News & Events

Dean Roberts hosted a luncheon for the new faculty on August 24, 2012 where Dr. Rheeda Walker among others was introduced.

The College welcomes new faculty members

New tenured and tenure-track faculty members increase the academic diversity of CLASS

This fall the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences has appointed to its faculty several scholars whose expertise broadens the academic and teaching expertise within the College.

Rheeda Walker joins CLASS as a tenured member in the Department of Psychology. She is advancing psychological science by conducting research on the cultural and social factors that best account for psychological disturbance in African-American adults. Dr. Walker’s studies provide a framework for how researchers and clinicians might examine African-American suicide risk in a multidimensional manner.

CLASS has 11 new tenure-track faculty members in the humanities, social sciences and creative arts. Two of them – Dr. Tom Behr and Dr. Keith Byron Kirk – have long-lived connections to the College that Dean John W. Roberts has now formalized into faculty positions.

One of those new to campus is Arthur Santana, assistant professor in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication. Before becoming a professor, Dr. Santana was a crime reporter at The Washington Post and one of the first journalists on the scene at the Pentagon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Read more about the new faculty members below.

Related Links

Department of Comparative Cultural Studies

Tom Behr, Assistant Professor

Thomas Behr

Tom Behr taught in the History Department and Honors College for several years before being asked in 2009 to create and direct the undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies. Starting this year, Dr. Behr is an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of Comparative Cultural Studies and Modern and Classical Languages. His academic area is Italian social history and he spent a year in Italy doing doctoral research as a Fulbright Fellow. Dr. Behr earned his Ph.D. in History and a J.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He passed the New York State Bar and practiced law while teaching Modern History and Western Civilization at S.U.N.Y. Geneseo. His teaching career also includes appointments at S.U.N.Y. Fredonia and Rochester Institute of Technology before coming to Houston.

Keith McNeal, Assistant Professor

Keith McNeal

Keith McNeal comes to us from the University of California at San Diego by way of Trinidad and Tobago, where he has just spent a Fulbright year at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies in Port of Spain. Dr. McNeal is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on African and Hindu religious practices in the Caribbean. His undergraduate degree is in Religious Studies from Boston University and his Ph.D. is in Cultural Anthropology from Emory University. He also earned a certificate in Psychoanalytic Studies from the Psychoanalytic Institute in the Emory School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences. Dr. McNeal is a recipient of research grants from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Jack J. Valenti School of Communication

Arthur D. Santana, Assistant Professor

Arthur Santana

Arthur Santana spent 14 years working as a reporter and editor at the San Antonio Express-News, Seattle Times and Washington Post. He completed his undergraduate studies in English at the University of Texas at Austin in 1993 and earned a master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Communication and Society from the University of Oregon in 2012. Dr. Santana’s dissertation examined user-generated content in online newspapers with an emphasis on civility and anonymity of reader comments. His other research interests include media participation by minorities and visual/interactive media.

Department of English

Chatwara S. Duran, Assistant Professor

Chatwara S. Duran

An Applied Linguist, Chatwara Duran joins us from Arizona State University, where she recently completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Language and Literacy. Her teaching in areas of language and literacy education, and her richly multi-cultural research agenda exploring the ideologies of multi-lingualism, the spread of English language, pedagogy, and policy, place her in the forefront of research shaping a new trajectory of English teaching that values other languages among English language learners. Her work with newly arrived refugee families in the United States explores the ways in which her subjects acquire what she calls “accumulated literacies”: language skills acquired through everyday practices.

Lauren Zentz, Assistant Professor

Lauren Zentz

An Applied Linguist, Lauren Zentz joins us from the University of Arizona, where she recently completed her Ph. D. in the Language, Reading, and Culture program. Her work in areas of discourse analysis, language and identity, and language policy, complement aspects of the English Department’s curriculum and students’ interests.  Her dissertation, “Global Language Identities and Ideologies in an Indonesian University Context,” explores the different tensions between language and culture. Her longer-term research interests include language policy, and discourse and identity studies. Dr. Zentz earned a master’s degree in Sociolinguistics at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Her teaching and research includes qualitative approaches to language use and policy and also ethnographic methodologies.

