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The Social IMPACT Research Center (IMPACT) has a collaborative approach that leverages the experience and skills of each team member to create the highest quality product. IMPACT staff are not only skilled in the various technical aspects of research and evaluations, but also have proven success in communicating findings using media, briefing, and social media strategies. Need help with a program evaluation? Need data to enhance your grant applications? IMPACT can help.

Find out more about the research services we offer here.

Amy Rynell, Senior Director of Research & Policy

Amy Rynell

Amy has worked for Heartland Alliance since 1997 and currently oversees Heartland Alliance’s Research & Policy Division which is comprised of the Social IMPACT Research Center, Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Economic Opportunity, and the Heartland Alliance Policy and Advocacy Team. She provides external and internal policy and thought leadership, strategic direction and planning, financial management, and oversight of the projects throughout the division. With the Social IMPACT Research Center, best known for its reports on poverty, Amy guides dynamic research and analysis on today’s most pressing social issues.  In her role with Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives, Amy supports policy change, research, and field building to advance and strengthen employment programs and policies that address chronic unemployment. Finally through the Policy and Advocacy Team, Amy supports the creation of state policies designed to end poverty.

With over 20 years’ experience in the nonprofit human services sector, Amy has devoted her career to  ending  poverty, homelessness and chronic unemployment and as such has developed unique expertise in these areas. Amy has in-depth knowledge of poverty and homelessness through providing direct services within a homeless system in a range of interventions, through leading the creation of plans to end homelessness, through leadership positions within the Chicago Continuum of Care and coordinating the Regional Roundtable on Homelessness, and through documenting and evaluating best practices in addressing poverty and homelessness, including having overseen the most comprehensive study of homelessness in northeastern Illinois. In addition, Amy has been involved in multiple studies of unemployed adults with multiple employment barriers, helped advise on the design and roll-out of large scale employment initiatives, and served on the boards of workforce development organizations.

Amy has the honor of holding external leadership positions including being appointed to the State of Illinois Hunger Commission and Human Services Commission, serving on the national technical working group for USDHHS’s Subsidized and Transitional Jobs Demonstration, being a leader within the National Responsible Fatherhood Roundtable, a member of the Chicago Foundation for Women Academic Advisory Council, and a member of the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness Employment Task Group.   She is a frequent presenter at National Alliance to End Homelessness conferences, and the Welfare Research & Evaluation conferences, among others. Amy is also an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago.

Amy received her BA from University of Notre Dame and her AM from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.


Amy Terpstra, Associate Director

Amy TerpstraAmy is a data analyst with expertise in Census Bureau, economic, health, and human services data collection, interpretation, and communication. Amy’s analyses have informed the work of thousands of service providers, advocacy groups, local and county governments, coalitions, and policy makers throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

Amy’s work focuses on poverty, income, and housing-related issues. She conducts research for and jointly authors the Social IMPACT Research Center's annual Reports on Illinois and Chicago Region Poverty and works on IMPACT's Self-Sufficiency Project. Amy works with clients from all sectors who are seeking data and information to inform their program decisions, service delivery structure, advocacy work, and planning.

Amy also brings a variety of research skills to the table. She is experienced in survey development, focus group development and facilitation, data analysis, and overall project management. For the last several years she has served in an adjunct capacity teaching social work and sociology research methods courses to undergraduate students.

Amy’s knowledge of affordable housing issues and understanding of the scope and dynamics of poverty and hardship for individuals and communities allow her to approach projects with a keen sense of the macro/system mechanisms in play. Amy is also experienced at leveraging projects to influence decision makers, primarily through presentations and strategic use of the media.

Amy has a MSW from Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Lindy Carrow, Research Associate

Lindy CarrowLindy has experience in both direct service and research in the human service sector. Prior to joining IMPACT, Lindy served as a research assistant on an ethnographic study in the Chicago Public School system using qualitative data to analyze the acculturation process of refugee youth in a multicultural setting. She also worked in an after-school program with ethnically diverse low-income youth in a nonprofit setting and in a domestic violence recovery center, also serving the low-income population of Chicago. Lindy has a strong grasp on the realities of life for low-income urban populations from her direct service work in nonprofits.

