The Academic­­ Team

Our Team

Jed Macosko, PhD

Research Director and Chief Public Liaison

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Hailing from Minneapolis, Jed has lived in Minsk, Princeton, Tashkent, Chicago, Copenhagen, Albuquerque, and Strasbourg. He graduated with a BS from MIT and earned his PhD at UC Berkeley. After a postdoc with Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Carlos J. Bustamante, he worked with Nobel laureate Kary Mullis at a start-up in Irvine, California. Currently, Jed is a professor of physics at Wake Forest University. He continues his two decades of research on the mechanics of cells and molecular motors while teaching undergraduates the basics of big data and virtual reality. His lab has received millions of dollars in outside funding, and he is a contributing author of several books. His work has been cited thousands of times, and his patents have been developed in the biotech sector. One of his most fulfilling intellectual projects so far has been with the team at

Wayne J. Downs


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Keen to overturn the subjectivity and bias in university rankings, Wayne became intrigued with’s revolutionary machine-learning approach to ranking schools and people by influence. Having spent nearly ten years studying and directing content about higher education for some of the largest online education websites in the world, Wayne saw in a way to do rankings right, helping people make better decisions about their education and thereby advancing their lives. A native of Kentucky, Wayne obtained his BS in biblical studies with a minor in psychology at Campbellsville University, an MDiv at Baylor University, an MA in philosophy at Texas A&M, and thereafter completing PhD coursework in philosophy at the University of Kentucky, focusing on the cognitive sciences and metaethics. He muses that because of the mistakes he made cramming his 4-year degree into 6 years, he is able to help others avoid similar mistakes. Wayne is passionate about higher education, and sees in the key to bringing integrity to academic rankings.

James A. Barham, PhD

Academic Editor

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James is a Texas-born historian and philosopher of science. He received his BA in classics from the University of Texas at Austin, his MA in history of science from Harvard University, and his PhD in history and philosophy of science from the University of Notre Dame. While at Harvard, he was a Sheldon Traveling Fellow at the University of Athens and a Visiting Fellow at the Byzantine Institute of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Belgrade. Barham conducts research on the conceptual foundations of biology. He has published papers in a number of scholarly journals, including BioSystems, Rivista di Biologia, and Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

Winston Ewert, PhD

AI / Machine Learning Expert and Software Engineer

Winston is a software engineer. He received his BS in Computer Science from Trinity Western University, his Master’s degree in Computer Science from Baylor University, and his PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Baylor University. His specializes in computer simulations of evolution, specified complexity, information theory, and the common design of genomes. Ewert worked for Google for two years after earning his doctorate as a software engineer and was deemed the most productive programmer in his team. Winston left Google’s Mountain View, California, campus and returned to Vancouver to work independently as a software engineer and programming consultant.

Robert J. Marks II, PhD

AI / Machine Learning Expert

Bob is distinguished professor of engineering in the Department of Engineering at Baylor University. He was attracted to Baylor University after twenty-six years at the University of Washington in Seattle by Baylor’s vision of being the home of cutting-edge research while celebrating the Lordship of Christ. Marks is an American electrical engineer. His contributions include the Zhao-Atlas-Marks (ZAM) time-frequency distribution in the field of signal processing, the Cheung-Marks theorem in Shannon sampling theory, and the Papoulis-Marks-Cheung (PMC) approach in multidimensional sampling. He was instrumental in the defining of the field of computational intelligence and co-edited the first book using computational intelligence in the title.

Brian Carlson, PhD

Lead Developer and SEO Analyst

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Brian began his career with a PhD in philosophy. After teaching for several years, he decided that the Academic life wasn’t for him. Brian had always been interested in computers, so he taught himself how to program and joined the AcademicInfluence team as a developer in the end of 2019. Along the way, Brian picked up skills in SEO and web-design. In his free time, Brian enjoys playing guitar, drums, and hiking.

