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.

Shay ButtsShay Butts
Partner – Houston office
Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Shay Butts is a Lead Therapeutic and Educational Consultant and a Partner at Academic Answers’ Houston office. Her extensive background in admissions, program leadership and program development makes her an advocate who understands the therapeutic process and can assist families rediscover hope.

Prior to joining the Academic Answers team, Shay spent much of her career working with young adults. She has served in Executive Leadership roles for some of the nations most cutting edge treatment programs and most recently as a founding member of a fine arts based young women’s program as their Director of Admissions & Marketing. Shay is active in the greater Houston community and serves as the Dean of Students for a leadership-training program called Leader’s Edge.

Shay is a mother of three, plays dominoes regularly, and is quite the musician and chef.

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.

Brian TaylorBrian Taylor
College Planning Consultant

Brian Taylor is a College Planning Consultant in Academic Answers’ Dallas Office, and he holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. With more than 16 years of industry experience, Brian is an expert on holistic admissions application review and can help students determine their academic and institutional fit. His first-hand, behind-the-scenes knowledge is a great benefit to clients as they write their essays, create their resume, and work to craft their strongest admissions applications overall.

Brian still stays active in the broader Higher Education community as a member of the Texas Association for College Admissions Counseling (TACAC), and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). He has been honored to present various sessions at conferences, serve on the TACAC Executive Committee and as a member of the NACAC Government Relations Committee. He was also awarded both the TACAC and NACAC Rising Star Award.

Brian is an avid sports fan, and spends his free time exploring Dallas with friends.

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’ Orange County 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

Elizabeth Hamilton is the Director of College Planning based in Academic Answers’ Austin office. 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.

Erica CurtisErica Curtis
SuccessPlans Facilitator

Erica Curtis is a Success Plans Facilitator, partnering with parents to promote effective strategies that decrease stress at home, increase family connection, and support children’s success. A practicing Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist for over fifteen years, Erica has extensive experience using compassionate, creative, and cutting-edge strategies to promote family health and happiness.

Erica has appeared in over 50 articles, books, and interviews including PBS, Cosmo, Elle, USA Today, Lifehacker, Boston Globe, EHow Family, and is a parenting expert on the award-winning online resource, Kids in the House. Previously, Erica was a clinical director at a large nonprofit working with children and teens challenged by Autism, ADHD, and Learning differences. She also taught in the Marital and Family Therapy department at Loyola Marymount University and has lectured widely for universities (including USC and UCSD), Kaiser Permanente, and local groups (including MOMS Club International and the Boys & Girls Club). In addition to maintaining a therapy practice, she regularly teaches for UCLArts and Healing.

Erica lives in South Orange County, CA with her husband and 3 children. When she is not working or spending time with her family, she might be found volunteering at her kids’ schools, jogging, or plugging away at writing a book about using art to raise connected, happy, and successful kids.

Henry B. EwertHenry B. Ewert, M.A.
College Planning Consultant

Henry (Hank) Ewert is a College Planning Consultant at Academic Answers. Hank was previously a member of the faculty of St. Stephen’s School, a private day and boarding school, from 1975 until 2005. He was a college counselor there for twenty-six years, and served as Director of College Counseling for twenty-two of them. He was also Site Director of the Los Angeles campus of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in the summers of 1993 and 1994. He has served on the board of Admission Control, a nonprofit organization fostering college opportunity for disadvantaged Central Texas students, since 2001.

During his career Hank has served as a workshop presenter for the College Board, TACAC, and the Austin Independent School District among other organizations. A native of Kingsville, Texas, Hank graduated from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in 1970.

Hank earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1974 and his M.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979, writing his Master’s thesis on the poetry of W.B. Yeats. He also received the William W. Fleming Award for Counseling Excellence and the TACAC Founders’ Award.

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.

Karen Davis, B.S. & J.D.
Associate Therapeutic and Educational Consultant

Karen Davis is an Associate Therapeutic and Educational Consultant in Academic Answers’ Houston office. She coordinates consulting services between Academic Answers Lead Consultants and clients, reviews student’s essential information in conjunction with the Lead Consultants to place students in the school/program deemed appropriate to meet each student’s needs, and ensures proper communication with programs and families.

After practicing law in Houston, Austin and New York City, Karen took some time off to raise 3 busy boys. During that time, she also worked with private schools and other various non-profit organizations, primarily in leadership roles, motivating and coordinating parent volunteers, and fundraising. With this wealth of experience, Karen is certainly a great addition to the Academic Answers team.

She enjoys exercise – whether it’s walking, riding her bike on the beach, hiking, or cross-country skiing in the mountains. Karen also has a love for traveling to national parks, baking at home, and spending time with family and friends.

Kolbie KieferKolbie Kiefer
Associate Consultant

Kolbie Kiefer is an Associate Consultant at 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, travelling, and being outside with her dog, Wrigley.

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.

Wes Clayton - Achievement ConsultantWes Clayton, B.A., LCSW
Achievement Consultant

An Achievement Consultant in Academic Answers’ Houston office, Wes Clayton brings extensive experience to our firm. He received his BA in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and worked on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Program at The Menninger Clinic for 8 years, beginning in 2003. During his time focused on OCD clients, he became familiar with Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention and learned ways to enhance treatment delivery utilizing approaches such as Mindfulness, Positive Psychology and Self-Compassion.

Wes obtained his Social Work Degree in May of 2010 from the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work. He completed his internship at the Baylor College of Medicine Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic where he had the opportunity to work with a wide range of adults suffering from a variety of concerns, including anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and addictions. Wes completed his post-graduate Social Fellowship at the Menninger Clinic on the Hope Program in 2011, where he continued to gain experience working with a multitude of DSM-IV TR diagnoses, gaining further training in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Family Therapy, and Group Therapy.

In September 2011, Wes began working with the Houston OCD Program and in 2013 Wes worked full-time as a Social Worker on the Adolescent Treatment Program at the Menninger Clinic working adolescent clients who struggle with a variety of mental health diagnoses including Anxiety Disorders. In July, 2016, Wes began working full-time at the Rice Counseling Center as a clinician working with the Rice student population. Wes also recently completed his training to become a Certified Daring Way Facilitator (CDWF). He now joins the Academic Answers firm, and we’re so excited to have him!

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.