Nearly Twenty New Faculty Join MGA At Start Of 2021-22 Academic Year

Author: Sheron Smith, Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Tuesday, August 24, 2021 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | School of Aviation | School of Arts and Letters | School of Business | Pressroom | School of Health and Natural Sciences | School of Computing | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA


Middle Georgia State University (MGA) has added 19 new faculty members in a number of academic disciplines, including natural sciences, health sciences, education, business, art, IT, public relations, history, political science, aviation, and English. They are:

Dr. Tyler Achatz, assistant professor of biology. Achatz completed his Ph.D in biology from the University of North Dakota, where he was a graduate research and teaching assistant and received an outstanding graduate student award. His research, much of which has required extensive collaborations with multiple laboratories in the U.S. as well as in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, focuses primarily on the evolution and systematics of parasites, and he has published articles about his research in academic journals. His field experience includes the collection and survey of ticks and their diseases from small mammals in Grand Forks County, N.D. He is a member of the American Society of Parasitologists and the Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society.

Dr. Upendra Adhikari, assistant professor of chemistry. Adhikari comes to MGA from Missouri Valley College, where he taught chemistry. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Utah State University and has done post-doctoral research at Oregon Health and Science University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research involves computer simulations using molecular dynamics and quantum mechanics to understand complex biomolecular processes, such as nanoparticles based drug delivery, protein folding, antimicrobial peptide activity, and intermolecular interactions. The overall goal of his research is to investigate and provide computational insight on these complex issues. He has published articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, among other publications. Adhikari at one time taught chemistry in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he also earned his undergraduate degree.

Dr. Susan Asbury, assistant professor of history. Asbury comes to MGA from the University of West Georgia, where she was an adjunct professor of history. She holds a Ph.D from Pennsylvania State University, where she was also a lecturer, with fields in American studies, social history/consumerism, and folk/material/popular culture. Asbury previously served as the director of student rights and responsibilities at Elizabethtown College. In the past, her professional experience included curating exhibits for The Martha Berry Museum and The Strong, where she served as chief curator for Celebrating America’s Favorite Doll, an exhibit about fifty years of Barbie. In addition to her museum and archival experience, Asbury has published articles in a variety of journals and given numerous conference presentations and lectures. In 2017, she was awarded the G. Rollie Adams Research Fellowship and Mary Valentine and Andrew Cosman Research Fellowships.

Dr. Kalyca Becktel, assistant professor of public relations. Becktel holds a Ph.D in public relations from the University of Florida, where she also taught public relations courses. Her professional background includes time spent as an employee engagement and brand ambassador for Cheesecake Factory and media relations manager for Alternative Strategies in San Diego, Calif. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and she has several manuscripts moving toward publication. With a co-author, she published a chapter in the book, An Unprecedented Election: Media, Communication, and the Electorate in the 2016 Campaign. In 2018, she received the Graduate School Preeminence Award from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism & Communications. Since 2019 she has been a research associate at the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations.

Dr. Brandon Fox, associate professor of education. Fox comes to MGA from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he was chair of the Department of Education Studies. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy – with a concentration in multicultural education - from Texas A&M University. At Stephen F. Austin State University, Fox held the Montgomery Professorship in Humane Education, an endowed professorship created to perpetuate the teaching of humane education concepts and methods in K-12 schools. For Stephen F. Austin State University he has developed teacher education program courses in math teaching methods, social studies, and more. Fox has been successful in acquiring grant funding for research and has published many articles for peer-reviewed publications, as well as book chapters on integration and diversity in schools. He was Region 5 director of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) and president of the Texas chapter of NAME.

Dr. Claire Youngnyo Joa, assistant professor of public relations. A graduate of Bowling Green State University with a Ph.D. in mass communication, Joa comes to MGA from Louisiana State University Shreveport, where she was assistant professor of public relations and mass communication program coordinator. She held the Dr. Dalton and Peggy Cloud Endowed Professorship in Communications. Her research focuses on social psychological understandings of social network effects and how to strategically use that knowledge. Joa has taught and developed a variety of courses in communication, public relations, and social media strategies. She has published articles in a variety of journals and co-wrote a book chapter on a topic related to YouTube video advertising. She is a member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and International Communication Association, among other organizations, and she has worked as a social media analyst and media strategy consultant.

William Jones, lecturer of information technology. A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a master’s degree in digital forensics, Jones comes to MGA from Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, where he was a senior law enforcement instructor. He is a subject matter expert in the area of forensics and instructional design. While serving in the U.S. Army, Jones was a supervisory special agent investigating sexual assault and child exploitation crimes. He has received a number of honors for his work and service, including the Dr. William Bass Award, given by the University of Tennessee’s National Forensics Academy for excellence in forensic investigation and scholastic achievement. Jones also holds a graduate certificate in cybercrime from Georgia Southern University.

Taylor LoForti, lecturer of English. LoForti holds a Master of Arts in English from Liberty University. Her thesis was “Restoring What Has Been Lost: The Mythic Journey of Shakespearean and Tolkien Heroes After the Fall in Eden.” She comes to MGA from Wade Christian Academy, where she was an English teacher for students in grades seven through 12, and where she also supervised the chess club. She previously served as an English and Bible teacher and supervised the Jewish Experience Club, National Junior Honors Society, and Improvisation Club at Merritt Island Christian School. At The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif., she was the first freshman the institution ever hired as an academic tutor.

