Research Fellows

Research Fellows


Marianne Justus, Ph.D.


Dr. Justus has been an adjunct faculty member at the University of Phoenix since 2001. After completing her first degree, she began her career as one of the first females to enter telecommunications as a management trainee. After moving to Hawaii, she worked with a large public relations firm that specialized in hospitality and tourism. After returning home, she completed an MA in Educational Administration, and began her thirty five year career in higher education as a full-time faculty member, coordinator of cooperative education and ultimately as a senior administrator. She was part of a faculty contingent consulting on curriculum and program evaluation projects in Hungary, and participated in an International Studies initiative in Japan and Hong Kong. She then accepted a number of management and senior administrative positions in higher education on the East Coast that included manager of information technology programs, director of distributed learning, and director of continuing education. During this period, she also had an opportunity to manage corporate training for private industry.

After receiving her Ph.D. from GMU, Dr. Justus become more actively involved with doctoral education. She currently chairs doctoral committees, mentoring students from the inception of their concept paper to the final approval of their dissertation. She facilitates all levels of doctoral residencies, and teaches EDD, EDT and RES courses. Her papers and presentations have focused on advanced technology integration in teaching and learning, fostering online learning communities of practice, social presence as a retention factor in global environments, transformational virtual learning teams in doctoral education and Web 2.0 technology as a tool for internationalizing the curriculum.

In addition to her professional roles, Dr. Justus is devoted to practicing yoga, she volunteers at a musical instrument museum, travels, and enjoys time with her two wonderful grand children, her two Ragdoll cats and one Australian Shepherd dog.

Employer / Organization: 
University of Phoenix
Position Held: 
Associate Faculty, Dissertation Chair, Certified Advanced Facilitator

Marlene N. Blake, Ph.D.


My name is Marlene Blake and I have worked in higher education for over 18 years in various roles from student services, academic operations, student support resources as well as with faculty training and development. I have also taught doctoral level leadership as well as research classes along with student success, critical thinking, and interpersonal communication courses for 14 years. I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology, a Master’s in Education focusing on Adult Distance Education as well as Curriculum and Instruction, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. My research interests include connectedness, motivation, and leadership. Beyond teaching, training, mentoring, empowering, and supporting students as well as faculty, I enjoy photography and traveling with my husband and daughter!

Melissa Shank


Dr. Shank holds degrees from the University of Colorado (B.A.) and the University of Phoenix (M.A.- Education, Ed.D.- Education- Curriculum & Instruction). Her area of expertise is teacher preparation for classroom management and distance education. Dr. Shank is currently working with the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research on two research studies and several manuscripts. Current manuscripts are on novice teacher perceptions of classroom management preparation. Her research focuses on classroom management needs for distance education and the needs of remote students and workers for online collaboration.


Rita Hartman, Ed.D.


Dr. Rita Hartman has facilitated doctoral level courses in educational leadership and research along with on ground residencies for the doctoral program.  Rita is a past member of the Global Council for the School of Advance Studies, a past member of the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program for the School of Advance Studies, served as Area Chair for Education, and Dissertation Mentor Coach for doctoral faculty.  She also served as a facilitator for faculty trainings: Dissertation Mentor Trainings, Dissertation Mentor Refresher Trainings, Plagiarism Workshops, and Academic Review Board and Internal Review Board Workshops, in addition to successfully mentoring over 30 doctoral learners through the dissertation process. 


Rita was a member the research team for the Foundational Learner Project and Project Spectrum funded by the Apollo Group.  The projects used a design thinking process using qualitative and quantitative data to explore the student’s experiences in the UOP on-ground and online classrooms with the goal of surfacing issues and challenges and generating initiatives to improve the learning environment for students.  Currently, she is working on a qualitative analysis research project exploring socio-cultural approach to generating educational change framed within the empathetic design-thinking model.  She has presented at the Qualitative Research in Management and Organization Conference, World AI (Appreciative Inquiry) Conference, and several of the Technology, College, and Community Worldwide Online Conferences.  


