Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Marissa Owens

Marissa Owens, COE alumna, works with NASA and Teledyne Brown Engineering to improve training environments.


Dr. Marissa Owens, a Ph.D. graduate in Learning and Technology, is living the dream of working for Teledyne Brown Engineering and NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, in a distinguished postdoctoral scholar position. Her specific role as a postdoctoral scholar is to update NASA training materials for a digital environment. Owens notes, “It’s becoming more of an online course, which will be taken by new hires of NASA. They have to learn about different aspects of their jobs and all that goes along with being a NASA employee- acronyms and all.” Owens cites the doctoral education she earned in Learning and Technology in the College of Education as instrumental to her job success: “[The agencies] wanted someone that could understand the technology and ground it in learning theory; that’s why it’s important to have someone on the team with an Education background.”

Owens reflects, “This postdoc is so interesting because it’s not traditional – it’s in fact, very unique.” Further, she notes that the support of departmental faculty in the Department of Educational Psychology & Higher Education, particularly from her doctoral advisor (Dr. Michael Nussbaum) and department chair (Dr. LeAnn Putney), opened up many opportunities- including this one.

Holmes Scholars: Representing the Underrepresented Well

Sherry Tuliwa McKnight, doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning, has quite a diverse educational background. And being designated as one of three Holmes Scholars at UNLV continues to distinguish her as she completes her doctoral studies.

McKnight transferred to UNLV in 2004 after receiving her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African American History and in 2008, she cites her son as her inspiration to further her education: “My son encouraged me to join him in graduate school. When I graduated with my master’s in December 2012, my son received his Ph.D. at the same graduation ceremony. Of course, he also wanted his mother to change the family tradition and complete a Ph.D. as well.”

In 2013 McKnight began the Ph.D. in Career and Technical Education and Post-Secondary Education (CTPE) degree program; her dissertation work centers on the potential role of stereotype threat in African American females’ pursuit of graduate education. While helping other adults that were returning to the University for a graduate degree in the CTPE program, she was nominated as a Holmes Scholar.

The Holmes Scholar program, which began in 1991, was designed for historically underrepresented individuals at various colleges and universities in the United States. The program is sponsored by the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). Research indicates a tremendous need for retention, progression, and completion of graduate degrees for underrepresented students in the higher education system. McKnight is honored to be a UNLV student who is part of breaking the historical cycle that often holds back underrepresented students in higher education.

Holmes Scholars serve a three-year term, participate in the AACTE Annual Meeting each year, and attend at least two other conferences and/or symposiums offered by the Holmes Scholar Organization. After completing her work as a Holmes Scholar, McKnight plans on continuing making contributions in the local community and beyond.

Additional information regarding the Holmes Scholars program may be found at the AACTE website.

COE Spotlight: Elementary School Principal John Haynal

National Organization Honors John Haynal, a 1996 College of Education Alumni and Elementary School Principal, as a “Shining Example of the School Principal.”


Read on the CCSD Newsroom page.

John Haynal, who serves as principal of Dr. C. Owen Roundy Elementary School, Vegas Verdes Elementary School and Elaine Wynn Elementary School in the Clark County School District (CCSD), has been selected as Nevada’s National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Haynal was nominated and selected by his fellow principals through a statewide search process. The NAESP program recognizes and celebrates elementary and middle-level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character and climate for the students, families and employees in their learning communities.

Haynal’s role as principal of three schools is part of CCSD’s Franchise School program, which started in 2015. The program assigns a successful principal who has demonstrated academic growth and achievement to supervise one or more additional Franchise Schools using the same or similar practices that have led to their success. At Haynal’s schools, all employees are held responsible for maintaining a high level of quality in the educational environment. Under his leadership, Roundy Elementary School went from a 2-Star school to a 4-Star school in two years. Haynal also has kept the number of teacher vacancies at his schools extremely low, largely through effective recruiting efforts and referrals from existing staff members.

“At the helm of every successful school is a successful principal,” said NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly. “Our National Distinguished Principals program provides us with an opportunity to recognize the outstanding leadership of these principals and their commitment to creating successful learning communities. Because of them, students thrive academically, teachers grow professionally and communities are strengthened.”

CCSD Chief Student Achievement Officer Dr. Mike Barton said, “Mr. Haynal clearly meets and exceeds the criteria established by the NAESP to receive this prestigious honor. He is committed to excellence, he has programs that meet the academic and social needs of all his students, and he has firm ties to parents and the community. CCSD is extremely proud of Mr. Haynal and all that he does for our students.”

In October, Haynal will travel to Washington, D.C., for two days of activities planned to honor and bring recognition to the elementary and middle-level educators chosen by the states, the District of Columbia, plus private and overseas schools.