Since joining the IMPACT team, Lindy has worked on various projects, such as a snapshot of new veterans, their needs, and their service use in Illinois and the Chicago area. Lindy has also worked on a needs assessment on child hunger and nutrition. This and other projects have given her experience in qualitative data collection, database management, and data analysis and presentation. She has expertise in online survey design and knowledge in qualitative data analysis software.

Lindy has a MSW from Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Jennifer Clary, Research Associate

Jennifer ClaryJennifer has a background in community development and social justice, and experience working to improve quality of life for marginalized and disadvantaged populations. She has expertise in issue research, project management, engaging in comprehensive planning processes, and working for social change.

At IMPACT, Jennifer works on the Self-Sufficiency Project, including jointly authoring the Illinois state report; U.S. Census Bureau data releases; and the annual Report on Illinois Poverty. Jennifer also provides data support across a range of projects, and responds to requests for data to support decision-making, advocacy, and planning.

Previously, Jennifer was a consultant on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contracts, jointly authoring reports and additional written materials based on stakeholder input to facilitate broader understanding of environmental justice issues, and working collaboratively with Federal Advisory Committee work groups to develop reports outlining advice and recommendations to relevant federal agencies. At the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Jennifer spearheaded a comprehensive curriculum content review and engaged in policy and advocacy efforts to improve adolescent sexual health in state. Building upon her prior experience as a member of the education team at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, she cultivated strong communication, issue research, project management, and presentation skills; and developed a deep commitment to working with and for individuals whose voices are too often excluded from the debates that impact them directly and disproportionately.

Jennifer holds a master of urban planning and policy degree from the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Suniya Farooqui, Research Associate

Suniya Farooqui

Suniya is a Research Associate with IMPACT. Suniya has experience researching immigrant and refugee issues, domestic violence, legal services, and monitoring/evaluation internationally. Before joining IMPACT, Suniya assisted Woodstock Institute in analyzing the effect of the housing market, banking regulation trends, and limited access to financial markets on low-income communities and minority groups using data and qualitative research. At Rural Support Programmes Network in Pakistan, Suniya worked with the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research Team on various projects, such the gender-focused Institutional Assessment of the Pakistan Domestic Biogas Program to understand staff’s knowledge of gender issues, engagement with female villagers, and access to professional development resources; a cost-benefit analysis of a community-based solid waste management project in Marri, Sargodha; and documenting the 2010 flood relief efforts in Marri, Nowshera, and Charsadda. These projects have given her experience in qualitative data collection and quantitative analysis. Since joining IMPACT, Suniya has been working to understand the impact of youth programs, how effective they are, and how they can be improved. As part of the project, she has recruited over 400 young adults to be part of an online survey. Suniya has a MPP from the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


Maggie Schultz, Research Associate

Maggie SchultzMaggie comes to IMPACT with experience in social science research, workforce development programming, and clinical social work. Maggie has held research positions in both social and personality psychology at the University of Wisconsin and in employment instability and family well-being at the University of Chicago.

Maggie’s research skills are enhanced by firsthand knowledge of the barriers faced on the program side of human service. As the manager of quality improvement for Heartland Human Care Services’ Employment and Economic Advancement division, Maggie conducted performance measurement and evaluation for a variety of programming, including not only employment programs but also contextualized literacy, public housing support services, mentoring, and antitrafficking programs. She also led quality improvement efforts for the division, which included developing systems to track outcomes and compliance, coordinating with program directors and managers on improving quality management systems, and managing accreditation. Finally, as a therapy intern at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, Maggie provided counseling and support to children and adolescents.

At IMPACT, Maggie will be collaborating on subsidized employment program evaluations, survey research, and analyses of U.S. Census data.

Maggie has a MSW from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.


Allyson Stewart, Communications Coordinator

Ally StewartAllyson manages communications outreach for the Heartland Alliance research and policy teams, including the Social IMPACT Research Center, Heartland Alliance Policy & Advocacy, and the National Transitional Jobs Network. Allyson has a diverse range of communications, research, and policy experience that serves to amplify our work and effectively communicate our information and ideas with key stakeholders around the state and country. 