Department of Health and Human Performance

Michael Cottingham, Assistant Professor

Michael Cottingham

Michael Cottingham earned his Ph.D. in Human Performance with a concentration in Sport Management in 2012 and a master's degree in recreation administration in 2008 from the University of Southern Mississippi. His bachelor's in political science was received in 2002 from the University of Arizona. Dr. Cottingham's research interests include promotional strategies in sport, consumer behavior, and disability sport. He has served as head coach for wheelchair tennis, power soccer and quad rugby teams, as well as led wheelchair sports camps in Afghanistan, Mexico and El Salvador. Before coming to Houston, Dr. Cottingham taught at Southern New Hampshire University.

Daphne Hernandez, Assistant Professor

Daphne Hernandez

Daphne Hernandez joins us from Pennsylvania State University, where she was an assistant professor in the Human Development & Family Studies Department and a research associate for the Population Research Center. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Princeton University in 1998, her M.S.Ed. in Psychological Services from University of Pennsylvania in 2000 and her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology from Boston College in 2005. Dr. Hernandez’s research themes include poverty, public policy, family structures, immigrant adaptation, health disparities and health care policy. She is a consultant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and recipient of an Early Career Award from the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health.

Moores School of Music

Jeb Mueller, Assistant Professor

Jeb Mueller

Jeb Mueller just completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Miami.  His field is choral conducting and he served on the choral faculty of Taylor High School in Katy, Texas, before pursuing his graduate degree.  Dr. Mueller has studied privately with major professional and university choral conductors from around the nation and has presented at national choral conventions.  He will conduct our University Men’s Chorus and the Moores School Women’s Chorus.

Department of Political Science

Justin H. Kirkland, Assistant Professor

Justin Kirkland

Justin Kirkland is an American politics scholar whose research focuses on legislative behavior and legislative institutions. Dr. Kirkland will be teaching courses on state politics, legislative politics, and research methods. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to Houston, Dr. Kirkland studied at UNC while his wife worked at Duke in student affairs.  In keeping with this family tradition of academic rivalry, it seemed only appropriate that when they moved to Houston, he took a job at UH, while she wife started working at Rice.

Department of Psychology

Rheeda Walker, Associate Professor

Rheeda Walker

Rheeda Walker joins us from the University of Georgia, where she was an associate professor and director of the Culture, Risk, and Resilience Lab. Dr. Walker earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Florida State University and completed an APA-accredited internship at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center-Atlanta. Her overall program of research focuses on advancing culturally informed models in two understudied areas—suicide science and African-American adult mental health. Dr. Walker is currently examining how universal risks (e.g., depression) interact with culturally-relevant moderators (e.g., ethnic identity) to affect suicidal ideation and attempts. Dr. Walker was initially awarded a National Institutes of Health H Loan Repayment Award in 2004 and earned two successful renewals in 2006 and 2009 to support her ongoing research.

Department of Sociology

Jennifer M. Augustine, Assistant Professor

Jennifer Augustine

Jennifer Augustine received her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Rice University before joining the UH faculty this year.  Her research and teaching interests include population health, education, and inequality.  She has sought to understand how advantages and disadvantages in health and wellbeing are transferred across generations in U.S. families. Specifically, Dr. Augustine has looked at the connection between parents' socioeconomic circumstances and children's early health and learning.  She brings substantive as well as methodological expertise that will add to the Department’s strengths in inequality and contribute to its core research courses.

School of Theatre & Dance

Keith Byron Kirk, Assistant Professor

Keith Byron Kirk

Keith Byron Kirk is no stranger to the university. He was a visiting scholar in 2010 and 2011 and as a research assistant for visiting artist Ntozake Shange in 1986 and 1987. During his first stint in Houston, he developed lasting relationships within the city's theater community as a performer with the Ensemble Theatre and member of the Alley Theatre's Young Company Program. Dr. Kirk earned his bachelor’s degree from State University of New York in New York City, M.A. in Theatre, Performance Studies and Playwriting from New York University and Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama from Northwestern University. His teaching career also includes leading seminars at the University of Notre Dame and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.