News from Penfield College


New Faculty Members Join Penfield College

Dr. Nadia G. Barnett is assistant professor of human services and coordinator for the graduate human services program. She earned a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision and an M.S. in community counseling from Mercer and a B.S. in psychology from Howard University. She has worked as a clinical mental health counselor for 10 years, primarily at Grady Health System in the Department of Behavioral Health. Dr. Barnett possesses more than 10 years of higher education teaching experience and received the Penfield College 2015-2016 Excellence in Teaching Award for adjunct faculty members. Her research interests include work and aging, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, wellness and self-care, burnout, work events, organizational culture, and student perception of critical feedback. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor (CPCS) in the State of Georgia.

Dr. Laura W. Morrow is associate professor of organizational leadership and graduate program coordinator for the Master of Science in organizational leadership. She earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and human resource management from the University of Mississippi, an MBA from Lipscomb University and a B.S. in accounting and management from Lipscomb. She joins Mercer from Brenau University, where she served as the undergraduate chair of business programs. Her research focuses on stress, organizational citizenship behaviors, work-family balance and accountability. She has seven publications, including articles in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, Journal of Biblical Integration in Business and Social Networks, as well as two book chapters and one book review. She is currently a member of the Academy of Management, Southern Management Association and Organizational Behavior Teaching Society.  

Dr. Merrin Oliver is assistant professor of psychology. She earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in educational psychology from Georgia State University, as well as a B.S. in psychology from Kennesaw State University. Prior to joining Mercer, Dr. Oliver was an Educational Psychology research fellow and instructor at Georgia State University. Her research generally focuses on working memory, and her current research in the learning sciences identifies individual student characteristics that can be adapted to in online learning environments to optimize instruction across learners. She has an article published in the Journal of General Psychology and several other articles currently under review. In addition, she is a professional member of four psychology associations, including the American Psychological Association and Women in Cognitive Science.

Dr. Hollis Phelps is assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies. He earned a Ph.D. in theology, ethics and culture from Claremont Graduate University, M.T.S. in theological studies from Duke University Divinity School and B.A. in religion from the University of Mount Olive. He was previously an assistant professor of religion at Mount Olive and has authored and/or edited four books and published more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and/or book chapters. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and a Fellow of the Westar Institute and its Seminar on God and the Human Future. His current research interests include continental philosophy of religion, critical theory, and the relationship between religion, economics and politics, especially surrounding the issue of debt.

Dr. Robin S. Mathis is assistant professor of organizational leadership in Penfield College. Dr. Mathis earned a Ph.D. in human resource development from Texas A&M University, M.A. in communication studies from Texas State University and B.A. in communication studies from Texas Tech University. She has served as conference reviewer and session chair for the Applied Communication Division of the Eastern Communication Association and as an Academy of Management conference reviewer for organizational behavior and for communication and technology. She has published on leadership in relationships in Advances in Developing Human Resources. She is a frequent presenter at the National Communication Association annual meeting, and a recent paper presented for the Applied Communication Interest Group of the Eastern Communication Association was recognized as top paper. Her current research examines work/family conflict and executives' emotional responses and socialization during a hostile takeover.  

Dr. Arla Bernstein is a visiting assistant professor of communication in Penfield College. She holds degrees in mass communication, geography/urban and environmental planning and geography/urban and economic planning from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Florida. Her research merges her specializations in political communication with her longstanding interest in public engagement appearing as book chapters and as articles in journals including the Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, Communication Quarterly, Sex Roles and Women and Language. Dr. Bernstein's research and presentations also include the exploration of civic-minded scholarship in communication courses, service learning in communication courses, and gender in political engagement and political credibility.  She has been recognized with a Service Learning Faculty Fellow: Senior Associate Award by the Atlanta Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning. She also received the International Public Relations Research Conference Top Paper Award for her paper on ethnic differences in participative public relations in community planning.

Faculty Awards and Accolades

Dr. Ian Henderson, professor of communication, was awarded the rank of faculty emeritus by the University. Dr. Henderson, named a Governor's Teaching Fellow in 2012, retired at the end of the recent spring semester. For a quarter of a century, he has served the College, its students and the University with distinction as an exemplary teacher and as chair of the College's curriculum committee.

Dr. Laurie Lankin, professor of counseling and human sciences and coordinator for the Human Resources Administration and Development program, was the 2017 recipient of the Penfield College Award for Excellence in Teaching. The annual award is presented to faculty members who exemplify passion for the subject, interest in and respect for students, commitment to student success, ability to stimulate deep learning, mentoring ability, and ability to encourage a passion for life-long learning.

