Press Releases Urban Institute Announces Exciting New Slate of Leaders
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Five new hires to take on pivotal roles; four interim heads made permanent
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Contact: Media@urban.org or (202) 261-5709 

The Urban Institute has named five exceptional new hires and promoted four outstanding internal leaders to head vital research, office, and institute functions. 

Among the new recruits are

  • Tené Traylor, incoming vice president of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy 

  • Shrita Hernandez, Urban’s next chief communications officer and vice president for strategic communications and outreach; 

  • Jim Taylor, chief equity officer, which is a new role to advance institutional strategies for a more inclusive Urban; 

  • Rekha Balu, director of federal equity initiatives and co–vice president for a soon-to-be-launched office on race and equity research; and 

  • Celina Barrios-Millner, who will join Balu as co–vice president for the new office on race and equity research. 

Read more about each of the new hires below. 

 Urban has also promoted four interim leaders into permanent roles: 

  • Justin Milner was named vice president for the Research to Action Lab in December. 

  • Tracy Gordon has been named vice president for tax policy and codirector of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. 

  • Erin Kundolf has been named vice president for philanthropic partnerships. 

  • Graham MacDonald has been named vice president for technology and data science and chief information officer. 

The new cohort will join long-standing leaders in pursuit of Urban’s mission: to open minds, shape decisions, and offer solutions through economic and social policy research. 

“In a time of rapid societal change and uncertainty, it is heartening that Urban remains a magnet for great talent eager to join our community and devote their energies to our mission,” said president Sarah Rosen Wartell. “I am thrilled to introduce this wonderful group of new recruits to Urban’s leadership ranks and advance some of our core leaders into permanent roles.” 

Tene Traylor

Tené Traylor, vice president of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP)
Traylor brings national expertise in place-based philanthropy, equity, and civic leadership, particularly in the South, where she has honed a distinguished career in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. She will join Urban after concluding her tenure at The Kendeda Fund, where she oversees several grantmaking portfolios totaling approximately $8 million annually. Before joining Kendeda, Traylor was a senior program officer at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. She led community development and neighborhood transformation grantmaking (including the Neighborhood Fund) for 10 years, launched several related programs and initiatives, and helped transform the foundation’s grantmaking approach from programmatic to general or core support. She has also held positions with the United Way for Greater Atlanta and the Zeist Foundation, Inc. Traylor holds a master of public administration degree in public policy and nonprofit administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia State University. She will formally assume her role at Urban in August.

Shrita Hernandnez

Shrita Hernandez, chief communications officer and vice president, strategic communications and outreach
Hernandez comes from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she is chief public affairs and communications officer and a member of the museum’s senior leadership team. She also works with Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie Bunch and others across the Smithsonian system on cross-museum projects. Hernandez previously served as vice president for communications and marketing for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, communications director for a member of Congress and a congressional committee, chief of staff for a member of the New York State Legislature, and executive director of the Miami-Dade Weed & Seed, a nonprofit community organization working to reduce crime and provide positive resources for the community. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Florida International University and three master’s degrees in nonprofit management (Florida Atlantic University), public administration (Florida International University) and public communication (American University). She starts at Urban in April.

Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor, chief equity officer
Taylor’s career has had a dual focus: he is a leader of programs that create access to opportunity for the historically underserved and underrepresented while also being a catalyst for organizational culture change and growth. He joins Urban from BoardSource, where he is vice president of leadership initiatives, helping position nonprofit boards for stronger leadership on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Previously, Jim was vice president of multicultural leadership at AARP, where he helped build partnerships to create greater health, wealth, and quality of life for African-Americans age 50 and older. Earlier, at Capital One, he was director of community relations and director of community development. At Fannie Mae, he was director of product innovation and developed new programs targeted to multicultural audiences. And at the Fairfax County Office of Public Private Partnerships, he helped develop the county’s racial and social equity policy, One Fairfax. Taylor earned a master of business administration from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. He starts at Urban in May.

Rekha Balu

Rekha Balu,director of federal equity initiatives and co–vice president
Balu will help lead a soon-to-be-launched race and equity research office, where she will direct research and policy programs that deploy analytics and evidence to inform federal agencies on how to advance equity. Balu joins Urban from MDRC, where she was a senior fellow and director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Science. She launched a portfolio of studies and designed interventions tackling challenges in human services, K–12 education, and the transition to postsecondary education. She has partnered with federal agencies and grantees around the country to help them base their decisions on data and evidence. In 2019, as a fellow with the Office of Evaluation Sciences in the US General Services Administration, she developed trainings, intervention designs, and field trials for federal agencies. She earned her doctorate in the economics of education and her master’s degree in economics from Stanford University. She has an master of education degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University. She starts at Urban in March.

Celina Barrios-Millner

Celina Barrios-Millner, co–vice president
Barrios-Millner will join Balu in leading a soon-to-be launched race and equity research office, where she will manage its support for equity-oriented research and practice across Urban. Barrios-Millner brings 20 years of experience advancing transformational equity and inclusion strategies through the public sector. She is currently senior advisor to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and served as the city’s chief of equity and inclusion under Mayor Kim Janey. In that role, Barrios-Millner was charged with embedding equity and racial justice into all city planning and operations and provided the equity guidance to ensure over $500 million in federal recovery funds were allocated to communities and sectors disproportionately affected by the pandemic. She previously established the city’s first Supplier Diversity program, oversaw the city’s local hire policy, and helped design the city’s Immigrant Advancement Agenda. Previously, she also was the northeast regional director for the National Immigration Forum, led partnership development for the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office, and has advocated for social justice causes as a community organizer. Barrios-Millner is a graduate of American University and holds a master in public policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School. She starts at Urban in May.

About the Urban Institute 

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. We are a trusted source for changemakers who seek to strengthen decisionmaking, create inclusive economic growth, and improve the well-being of families and communities. For more than 50 years, Urban has delivered facts that inspire solutions—and this remains our charge today.   

Research Areas Race and equity
Policy Centers Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy