Our Team

Helping people make better decisions about careers and education wouldn't be possible without our great team at Optimal. We're a bunch of self-described nerds, overachievers, and board game enthusiasts who get excited about solving hard problems and making sure our products live up to our promises.

CEO

Sung Rhee

Sung Rhee

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Understanding the difficulties of obtaining a quality, affordable education is what inspired founder and CEO Sung Rhee to found Optimal in 2004. He saw a need to create sites dedicated to providing transparent, data-driven information to empower people to make better decisions for their education and careers. He knows prestige doesn't always translate to quality, and Sung doesn't want to see students get a raw deal.

Outside of work, Sung enjoys playing basketball and adding to his collection of Gundam figurines. A fun fact about Sung is that he was a cartoonist for The Harvard Crimson during his college years.

Sung has been featured in several publications, including GeekWire and 425 Business Magazine. Additionally, the CEO Perspective he authored provides a more in-depth look into his background and how Optimal came to be.

Writing & Editing

Our writing and editing team has over 50 years of combined experience and writes the articles, student guides, and other resources across our websites.

Cat Wallace

Cat Wallace

Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Cat Wallace

Cat Wallace

Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

With over 30 years of experience as a newspaper journalist and nine years as a journalism professor, Cat brings a wealth of knowledge to Optimal. In addition to teaching, Cat also advised the student newspaper at Whatcom Community College, where she absolutely loved connecting with students about their futures and helping them reach their goals. At Optimal, she is passionate about continuing to help students attain their goals through helping create clear, high-quality content. Cat holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from UC Santa Barbara and a MA in Journalism from Syracuse University. Outside of work, Cat pursues her love of books through her position on the board of her county library system and volunteers at her local performing arts theater.

Bailey Fletcher

Bailey Fletcher

Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Bailey Fletcher

Bailey Fletcher

Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Bailey came to Optimal with experience as an academic editor, where she was helping authors around the world publish their manuscripts in prestigious journals. In her current role, Bailey edits our content for grammar, flow, and tone and manages our comprehensive style guide. She has always been passionate about the pursuit of higher education, especially for the sake of knowledge. Bailey graduated from University of Oregon with a degree in Folklore, which she studied due to her fascination with what is meaningful to people. Outside of work, Bailey enjoys studying Spanish and Italian, photographing wildlife, writing historical fiction, and singing/songwriting.

Taylor Nichols

Taylor Nichols

Data Reporter

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Taylor Nichols

Taylor Nichols

Data Reporter

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Prior to joining Optimal, Taylor spent six years writing for higher education newspapers and magazines. Through this experience she gained a unique perspective on college students' needs and challenges. She now uses this background to generate creative article ideas and produce insightful content for our site. Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a News/Editorial focus from Western Washington University. When Taylor isn't writing, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, listening to 90s hip hop, and visiting any place that has palm trees.

Shadi Bushra

Shadi Bushra

Data Reporter

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Shadi Bushra

Shadi Bushra

Data Reporter

Pronouns: He/Him/His

In his ten years as a professional journalist, Shadi has developed strong reporting skills and a drive to always be searching for news stories and developments. His experience spans from producing breaking news at CNN to reporting for Reuters in London, Egypt, and Sudan. As an immigrant and first-generation student, Shadi felt incredibly adrift in the college application and financial aid processes. Looking back, he wishes that his current job, accurately gathering and clearly presenting data-driven college graduate information, was one that had existed back when he was researching college and graduate schools. For Optimal, Shadi researches and reports on data studies and trends relating to college outcomes. He holds a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University and an M.S. in Investigative Journalism and Digital Media from Columbia University.

Jennifer King Logan

Jennifer King Logan

Writer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Jennifer King Logan

Jennifer King Logan

Writer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

A seasoned veteran of the publishing industry, Jennifer enjoys exploring education-related topics and writing informative content about higher education for our program and resource pages. Before joining Optimal, Jennifer worked in content development and creation for two of the largest higher educational textbook publishers in the U.S. Her recent experience pursuing an online Master of Arts in Marketing through Southern New Hampshire University only furthered her enthusiasm for distance learning. Jennifer also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from California State University Fullerton. In her free time, she enjoys fiction writing, painting, upcycling furniture, and traveling.

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy

Writer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy

Writer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Drawing upon his 11 years of experience in writing and editing, Michael creates content for multiple facets of our site. His ambition as a writer is to present prospective students with the information they need to make good choices when selecting a college. Michael holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from DePaul University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Washington University, and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the University of Chicago. Outside of work, Michael can be found teaching and training in krav maga or volunteering with Seal Sitters, an organization in West Seattle that seeks to protect marine mammals resting on shore.

