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Pepperdine | Graduate School of Education and Psychology

MS in Leadership in Higher Education

Meet the Faculty

GSEP's faculty holds doctorates from some of the most prestigious universities. All GSEP faculty offer an important balance between theory and practice in a practitioner-based curriculum.

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Jennifer Miyake-Trap, EdD 

Program Chair

Dr. Jennifer Miyake-Trapp is a scholar-practitioner committed to social justice and educational equity through instructional transformation. She strives to empower educators to enact asset-based pedagogical approaches in diverse learning contexts.

Her primary interests focus on culturally sustaining curriculum and instruction, teacher critical reflection, instructional design, learning technologies, and English language teaching. Always close to K-12 classrooms, she frequently collaborates with local public schools to develop student-centered, community-based programs and partnerships.

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Seher Awan, EdD


Seher Awan is a passionate educator, administrator, and advocate. As a community college graduate herself, she began her career as an hourly staff member at College of the Canyons. She earned a contract classified position in EOPS/CARE & CalWORKs, falling in love with the transformational change that occurs through the community college system. She served some of the most disadvantaged and underrepresented populations and has continued to build on her passion for helping others during her tenures at San Jose City College and Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.

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Ebony Cain, PhD

Associate Professor of Education

Prior to arriving to Pepperdine University, Dr. Ebony Cain served as a non-profit leader building program that focus attention and services on the
educational inequity, and academic advancement for at- risk and low-students and communities. Dr. Cain previously taught Organizational Change and Leadership (OCL), Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and TESOL programs at the University of Southern California (Rossier School of Education).

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Weina Li Chen, PhD

Clinical Assistant Professor

Dr. Weina Li Chen is a third-generation Korean descendent who was born and raised in China. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2012. Dr. Chen is a clinical assistant professor of education at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Pepperdine University, and currently teaches in the MA in TESOL and MS in Leadership programs.

Her academic backgrounds are in global leadership and change, educational psychology, and management. With about a decade of teaching experience to preschoolers, K-12 students, and adult learners, Dr. Chen found particular passions in educational technologies, learning design, online and hybrid learning, world language learning, and teacher leadership in the classroom.

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Ronald J Costello, EdD


Dr. Ronald J Costello is the Associate Dean of eLearning at Camden County College. Dr. Costello has previously served as Associate Vice Chancellor of Distance Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, as the Director of Academic Technology at Immaculata University, and as the Director of Penn State Abington’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

He has authored faculty development programs for online teaching, online course development, and several instructional technology training seminars.

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Joseph Green, EdD

Adjunct Faculty

Dr. Green serves as Ombudsperson in the Education Division at GSEP, where he teaches Research Capstone Seminar, Dissertation Research, and Teaching Students With Exceptional Needs.

A graduate of GSEP’s EdD Program in Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy, he is a 22-year veteran of LAUSD, serving first as a classroom teacher prior to holding leadership and administrative positions. 

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Samaa Haniya, EdM, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dr. Samaa Haniya is an Assistant professor of learning technologies at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University and an affiliate researcher at the Cyber Social Lab at the University of Illinois, where she is involved in building a new learning
management system to improve e-Learning practices called “CGScholar.”

Dr. Haniya earned her Ph.D. in Education Technologies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign working under the supervision of Dr. William Cope and the former dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois Dr. Mary Kalantzis.

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Kfir Morderchay, PhD

Assistant Professor of Education

Dr. Kfir Mordechay's research focuses on examining issues of residential and school segregation and of racial and socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement and educational success. He has published policy reports and articles on topics including metropolitan and neighborhood demographic trends, social and urban policy, and race and immigration in U.S. society.

His current research looks at inequality, gentrification, and segregation in American cities and schools and the role of policy in shaping equitable educational opportunities.

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Stephen Kirnon, EdD

Visiting Faculty

Dr. Kirnon has over 30 years of operational experience in biomedical and medical device organizations. Dr. Kirnon is currently Co-Founder and CEO of Shawshank Therapeutics, Inc. Since January 2009, he has served as the Co-founder and CEO of PharmaPlan LLC and Vitavis Laboratories Inc, which was sold to Nestle health Sciences in 2017.

Dr. Kirnon was previously the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pepgen Corporation, a biopharmaceutical company based in Alameda, CA specializing in autoimmune diseases.