Dr. Marna Burns, associate professor of human services and program coordinator for the undergraduate major in human services, was the 2017 recipient of the Penfield College Award for Excellence in Advising.

Dr. Kenyon Knapp, professor of counseling and coordinator of the Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision program, was named a Georgia Governor's Teaching Fellow for the 2017 summer symposia program. Dr. Knapp was one of 13 faculty members from universities and colleges throughout the state selected for participation in the prestigious program, established by former Gov. Zell Miller to provide Georgia's higher education faculty with expanded opportunities for development of important teaching skills. The program is offered through the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Knapp also was recognized by the Human Trafficking State Task Force for his activities on his Work Group-Community Awareness and Education. The certificate of appreciation recognized Dr. Knapp's outstanding contribution displaying exceptional commitment to helping end human trafficking in Georgia. Dr. Knapp and counseling graduate students led the fourth annual Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Week on Mercer's Atlanta campus during the recent spring semester.

Dr. Zipa Vokhiwa, associate professor of science, completed his term as president of the board of directors of the Fulbright Georgia Chapter.

Dr. Caroline Brackette, associate professor of counseling, was elected president of the Georgia chapter of the American Counseling Association. Dr. Brackette also was featured panelist at the Soledad O'Brien and Brad Raymond Starfish Foundation PowHerful Summit held at Case Western and focused on educational, professional and personal development for high school juniors, seniors and college-aged populations and 300 young women who are the first in their families to attend college.

Dr. Whitney Phillips, assistant professor of literary studies and writing, had her latest book, The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online, published by Polity Press. Dr. Phillips is a recognized expert on internet trolling and has been interviewed this year by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The Guardian, Le Monde, among other publications. She is a frequent invited speaker for forums in the U.S. and abroad. Her first book, This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture, published by MIT Press, has become a classic in the examination of how internet trolling fits with the current media landscape.

Dr. Wesley Barker, assistant professor of religious studies, co-authored an article, titled “Creating Intentional Pathways: The STIRS (Scientific Thinking and Integrated Reasoning Skills) Institutional Phase,” for the Association of American Colleges and Universities fall 2016 edition of its publication, Peer Review. The article highlighted Penfield's work to further the mission of AAC&U's STIRS initiative.

Dr. Charles Roberts, associate professor of mathematics, received the Historical Leaders Award from Michigan State University's Black Faculty and Administrators Association in recognition of his sustained and continuous service to Michigan State and the black community.

Dr. Kevin Williams, associate professor of healthcare leadership, was invited by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization to participate in a technical meeting on ethnicity and health in the United States. His participation was funded by PAHO/WHO's unit on Gender and Cultural Diversity.

Student Achievements

Valerie Jerome, a 2016 graduate of the undergraduate program in organizational leadership, was selected as a Peace Corps volunteer and is currently serving in Ghana. Jerome was inspired to apply to the Peace Corps by participation in a Mercer On Mission experience to Rwanda. In August of 1961, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive Peace Corps volunteers.

Donnisha Lavigne, a student in the master's program in clinical mental health counseling, was recently selected to participate in the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) Minority Fellowship Program for Addictions Counselors (MFP-AC). The NBCC will distribute up to $11,000 to Lavigne and 30 master's-level addictions counseling students selected to receive the fellowship award. As a Fellow, Lavigne will receive funding and training to support her education and facilitate her addictions counseling service to underserved minority transition-age youth, ages 16-25. Read more here.

Courtney Amos, Aldranon English, Jennifer Hardin, Amy Hines, Amber Huey, Moses Little, Ashley Maag, Gerald McClerklin, Elesha Nuriddin-Johnson, John Mark Parker, Jasonn Randolph, Darlene Rankin, Jabari Strozier, Alex Toliver, Cara Waiswilos and Amber Walker were recently named RSA (Rehabilitation Services Administration) Scholars. These clinical rehabilitation counseling graduate students received scholarships for tuition for three semesters of their graduate program and for professional travel to conferences related to the rehabilitation field.

Keith Myers, a 2017 graduate of the Ph.D. program in counselor education and supervision, received the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) 2016 Outstanding Graduate Student Leadership Award. This award honors a graduate student member who has provided outstanding leadership to counselor education and the counseling profession. Read more here.

