Meet The Staff

Todd Collins Photo

Dr. Todd Collins, Director, Public Policy Institute

Todd Collins is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Public Policy Institute. His work on the courts, public policy, immigration, media, the presidency, and Congress has appeared in Political Research Quarterly, the Maryland Law Review, PS: Political Science and Politics, Judicature, Law and Policy, White House Studies, Politics and Religion, and other journals. He has won awards in recognition for outstanding research and teaching.

Contact Dr. Collins at

 Edmonds Photo

Emily Edmonds, Administrative Assistant

Emily Edmonds is a graduate of Western Carolina University, with a special studies degree in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics. For the PPI, she performs administrative duties and works with graduate assistants. She also serves as the director of the Western North Carolina Food Policy Council, hosted through the Public Policy Institute, and enjoys working with campus initiatives around food systems and economic development in the WNC region.

Contact Emily at

The 2014-2015 PPI Team

PPI Staff 2014 

Graduate Assistants

Travis Allen Photo

Travis Allen - Public Affairs

Travis, who is from Murphy, North Carolina, graduated from Western Carolina University in 2014 with a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice. This is his first year in the MPA program. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career with the federal government. 

Contact Travis @

Brian Burgess Photo

Brian Burgess - Public Affairs

Brian is originally from Shelby, North Carolina, and received his B.A. in Religious Studies at Brevard College in 2011. After studying East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, he transferred to Old Dominion, where he focused on Theory and Philosophy. Brian is now pursuing his MPA at Western Carolina University, and hopes to work with impoverished areas in Western North Carolina upon graduation. Brian feels that understanding the things that bring people together as a community, such as music, religion, and language, can ultimately only help us find common grounds, and build more resilient and meaningful communities. For the PPI, he is able to channel his strengths into such projects as a Landlord and Tenant Law Brochure for Renters, the "Focus on Franklin" community engagement project in Macon County, the North Carolina Nonprofit Survey, and other projects. 

Contact Brian @

Heather Britt

Heather Britt - Public Affairs

Heather is from Lexington, North Carolina, and graduated from Western Carolina University in 2014 with a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Political Science. She began working at the PPI as a graduate assistant in the fall, when she enrolled in the MPA program. After graduating, Heather plans to work in local government, with the goal of becoming a Town or City Manager. 

Contact Heather

Carlye Gates Photo

 Carlye Gates - Public Affairs

Carlye began working at the PPI in the fall of 2014. After graduating from the University of Florida in 2010 with her B.A. degree, she worked with the Asheville City Schools Foundation, managing and evaluating teacher grants and supporting students, especially those living in poverty. She has collaborated on a variety of community-based projects related to food security and education. Her interests lie in social policy, nonprofit capacity-building, qualitative research, and program evaluation. Following graduation from the MPA program, Carlye hopes to play a role in improving the effectiveness and impact of social programs. 

Contact Carlye @

Lizzi Shimer WCU Graduate Assistant

Lizzi Shimer - Public Affairs

Lizzi Shimer has been working in mental health and human services in WNC for the last nine years.  She holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Western Carolina University and is working on her Master’s in Public Affairs.  Lizzi is interested in pursuing nonprofit advocacy with her MPA.

Contact Lizzi @

Tiffany King Graduate Assistant 2015 PPI Staff

Tiffany King - Public Affairs

Tiffany is originally from Brooklyn N.Y. She received a B.S in criminal justice and a B.A. in psychology in 2009 from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She graduated in 2012 from the same institution with a M.S. in Rehabilitation Mental Health Counseling and is a licensed mental health and addictions counselor. Currently in the MPA program, Tiffany plans to become an administrator in the field of health and human services.

Contact Tiffany @ 

Undergraduate Research Associate

Garrett Whipkey Photo

Garrett Whipkey  

Garrett is a senior majoring in Political Science and Music at Western Carolina University. He is WCU's 2014-2015 Student Body President and is involved in many leadership activities across campus. Garrett is excited to be entering his second full year as a research associate in the Public Policy Institute. 

Contact Garrett @

PPI Alumni

Joshua Purdy - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Samuel Riddle - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Drew Tucker - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Billy Schweig - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Thaddeus Huff - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Charlie Foxx - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Sami Disu - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs (2008-2009)
Brooke Crompton - Graduate Assistant-Public Affairs (2009-2010); currently employed with the City of Asheville
Robert Blankenship - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Darren Dodd - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Wade Livingston - Undergraduate Student Assistant; currently Assistant Professor at Clemson University
Michael Hancock - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Jonathan Sofley - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Trisha Harden - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs; currently employed with the City of Asheville
Amanda Shirk - Undergraduate Student in PSC and Education
Jason Coggins - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Ronnie Hewitt - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Demorris Davis - Undergraduate Student in PSC
John Westbrooks - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs; currently employed as US Air Marshal
Alex Pellom - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs; currently the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Manager - City of Cleveland, OH
Greg Hirsch - Undergraduate student in PSC
Teena Watty - Undergraduate student in PSC
Alexandra O'Halloran - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Andrew Bowen - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs; currently employed with the Town of Maggie Valley
Ashleigh Swayze - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Austin Ritch - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Laura Dintsch - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Maggie Chandler - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs
Katy Elders - Graduate Assistant - Public Affairs


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