Cara Karter

"We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good."
- Carl Sagan


I am passionate about using data and evidence to inform decision making, make a positive impact on programs and policy, and ultimately, improve communities.

Growing up on the southside of Chicago, my parents carted my brothers and I to just about every museum free day and low-cost program at the local library and park. My dad, a Chicago police officer, brought home our first computer when the high school where he was stationed as a school resource officer replaced the machines in their computer lab. We weren't living in poverty, but my parents were definitely thrifty. We were never in too much of a hurry to slow down the car to consider the discarded furniture in the alley (aka 'The Big Store'). These values - humility, resourcefulness, practicality - inform not only my personal worldview, but also my professional philosophy.

My research and evaluation practice emphasizes principles of human-centered design. I strive to apply a participatory and stakeholder-driven approach in all my work. I believe that projects that intentionally elevate stakeholders and community members as the experts of their context are both more accurate and generate more usable insights. Practically speaking, this lends itself to mixed methods of data collection and advocacy for the integration of community voices into ongoing continuous quality improvement efforts.

Family Christmas Photo

Family Christmas

Chicago West Lawn Park Summer Day Camp

Volunteering at West Lawn Park

UIC Presentation on Police Involvement in Youth Programs

Presenting at UIC

Professional Experience


Data & Research Manager
Refining a system for data monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. Collaborating with external research partners to design and launch a randomized controlled trial. Analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to inform business decisions and showcase mRelief's impact. Creating dashboards and reports for enrollment & outreach partners, funders, and internal stakeholders. Serving as an internal SNAP policy expert.

Research Associate
Documented and refined a system for key metrics including sources, formulas, definitions, and standardized tracking. Fulfilled 85 data requests using SQL to write or edit queries and dashboards to pull data; join that data as needed with external sources; and analyze it if required using SPSS or Excel. Conducted over 30 semi-structured qualitative interviews, coded and analyzed data in Dedoose, and published results as a research brief and report. Collaborated with other product team members to design and evaluate 3 pilot projects. Facilitated 12 'SNAP 101' trainings for internal and external staff and provided technical assistance to answer hundreds of questions about particular elements of SNAP policy. Wrote 9 blog posts on topics related to SNAP and mRelief's products and published dozens of social media posts. Contributed to over a dozen funding proposals.

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Research & Development Associate
Led components of research and evaluation projects. Developed data collection tools and project resources and analyzed and visualized qualitative and quantitative data. Provided project management and coordinated with clients and participants. Supported data governance and research ethics, research strategy, proposal development, and communications. Supervised interns and entry-level staff.

Editorial Manager, Journal of Child and Family Studies
Conducted desk reviews and made final editorial decisions on 5-15 manuscripts each week. Communicated with authors, associate editors, and editorial board members. Provided strategic support, and assisted with the editorial process for the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Managed and trained editorial assistants.

Society for Community Research & Action

Practicum Placement
Received training on writing research-based op-eds. Wrote and published a policy-relevant post on child abuse prevention for Contributed to the development of a strategic action plan for the Public Policy Committee. Reviewed rapid response policy statements, policy position statements, and mini grant submissions. Provided coordination for the Policy Workshop at the SCRA biennial and for Policy Committee monthly calls.

After School Matters

Research & Evaluation Specialist
Managed evaluation and data collection for special initiatives involving model innovations, community policing, and STEM makerspaces. Regularly analyzed large, multi-year administrative datasets to support external reporting and internal continuous quality improvement efforts. Supervised a teen intern’s evaluation project culminating in a conference presentation, internal research brief, and American Evaluation Association blog post. Completed over 20 certified program observations using the Youth Program Quality Assessment and Dimensions of Success tools as the basis for continuous quality improvement. Facilitated 12 focus groups. Published research briefs and presentations for internal and external stakeholders.

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Research Project Assistant
Assisted with research projects across three Principal Investigators while providing project management and coordination, completing critical reviews of relevant literature, composing dissemination-ready reports, analyzing and visualizing data, and developing data collection tools and project resources. Created and managed instruments in REDCap. Analyzed and visualized data using Excel and the plugins NodeXL and Analysis ToolPak as needed. Contributed to nine research projects across several research areas: child abuse and neglect prevention, youth mental health, juvenile justice systems building, toxic stress, and supportive housing.