Felicia Tillman, a student in the Ph.D. program in counseling, was recently selected as one of 22 Digital Inclusion Scholars. The scholarship program is sponsored by Google Fiber and the Nonprofit Technology Network and addresses the digital divide that results from the 60 million Americans who are not yet online. Tillman is placed with PowerMyLearning, a national nonprofit in Atlanta, committed to ensuring all children are able to power their learning through a combination of technology, teachers and families. The goal is to help low income communities harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes. Read more here.

Melissa Waller, a student in the Ph.D. program in counseling, was recently selected for the 2016 Outstanding Atlanta class, an organization committed to developing young leaders in Atlanta through leadership seminars. Waller, a national certified counselor and educator for the deaf and hard of hearing, works for Atlanta Public Schools. Read more here.

Waller also was selected to participate in the Georgia Women's Policy Institute (GWPI), the signature advocacy program for the YWCA of Greater Atlanta. Read more here.

Vanessa Braswell, a senior in the undergraduate program in liberal studies, received the Macon American Association of University Women (AAUW) scholarship for non-traditional female college students. Eligible students are required to be in the final year of their degree program and be in good standing academically by current university and financial aid standards. Read more here.

Sarah Amuka Williams, a student in the master's program in organizational leadership, received the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) Atlanta Scholarship. Williams has a concentration in organizational development and change leadership with a goal of becoming a results-driven transformational human resources leader who helps organizations use technology to meet their strategic objectives while empowering others to live out their life's purpose. Read more here.

Johnson Receives Metropol Scholarship

Ryan C. Johnson, a criminal justice leadership major in Penfield College, was recently awarded the Atlanta Metropol Continuing Education Scholarship for the study of criminal justice or corporate security.

Dr. Stephen E. Ruegger, associate professor of criminal justice and public safety leadership, has represented Mercer University as a member of Metropol since 2013 and nominated Johnson for the scholarship.  

“Ryan is a hard-working member of the criminal justice community, and I can think of no better reward or recognition for his hard work and dedication,” said Dr. Ruegger. “Because he is both a student and a criminal justice professional, Ryan seems to be a perfect fit the Metropol Continuing Education Scholarship. He is adding academic knowledge and proficiency to his real-world experience in criminal justice.”

Johnson, from Baltimore, Maryland, began working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2004. Two years later, he enrolled in the University of Maryland's homeland security management program. During his employment with TSA at Dulles International Airport, he met his spouse, Chaundra. They relocated to her hometown of Atlanta, and in 2014, he enrolled at Mercer, where he would make both the president's and dean's list.

Currently residing in the Kirkwood neighborhood, Johnson remains employed with TSA at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He was elected vice chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit-O (NPU-O) and selected to attend the FBI Citizens Academy, where he would go on to join the Atlanta FBI Citizen Academy Alumni Association, supporting community education on security initiatives and FBI outreach-sponsored programs. Recently, he represented NPUs M-R on the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. He also has volunteered at the Carter Center, assisting with records management.

Atlanta Metropol Inc. is incorporated for the purpose of bringing together representatives of professional law enforcement and private security for their mutual benefit. Members include individuals serving in leadership positions at the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies within the greater metropolitan Atlanta area, as well as leaders in corporate security operations and other professional organizations within the area.

Penfield College offers an undergraduate degree in criminal justice leadership in Atlanta, Macon, McDonough, Lithia Springs and online. An undergraduate degree in homeland security and emergency management is offered 100 percent online. The Master of Science in criminal justice and public safety leadership is offered 100 percent online and is designed for professionals in the field of criminal justice who are seeking career advancement.

Counseling Programs Receive Full Eight-Year Accreditation

With all standards met, the Master of Science degree programs in clinical mental health counseling and school counseling received full eight-year accreditation by CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs). The new Master of Science degree program in clinical rehabilitation counseling received early accreditation by CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education) and full eight-year accreditation by CACREP.

The latest results on the Certified Professional Counselor Examination (CPCE) include a 100-percent first-time pass rate by Mercer's counseling students. The University's mean scores for each competency area assessed were above the mean for all universities that use the CPCE as an exit exam.

Several Initiatives Receive External Support

The U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration provided a $956,956 grant to Penfield College in support of eight three-semester scholarships per year for five years for students enrolled in the Master of Science program in clinical rehabilitation counseling. The grant also supports professional travel for these scholars. Dr. Suneetha Manyam, associate professor of counseling, is serving as project director for the grant. Read more here.

