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Eleven faculty members promoted

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Eleven members of the Mercyhurst University faculty have recently been promoted, including two veteran teachers who were named full professors: Peggy Black, Ph.D. (social work) and Leanne Roberts, Ph.D. (education).

At its May meeting, the Mercyhurst Board of Trustees awarded tenure to six Erie faculty members and promoted them to associate professor: Verna M. Ehret, Ph.D. (religious studies); Michael A. Elnitsky, Ph.D. (biology); Melissa K. Heerboth, Ph.D. (psychology); Nicholas P. Lang, Ph.D. (geology); Richard W. McCarty, Ph.D. (religious studies); and Jodi Staniunas Hopper, M.F.A. (graphic design).

In addition, Patricia Pulito, RN, MSN, CNE, was promoted to assistant professor of nursing, while Jennifer Craven and Stephanie Heher were promoted to lecturer in fashion merchandising and interior design respectively.


Black is a former chair of the sociology/social work department. She earned her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, her M.S.S.A. from Case Western Reserve University, and her B.A. from Geneva College. Before joining the Mercyhurst faculty in 2001, she worked in many health care agencies, predominantly dealing with older populations. Her research efforts continue to focus on the needs of older adults as well as the psycho-social impact on clients who experience chronic illness.
Roberts is chair of the education department and associate dean of the Hafenmaier School of Education and Behavioral Sciences. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Edinboro University and completed her doctorate in education at the University of Akron. She was instrumental in obtaining a $1.5 million 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to start the Carpe Diem Academy, a K-2 extended learning day program for inner city children. Roberts was honored with the Erie Teaching Excellence Award for 2014.

Ehret holds a Ph.D. in modern religious thought from the University of Iowa, an M.A.R. in philosophy of religion from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in philosophy from Hamline University. In addition to her teaching duties, she directs Mercyhurst’s Prestigious Awards Program and serves as regional coordinator for the Eastern International Region of the American Academy of Religion. Her primary fields of study are philosophical and constructive theology.

Elnitsky chairs the Mercyhurst biology department. He earned his master’s and doctorate in zoology at Miami University of Ohio and his undergraduate degree from Slippery Rock University. His research focuses on the ecological and physiological response of ectothermic animals, particularly insects, amphibians, and reptiles, to environmental stress. He is the director of the Pre-Health Program and advises the biology honor society Beta Beta Beta.

Heerboth holds a Ph.D. and two master’s degrees from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. from Saint Anselm College. Her interests are in the field of social psychology, including political psychology, gender stereotyping and media exposure effects. In addition to presenting and publishing her own work, she has been active as a research consultant for the Center for Teaching Excellence, helping promote faculty scholarship among her colleagues.

Lang earned degrees in geology from the University of Minnesota (Ph.D.) Vanderbilt University (M.S.) and Whitman College (B.A.). His research interests are in the external and internal workings of solid-surface planetary bodies including Venus, Mars and Earth. He has secured several research grants, including a recent $354,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help foster undergraduate research. He serves as acting chair of the geology department.

McCarty received his Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Iowa, specializing in religious ethics and sexual ethics. He also holds a master’s of divinity from Western Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s from Iowa State University. He frequently travels the United States speaking at colleges, universities and faith communities on the intersection of religion, ethics and sexuality. He also serves as senior pastor at Community United Church in Erie.  

Jodi Staniunas Hopper chairs the Mercyhurst art department, after directing the graphic design program for many years. She graduated from Mercyhurst and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in design and advertising from Marywood University. She continues to create and exhibit her own art as well and recently was featured in a one-woman exhibit at Mercyhurst’s Cummings Gallery. She also coordinates the efforts of the student design club, AdPro.

Pulito completed her Bachelor of Science in nursing at State University of New York (SUNY) College of Nursing and received her Master of Science in nursing with a concentration in education from Clarion University. She also passed a rigorous exam to earn her credentials as a Certified Nurse Educator. As lab coordinator, she helps the nursing faculty plan and implement simulation activities for students in the associate degree in nursing and practical nursing programs.

Craven graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2008 with a B.S. in fashion merchandising, and a minor in journalism. She earned a master’s degree from North Carolina State University in textiles and apparel technology management before joining the Mercyhurst faculty in 2010. She advises both the fashion club and the fashion newsletter.

Heher earned her undergraduate design degree from Mercyhurst University and a Master of Science in interior architecture from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Her research efforts have focused primarily on retail, including trends in supermarket store design, and resulted in a contributed chapter to a textbook on informed design. She advises the Student Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers for the Pennsylvania West Chapter (ASID PA-West).