After School Matters

Program Quality & Compliance Intern
Maintained and enhanced the infrastructure of the After School Matters Cityspan database and teen application process. Assisted with the development of a program quality and compliance audit process. Wrote, edited, and formatted multiple manuals for internal and external use.

Grenzebach, Glier, and Associates (GG+A)

Business Development Intern
Interviewed 24 clients to produce client/project case studies and testimonials to showcase the value and scope of work GG+A provides. Researched large nonprofit institutions to collect information on fundraising and engagement trends and program structure to create background briefs and prospect lists for consultants.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Evaluation Intern - Fellows Program
Supported the ongoing work of the MacArthur Fellows program in awarding 20 to 30 $625,000 Fellowships each year to individuals who exhibit exceptional creativity in any area of work by reviewing nominations, crafting rationales, and compiling dossiers. Investigated creative methods of evaluating the program including network analysis and altmetrics and produced an evaluation plan including a logic model, appropriate indicators, and potential data collection and evaluation methods. Assisted with the early stage development of the 100&Change grant competition.

Illinois Institute of Technology

Program Intern
Analyzed five years of data in SPSS to identify international admissions trends. Interviewed international scholarship recipients and published profiles for use by the Office of Institutional Advancement. Interviewed staff regarding key projects and accomplishments in order to write, design, and publish an annual report.

Past Projects

Research Lead

Dignity in Mind: Examining the effects of sensitive questions in the SNAP application process
Designed and led a mixed methods study surveying 200 SNAP applicants via SMS and interviewing 13 applicants and 19 SNAP caseworkers about the effect of sensitive questions in the SNAP application process. Produced a series of products and web content to disseminate findings.

Freelance Contractor

Client: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Project: Learning Organization Survey

Managed data collection, analysis, and reporting for an organization-wide survey related to employee engagement and satisfaction. Designed a report for internal organization distribution.

Research Associate

Chicago Early Learning Data System
Completed a structured evidence review on dimensions and methods of assessing administrative data quality. Conducted and analyzed 6 semi-structured interviews with early care and education providers regarding the use of Teaching Strategies GOLD. Contributed to project reports and deliverables.

Research Associate

COVID-19 Adaptation of the Quick Risk Assessment for Family Triage (QRAFT) for early childhood
Co-designed a COVID-19 adaptation of a brief instrument designed to measure the severity of family needs with a focus on family housing. Built out the screening tool in REDCap, co-facilitated training with family resource workers at a multi-site Head Start service provider in Connecticut, and designed weekly summary data reports.

Research Associate

Formative Evaluation of the Home Visiting for Homeless Families Project
Created protocols for interviews with program staff, homeless service providers, home visitors, and participating homeless families. Analyzed project documentation related to the ability to utilize administrative data to assess implementation fidelity and short-term outcomes across three service delivery models.


UCAN Measurement and CQI Capacity-Building
Conducted over a dozen interviews with program staff to create business process maps and logic models for eight youth engagement programs. Completed a brief review of the scientific and grey literature on youth engagement and positive youth development. Provided structured support and facilitation for meetings with UCAN staff to illuminate programmatic objectives, strategies, processes, measures, and outcomes.


HomeWorks Pilot Evaluation and Theory Development, The Connection Inc.
Conducted a literature review and facilitated process mapping to support the development of a logic model, theory of change, and measurement strategy for HomeWorks, a supportive housing casework program embedded in an early childhood setting.

Freelance Contractor

Surge Institute Measurement and CQI Support
Conducted interviews with program staff to create business process maps. Completed a document review to align measures and data collection to support continuous quality improvement and evaluation efforts. Facilitated logic model development.

Research Assistant

Children’s Place - Child Thrive Strategic Development and Evaluation Support
Analyzed focus group data from two discussions with staff at various child-serving CBOs in West Humboldt Park. Created a pitch brief to solicit funding for the Child Thrive community capacity-building initiative which aims to make West Humboldt Park a great place to be a kid.

Freelance Contractor

All Stars Project, Inc. Development School for Youth Summer 2018 Survey Reporting
Cleaned, analyzed, and visualized qualitative and quantitative data from the Development School for Youth intern and staff surveys across five cities. Completed a final report including 2018 results, a multi-year comparison, and recommendations.

Evaluation Lead

Internal Implementation Evaluation of the After School Matters - Chicago Police Department Initiative
Designed a mixed methods implementation evaluation to examine the pilot year of the Chicago Police Department initiative at After School Matters. Supervised a research assistant intern. Conducted four focus groups and program observations and designed a survey to assess the acceptability of the programs and potential effects for different sub-groups. Wrote a research paper and brief and presented results to several groups internally and externally at the Midwest Ecological Community Psychology Conference.