Usmaan Farooqui

Usmaan Farooqui

Writer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Usmaan Farooqui

Usmaan Farooqui

Writer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

With over nine years of experience writing for newspapers and academic journals, Usmaan is well positioned to develop strong content for prospective students. The education industry combines two of his interests: working with students and doing research. Having spent years teaching, Usmaan is excited to be in a position where he gets to do research that helps students make decisions about higher education. He holds a BA from the University of Edinburgh, an MA from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Outside of work, Usmaan is a huge mythology fan and enjoys playing guitar.

Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz

Writer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz

Writer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

With 10 years of writing experience, Liz is passionate about creating the best content to help students achieve their goals. She earned her bachelor's in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University. During her time there, Liz did some student advocacy work when the school administration unexpectedly announced a school closure. She enjoyed helping students by researching solutions and connecting them to resources to help them navigate their futures. Liz describes herself as a kid at heart, naming Beverly Cleary as her inspiration in the fifth grade to pursue a writing career. In her free time, she enjoys learning about British history, customs, and country life.

Content Strategy

Our content strategy team figures out what topics we should cover and how to best improve our articles to be more helpful to prospective and current students.

Taitum Ridgway

Taitum Ridgway

Content Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Taitum Ridgway

Taitum Ridgway

Content Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

After six years with the company, Taitum now leads the content team, which is dedicated to providing the most informative and insightful resources and articles to help with college decision making. She describes herself as “privileged and lucky” to have a career that allows her to provide people with the information they want and need about colleges, degree programs, and career opportunities. Taitum earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Whitworth University. When she's not working, Taitum enjoys listening to music and playing old-school arcade pinball.

Emily Sherman

Emily Sherman

Senior Managing Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Emily Sherman

Emily Sherman

Senior Managing Editor

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Emily is a new addition to the Optimal team, joining as a Senior Managing Editor. She is passionate about creating content that helps users answer questions and truly enriches their lives. Prior to joining Optimal, Emily focused on credit cards and personal finance, and she can still be found scouring the web for travel deals to maximize her hoard of points and miles. Emily has a bachelor's degree in English Writing and Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, where she still lives with her partner and two kitties.

Celeste Harms

Celeste Harms

Product Content Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Celeste Harms

Celeste Harms

Product Content Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

In her current content role, Celeste focuses on enhancing our content opportunities by connecting with experts and focusing on providing essential advice for students. Based on her own successful college search experience, Celeste highly recommends using Optimal's resources to thoroughly research schools, degree programs, and tuition costs before making a decision. Her own investigation took her to Washington State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Media Production while minoring in Business Administration. When she’s not researching content opportunities, Celeste enjoys traveling—15 countries and counting—cooking, hiking, and dance.

Paige Longdon

Paige Longdon

Product Content Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Paige Longdon

Paige Longdon

Product Content Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As a Content Manager, Paige is dedicated to creating content that truly addresses prospective students' needs. She surveys users, researches industry and content trends, and manages a team of writers. After volunteering in her kids’ school with special needs and low-income students, Paige became passionate about the power of accessible, online education. These experiences have helped mold her desire to continue improving the content. Paige has a Bachelor's in Business Administration - Marketing from Western Washington University and is an avid marathon runner, completing marathons everywhere from Boston to France.


Product

Our product team publishes our college rankings, collects feedback from our users to improve our websites, and creates the features and visual design you see across our websites.

Rachel Hansen

Rachel Hansen

Business Strategist Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Rachel Hansen

Rachel Hansen

Business Strategist Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

In her 10 years at the company, Rachel has been a key driver of content growth and business strategy for our products. After graduating from Westmont College, Rachel worked directly with students as an SAT coach and writing tutor. As someone well-versed with the college search process, she is proud to expand the reach of websites like ours, which equip students to make well-informed decisions about their educational options. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading books and spending quality time with her family, including her two young boys.

Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller

Product Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller

Product Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As a Rankings Strategist, Madeline is constantly working to enhance our ranking offerings by researching new data sources and focusing on student needs. She is a strong believer that providing students with the right data can be incredibly helpful for the college decision making process. After graduating from Dartmouth with a Bachelor’s in Cognitive Science, Madeline gained experience working in an academic library in the scholarly communication and digital library departments. In her free time, Madeline enjoys hiking, Nordic skiing, and playing flute.


Marketing

Our marketing team works with journalists, colleges, and other organizations to share our resources with their audiences.

Nicole Hopler

Nicole Hopler

Marketing Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Nicole Hopler

Nicole Hopler

Marketing Lead

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As Lead Marketing Manager, Nicole is passionate about sharing Optimal's useful content and rankings with journalists, students, and other education stakeholders. She first became interested in an education-focused career after working in marketing at Georgetown University. Since joining the company, she has taken on outreach, public relations, and branding efforts.

Through her work, Nicole intends to help develop a student-centered brand that focuses on value, quality, and accessibility above all. Nicole holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies from the University of Virginia, and enjoys hiking, relaxing on the beach, and exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest in her free time.

Kellen Schwartz

Kellen Schwartz

Marketing Manager

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Kellen Schwartz

Kellen Schwartz

Marketing Manager

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As a Marketing Manager, Kellen focuses on finding and connecting with the audiences that could benefit from our rankings, resources, and articles. Growing up, Kellen was surrounded by a family of educators, which sparked his interest in the industry. However when looking for colleges, he struggled to find accurate information. Now, he's passionate about helping Optimal create the resources he would have appreciated when making a college decision, and making sure other students can find our sites. Kellen holds a bachelor's in Business Administration from Seattle Pacific University. Outside of work, he enjoys reading fantasy books, crafting with his hands, and watching sports. Kellen brings the spirit to Optimal through his Music Friday DJ role and his Christmas costumes.

Brian Hepp

Brian Hepp

Marketing Manager

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Brian Hepp

Brian Hepp

Marketing Manager

Pronouns: He/Him/His

In his 11 years in marketing, Brian has worked in several different industries with the common thread of helping connect people to their passions, whether that be through a music license or a college degree. At Optimal, he manages the outreach team, sharing our resources with the relevant audiences including news outlets, students, and organizations. He also supports our data collection efforts to ensure we have the most accurate and timely data for our sites. Brian holds a drama degree from Kenyon College, and in his free time spends countless hours exploring the music world through live shows, music blogs, and wandering through record stores. He also enjoys the Seattle culinary scene, paddleboarding, and playing squash.

Adrian Ramirez

Adrian Ramirez

Outreach Specialist

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Adrian Ramirez

Adrian Ramirez

Outreach Specialist

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As an outreach specialist, Adrian enjoys getting the word out about our content and resources. His background in content writing and customer support have helped him understand the best ways to connect with relevant audiences, whether that be students, schools, or journalists. Adrian is passionate about the education industry because he gets to support people who are working towards a better version of themselves. Adrian previously served in the U.S. Navy, and in his free time, he's either reading and learning how to write books, or enjoying the outdoors through hiking and biking.

Sarah Glass

Sarah Glass

Outreach Specialist

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Sarah Glass

Sarah Glass

Outreach Specialist

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As a former teacher and youth worker with 12 years of experience, Sarah understands the urgent need to expand access to higher education. Through her research and data collection work, she helps create resources that enable students to make informed decisions about their educational future. Sarah also assists students directly by serving as our communications and outreach liaison. A graduate of the University of Washington, Sarah holds a Bachelor of Social Welfare and a Master of Social Work. When not working with prospective college students, she can be found mentoring children through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, traveling, and studying other languages.


Software Engineering

Our software engineers build our websites and the tools that let the rest of the team focus on helping our users.

Gustav Gennrich

Gustav Gennrich

Director of Software Engineering

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Gustav Gennrich

Gustav Gennrich

Director of Software Engineering

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As the engineering lead, Gustav ensures Optimal’s products deliver value to users as quickly and seamlessly as possible. He was drawn to Optimal’s small team and mission of helping others obtain a strong educational foundation. Gustav holds two bachelor’s degrees from University of Washington, one in Computing and Software Systems and another in Applied and Computational Mathematical Sciences. In his free time, he enjoys working with his hands and taking care of his family. Some of his favorite projects include constructing an elevator for his workshop, renovating a barn, and building a covered playground for his sons.

Samuel Arnett

Samuel Arnett

Software Engineer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Samuel Arnett

Samuel Arnett

Software Engineer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

In his six years with the company, Samuel has supported several teams including accounts, business growth, and marketing. Currently, he works to develop and maintain our internal reports, administrative tools, and email management system. Before Optimal, Sam spent four years as an English teacher in Japan, allowing him to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the education space. He holds a B.A. in political science from Transylvania University and an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University. Outside of work, Sam enjoys spending time with his spouse and son, tabletop board games, and pen-and-paper role playing games.

Emile Blouin

Emile Blouin

Software Engineer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Emile Blouin

Emile Blouin

Software Engineer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Emile originally entered the education industry because of his love for teaching and seeing people grow their knowledge. After helping students reach their highest potential for three years as a teacher, Emile decided to pursue a career in software development. At Optimal, he's able to use his background in teaching, as it gives him a unique perspective on the college decision making process. In his current role, Emile manages the publishing process and works to improve our internal databases. Emile holds an Education and Biology degree from Brown University and is an avid mountain biker, rock climber, and skier. He also enjoys spending time as a volunteer for a junior roller derby league.