Dave Tomar

Managing Editor

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Dave Tomar is an expert on plagiarism and contract cheating in higher education. Author of The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat (Bloomsbury, 2012), Tomar worked for a decade as an academic ghostwriter before bringing widespread attention to this thriving cheating industry that undermines higher education. This book arose out of an earlier 2010 article that he authored titled ”The Shadow Scholar.” Under the pen name ”Ed Dante,” “The Shadow Scholar” became the most widely read article in the history of The Chronicle of Higher Education and received special citation from the Education Writers Association. In this article and the subsequent book, Tomar detailed his work as an academic ghostwriter and exposed the need for significant reform in higher education to combat this form of contract cheating. Tomar has written for Huffington Post and The New York Times; has appeared on ABC World News, Nightline, Fox Business, and The Today Show; and has advised leading plagiarism detection companies including Today, Tomar consults on various issues in higher education, and serves as Managing Editor for Academic Influence as well as its opinion, editorial, and news analysis journal, Inflection.

Dan Edelen

Director of Strategic Planning

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Home-based in the idyllic countryside of southwestern Ohio, Dan works sandwiched between Amish communities and Cincinnati. A summa cum laude Christian Education graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, his professional career spans technical marketing (Apple, Inc.), instructional design (Luxottica), computer network administration (at NASA Ames Research Center and P&G), knowledge management (Synchrony Communications), and business and academic writing/editing. Interests include board games, birding, and writing speculative fiction. Dan resides on a 13-acre organic fruit farm with his wife and college student son.

Jenn Finley

Content Manager

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Jennifer holds a BA in English and an MA in English with an Emphasis on Technical Writing from Wright State University. Upon graduation, she ventured to Okayama, Japan, to teach conversational English to Japanese university students. Back in America, Jennifer then worked for 10 years as a project manager for an IT organization until she and her family moved to Kentucky. She homeschooled her four children for five years, then ventured into the world of academic rankings. After becoming disillusioned with the lack of integrity found on many ranking sites, she was intrigued (and encouraged!) by what she discovered at, and happily joined the team.

Justin Downs

Head of Marketing

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As Head of Marketing, Justin taps into his creativity and interest in psychology to scout out, and implement, new ways of sharing the news and resources offered by the team at Obsessed with KPIs and other analytics, Justin’s competitiveness, stemming from his athletic career, helps to establish clear-cut goals in mind for every campaign. Previously serving as an intern and outreach specialist, Justin has gained experience in copywriting, editing, data collection, CRM management, SQL, paid ads, graphic design, and much more. Seeking to expand on his undergraduate degree from Georgetown College, Justin is enrolled in the MS in Marketing program at the University of Cincinnati. Outside of his professional life, Justin enjoys spending his free time relaxing with his wife. They oftentimes take their two dogs (Wentz and Willow) out to the farm to enjoy the open fields and swimming pool. Other interests include creating prints on his iPad and exploring Kentucky history via the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Karina Macosko


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Karina is a high school student from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who will be attending Princeton University in fall 2022. She plans to major in computer science but has been inspired by the incredible academics she has interviewed to keep an open mind. In addition to working for, she competes at the national level in track & field, is president of her debate club, and enjoys working at her church.

Timothy Smith


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Timothy is a high school senior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He will be attending the University of North Carolina Greensboro in the fall where he plans to major in business and minor in music production. Apart from doing interviews for, Tim is a talented musician who also enjoys spending time with his family and friends.

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Academic Advisory Board

Sara L. Austin, EdD


Sara Austin is a writer, instructional designer, and academic researcher. She earned a BS in Business and Entrepreneurship from the University of Maine at Machias, an MEd in Instructional Technology from the University of Maine, and an EdD in Educational Leadership from the University of New England. A California native, she now lives with her husband in Maine in a home they built together by “Googling it”. Her research specialties include cognitive biases, social and emotional learning, data-resistant belief systems, and cultural competence. She believes in the power of education to open minds and break down the barriers that divide people.

