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As the title of our blog suggests, these posts by College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) faculty and special guests will engage, inform and challenge you in a myriad of ways. The posts reflect the diversity of our programs of study: degrees that are traditional (history), current (justice studies and communications), academic (English literature) and career-oriented (psychology, counseling, criminal justice and government). Here, there is something for everyone.
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Sherman Elliott, EdD

Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Sherman Elliott headshotDr. Elliott is the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University. Dr. Elliott started with Grand Canyon University in January 2011 as a faculty member in the College of Education, where he served for a year and a half as chair of secondary education. Since 2013, Dr. Elliott has served as an assistant dean and, more recently, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dr. Elliott has served as an executive board member for the AZ Council for the Social Studies and serves as a lead reviewer for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Dr. Elliott’s research interests include effective strategies for teaching the Holocaust, Holocaust education and adolescent moral development, civic education and professional development for Catholic school educators.

Read more about Sherman Elliott


Brian P. Raftery, MA

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Professor Rafferty headshotBorn and raised in New York City, Brian is the first-born son of Irish immigrants and the first Raftery in America or Ireland to graduate from college. His parents were devoutly religious, and they made many sacrifices so that he could have a rigorous and traditional Catholic education. Brian was taught by the sisters of St. Joseph at Blessed Sacrament School, by Franciscan brothers at St. Francis Preparatory High School and by the Vincentian fathers at St. John’s University, from which he graduated cum laude. Dreaming of becoming an English professor, Brian went to Syracuse University on a teaching fellowship. When he took a year off before entering the PhD program at Syracuse, he met his future wife at a publishing convention in Washington, D.C. Judy and Brian have four children, all of whom are attending college or working in California.

Read more about Brian Raftery


Diane Goodman, PhD

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Diane Goodman headshotBorn and raised in Cleveland, OH, Diane Goodman lived in Miami Beach for 15 years before relocating to Phoenix in August 2012. She became an associate professor of English at Grand Canyon University in January 2015. Dr. Goodman has a Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University, a master’s in English from the University of Delaware, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Antioch University and a Bachelor of Arts in science writing from Denison University. Diane’s publications include three collections of short stories (“Party Girls,” Autumn House Press, 2011; “The Plated Heart,” Carnegie Mellon Press, 2006; “The Genius of Hunger,” Carnegie Mellon Press, 2001) as well as various poems, non-fiction essays and articles in national magazines.

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Elizabeth Valenti, PhD

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Elizabeth Valenti headshotOriginally from Oak Park, Ill., Elizabeth Valenti escaped the unsympathetic winters and relocated to Arizona in the 1990s. Several family members have since followed! She is a huge animal lover and has been a vegetarian since the age of five when she learned what a Big Mac really was (her parents had no influence). She values compassion for humans, animals and the environment, supporting several organizations that uphold this mission (e.g. Humane Society, Animal Welfare League and the Human Rights Campaign). Dr. Valenti regularly volunteers at local no-kill animal shelters. She plays the piano by ear, speaks a little bit of German, enjoys documentaries of all sorts and is addicted to the outdoors. She loves to travel and garden and is an avid hiker!

Read more about Elizabeth Valenti


Filippo Posta, PhD

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Filippo Posta headshotFilippo Posta comes from a little village near Siena, Tuscany in Italy. He always dreamed of playing professional soccer and going to America. The soccer thing did not pan out despite making as much as a half-million per week…in Italian liras (about $20 USD). Dr. Posta’s passion for teaching and doing research in math landed him a scholarship to study at NJIT. After graduating, he switched coasts and ended up at GCU (via UCLA). What a blessing! He and his wife, Emily, are truly happy living in Scottsdale, AZ, and they have found a very supportive environment for their kids, Nicolas and Oliver. He looks forward to their future in the Valley since Nico wants to be Thunder when he grows up.

Read more about Filippo Posta


James P. Helfers, PhD

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

James Helfers headshotJames Helfers was born in Illinois and has lived in the Chicago area and in the Little Rock, AR area. After graduating from Wheaton College, he worked as a technical writer in California before returning to graduate school in English language and literature at the University of Michigan. He has worked at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, and directed and participated in the Cambridge Summer Study Program run by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies for five years. Dr. Helfers is married, with two grown children; his hobbies include bicycling and backpacking as well as martial arts.

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Jessi Farmer, MA

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Jessi Farmer is an Arizona native and an Arizona State University (ASU) Sun Devil. She graduated from ASU with a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in communication studies. Her passion is studying communication within organizations and systems. Prior to teaching, Jessi worked as the assistant manager at Rainbow Rentals. She started teaching in 2009, as adjunct faculty at Glendale Community College. As a professor, Jessi enjoys making abstract theories applicable for students. Furthermore, she challenges students to become well-rounded thinkers. She does this by introducing situations and perspectives where theories become pertinent. Born and raised in Peoria, AZ, Jessi now resides in Phoenix. In her spare time, she enjoys riding my horses and most importantly spending quality time with family and friends.

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Joshua Danaher, MA

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Josh Danaher headshotJoshua Danaher studied communication at Arizona State University (ASU). Joshua is passionate about communication and dialogue, particularly in crisis/conflict situations. Areas of research interest include interpersonal, religious, family and intercultural communication. Before coming to GCU, he worked as an adjunct professor in the Maricopa County Community College District, as a communication specialist at Pathways Platform Corporation and as a subcontractor. Joshua was also involved in a leadership capacity in Young Life at ASU, organizing mission trips to Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico. During his graduate studies, Joshua engaged in research communities focused on communication advocacy and benefiting the broader community surrounding ASU’s West campus.

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Laura Chesniak-Phipps, PhD

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Laura Chesniak Phipps headshotLaura Chesniak-Phipps is originally from Chicago. She completed her Ph.D. in community/clinical psychology in 2002 at Wichita State University (WSU). Her primary research focus has been on program evaluation and prevention. Dr. Chesniak-Phipps spent many years evaluating prevention programs in areas including HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and adolescent suicide. She applied research methods to determine if the programs were effective and how they could be improved. Teaching has always been her passion. Dr. Chesniak-Phipps has been teaching psychology classes since the first day she walked into graduate school at WSU. After graduation, she worked as an adjunct instructor at several community colleges in Illinois. She has been married to her husband for over 14 years, and they have two daughters, Audrey and Lila.

Read more about Laura Chesniak-Phipps


Maria Zafonte, MA, MS

Assistant Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Maria Zafonte headshotMaria Zafonte is an assistant professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University. She is currently working toward a PhD in general psychology with an emphasis in instruction and cognition. Her research interests include fostering student engagement in various learning situations, including large face-to-face classes, online and blended modalities.

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Barry Regan, MA

Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Headshot1Barry hails from Arroyo Grande, CA, a small town on California’s central coast. Barry is the director of the GCU Speech and Debate Team, which finished the 2013-14 school year 15th overall in the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament (out of 80 schools). Barry’s academic interests are in presidential rhetoric, history of intercollegiate debate and the intersection of sports, politics and race. Barry is passionate about empowering low-income, first generation youth through public speaking and debate; he served as an instructor and residential director for Upward Bound at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo and the University of Arkansas. Barry lives with his beautiful wife Carly in Chandler, AZ, and spends his free time hiking throughout the Valley and Northern Arizona, attending Arizona Diamondback games and disc golfing.

Read more about Barry Regan