The Georgia Compassion Project provided a five year, $500,000 grant in support of the Center for the Study of Narrative. Dr. Don Redmond, director of the Center, is the project director. The grant will serve to further the work of the multidisciplinary service and research initiative housed within Penfield College's Department of Counseling. The Center offers students and faculty throughout the College a unique opportunity to commit to service to community, research and public presentation related to narrative as a form of teaching, learning and counseling. On April 13, the Center's annual narrative showcase was held on the Atlanta campus, featuring Dr. William Randall (pictured above), founding director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative and world-renowned expert on narrative gerontology. Dr. Randall's research focuses on aging as a creative process of fashioning meaning from the stories of our lives. Students in the doctoral and master's programs in clinical rehabilitation counseling and clinical mental health counseling presented digital stories that showcased their narrative-themed dissertation research and community-based projects. Read more here

The Georgia Humanities Council provided a grant in support of Dr. Melanie Pavich's work to involve students in research and service related to preservation of African-American historic sites in coastal Georgia and making public the history of African-Americans in the region. The grant supported a public presentation of student research and digital stories focused on the mapping of a historic African-American cemetery on St. Simons Island. The presentation also featured lectures by Christopher Lawton, executive director of Georgia Virtual History, and Stephen Berry, Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era and co-director of the Center for Virtual History Project at the University of Georgia. Dr. Pavich, associate professor of history and interdisciplinary studies and college writing coordinator, is the project director for the grant. Read more here.

The InTeGrate STEP Center – a center funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) – continues to support the work of Dr. Colleen Stapleton, associate professor of science and chair of the Department of Mathematics, Science and Informatics, on her project, “Providing Cultural and Regional Relevance to Issues of Global Sustainability.” For the project, Dr. Stapleton and collaborators Dr. Jeff Hall from Tift College of Education and Dr. Sabrina Walthall from Penfield College, develop virtual field trips to sites in Georgia and the southeastern U.S. to include in existing InTeGrate modules. Faculty members have used the InTeGrate materials in courses of introductory scientific reasoning, earth systems, environmental science, education and in general education capstones. The overarching goal is to lay the foundation for tomorrow's sustainability workforce by the development of curriculum to increase earth literacy among undergraduates. Read more here.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) funded a second year of participation in AAC&U's STIRS (Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning) initiative at the $4,000 level. Mercer's two-year planning effort aims to improve undergraduate students' capacity to use evidence to solve problems and make decisions. The College's project focuses on redesigning pathways to signature work. Read more here.

Mercer Informatics Day Held in Atlanta

Penfield College's Informatics Club and User Experience (UX) Club collaborated to host Mercer Informatics Day on Feb. 23 on the Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus in Atlanta. A slideshow of student work was displayed, and faculty and students representing both clubs were available to educate visitors on the importance of informatics, which is the science of information and computer information systems. The clubs offered free website design and user experience evaluation services, and Mercer students, faculty and staff were able to provide their personal computers for free diagnostic testing and repair. Arondale Withers, national UX head of Emerging Technologies, Architecture and Design, was the keynote speaker. The semiannual event also offered students the chance to join the Informatics Club and UX Club. Membership to both is open to all students with interest in informatics, computer science, IT, data science and user experience.

Second Volume of Regeneration Released

The second volume of Regeneration, A Journal of Creative Writing, was published by Regeneration Writers Press. The collection includes the work of students in writing classes, faculty members, local pastors, family members and colleagues from other universities — all of whom are inspired by the opportunity to find their voices and tell their stories — often of their educational journeys.  

Faculty Contribute to STEAM Day Activities

Penfield College science, mathematics and informatics faculty members led activities for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Art) Day, supporting the Technology Association of Georgia in its efforts to promote Georgia STEM Day on May 5. The goal of the event was to equip students with the skills required of 21st-century workers. Faculty members Dr. Greg Baugher, Dr. Colleen Stapleton, Dr. Zipa Vokhiwa and Dr. Sabrina Walthall, along with faculty members in Tift College of Education, led professional development activities for pre-service K-12 teachers.

College Co-Sponsors Seventh Annual Atlanta Research Conference

Penfield College co-sponsored the seventh annual Atlanta Research Conference to showcase student and faculty scholarship in Mercer's Regional Academic Centers and on the Atlanta campus. Presenters represented Penfield College, the College of Pharmacy, the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, the College of Health Professions, McAfee School of Theology and Tift College of Education. The conference, according to Dr. Wayne Glasgow, senior vice provost for research and dean of graduate studies, “showcased outstanding student and faculty research projects and highlighted the excellent quality and breadth of the research programs on these Mercer campuses, and demonstrates Mercer's expanding research focus.” 

