. Recent research has shown that short, action-oriented text messages can help people focus on critical tasks at the right times. Building on this promising research, the Text Ed project will develop and test a strategic text messaging intervention at Educational Opportunity Centers (...Evan Weissman, Alexander Mayer, Amanda Grossman, John Diamond, Susan Sepanik, Dorota Biedzio Rizik, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Elena Serna-Wallender
As community colleges try to increase graduation rates, one of the greatest challenges they face is improving the success of students in their developmental, or remedial, education programs. The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP), formerly known as the New Mathways Project, was developed by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of...