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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College of Humanities and Social Sciences Contributors

Sherman Elliott, EdD

Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Sherman Elliott, EdD, has been at Grand Canyon University since 2011 and was appointed dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2014. Prior to joining GCU, he served as assistant clinical professor of secondary education and director of the Center for Civics Education at Arizona State University. Trained as an Ignatian educator, Dr. Elliott joyfully served over 11 years as a Catholic educator at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and as a principal in the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

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. He was appointed to the Board of the Arizona Humanities by Governor Ducey in 2016 and to the Sister Cities Commission in 2017 by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. He maintains a passion for education by providing individuals of all backgrounds with the opportunity to explore various aspects of the richness of the humanities through a journey of self-discovery. He also enjoys academic research, particularly in the fields of civic education, adolescent moral development and Holocaust education. Working through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Belfer Program, he shares his Holocaust expertise as a guest lecturer at schools and national conferences.

In his spare time, Dr. Elliott enjoys traveling the world with his family. Some of his favorite destinations have been England (particularly Cornwall), Ireland and Japan. His travels have brought forth the importance and benefits of partnering with other countries to provide educational opportunities otherwise not available and to exchange the richness of cultures.

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.

Read more about Diane Goodman

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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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

Faculty, 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.

Read more about Maria Zafonte