As an educator focused on mathematics and science education, Rita was a member of the Arizona Department of Education Task Force to facilitate with the implementation of math skills into classroom practice.  She was co-director of two grant-funded projects, Science and Mathematics for Indian Learners and Educators and Science and Mathematics for Arizona’s Rural Teachers) designed to implement mathematics and science education and staff development opportunities for rural teachers throughout Arizona.  During her years as a public school educator, Rita was a school principal, a K-12 teacher specializing in mathematics, science, and reading, a staff development leader, a curriculum developer, and an instructional coordinator.  Rita was an adjunct faculty at Northern Arizona University and part of the University of Arizona Math Co-op Program.


Rita is actively involved in Pet Partners of Southern Arizona, a dog therapy group with over 100 members in the Tucson area.  The teams visit various facilities and events, such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, children’s shelters, the prison, University of Arizona and Pima College during exam week, and many more.  The purpose of the visits is to bring the unconditional love of a dog to those in the community.  She also volunteers at Southern Arizona Community Food Bank, and works on projects devoted to Humane Education in K-12 school settings. 

Sandra Nunn, DM, MBA, BS


Dr. Sandra Nunn is a Research Fellow with the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research (CEITR) at University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies where she collaborates with other scholars on research regarding education, technology, ethics, and leadership.  Dr. Nunn also serves as an Associate Faculty member, Dissertation Chair, and Committee Member for the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies.  As a researcher and scholar, Dr. Nunn is actively involved in doctoral-level publishing with peer-reviewed journals and books as well as presenting at conferences.  Besides completing two long-term research studies, Dr. Nunn has co-authored several peer-reviewed journal articles, chapters for two scholarly books, and presented at conferences.  Some of her published works and presentations include:  Does Moral Leadership Conflict with Organizational Innovation?; How Moral Identity Influences Leadership Ethics: A Historical Case Study;  Learning Analytics Methods, Benefits, and Challenges in Higher Education: A Systematic Literature Review;   Digital Badges and Micro-Credentials: Historical Overview, Motivational Aspects, Issues, and Challenges; Foundational Theories of Social Media Tools and Cultural Competency: A Systematic Literature Review; and Examining Critical Thinking Strategies, Components, and Challenges in Higher Education: A Systematic Literature Review.  Along with her co-authors, Dr. Nunn is the recipient of the 2016 McJulien Scholar Best Paper Award with the AECT Culture, Learning and Technology Division for their paper entitled Foundational Theories of Social Media Tools and Cultural Competency: A Systematic Literature Review.  Dr. Nunn and her writing team were also nominated for a second award for the same research paper.  Her current research project as a Research Fellow focuses on whether the use of computer technology in rural public schools for K12 learners enhances educational outcomes relative to math and science scores as well as graduation rates.      

As an ethics, leadership, and national security expert, Dr. Nunn has appeared extensively in the national and international media, testified before the U.S. Senate, served as a guest speaker at prestigious Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has been featured in several books because of her expertise. In addition, Dr. Nunn has served on the Board of Directors for an international public company as well as an international nonprofit organization. Currently, Dr. Nunn serves as an executive for two consulting firms. She also serves as a Board Member for several non-profit organizations, an entertainment production company, and as a Trustee for a private trust. She is a Founding Board Member and Director of International Ethics with the Foreign Affairs Council, Inc., a non-profit organization that serves as an international platform for advancing knowledge and leadership.  In February 2016, Dr. Nunn was invited to serve as an Editor and Reviewer on the editorial board of Cogent Business & Management, a peer-reviewed business and management journal published by UK-based Taylor & Francis.  Dr. Nunn is also Guest Editor for a Symposium entitled “Achieving Ethical Leadership” for the Fall 2017 issue of the Journal of Leadership Studies.  In 2017, Dr. Nunn will serve as an Advisor for the AECT Culture Learning and Technology Board.  Dr. Nunn will also serve as Co-Chair for the 2017 McJulien Panel.

Dr. Nunn holds a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, an MBA in Global Management, a BS in Electronics Engineering Technology, and an AA in General Studies. Dr. Nunn is a member of AECT, the International Women’s Leadership Association, the United Nations Association, and a Charter Member of the International Doctoral Empowerment Academy. She is also a Founding Member and Doctoral Advisor for the SD Doctoral Support Group. For her outstanding work and contributions, Dr. Nunn was inducted as a lifetime member of Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society in Business and was commissioned by the Governor of Kentucky into the prestigious Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels for her dedication to public service.

