Rising Scholar Success Academy


Meet the PennRSSA Team

Dr. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum

Dr. Valarie Ena Swain-Cade McCoullum, a native Philadelphian who is a public school graduate of the Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School and the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and the first Black female President of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, has served at the University of Pennsylvania for over four decades and currently holds the position of Vice Provost for Student Engagement.  On behalf of the President, Provost, and Deans, Dr. Cade oversees the work of the University’s pipeline initiatives, more than 150 programs that are designed at all levels of education for groups under-represented in U.S. higher education baccalaureate, graduate, and professional programs, disciplines, and industries with the aim to recruit, enroll, retain, and support underserved community members’ capacity to both persist and thrive—academically, socially, and emotionally—in their chosen disciplines and professions.

With the rank of Provost’s Distinguished Senior Scholar, Dr. Cade is also a faculty member in Penn’s world-class Graduate School of Education, ranked the premier college of education in the United States, where she is an expert in leadership resilience through crisis trauma-informed pedagogy and practice.

Dr. Cade served for 25 years as Vice Provost for University Life, Penn’s chief student affairs officer responsible to the President and Provost for the executive leadership of departments, offices, and services charged with the provision of academic support, wellness, co-curricular, intervention, developmental, cultural, and engagement programs for 24,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at the University of Pennsylvania.  In this capacity, she had administrative oversight for over 400 staff and 28 departments with annual division operating and associated budgets of over $55 million.

Dr. Cade completed her baccalaureate degree at Penn State University’s University Park campus, and her graduate and post-doctoral studies at Temple University, Penn’s Wharton School, and Harvard University.  Dr. Cade is also the mother of two Penn alumni from Penn’s School of Medicine and Penn’s Graduate Program in Mechanical Engineering.

In addition, Dr. Cade chaired the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Education Team of the School District of Philadelphia and was a member of the House of Representatives Legislative Black Caucus Advisory Committee on Higher Education. She has been honored, among other prestigious national, state, and local awards, by the University of Pennsylvania for her service distinction and by the City of Philadelphia City Council for her

passionate dedication to educational equity and access.  Some of her additional awards include:

  • University of Pennsylvania Dr. Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Distinguished Daughter of the Philadelphia High School for Girls
  • Pennsylvania State University College of Liberal Arts Centennial Fellow
  • 50th Anniversary Distinguished Service Award:  Delta Sigma Theta Epsilon Gamma

Dr. Cade is the author of five books:  two volumes focused on the access and retention of socioeconomically-disadvantaged students and three, additional—highly regarded- works celebrating emerging visual artists in the City of Philadelphia.  A highly-regarded painter and photographer, Dr. Cade specializes in still and portrait photographic media and arts media, often employing collage and print techniques, including charcoal, acrylics, and watercolors.

Julia (Wenting) Cai

Julia Cai is the Program Coordinator of the PennRSSA program. She is also working as a post-graduate fellow in the Division of the Vice Provost for Student Engagement. Julia obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology and minored in neuroscience. Pursuing a deeper understanding of how people learn at different ages, she joined Penn in 2020 and finished her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in human development. With a deep interest in helping students grow and learn, she became a member of the Penn RSSA core team in April 2021. Her focus areas are adolescent development, knowledge acquisition, and youth program management.

Anastasia Lavrenyuk

Anastasia Lavrenyuk is a Program Coordinator of the PennRSSA program. She is also a pre-doctoral fellow in the Division of the Vice Provost for Student Engagement. Anastasia has been a teacher for more than 6 years, working in Russia, Mexico, and the United States. Her interest in international education resulted in her graduating from University of Pennsylvania master’s program in that field. In December 2021, she joined the Penn RSSA core team to help develop and improve the curriculum for the summer academy, applying her experience and knowledge gained through her degree. Her focus areas are access to higher education, curriculum design, and international education.

Don R. Harrison Jr.

Mr. Harrison began his work with SMP in 2008. SMP began in 2006 as a summer college preparatory program for Philadelphia 10th and 11th grade public and charter school students. The students were paired with participating Penn professional schools. Currently five of Penn’s schools—PSOM, Nursing, Engineering, Law and Dental—engage these students in specially created curricula and activities that give them opportunities to explore possible career choices. Each year 60-70 students share in these experiences. In addition to the curriculum in the school to which they are assigned, the students are offered test prep, financial literacy, life skills, college application process assistance/information and other services that help them to hone their skills and strengthen their self-confidence. Mr. Harrison is a native Philadelphian and a graduate of Central High School and Penn State University.