Partnership Staff

A small team tackling Georgia's biggest education challenges

Staff Members

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Dana Rickman, Ph.D.


Dana is the fourth president of the Georgia Partnership, having previously served in positions of vice president and research and policy director. She joined the organization in July 2011 after serving as the Director of Research and Policy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation – Atlanta Civic Site. She has also worked for more than 10 years at Georgia State University conducting research on education programs within Georgia. She holds a PhD from Georgia State University in Political Science and a BA from Mary Washington College. She has authored multiple articles in peer reviewed journals and book chapters related to education policy and for over ten years served as the primary author of the Georgia Partnership’s annual Top Ten Issues to Watch report.

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Merrill Kemp-Wilcox

Director of Outreach & Engagement

Merrill joined the team in June 2017.  She has worked domestically and abroad in youth, community, and economic development programs including Peace Corps service in Madagascar, a practicum in the Dominican Republic, and AmeriCorps service in rural North Carolina.  She came to the Partnership from Great Promise Partnership, an educational and workforce development program working across Georgia.  In her current position, she builds networks across rural Georgia, connecting grassroots with grasstops and building cross-sector partnerships to insulate and support the educational and workforce pipelines.  She holds a Master's in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University.

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Robert W. Gaines, II, Ph.D.

Director of External Affairs

Robert joined the Partnership staff in 2018. His background is in teaching and research. Rooted in his experiences as an English composition instructor, his research interests include college readiness, education history, and the intersection of religion and education policy. Robert holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English from Penn State University, and a B.A. in English Literature from Morehouse College.


Matt Smith

Senior Policy Analyst

Matthew has worked with a diverse group of education stakeholders — state legislators, state agency staff, district leaders, and philanthropies — to develop strategies that transform student outcomes. After graduating from Peabody College, Vanderbilt University with a Master in Public Policy, Matthew moved to Colorado, where he managed the policy output for two grants – one on remedial and developmental education, the other on college and career readiness – for the Education Commission of the States. After three years in Denver, Matthew returned to his hometown of Atlanta to manage a five-year, $13 million regional educator quality grant for the Southern Regional Education Board.

More recently, he has supported school districts in Middle and South Georgia that receive Title IV, Part A federal funds through his work at the Georgia Department of Education. With experience working at the local, state, and national levels, Matt is excited to assist Georgia’s education leaders to reinforce linkages between best practices and supportive, sustainable education policy.