Erica Czaja, Ph.D. is the director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Community Research Institute (CRI) at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Trained as a social scientist, Dr. Czaja joined the Johnson Center in 2017 after spending more than a decade engaged in research to advance social good.
Dr. Czaja works with CRI research and tech staff to develop and execute research strategies that help nonprofits and foundations understand their current impact and make sound data-driven decisions about the future. She brings to this work a background in nonprofit strategy and leadership, academic research and teaching, and applied policy research.
Prior to joining the Johnson Center, Dr. Czaja served as the Executive Director of Camp Blodgett, a nonprofit organization that serves West Michigan youth through social-emotional, STEM, and leadership programs. During her tenure, she helped Camp Blodgett increase community engagement and financial sustainability, and also restructured organizational policies utilizing an equity lens and industry best practice.
Dr. Czaja is the recipient of the American Political Science Association’s Distinguished Junior Scholars Award, and has taught courses at Hope College and Princeton University in race politics, political psychology, gender politics, and campaigns and elections. She was a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Grand Rapids Class of 2017, and currently serves on the Institutional Review Board at Calvin College.
Before moving to West Michigan, Dr. Czaja’s research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research has also been supported by the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, and the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Czaja earned her Ph.D. in Politics and Social Policy from Princeton University. She has authored book chapters, journal articles, and presentations on race, emotion, and public opinion in American politics. Her doctoral dissertation, Revolutionary Emotion: Empathy and Equality in the United States, examines the effects of empathy across difference on Americans’ public policy preferences, and she is currently revising the manuscript for publication as a book. Other selected publications include “Race, Ethnicity, and the Group Bases of Public Opinion” (Czaja, Junn, and Mendelberg 2015) and “Katrina’s Southern ‘Exposure’: The Kanye Race Debate and the Repercussions of Discussion” (Czaja 2007).
Dr. Czaja has also worked in policy research at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA, as well as Applied Safety and Ergonomics in Ann Arbor, MI. She earned her M.A. in Politics from Princeton University, her M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and her B.A. with high distinction in Psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
As a longtime social justice advocate and transplant to Grand Rapids, Dr. Czaja is committed to making West Michigan a more equitable, inclusive place for all visitors and residents.