Christopher J. Nellum, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Dr. Christopher Nellum (he/him/his) is the Executive Director of EdTrust-West, a nonprofit education equity organization focused on educational justice and closing achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color and students from lower-income communities from preschool through college. Nellum joined EdTrust-West in October of 2017 and most recently served as the organization’s Deputy Director.

As the Deputy Director of Research and Policy, Nellum co-led the creation of a three-year strategic plan and deepened the organization’s expertise in early childhood education, K-12, and higher education. He has led successful advocacy efforts to ensure equity in the K-12 accountability system, create a statewide cradle-to-career data system, address food insecurity for college students, and ensure that every high school senior completes a financial aid application before they graduate. In addition, Nellum was the founding co-chair of the California Higher Education Equity Coalition. He has also pushed for local and statewide solutions in response to COVID-19 and the shift to distance learning, expanded the organization’s early childhood education profile, and spearheaded educator listening sessions and K-12 parent polls. Nellum regularly provides commentary for media outlets, including PBS NewsHour, EdSource, The Wall Street Journal, and NBC News.

The mission of EdTrust-West is personal to Nellum. He describes his family as impressing upon him the need to question “commonly-held” truths about Black communities and people and to always push for racial justice and equity. His mother and grandparents grew up in the South and engaged in efforts to desegregate Louisiana State University in New Orleans.

Nellum’s path from Head Start through K-12 education and college was not a straight line and mirrors many of the challenges students of color and students from lower-income communities face today. His home, California’s Imperial Valley, is rich with familial and cultural traditions, but for Nellum, it was also the site of extreme rural poverty. He credits a counselor at Brawley Union High School with helping him open the door to college as a first-generation student and Pell and Cal Grant recipient.

Before joining EdTrust-West, Nellum was at the National Center for Institutional Diversity, Young Invincibles, and the American Council on Education. He cut his teeth in education equity on college campuses working directly with students. Nellum completed his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara, master’s degree at CSU Long Beach, and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He mentors young Black and Latinx students through his volunteer work with college access programs like Berkeley Community Scholars. Nellum serves on the Student Centered Funding Formula Oversight Committee as a gubernatorial appointee and on the Cradle-to-Career Data System Policy and Analytics Advisory Group. He is also an adjunct professor of education and recently taught at the University of San Francisco, UC Davis, and the University of San Diego.

Nellum is serving in the biggest role of his lifetime as a father of a baby girl. He is married to Dr. Alexis Jackson, an Oakland native and marine conservation scientist and ocean policy advocate. You can follow Nellum on Twitter at @chrisnellum.

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  • Oakland, CA
Higher Ed
Student Success Data
State Data Systems
Media & Public Engagement

Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.