Mario Gonzalez

Mario Gonzalez

HTML/CSS Developer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Mario Gonzalez

Mario Gonzalez

HTML/CSS Developer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As a publishing developer for Optimal, Mario makes sure all of the content we produce goes live on our site for prospective students to access. He also handles any styling changes and content edits on our sites. Mario enjoys being able to work on the front facing side of our sites and derives passion from helping connect students to higher education opportunities and information. He strongly believes that everyone should have the ability to pursue a form of higher education, regardless of economic status or societal biases. Mario holds a Computer Science degree from Western Washington University and in his free time he enjoys ultimate frisbee, playing his ukulele, and cruising through town on his moped.

Valeria Berrocal

Valeria Berrocal

HTML/CSS Developer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Valeria Berrocal

Valeria Berrocal

HTML/CSS Developer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

At Optimal, Valeria works to build out our content efforts across our websites for a seamless end-to-end user experience. She is passionate about contributing to Optimal's mission by displaying data for better decision making and ensuring students can access the resources they need for pursuing higher education. Prior to joining Optimal, Valeria worked at an insurance company in Peru as their webmaster. Valeria holds a Computer Science degree from Manhattan College. In her free time she enjoys learning Peruvian sign language and crocheting -- she has made seven different styles of bucket hats!

Brian Peters

Brian Peters

Lead Visual Designer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Brian Peters

Brian Peters

Lead Visual Designer

Pronouns: He/Him/His

A specialist in visual design with 15 years of experience, Brian is inspired by creating visuals that are both engaging and creative. Brian is responsible for making Optimal's content and design as visually appealing and intuitive as possible. Brian holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Emporia State University, and has gained design experience working with many companies in the digital space, such as Microsoft and T-Mobile. When not sitting in front of his computer, Brian can be found cruising around Seattle on his Honda Ruckus, listening to music, working out, or spending time in the sun.


Accounts

Our account managers work directly with schools to advertise their programs to students with matching interests.

Alan Handford

Alan Handford

Account Lead

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Alan Handford

Alan Handford

Account Lead

Pronouns: He/Him/His

In his fifteen years at Optimal, Alan has developed strong relationships with Optimal's partners and employees alike. As the Account Lead, he works to support our partner colleges and bootcamps through campaign management and optimization. Alan is a graduate of Montana Tech of the University of Montana, with a BS in Liberal Studies. He was attracted to work in the education industry based on his belief in the virtue of free thought and personal improvement through discussion, dissent, and analysis. In his free time, Alan enjoys philosophical discussions - in his words, an honest and respectful conversation is about the best thing in the world. The meaning of the name Alan, swift and cheerful, is a true fit for Alan's character.

Susan Heinrich

Susan Heinrich

Account Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Susan Heinrich

Susan Heinrich

Account Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As an account manager, Susan works to support our partner colleges and bootcamps. Susan came to Optimal with a variety of previous experiences working as an editor, project manager and account manager. As an English Literature and Writing graduate from Marylhurst University, she knows the importance of clear, accurate information and attention to detail. Susan has been passionate about the education industry for as long as she can remember, and understands that selecting the right path is essential to reaching your goals and finding your passions. She enjoys being part of an organization that helps students reach their full potential and loves being a resource for our partners. In her free time, Susan enjoys playing tennis, birding, pickleball, and searching for Seattle's best cup of coffee.

Data Researchers

We have a team of 60 data researchers that research over 40,000 college degrees each year.


Optimal Board Advisor

Richard Vedder, distinguished higher education change advocate, serves as a board advisor for OnlineU, advising on content and contributing editorials. As an advisor, he supports Optimal's core mission of adding data-driven information to the higher education space and setting students up for career success.

Views and opinions expressed in board advisor's writing are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Optimal.

Dr. Richard Vedder
Professor Emeritus at Ohio University, Author, & Higher Education Change Advocate
Athens, OH

Vedder is an esteemed figure in the higher education sector, with a Ph.D in economics from University of Illinois and an impressive tenure of advocating for higher education change. He writes frequently for numerous notable outlets including Forbes, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Opinion, and Inside Higher Ed. He has also authored several books regarding issues within the higher education sector, including "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much" and "Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America." Much of his writing challenges the current American higher education system and proposes solutions for economic, societal, and institutional changes.

Vedder served on the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a group charged with recommending a national strategy for reforming post-secondary education. He also ran the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, an organization dedicated to researching public policy and economic issues relating to postsecondary education. Currently, he serves as a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, a research and educational organization that creates transformational ideas for today’s most pressing social and economic challenges.

CAREERS

At Optimal, we embrace a culture of growth, experimentation, and creativity. Our small and agile team allows all members to exercise great responsibility and freedom, leading each person to have a measurable impact on our business. We also offer unique benefits like tuition reimbursement and charitable donation matching. We enjoy solving hard problems as much as our wine and cheese parties and snuggling with our troop of quirky office dogs.

Equal Employment Opportunity Statement

Optimal's policy is to ensure equal employment opportunity without discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, national origin, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law. Optimal prohibits any such discrimination or harassment.