Site Research Manager

Frontiers in Urban Science Education Initiative
Managed site data collection and reporting for After School Matters participation in the Frontiers in Urban Science Education Initiative. Activities included development of a staff survey; adaptation of the Common Instrument Suite, Holistic Student Assessment, and Program for International Student Assessment for After School Matters teens; program observations using the Dimensions of Success tool, and data cleaning and transfer to ExpandEd Schools.

Research Assistant and Project Manager

Adaptation of the Quick Risk Assessment for Family Triage (QRAFT) for early childhood
Coordinated an adaptation of a brief instrument designed to measure the severity of family needs with a focus on family housing. Provided research support to adapt the instrument for use in an early childhood setting and tested the tool during a pilot with a multi-site Head Start service provider in Connecticut.

Project Research Assistant

Defending Childhood Initiative, Phase III; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Supported implementation of a technical assistance project led by Chapin Hall and the American Institutes for Research during which three state teams received intensive coaching to improve policies and practices with respect to the identification, screening, assessment, and treatment of youth exposed to violence.

Project Research Assistant

Exploring the implementation, sequencing, and impact of pediatric primary care interventions designed to address toxic stress; JPB Foundation
Provided research assistance, project coordination, and proposal development support for a multi-year, multi-site developmental evaluation of the adaptation and impacts of a universal, community pediatric health care model designed to prevent or mitigate the effects of toxic stress on vulnerable young children and their families.

Research Assistant

Multi-methods evaluation of the building inspiration: 21st century libraries initiative; William Penn Foundation through the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP)
Assisted with interviews for and coordination of a multi-year developmental evaluation to provide FLP with meaningful and actionable information on the impact of programs and strategies developed and implemented through the initiative.

Research Assistant

Network analysis of the Doris Duke Fellowship Network - 2016 report; Doris Duke Foundation
Analyzed network survey data using NodXL Pro to produce the annual fellowship network report for The Doris Duke Foundation. The report examined the overall strength of the first five Doris Duke Fellowship cohorts.

Research Assistant

Aligning assessments, outputs, and impacts of nonprofit organizations and public sector systems to improve mental health service impacts on children and families; McCormick Foundation
Assisted with survey design and project coordination to better understand public and private funders’ current measurement of outcomes for the school-age mental health services they support.

Research Assistant

An integrated child maltreatment prevention framework: Strategies for effective state and community systems development; The Walton Family Foundation
Developed a child maltreatment prevention planning framework for state administrators and local direct service providers.

Evaluation Lead, Project Director

Engineers Without Borders, San Claudio Bridge Project
Designed and conducted interviews with 17 community members in San Claudio, Nicaragua to assess community needs in preparation for the design and implementation of a bridge project. Collected and mapped households and topographic information. Led all grant-writing and strategic partnerships for the project. Raised over $15,000 in support of student travel and construction funds.

Student Researcher

Stimulants for enhancement purposes: Perceptions, attitudes, and usage among university students
Designed a survey, obtained IRB approval, and led data collection efforts. Analyzed data and presented results through a poster at a professional conference and through submission and acceptance in an undergraduate psychology journal.

Student Researcher

Climate change attitudinal survey for use in Chuuk, Micronesia; College of Science Undergraduate Research Stipend
Modified a baseline survey to measure the effect of environmental migration as a result of climate change on the inhabitants of Chuuk, Micronesia. Developed a model for distributing the surveys to collect data from people in Chuuk and in communities of Chuukese diaspora abroad.

Publications & Products

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Karter, C. (Under Review). "If You Want to Give People Food Stamps Don’t Put Them Through a Process Like This.” A Qualitative Study of Perceptions of Barriers to SNAP Benefits Access. Public Administration Review.

Byers, K. B. & Karter, C. (In Revision). The Housing Insecurity Scale: Development and Validation of a Comprehensive Housing Insecurity Survey Measure. Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Karter, C. M., Washington, L. A., & Ludlam, A. J. (2016). Stimulants for enhancement purposes: Perceptions, attitudes, and usage among university students. Modern Psychological Studies, Spring 2016.

Glade, S., Karter, C., & Pagilla, K. (2014). Case studies from a community-focused engineering program with projects in Haiti and Nicaragua. International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, Special Edition Fall 2014, 551-562.

