Meet Our Team


Research Associate

In his current role Mr. Anand is responsible for developing web based solutions to fulfill the terms and deliverables described in the contract with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE).

He will serve as a liaison with the ADE's Research and Technology personnel communicating with web developers and database managers at ADE to assist in building its data systems' capacities to meet the needs of educators and administrators in Arkansas's public school systems.

He will model processes and procedure, develop prototypes, and research potential solutions. Mr. Anand has a Masters' degree in Computer Science from the University of Arkansas and a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Bangalore University, India.

Natalie Townsend

Project and Content Integrator

Natalie leads the expansion, training, and integration of project management methods and is responsible for the curation and co-creation of content, resources, and digital/social media for OIE. Additionally, she supports the implementation of innovative and student-focused practices in education. Prior to joining OIE, she worked for 7 years as an elementary teacher in the Fayetteville Public School system.

Denise Airola


Denise Tobin Airola is the Director of the Office of Innovation for Education at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Airola's work focuses on enabling and accelerating innovation to address barriers to educational progress, building capacity for improving instruction and leadership practices, and informing policy at the school, district and state levels. She has consulted with several state education agencies on the use of educational data to drive instructional systems change. Prior to her work as an educational statistician and research methodologist, Dr. Airola worked for 18 years in the K-12 public education system. Her education experience includes classroom teaching at the elementary, middle and secondary levels, designing and conducting professional development, curriculum, instruction and assessment alignment, as well as implementing and evaluating K-12 reform efforts.

Crystal Beshears, PhD

Learning Design and Innovation Leader

Combining 20 years of experience in a variety of educational settings, Crystal Beshears serves as a Learning Design and Innovation Leader for the Office of Innovation for Education at the University of Arkansas. Her diverse work includes: teaching secondary students in the Arkansas Delta, supporting state and national school improvement efforts for the U of A and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, leading instruction in Lincoln, Arkansas, and teaching personal development and yoga locally and abroad. She returned to Arkansas and begin working for OIE in 2015 after spending time living abroad. Crystal’s work at OIE includes passionately supporting Schools of Innovation and contributing to research, design, and development dedicated to innovation, particularly innovation for equity. Crystal is a proud mom and grandmom!