November 8, 2021

Emily Schettler

Harkin Institute welcomes two new policy directors

The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement is pleased to welcome two new policy directors who will play key roles in advancing the nonpartisan organization’s research agenda.

Dr. Rayna L. Stoycheva serves as the Institute’s first Director of Retirement Security Policy and attorney Daniel VanSant is the first Director of Disability Policy. They join Dr. Lyndi Buckingham-Schutt, who has overseen Wellness and Nutrition Policy at the Institute since 2017.

“This represents a significant expansion to our policy work and our ability to fulfill our mission of informing citizens, inspiring creative cooperation and catalyzing change on issues of social justice, fairness and opportunity,” said Dr. Joseph Jones, Executive Director of The Harkin Institute at Drake University.

Stoycheva is responsible for research on public and private retirement programs, retirement savings access and adequacy, financial literacy, and pension wealth inequality. Van Sant will oversee work on issues of access, inclusion, disability employment and continue international work with colleagues on projects that affect the disability community worldwide.

In addition to wellness and nutrition, retirement security and people with disabilities, The Harkin Institute also provides research, analysis and programming around labor and employment policy.

“Advancing rights of people with disabilities and protecting Americans in retirement were two of my top priorities in Congress,” Senator Tom Harkin (retired) said. “I am thrilled that Daniel and Rayna are bringing their experience and expertise to continue that important work at The Harkin Institute.”

Prior to joining The Harkin Institute, Stoycheva was a faculty member at the University of Miami, where she taught courses in policy analysis, public finance, health economics, microeconomics and statistics. Her publications include articles and book chapters on pensions, state and local public finance, and the financial management of international organizations. Stoycheva received her Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics from the American University in Bulgaria, and a Masters degree in Public Administration from Ohio University. She received a joint PhD in Public Policy, with a concentration in Public Finance, from Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Before coming to The Harkin Institute, Van Sant was a staff attorney at Disability Rights Iowa where he provided free legal representation to children with disabilities and their families; defending their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other state and federal disability laws. He also monitored institutions and facilities around Iowa that house youth with disabilities and provided consultation on emerging special education issues to state and local stakeholders. VanSant received bachelor’s degrees in International Relations, Rhetoric, and Politics from Drake University. He earned his Juris Doctorate and a Master of Science in Cultural Foundations of Education with a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Disability Studies from Syracuse University.


The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement at Drake University exists to inform citizens, inspire creative cooperation, and catalyze change on issues of social justice, fairness, and opportunity. The Institute was founded on the premise that good public policy is best achieved when policymakers have access to high quality information, political processes are open and well-understood, and citizens are informed and active participants. The Harkin Institute offers programming, experiences, research, and connectivity focused on four areas that defined Senator Harkin’s career – labor and employment, people with disabilities, retirement security, and wellness and nutrition.

Address: 2429 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311 Phone: 515-271-3623 Fax Number: 515-271-3631 Email: Office Hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.