Book Chapters

Daro, D. & Karter, C. (2019). Universal services: The foundation for effective prevention. In B. Lonne, D. Scott, D. Higgins & T. Herrenkohl (Eds.), Re-visioning public health approaches for protecting children. Springer Publishers.

Commissioned Reports & Research Briefs

Karter, C. & Shoola, D. (2022, December). What could make it easier to sign up for SNAP? mRelief Research Brief.

Karter, C. (2021, October). Struggles and solutions: Insights into the SNAP Application Process from Illinois Outreach Workers and Applicants. mRelief Research Brief.

Karter, C. (2021, July). SNAP application assistance in Illinois during COVID-19: Outreach workers’ perspectives. mRelief Research Brief.

Rathore, K., Connolly, G., & Karter, C. (2020, September). Recommendations to address the inequitable impacts of COVID-19 in child welfare, housing, and community capacity. Chapin Hall Issue Brief. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C., Moore, F., & Farrell, A. F. (2020, June). Youth Engagement at UCAN: Foundational Processes and Practices. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C., & Daro, D. (2020, March). Chapin Hall Learning Organization Survey: Fiscal Year 2020. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Kull, M., Karter, C., & Farrell, A.F. (2019, December). HomeWorks early learning connections for housing stability: Program processes and theory of change. Technical report prepared under contract with The Connection, Inc. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C., Moore, F., Farrell, A.F., & Green-Rogers, Y. (2019, February). Positive youth development & engagement: A brief on theory & evidence. Brief prepared under contract with UCAN. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C. (2018). Bridging the divide: Chicago Police Department Initiative. After School Matters Research Brief (2). After School Matters.

Farrell, A.F., Karter, C., & Kull, M. (2017). Screening for housing instability in early childhood service provision. Technical report prepared under contract with The Connection, Inc. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Brennen, J., Karter, C., Moore, F., & Axelrod, J. (2017). Understanding the alignment of service provider utility with contractual reporting requirements. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C., Wagener, S., & Daro, D. (2017). Doris Duke Fellowship networking survey report 2016. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Brown, M., Spain, A., Karter, C, & Axelrod, J. (2017). Addressing the social determinants of health: An overview of funding for health and early childhood system innovation. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Spain, A., Axelrod, J., & Karter, C, (2017). Addressing family stressors and promoting protective factors with families in pediatric primary care settings: Initial implementation of Project DULCE in five communities. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Karter, C., & Daro, D. (2016). Planning to prevent child maltreatment: Strategies to support an integrated child maltreatment prevention framework. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Daro, D., Jarpe-Ratner, E., Karter, C., Crane, K., & Bellamy, J. (2016). Child abuse prevention: A planning framework for action. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Technical & Business Reports

Karter, C. (2022). Results from Johnnie Users Satisfaction Survey Spring 2022.

Karter, C. (2022). SNAP Policy on Immigration Status and Eligibility.

Karter, C. (2022). Research to inform strategy around expanding mRelief’s services to additional benefit programs.

Karter, C. & Farrell, A. F. (2020). Chapin Hall & The University of Chicago Joint Research Fund Management Guide.

Karter, C. (2020). Handbook for Associate Editors, Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Karter, C. & Moralde, J. (2016). After School Matters Participant Manual.

Karter, C. (2015). Annual Report: Illinois Institute of Technology, Office of Student Access, Success, and Diversity Initiatives.

Invited Presentations

Farrell, A. F., & Karter, C. (2020, May). Supporting families experiencing homelessness. Invited webinar presentation to the Illinois Early Learning Council, All Families Served Subcommittee.

Karter, C. (2020, February). Lessons learned from the Engineers Without Borders – IIT San Claudio Program. Invited presentation to the Engineers Without Borders – Illinois Institute of Technology chapter, Chicago, IL.

Farrell, A. F., Kull, M. & Karter, C. (2019, December). Supporting Families of Young Children Experiencing Homelessness. Invited webinar presentation to the Illinois Early Intervention Training Project.

Farrell, A. F. & Karter, C. (2019, October). Developing logic models: Workshop. Invited presentation to the Youth Services Division of the Chicago Department of Family Support Services, Chicago, IL.

Farrell, A. F. & Karter, C. (2019, October). Being effective partners with community organizations: Workshop. Invited presentation to Harris Community Action at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, Chicago, IL.