Her previous work has focused on women’s entrepreneurship and renewable energy research and policy. Previously, she researched the impact of business training and asset building programs on the success of low-income women entrepreneurs as a research fellow at the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment in Oakland, California.  She also has a background in the energy industry, working as a research and policy analyst investigating emerging clean technologies and implementing state-level renewable energy policy in California at the state’s largest utility company headquartered in San Francisco. Allyson also has experience working at the federal level as a research assistant intern on the U.S. Congressional Select Committee on Global Warming. Allyson communicated the results of this research and policy work to a wide range of stakeholders, successfully increasing public awareness of key issues and attracting new public, government, and fundraising support.

Allyson has also worked as a policy consultant to Joint Venture Silicon Valley, analyzed city ballot initiatives for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, researched the influence of cross-sector collaboration on major social innovations as a research assistant at the Stanford Graduate School of Business Center for Social Innovation, and supported food security research as an intern with the U.N. in Ecuador. Allyson speaks Spanish and is conversant in Mandarin Chinese.

Allyson has a BA in Public Policy from Stanford University.


Jean Lam, Program Coordinator

Jean LamJean provides clerical, administrative, and various programmatic support to IMPACT. Jean joined Heartland Alliance in 2002 as an Administrative Assistant. Her previous experience includes database maintenance and information services support.


Sean Hudson, Research Assistant

Sean is an accelerated master’s student at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. His concentration is in Social Administration with an emphasis on Poverty and Inequality – Policy Planning, Analysis, and Advocacy. Sean supports the IMPACT staff with literature reviews, data collection, entry, and analysis on a variety of research and evaluation projects.

Prior to moving to Chicago to attend graduate school, Sean worked on several research projects and composed reports on  child abuse prevention and intervention, foster care public policies, educational attainment for foster youth and African-Americans, and urban poverty among black youth. In addition, Sean worked as a clinical substance abuse social worker for the Tuscaloosa County Office of the Public Defender in Alabama and served as a senate page for the Alabama legislature. During his undergraduate career, Sean published a research study on the influence of academic, emotional, social, financial, and child welfare support systems on the graduation rate of current and former foster youth enrolled in undergraduate degree programs. He has served as motivational speaker and trainer for the Alabama Department of Human Resources (ALDHR).

Sean has a Bachelor’s of Social Work (magna cum laude) from The University of Alabama and is a McNair Scholar alumnus. He has received numerous awards for his social justice initiatives and research endeavors including the Martin Luther King Realizing the Dream –Horizon Award and has presented at several research conferences across the U.S.

Sean has a BA in Social Work from The University of Alabama.


Damian Nelson, Research Assistant

Damian is a second year master’s student at Northwestern University pursing a degree in Public Policy and Administration. Damian provides support to IMPACT staff on a variety of research and program evaluation efforts including the Michigan Earn and Learn program.

Before graduate school, Damian attended James Madison College within Michigan State University where he studied Social Relations and Policy. Damian researched economic and social barriers for people with disabilities living in Appalachia. After college, Damian served as a policy intern for a State Representative in the Michigan Legislature.

Damian has a BA in Social Relations and Policy from Michigan State University.


Ariel Ruiz Soto, Research Assistant

Ariel is a second-year master’s student in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago with a focus on immigration policy. With an established background in activism, his research is motivated by a passion to inform policy that can reduce inequality in the United States.

Throughout his academic career, Ariel has researched the experiences of undocumented immigrants’ incorporation into the United States. During his undergraduate career, Ariel conducted research supported by Princeton University to document the barriers and experiences that hinder Latino students’ academic success. His current academic research projects analyze the impact of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on undocumented students and their families and explore how sustainable housing can improve the lives of migrant workers in the Pacific Northwest. This combination of research has equipped Ariel with strong qualitative and quantitative skills including: interviewing, conducting focus groups, survey design,, census tract analysis, and database design.  

At IMPACT, Ariel supports staff on a variety of research and evaluation projects with data collection, entry, and analysis.

Ariel has a BA in Sociology from Whitman College.