Our Team

Our team

Carolyn KocurekCarolyn Kocurek
President/Founding Partner
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Carolyn Kocurek is the founder of Academic Answers and a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant. Over the past two decades, she has spent her professional life in the fields of educational consulting and behavioral healthcare for struggling teenagers. Her ability to understand the needs of children and to intuitively connect with parents in a supportive but directive manner has made her a model consultant.

Carolyn’s collective experiences in admissions, program development, marketing, and client relations helped her realize her true passion: helping families. In 1998, Carolyn founded Academic Answers by conceptualizing a full-service firm with varied specialties in helping students and their families succeed. As a mother of two and a professional, she personally understands the challenges that parents face in our changing society.

Carolyn is an avid practitioner of yoga, and enjoys gardening.

Chris Kocurek, M.Ed.Chris Kocurek, M.Ed.
Chief Executive Officer/Founding Partner
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Chris Kocurek is the Chief Executive Officer at Academic Answers, and also serves as a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant. He has more than 30 years of experience in education and behavioral health. Chris holds a Master’s degree in Education, specializing in Counseling and Guidance and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. He is an active member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and with an emphasis in the educational consulting areas of special needs, schools and learning disabilities. He is also a Licensed Child Care Administrator in the State of Texas. He also served as the Chief Executive Officer of a subsidiary of the Brown Schools, Inc., where he developed and operated a continuum of residential schools and treatment programs for adolescents and young adults.

Chris has assisted hundreds of students and families, helping them to identify and select the best schools and programs for their own success. In addition to his role as an educational consultant, he also provides consultation and training to the faculty of schools and programs throughout the United States. His extensive knowledge in program development and operations is a valuable resource.

Outside the office, you can find Chris playing guitar, listening to live music, watching the Dallas Cowboys, or trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

Debbie Hopper, RDDebbie Hopper, RD
Partner – Orange County office
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Debbie Hopper is a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant and a Partner at Academic Answers’ Orange County office. She specializes in working with parents and guiding families to explore options that will lead their children to success. A Registered Dietitian, Debbie has extensive knowledge in nutrition systems and support, and public health.

Debbie previously worked in the specialty school and treatment program industry, where she led professional outreach for a continuum of residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, programs for young adults and outdoor behavioral health programs. During her 11-year tenure, she helped 3,000+ families make appropriate therapeutic treatment choices for their children.

As a single mother, raising 2 teenage daughters, Debbie is humbled to continue working in Orange County and offering help and sharing knowledge with parents who are searching for answers and hoping to restore their families.

Casey DegrootCasey DeGroot, M.Ed., LPC
Associate Consultant/SuccessPlans Facilitator

Casey DeGroot is an Associate Consultant/SuccessPlans Facilitator who collaborates with families to build proactive and individualized parenting plans for the success of their children. Over the last decade, she’s made it her mission to bring hope and healing to families experiencing various life challenges.

With a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Houston, Casey brings a breadth of knowledge to the Academic Answers team. She has worked with families in non-profit, private-practice and educational settings, and has also served on various boards within the Houston area to help promote mental wellness.

A wife and mother of two, Casey enjoys a good laugh, a cup of coffee with close friends and spending quality time with her dog, Peaches.

Claudia SchwarzClaudia Schwarz, M.A.
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Claudia Schwarz is a Therapeutic and Educational Consultant in Academic Answers’ LA office. She is quite the achiever – with a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology at Willamette University, a Graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University, Sacramento, a board certification and license in Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Nevada, and additional training in cognitive behavioral and family systems, custody evaluations, child interviews, child reunification and parenting coordination.

Claudia is highly skilled in working with a wide range of counseling issues, but her main focus is working with parents and children on behavioral/family issues, parenting skills and cooperative parenting. With a background in educational consulting, she is very comfortable helping families find the correct schools and alternative treatment programs that fit their specific needs.

Enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer, Claudia loves skiing, camping, boating, hiking and traveling. With two boys and a husband at home, she’s also very active in her community and at the school district – serving as President of the PTO, and Secretary of the PTA. Another fun fact: Her family has dual citizenship in both the United States and Switzerland (where both Claudia and her husband’s families are from).

Claudia SchwarzElizabeth Hamilton, B.A, M.A.
Director of College Planning & Academic Services

Elizabeth Hamilton is the Director of College Planning & Academic Services at Academic Answers. She guides students and families through the college selection and admissions process, develops and leads college seminars and workshops, and provides motivation and support as students seek out their best fit colleges.

With a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Mississippi, a membership in SACAC and IECA, and an extensive background in academia, Elizabeth is certainly a crucial member of the Academic Answers team. Her previous experience includes work as an Academic Advisor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Mississippi; an Instructor, Dorm Parent, and College Counselor at The Darlington School; as Academic Programming and Outreach Coordinator for Science and Engineering at Tulane University; as Instructor/Professor at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy, Hyde Park High School, and Austin Community College; as College Access Coach at College Forward; and as Educational Consultant and Founder at UAhead Consulting.

Elizabeth grew up in Atlanta and Austin, but her favorite city is New Orleans. Very well rounded, she is a professional artist, an amateur baker, and a huge sports fan. She was the Young Women’s Alliance Volunteer of the Year in 2016-2017. And Elizabeth loves live music and is often found leading her own dance party.

John SchaefferJohn Schaeffer, B.S.
Director of Family Safety and Security

John Schaeffer is the Director of Family Safety and Security at Academic Answers. His main focus at our firm is on safety and security issues as they relate to the families we work with, even including the development of new communications strategies and social media monitoring products.

John holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Old Dominion University. He has 40 years of unparalleled experience in corporate and high-profile family security, including hostage and missing person negotiations, emergency and contingency planning, residential and personal security, and travel planning and coordination.

Is John an interesting guy? We sure think so! He’s travelled to over 70 countries throughout the world – and has even lived in Cairo, Islamabad and El Salvador. He’s also a fan of pursuing a healthy lifestyle with his wife, and has run in two marathons.

Kolbie KieferKolbie Kiefer
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Kolbie Kiefer is a Therapeutic and Educational Consultant Academic Answers. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Texas A&M University, as well as an M.A. in Professional Counseling from Texas State University, concentrated on marriage, family, and couples counseling. In addition, she is a National Certified Counselor (NCC).

Essentially beginning her career in the field as an Administrative Assistant in the Academic Answers’ Austin office, Kolbie has been most recently focused on finishing up school. With these impressive credentials, Kolbie brings a fresh perspective to the Academic Answers’ team – and we’re so happy to have her back with our firm.

Kolbie loves baking, traveling, and being outside with her dog, Wrigley.

Leslie WoodLeslie Wood, LCSW
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Leslie Wood is a Therapeutic and Educational Consultant at Academic Answers’ Dallas/Fort Worth office. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University.

Leslie brings with her long-term experience in adolescent treatment from residential treatment program to outpatient, and every level in between. She has previously facilitated the development of programming and therapeutic space in partnership for anticipatory support program for children and adolescents with family members who have devastating diagnoses, established a grief support group program with local area school districts serving populations at risk, and focused on individual, group, and family therapy.

When away from her day job, Leslie has been a former owner/partner of therapy dog team with Pet Partners (Formerly Delta Society). She enjoys being active and outdoors, especially running, hiking, skiing and exploring new places through travel! She loves watching college football, especially Texas Tech University. She’s a mom of three amazing girls and a lifelong learner.

Lisie Sillers - Achievement ConsultantLisie Sillers, M.A.
Success Plans Facilitator

Lisie Sillers is Success Plans Facilitator who works with the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin teams to provide parent coaching. She received her Master’s degree in counseling from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. She has also worked professionally for area non-profits and businesses for the past 20 years. In addition to facilitating Success Plans, Lisie has a private practice in Austin counseling adolescents, couples and individuals.

In addition to her counseling experience, she has an impressive resume working professionally for non-profit agencies in fund development, grant writing, and volunteer services. She’s also worked with various non-profit programs and communication fields establishing important community connections. These experiences offer years of knowledge and insight, with skills in relationship-building, attentiveness to diversity and managing crises. All of these experiences make Lisie a perfect fit for the Academic Answers team.

Lisie has an active spiritual life, and enjoys running, reading, and being with family. Originally from Boston, MA, she has called Austin home for over 25 years. She has been married for 30+ years, has three adult children and two precious dogs.

Nalinie RankinNalinie Rankin
Achievement Consultant

Nalinie Rankin is an Achievement Consultant based in the Orange County office of Academic Answers. She began her academic career at the Ministry of Education in Japan (where she lived for four years), working closely with ministry officials to develop and execute teaching plans within college preparatory, technical, and vocational high schools (a blind school being one of her favorites). For the past twenty years, she worked at the University of California, Irvine with hundreds of students from all around the world, giving them the language, communication, and life skills they needed to further their education/careers.

With an M.S. in Education, a B.S. in English with a minor in Communication, and an ACTFL rating intermediate high/advanced Japanese, Nalinie’s life is both very academic and multicultural – starting in New York and New Jersey where she was raised to immigrant parents from South America, to the close relationships she’s had with friends around the world (in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Italy).

She has three sons (one adult and two teenagers), and amongst the three of them, she’s been happily initiated into strategic board games (Settlers of Catan can go on for hours) online gaming, tennis, and even some biking and hiking in nearby OC canyons. She also practices hot yoga on her own, moving upside down and in handstands, on a daily basis.

Richard Ribb, Ph.D.Richard Ribb, Ph.D.
Achievement Consultant

Richard Ribb is a Lead Achievement Consultant with Academic Answers. He specializes in advising young adults how to identify, evaluate, and achieve realistic academic and personal goals. He facilitates individualized plans that prepare each student for a lifetime of learning and success. He also works with students who have not yet achieved appropriate academic and career paths. Over the course of his career, Richard has helped several thousand individuals find their paths to success.

Prior to joining Academic Answers, Richard was a multiple-award winning educator with extensive experience in higher education. He began his career as an early-decision admit at Brown University, and earned his doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin in American Studies. For ten years, he served as Senior Academic Advisor at The University of Texas at Austin, as well.

Richard is the proud parent of two young men, who are both currently enjoying their own college experiences. He’s passionate about live music, swimming, reading, and his Vizsla (Ginger) with whom he hikes Central Texas.

Zack TedderZackery A. Tedder, M.A.
Licensed Psychological Associate

Zack Tedder is a Licensed Psychological Associate at Academic Answers. He earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Psychology at Texas State University in 2009, and was accepted into the Health Psychology Master’s program there, where he graduated in 2012. During his academic tenure, Zach focused his studies on assessment techniques, intelligence and achievement testing, personality assessment, and other disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Over the course of his career, Zack has consulted with many different state and federal agencies, as well as with families from all socioeconomic backgrounds. His notable areas of expertise include: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, substance use disorders, learning disorders, and behavioral disorders.

Zack has lived in the Austin area since 2004, although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He joined the United States Navy right out of high school, and served for several years.