Michelle Zabel, MSS

Executive Director of the Innovations Institute and Associate Extension Professor

Innovations Institute

Michelle Zabel has over 30 years of experience working in and advising child- and family-serving systems, public and private sectors, at agency, local, and state levels across the nation. She has expertise in implementation science, service system design and sustainable financing, evidence-based and promising practices, tiered care coordination, residential redesign, and crisis response systems. Michelle was the founding director of Innovations Institute in 2005 and, today manages a team of more than 50 faculty and staff with 50 contracts, worth over $15 million annually, with the federal government, multiple state and county governments, foundations, and private organizations that span multiple years. Under Michelle’s leadership, Innovations Institute has developed expert capacities in health and human services systems, crisis response systems, LGBTQ+ and early childhood populations, policy and financing, systems design research and evaluation, and workforce development, all to improve outcomes for children, youth, young adults, and their families. Michelle’s work, and that of the Institute she leads, advances research-based, inclusive, culturally responsive, and transformative solutions for child-, youth-, and family-serving public systems, and supports the workforce within these systems.

Michelle has been Principal Investigator (PI) for multiple state and federal contracts including two CMS-funded demonstration grants. She participated in multiple state contracts that included evaluation and continuous quality improvement (CQI) centered around system redesign, service array development, and sustainable public financing. She has served as the PI and Project Director for SAMHSA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health, a $34 million multi-year task order with 13 subcontractors and more than 50 consultants. Under Michelle’s leadership, a CQI process was developed utilizing standardized instruments and procedures to evaluate the effectiveness of technical assistance provided. The evaluation of the approach suggested the training and technical assistance resulted in improved implementation outcomes, including new partnerships with external organizations, scaling of evidence-based practices, and increases in access to services and innovative funding strategies.

She has also served as subject matter expert to the National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD); as a member of SAMHSA’s Child, Adolescent, and Family Branch Council; and on expert panels for numerous national policy and planning initiatives ranging from infant to teen mental health.  She continues to serve on numerous local and national committees and boards.

Michelle currently serves as the PI for Innovations’ work with the Technical Assistance Coalition and the Transformation Transfer Initiative, both led by NASMHPD with SAMHSA funding; the National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics Expansion Grants, led by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing with SAMHSA funding; and the Children’s Crisis Continuum Project funded by SAMHSA. She earned her BA from Eastern University and her Master of Social Service, Clinical Track, from Bryn Mawr College. In 2022, Michelle was awarded the Mental Health Association of Maryland’s Paula Hamburger Child Advocacy Award.

Innovations Institute Director Michelle Zabel
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