Erik Larson, PhD

Writer/Researcher & AI/Machine Learning Consultant

Interviews with Erik Larson

Erik Larson is a computer scientist, entrepreneur, and technologist with over a decade of experience in software development and R&D in the computational sciences. As an entrepreneur, he is founder and co-founder of two DARPA-funded technology companies. Larson’s projects focus on the design and development of software systems that provide effective solutions to real-world problems. As a scientist, his interests lie in hybrid systems that utilize knowledge representation and reasoning (KR&R), together with modern data-centered and machine learning approaches. His career has spanned both classic and empirical AI, with a particular focus on text analytics (information extraction and natural language processing). As a professional writer, Larson’s works have appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, with his latest book from Harvard University Press released in April 2021, The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do. (See our page with additional insights from Larson about the book, along with our interviews with him.) After receiving his Bachelor’s in philosophy and mathematics at Whitworth College, Larson completed his MA and PhD at The University of Texas at Austin, his dissertation was Primary Semantic Type Labeling on Monologue Discourse Using a Hierarchical Classification Approach.

David Nguyen, PhD

College Admission Expert

Interview with David Nguyen

David H. Nguyen, PhD, is founder of Next Level Prep, which offers online software courses and online academic coaching. Since 2015, he has been an education consultant for college admissions and teaches bioinformatics workshops for high school students, intensive Computational Biology Workshops. In his education consulting work, he has helped thousands of students get into the top 40 universities in America. His clients range from academic superstars to those with autism. He does free consulting for low-income families in the USA. He obtained both his BA in Molecular and Cellular Biology and his PhD in Endocrinology from University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Nguyen’s Articles:

Neil Chyten

College Admissions Counselor and Test Prep Expert

Neil Chyten is nationally renowned education icon and Founder of NC Global Education, Inc.. A 37-year year industry professional, he is the founder of several successful education-related companies and has written or co-written 12 books on test preparation, college admissions, and academic skills.

In addition to his many publications, Neil Chyten has overseen the development of ESTEEM (English, Science, Technology, Engineering, Entrepreneurialism and Math) project-based programs (Grades 2-8), New Generation (Grades 3-8), GPA Booster (Grades 9-10), SAT, ACT, ISEE, and SSAT Test Prep, college and private school admission program, RANDD Reading and Study Skills program, and partnerships with several local school systems. He has been a featured or guest speaker at more than 200 events ranging from parent information sessions and college fairs to young Harvard Graduate School Future Entrepreneurs.

Neil Chyten has been cited or featured as an expert education-industry source by the Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, Education Weekly, and elsewhere.

As a college counselor and tutor, Neil Chyten has worked with over 1000 students, most of whom have gone on to prestigious private school and colleges, and rewarding careers. Over his extensive career, he has trained more than 400 tutors and counselors who have helped more than 50,000 students earn higher test scores and college acceptances. Thousands of these students have earned perfect test scores, more than 1,500 have matriculated to Ivy League colleges and universities, and thousands more have gone on to attend all the top private schools, colleges and graduate schools in America. Neil has also personally worked with the sons and daughters of more than 100, professors, deans, and college admission directors from MIT, Harvard, Boston College, and many other schools.

Patrick O’Connor, PhD

College Admissions Expert

Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD, works with us as a college admissions expert and learning improvement specialist. O’Connor is associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in metropolitan Detroit. A former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Michigan ACAC, Patrick also teaches Counseling in the College Selection Process as both a graduate class and a professional development program. In 2017–18, he served as the inaugural School Counselor Ambassador Fellow with the US Department of Education, keeping the department informed of current trends and issues of interest to school counselors.

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Contributing Writers

Ross Gulik, PhD

Educational Consultant and Writer

Ross Gulik, PhD, consults with ed-tech companies on how to improve their reach and effectiveness. Having studied and worked at Princeton, Cornell, and MIT, he knows elite higher education. But he also has intimate knowledge of the community college world. As a writer on education, he tries to focus on what will help students most wherever they they are in their intellectual development and at whatever school they find themselves. At the same time, he casts a critical eye the things that undermine higher education, such as the U.S. News rankings. In working with, he ardently seeks to reform and advance higher education.

To connect with our team, please visit our Contact Us page.