Dr. Shannon Meier, assistant professor of biology. Meier recently completed her Ph.D. in biomedical science from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she was a graduate research assistant. In 2014 she held a research internship at the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Meier was awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to help fund her research related to the development and progression of breast cancer. She was selected to make a presentation to leading experts in her field at the ASBMB Nucleolar Conference, and Meier has also published and presented her research in a number of other venues.

Hanna Newman, assistant professor of 3D art. Newman is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she taught three-dimensional studies and mold-making while earning her Master of Fine Arts in ceramics. She is an experienced sculptor with proficiencies in woodshop, welding, printmaking, and photography—among many others. Newman’s recent exhibitions include “Dawn”, group show, “More Upstairs”, two-person exhibition, “Body Double”, and invitational group exhibition, “Ongoing Conversation”, in Kyoto, Japan. She has held workshops and lectures in Minnesota—her home state—and Atlanta and won the Joseph Perrin Award from Georgia State University in 2021.

Dr. Kristopher Parker, assistant professor of biology. Parker holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular life science from the University of Wyoming, and comes to MGA from Front Range Community College - Larimer Campus, where he taught microbiology. At Colorado State University, he was a postdoctoral scholar in the toxicology and nutrition laboratory and a sustainability leadership fellow in the School of School of Global Environmental Sustainability. His graduate research has focused on intestinal microbiomes. Parker has published his research in several journals and presented at conferences and summits. In addition to formally mentoring five undergraduate and one graduate student, he has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Laramie, Wy., which named him “Big of the Year” in 2016.

Dr. Patrice Pierce, associate professor of nursing. An undergraduate alumna of MGA, Pierce holds the Doctorate of Nursing Practice from what is now Augusta University. She comes to Middle Georgia State from East Georgia State College, where she was an associate professor of nursing. Pierce is a former nursing program director for Central Georgia Technical College and practiced nursing at several hospitals in Georgia. She is a member of the Medical Reserve Corp and a health sciences advisory board member for Baldwin County High School. She is a chapter vice president for the Georgia Nurses Association and, in 2020, was named Distinguished Faculty of the Year at East Georgia State. 

Dr. Emily Riggs, assistant professor of rehabilitation sciences. Riggs holds a Doctor of Occupational Therapy from Belmont University. She comes to MGA from a teaching position at Chattahoochee Technical College. A member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Riggs is board certified in pediatrics. She previously worked in OT at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, Williamsburg County Public Schools, and at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. Riggs is a member of the special education parent engagement committee for Cobb County public schools and has volunteer service as a case worker for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  

Dr. Jo Ann Saxon, assistant professor of nursing. Saxon holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice/Adult-Gerontology ACNP from what is now Augusta University. She holds undergraduate nursing degrees from what is now MGA and previously taught at the University. She returns to MGA from Advance Medical Associates, an internal medicine practice, where she was AG/ACNP-BC. Saxon previously worked at Houston Health Care Complex in Warner Robins. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International, Honor Society of Nursing.

Dr. Jongho Seol, assistant professor of information technology. Seol comes to MGA from Oklahoma State University, where he was an instructor and where he completed his Ph.D. in computer science. His recent experiences include an internship with NOVI Inc. in Stillwater, Okla., where his work focused on blockchain technology. He worked as a proposal senior engineer at Emerson Automation Solutions in Seongnam, Gyeongido, Korea, where among other things he designed system network protections against cyberattacks and other threats. He has co-written a number of articles for professional journals and symposiums. Seol’s research focuses include, in addition to blockchain technology, distributed networks for data loss prevention and deep reinforcement machine learning.

Kayla Sheppard, lecturer of aviation science and management. A graduate of MGA’s aviation maintenance technology program in the School of Aviation, Sheppard returns to her alma mater in a teaching position from professional experience as an A&P technician at Embraer Aircraft. Previously she was an engineering technical writer and structural technician for Thrush Aircraft. Her volunteer work includes Ben Hill County Toys for Tots distribution and Ben Hill and Wilcox County Relay for Life.  

Melissa Sisson, lecturer of biology. Sisson is completing her Ph.D. in biology at the University of North Dakota, where she was a teaching assistant. She has also taught and been a post-doctoral researcher at Sam Houston State University. Sisson has co-authored several articles published in academic journals and made a number of presentations about her research, which includes a focus on the taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships of Lepidoptera. For two years she took second place for the President’s Prize at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America. Her field experiences include participation in a bio-inventory of the Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas.

Dr. Jane Strong, assistant professor of education. Strong comes to MGA from Fairfax County, Va., public schools, where she was director of Special Education Procedural Support. She holds a Ph.D in Special Education Disability Policy and Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Strong has years of professional experience, including classroom teaching from preschool through 12th grades, in Virginia school districts. She also has been an adjunct instructor at several universities, including the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and George Mason University. Recently, she served as president of the Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education and has received that organization’s outstanding leadership and service award. 

Dr. Annie Watson, assistant professor of political science. Watson holds a Ph.D. in political science and international affairs from the University of Georgia. Before joining MGA, she served as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida where she taught courses in gender and politics, human rights and research methods. She also serves as a research fellow for the Human Rights Measurements Initiative with a specialization in women’s and children’s rights. Watson was recently published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. She has numerous pieces under review, including “Women, the Workforce, and the Welfare State: Women’s Economic Rights in Domestic Legislation” and co-written “Credit Where It’s Due: Women’s Rights and Sovereign Credit Rating”. In 2019, she was awarded Clute-Nigro Research Funds and the Future Faculty Fellowship from the University of Georgia.