Steven Watkins, Ph.D.


Dr. Steven Watkins began his teaching career in 1992 at the community college level. He received a Masters of Divinity degree in 1988, a Masters of Teaching English degree in 1994 and a Ph.D degree in Comparative Literature in 2005. Dr. Watkins has taught at different universities for over twenty years and has taught in various capacities for the University of Phoenix for ten years.

Dr. Watkins specializes in teaching humanities courses for the University of Phoenix and has started working for the School of Advanced Studies at the University. His passion is to help doctoral students realize the importance competently completing a Ph.D and the advantage it can bring to their professional careers. He is the author of a book on the life of Flannery O’Connor the writer and is working on two other books about the relationship between science and religion and the influence of the Tea Party on educational issues.

Dr. Watkins loves sports, particularly golf and baseball; he is active in community groups in his city. He is married and has four wonderful grown step kids that he loves tremendously. He looks forward to working with students in his capacity as a fellow.

Susan Ferebee, Ph.D.


Dr. Susan Ferebee is a research fellow with the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research (CEITR). Her research and expertise spans the areas of persuasive technology, persuasion, the neuroscience of persuasion, interpretive communities, learning and teaching online, meditation and critical thinking, and Native American higher education.


She is an active presenter at international and national conferences and within the past several years has presented at the International Conference on Persuasive Technology at Stanford University in 2007, in Oulu, Finland in 2008, at Claremont College in California in 2009, at the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark in 2010, and at the Academic Forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2015, winning the Best Conference Presentation award.  In 2016, Susan co-authored research articles that were presented at OLC Accelerate 2016 in Orlando, Florida and at E-Learn 2016 (AACE) in Washington, D.C. Susan has been an invited speaker at the International HCI (Human Computer Interaction) Conference in San Diego, 2009 and presented at the 9th International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications: EISTA in November, 2011. She is an invited Peer Reviewer for The European Conference on Information Systems 2011and for the UMAP (User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization) conference in Spain. In addition, Dr. Ferebee is an invited book and article reviewer for Computing Reviews.


Susan has published a number of peer-reviewed articles.  Published works written with colleagues include Neural persuasion: Aligning neural readiness, perceived need, and intervention strategies; Persuading library use in technologically structured individuals; Emergent leadership, persuasion, and trust in virtual leaderless groups; Teaching mathematics using mediated and mixed-mediated communication models. Susan has also published The influence of gender and involvement level on the perceived credibility of web sites; Successful persuasive technology for behavior reduction: Mapping to Fogg’s gray behavior grid.

Susan has also served as a subject matter expert in curriculum development for Human Computer Interaction, Mobile Application Development, and Innovation and Design courses.

Dr. Ferebee’s current research in progress includes studies on critical thinking and meditation, the Native American higher education student experience, and the interpretive communities of first year online students.

Susan earned her Ph.D. in Information Systems at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She is a faculty member in the School for Advanced Studies, and consultant with more than 25 years of experience working directly with organizations and higher education institutions. Dr. Ferebee started her career as a software developer, then branched into business administration and systems analysis. She has extensive experience in corporate America performing analysis and research related to systems and business process engineering at Intuit, Lucent Technologies, and America on Line (AOL). Dr. Ferebee has successfully analyzed and improved business processes and system designs both within these companies and as an outside consultant. Dr. Ferebee now focuses on academic and teaching


Susan has received numerous teaching and outstanding contributor awards, and has been awarded several research grants.

Tonya Saheli, JD


Tonya Saheli, J.D., M.S. is an Associate Professor with the University of Phoenix as well as an Adjunct Professor with San Diego State University and Indiana Wesleyan University. She teaches Health Law and Ethics, Intro to Biotechnology and Legal and Ethical Issues in Management.  Educationally, Dr. Saheli holds a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and a Master’s of Science in Regulatory Affairs in Science. . A lawyer by trade, she is also the owner and operator of Saheli Legal Mediation.

Dr. Saheli recently published an article in an Australian Journal entitled the Existence of Unethical Practices by Hospitals when Treating End of Life Religious Patients and presented this article at a conference at the Macquarie University in Australia in 2016.