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Philanthropic and Education Leader Elisha Smith Arrillaga Named CEP’s Vice President of Research

Date: April 5, 2023

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Media Contact: Grace Nicolette, Vice President, Programming and External Relations,


Cambridge, MA — Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Ph.D., a seasoned philanthropic and education leader and researcher, has been named Vice President, Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) following an exhaustive national search. Smith Arrillaga brings a wealth of experience as a nonprofit leader and philanthropic expert.

She currently serves as a faculty fellow and professor of practice in philanthropy and education policy at the University of Texas and as founder of Student Success Solutions, an education consulting firm that partners with philanthropies, nonprofits, and government to analyze, design, and execute equity-focused student success strategies. She previously held the role of managing director of the Dana Center at the University of Texas and executive director of Education Trust West. Earlier in her career, Smith Arrillaga served as director in the Career Ladders Project at the Foundation for California Community Colleges, the first fellow at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and a director at Mathematica Policy Research.

“We are thrilled to welcome Elisha to CEP. Her skills and background make her an ideal match to lead CEP’s research in the years to come,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan. “Our connections to Elisha go back to her time at Hewlett and, more recently, as a valued member of our YouthTruth advisory board for the past four years.”

Smith Arrillaga, who will join CEP on June 1, has also served on a range of state and national advisory groups including Google’s Equitable Artificial Intelligence Research Roundtable, the advisory board of the American Mathematics Education Study, and the national advisory board at Just Equations, where she is also a research fellow. She has spoken widely at conferences such as South by Southwest, has published articles and op-eds on educational inequities, and has been interviewed by various media outlets, including CNN.

Originally from Mississippi, Smith received her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Smith College. She has an M.S. in survey methodology from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Ph.D in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University.

“I am deeply familiar with the work of CEP and admire the rigor they bring to their work,” Smith Arrillaga said. “I am very excited to join the CEP team and contribute to elevating new perspectives across the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.”

At CEP, Smith Arrillaga succeeds Ellie Buteau, Ph.D., who stepped into a new, part-time role at the organization last year. Current research initiatives include a multiyear effort to understand the impacts of MacKenzie Scott’s large, unrestricted grants to nonprofits and an ongoing Nonprofit Voice Project that aims to elevate the perspective of nonprofit leaders on key issues to donors and foundations.

The search for CEP’s Vice President, Research was conducted by Paul Spivey of Phillips Oppenheim.

A previous version of this release incorrectly indicated that Elisha was the co-executive director of Education Trust West. She was, in fact, the sole executive director of Education Trust West in her most senior role there. We regret the error.

About The Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data, feedback, programs, and insights to help individual and institutional donors improve their effectiveness. We do this work because we believe effective donors, working collaboratively and thoughtfully, can profoundly contribute to creating a better and more just world. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, assessments, advisory services, and programming, visit

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