This year's conference planning committee was chaired by Dr. Cameron Miller, assistant professor and chair of human services and psychology. The Monroe F. Swilley Jr. Student Research Award was presented to Penfield College student Danielle Render (pictured above) for her presentation on “The Prince Charming Effect: Portrayals of Men in the Media Inducing Implicit Biases in Women.” The award recognizes a student who best incorporates the use of the University Libraries' collections and services and demonstrates active critical thinking. 

Counseling Students 'Reach Out, Speak Out' for Fourth Year

For the fourth consecutive year, Penfield College's counseling students, led by Dr. Kathy Robinson, assistant professor of counseling, sponsored a three-day suicide prevention initiative last fall on Mercer's Atlanta campus. The goal was to establish an environment on campus where individuals are comfortable reaching out for help by training students and faculty members on how to get help for someone in crisis. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the initiative is “leading the way in building awareness at Mercer and across the nation.”

New Programs in Rehabilitation Services, Health Informatics

Penfield College partnered with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) to offer GVRA employees who hold a bachelor's degree an opportunity to further their education and their career through a new advanced rehabilitation certification program (pictured above). The program consisted of six undergraduate courses offered over a nine-month period. Students completed most work online with one orientation and class per eight-week term held on the Macon campus. The Mercer-GVRA partnership supports the agency's goal of serving 100,000 Georgians with disabilities and putting 50,000 to work over the next few years. GVRA recognized a need to develop a curriculum to prepare professional staff with the tools to help meet the objective of serving youth and students with disabilities from middle school and high school. To our knowledge, this is the first bachelor's-level advanced rehabilitation certificate program in the nation. 

Addtionally, the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Informatics launched a 10-course Master of Science in Health Informatics. The University also approved a four-course credit-bearing certificate in health informatics. Students completing the certificate will have completed 40 percent of the master's degree. Dr. Vik Baskaran is program coordinator for the new, fully-online graduate program.

Workforce Development Training Offered to Georgia Department of Public Health, FBI

For the second consecutive year, the Department of Leadership Studies, led by Dr. Lynn Clemons, associate professor of organizational leadership, completed leadership development training leading to a certificate for employees of Georgia's Department of Public Health. In addition, Dr. Clemons and Dr. Laurie Lankin provided a seminar on leading peers for the FBI regional office cybersecurity unit. 

Invest in Penfield College's Work

Greg DeLoach recently began his work as a development officer for Penfield College. DeLoach grew up in Eatonton, Georgia, and completed his undergraduate studies at Shorter College. He received his M.Div. from Southern Seminary and his D.Min. from Columbia Seminary. He is coming to Mercer from the presidency of the Developmental Disabilities Ministries, a ministry of 19 group homes across Georgia serving 70 individuals with various development disabilities. Prior to that, he served as a pastor of churches in Georgia, with his last two being First Baptist of Augusta and First Baptist of Marietta. This past year, DeLoach served as an adjunct faculty member at McAfee School of Theology. He concluded a five-year term on Mercer's Board of Trustees in 2012, so he has a broad understanding of the University's work and its mission. If you are interested in contributing to Penfield College, Greg will be happy to talk with you anytime. Contact him at 678-547-6620 or

Are you considering returning to Mercer for an undergraduate or graduate degree? 

Contact Melissa Cruz at for information on Penfield College's graduate programs or Renee Slaton at for undergraduate programs.

Undergraduate programs include Liberal Studies (literary studies, religious studies, communication studies, historical studies); Self-Designed Major; Human Services; Informatics (human-computer interaction, web development, health information technology); Psychology; Criminal Justice Leadership; Homeland Security and Emergency Management; Human Resources Administration and Development; Communication; Healthcare Leadership and Organizational Leadership.

Graduate programs include Human Services; Criminal Justice and Public Safety Leadership; Health Informatics; Clinical Mental Health Counseling; School Counseling; Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling; Counselor Education and Supervision (Ph.D.)

Programs offered in fully-online format as well as face-to-face include: undergraduate majors in Criminal Justice Leadership, Communication, Informatics, and Psychology, and graduate programs in Health Informatics and Criminal Justice and Public Safety Leadership. Other majors are offered as hybrid formats.