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Seung Lee, PhD

Assistant Professor of Education 

Dr. Seung B. Lee is an Assistant Professor of Education at Pepperdine University in the Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Dr. Lee’s research focuses on collaborative learning, online interactions, socio-cognitive processes and creativity among K-12 students, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education context.

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Santor Nishizaki, EdD


Dr. Santor Nishizaki is the Founder and CEO of the Mulholland Consulting Group, LLC., whose mission is to help organizations increase generational awareness and create a happier workplace. His company specializes in training and consulting organizations from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors that are interested in growing their Millennial and Generation Z employment engagement, as well as team-building, strategic planning, interpersonal skills, and leadership development using a strengths-based approach.

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Benita Scheckel, EdD


Dr. Scheckel was named the 2017 Most Promising New Administrator by the Association of California School Administrators Region VX.

Since 2015, she has served as Assistant Principal of Marshall Fundamental Secondary School, where she led the Academy for Creative Industries, the college and career pathway program. She was previously the K-8 curriculum resource teacher at McKinley School. From 2011-2015, Ms. Scheckel was coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme at Blair School and served on the team that brought the dual language immersion program to Blair.

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Abraham Song, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dr. Song has a decade of teaching and research experience at the intersection of public economics and entrepreneurship. He has taught courses in microeconomics, statistical methods for policy analysis, entrepreneurship & economic development, and money, markets & economic policy.

His area of expertise is in public policy issues revolving around state business incentives and digital platforms. In one stream of research, he conducts a program evaluation of state business incentives. 

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Elio Spinello, EdD

Adjunct Faculty

Dr. Elio Spinello is an adjunct professor in the Education Division at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, where he teaches E-Learning Theory and Practice in the doctoral program in Organizational Leadership.

He is also a partner in RPM Consulting, LLC, a consulting firm that provides research, training, system development, and technology integration services to a variety of public and private organizations, including a number of Fortune 500 companies.

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Paula Thompson,  EdD

Adjunct Faculty

Paula Thompson teaches graduate-level courses in organization design, organization change, qualitative research, and doctoral writing. She also chairs dissertations and is proud to have multiple graduates from GSEP.

Paula obtained her doctorate in organization change from Pepperdine University, a master’s in public health from UCLA, and an undergraduate degree in biology with minors in psychology and women’s studies from Washington University in St. Louis.

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Ricardo Vigil, EdD


Dr. Vigil serves as the director of field experience for the teacher preparation program at GSEP. Previously, he taught as a secondary social studies instructor and was a K-12 administrator and adjunct professor. Dr. Vigil uses his background knowledge of K-12 education to maintain and develop partnerships with schools in the greater Los Angeles area.

He currently teaches clinical courses, secondary methods, and instructional design and enjoys guiding and developing new educators as they journey through their programs and into their careers.

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Maria Wright, EdD

Adjunct Professor

Dr. Maria Wright is currently the Director of GSEP Talent Management and Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. She earned an EdD in Organizational Leadership (Pepperdine University), an MA in Higher Education (University of Mississippi), and a BA in Political Science (Spelman College).

As a student affairs professional, she has worked in various departments, including Financial Aid, Multicultural Affairs, and Enrollment Services, and has taught Freshman Experience, Action Research, Social Psychology, Contemporary Topics, and Educational Foundations, Equity, and Social Justice.

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Terrance Cao

Senior Certification Manager

Terrance began his foray into teaching after obtaining his Masters Degree in Education from UCLA. He has experience in teaching middle school and high school Science in LAUSD.

Currently, he works at Pepperdine University as a Senior Certification Manager where he assists students with understanding teacher credentialing requirements and supports the MAT program in meeting accreditation. standards. He is also studying at Pepperdine University for a doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership.

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Carlos Jimenez

Manager of Writing Support 

Carlos is currently the Manager of Writing Support services at Pepperdine GSEP and a graduate of the Master of Arts program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MATESOL) in 2012.

He currently serves as an adjunct professor for the GSEP Education division and specializes in working with multilingual learners. In addition, Carlos manages the Dissertation Clearance process for GSEP doctoral candidates.

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Elias Saade

Instructional Designer

Elias Saade currently serves as an instructional designer for the Masters of Science in Leadership suite of programs at the Pepperdine University
Graduate School of Education and Psychology. In this role, he collaborates with faculty to design, build, and evaluate engaging online courses.

Through his work on the Virtual Initiatives Team, Professor Saade leads various projects across the Education Division, such as planning and executing the Doctoral Virtual International Trips, program orientations, and technology workshops.