Farrell, A. F., Moore, F., & Karter, C. (2019). Child Thrive: A work in progress. Invited presentation to the Board of Directors of the Children’s Place Association, Chicago, IL.

Farrell, A. F. & Karter, C. (2019). Developing logic models: Workshop. Invited presentation to the Chapin Hall Collaborative of Youth Service Providers, Chicago, IL.

Karter, C. (2018). Bridging the divide: Initial implementation results from the After School Matters - Chicago Police Department initiative. Invited presentation at the Chicago Police Department’s Community Policing Sergeants meeting, Chicago, IL.

Axelrod, J. & Karter, C. (2016). The power of context: Understanding adolescent brain development. Invited presentation to the 5 by 25 Steering Committee convened by Children’s Home and Aid, Chicago, IL.

Axelrod, J. & Karter, C. (2016). Chicago opportunity youth community-based organization survey. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Thrive Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Axelrod, J. & Karter, C. (2016). Philadelphia library-school partnership survey results. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA.

Conference Presentations

Karter, C. (2021). Designing a better SNAP enrollment experience. A Better Tech Public Interest Technology Convention. Remote.

Byers, K. B. & Karter, C. (2020). The Housing Insecurity Scale: Development and Validation of a Comprehensive Housing Insecurity Survey Measure. Oral paper at the 24th Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, Washington, DC.

Karter C. (Chair), Shimshock, S., Farrell, A.F., Epstein, R.A., & Spain, A.K. (2019, November). Re-thinking the evaluator as facilitator of collaborative inquiry. Peer reviewed panel discussion presented at the American Evaluation Association Eval2019 Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

Farrell, A. F., Karter, C., Kull, M., & Fergusen, M. (2019). Piloting a housing screener in early childhood: The role of community partnership in instrument development. Oral presentation at the Society for Community Research and Action Biennial Conference, Chicago, IL.

Karter, C. & Brown, J. (2018). An internal implementation evaluation of police involvement in youth programs: Summer 2018 After School Matters-Chicago Police Department Initiative. Oral presentation at the Midwest Ecological Community Psychology Conference, Chicago, IL.

Panel Discussions

Global Dialogue Session: How do we develop and maintain communication with community partners? Panel presentation at the Engineers Without Borders USA National Conference, Reston, VA, November 2014. Poster Sessions

Karter, C. (2019, November). Climbing Hart's ladder: A sampling of methods for engaging youth in evaluation and decision-making. Poster presented at the American Evaluation Association Eval2019 Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

Karter, C. M. & Washington, L. A. (2015). Stimulants for enhancement purposes: Perceptions, attitudes, and usage among university students. Poster session presented at the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.

Media & Knowledge Translation

Karter, C. & Shoola, D. (2022, December). How can SNAP outreach make it easier to enroll in benefits? [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2022, November). How SNAP benefits affect the grocery spending of mRelief clients [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2022, September). Johnnie: Client-centered and community-powered SNAP outreach software [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2022, August). Study shows mRelief’s SNAP application process makes it more likely that an individual will apply [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2022, August). Transforming SNAP access through technology and empathy [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2022, March). Separate SNAP food stamps rules for people with disabilities unable to prepare their food [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, December). 10+ discounts food stamps recipients can use to save money for Christmas [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, November). Struggles and solutions: How to make food stamps enrollment easier [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, September). Only 18% of eligible college students participate in SNAP [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, August). The Average Food Stamp Application is 17 Pages Long [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, July). Perspectives on SNAP Application Assistance in Illinois during COVID-19 [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2021, June). Streamlining medical expense deductions [Blog post].

Karter, C. & Farrell, A. F. (2020, December). Opportunities for Evaluation in the Family First Prevention Services Act [Blog post].

Farrell, A. F., Cooley, M. E., & Karter, C. (2020, October). The Family First Prevention Services Act: Opportunities and challenges for research and practice. NCFR Report, Family Focus, Volume 65.3.

Karter, C. (2019, December 11). Climbing Hart's ladder: Methods for engaging youth in evaluation and decision-making [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2019, July 23). Using process mapping to visualize program components [Blog post].

Karter, C. (2019, May 23). How universal approaches can maximize prevention efforts [Entry point web piece].

Karter, C. & Brown, J. (2018, December 12). Co-leading evaluations with youth [Blog post].

Karter, C., Lambie, A., & Lopez, M. (2018, August 14). Valuing youth voices in evaluation [Blog post].