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College of Doctoral Studies


College of Doctoral Studies Vice Provost and Dean of Operations

Hinrich Eylers, Vice Provost

Hinrich Eylers, PhD

Vice Provost of Doctoral Studies and Academic Operations

John Ramirez, Dean of Operations

John Ramirez, MBA, USA CSM (ret)

Dean of Operations

John Ramirez is a native of Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating from high school, CSM (Retired) Ramirez enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Combat Engineer. CSM (Retired) Ramirez served in the United States Army for 27 years and retired as a Command Sergeant Major. During his military service he served worldwide in numerous leadership positions.

John has been a member of the University of Phoenix since November 2004. He has held numerous positions that include Senior Operations Manager, Director of Operations, Associate Campus Director for the College of Doctoral Studies, and Vice President of External Military Relations. He currently serves as the Dean of Operations for the College of Doctoral Studies.

John is active with numerous groups including Council of Colleges and Military Educators, National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services, American Society for Industrial Security, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. He also supports a variety of national and Phoenix-based veteran charitable and non-profit organizations.

John was the recipient of the Association of Latino Professionals for America’s (ALPFA) National 2017 Veteran of the Year Award and served the Chairman of the Corporate Advisory Board for the Phoenix Chapter of ALPFA in 2016 and 2017. In 2020 he was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. He serves as the advisor for the UOPX chapter of The National Society of Leadership and Success and currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In January 2024, John was recognized by Arizona Business AZ Big 100, as one of the top 50 Arizona business leaders to watch in 2024.

College of Doctoral Studies Associate Deans

Cathy Lalley, Associate Dean

Cathy Lalley, PhD

Associate Dean, College of Doctoral Studies

Shawn Boone, Associate Dean

Shawn Todd-Boone, EdD

Associate Dean, College of Doctoral Studies

Lilia Santiague, Associate Dean

Lilia Santiague, PhD

Associate Dean, College of Doctoral Studies

Herman Van Niekerk, Associate Dean

Herman van Niekerk, PhD

Associate Dean, College of Doctoral Studies

College of Doctoral Studies Faculty Overview

College of Doctoral Studies Doctoral Area Chairs (DACs)

Picture of Dr. Patricia Akojie

Patricia Akojie, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair Education

Dr. Patricia Akojie earned a PhD (Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation)

...from University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.  She earned a M.Ed. (Educational Administration and Foundations) from the University of Benin, Benin-City, Nigeria. Her second Masters, M.Sc. (Instructional Design) from Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY.  Dr. Akojie has certifications in Secondary Education, Educational Technology, and Kentucky Teacher Supervisor Certificate.

Dr. Akojie is a Doctoral Area Chair for the College of Doctoral Studies.  She has been with the University of Phoenix Online since 2004 and active participant in University of Phoenix Research Hub activities, such as Research Scholar for the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research (CEITR). As a faculty practitioner Dr. Akojie was a high school teacher and administrator.  Then, she served as the Director of Education Graduate Program at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky.  Wrote grants for two TRIO programs - the McNair Program and the Educational Talent Search Program.  Both programs are funded by U.S. Department of Education to assist low-income and first-generation students.  She serves on various educational boards including the Boys and Girls Club.

Dr. Patricia Akojie is married to Felix Akojie, a retired Biology professor.  They have four grown children and seven grandchildren.  Dr. Akojie enjoys reading, sewing, traveling, and trying spicy exotic foods. A collector of vintage sewing machines, mostly Singer, Wilcox-Gibbs, and Wheeler-Wilson.  She has been to the following countries - Republic of Togo, Canada, Britain, Italy, Nigeria, London, Vienna, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Mexico, Jamaica, Cayman Island, Abu-Dhabi, Dubai, Umm Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujarah. 

Picture of Dr. Nicole Baker

Nicole Baker, EdD

Doctoral Area Chair Resources and Support

Dr. Nicole Baker has been with the University of Phoenix

...since 2007 as a faculty member and part of the leadership team. Currently, Dr. Baker serves in the role of Doctoral Area Chair for Resources and Support, as well as University Research Methodologist. Dr. Baker obtained her Bachelor's Degree from Northern Illinois University, Master's Degree in Leadership from Concordia University, and Doctorate Degree in Education from Olivet Nazarene University.  Dr. Baker has been in the education field for over 25 years, spending her early career teaching elementary and middle school and then moved into higher education, teaching those who want to be teachers. Dr. Baker resides in Northwest Indiana with her husband and four children.

Picture of Dr. Nickie Bell

Nickie Bell, EdD

Doctoral Area Chair Education

Dr. Nickie Bell has served for over 28 years in the field of education,

...with more than 26 years in K12 as a teacher, principal, Executive Director, and Assistant Superintendent. In the summer of 2020, she joined the UOPX family as a part-time faculty/staff member in the College of Doctoral Studies department and was honored with the Phoenix 500 during the 2021-22 academic year. Nickie currently serves the University as a Department Area Chair for the College of Doctoral Studies, Educational Programs. Her research interests include DEIB issues in education, K12 education, and Equity-centered leadership. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, volunteering at church, and visiting tropical islands. 

Picture of Dr. Marlene N. Blake

Marlene N. Blake, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair ACCESS/Panel Validator

Dr. Marlene N. Blake’s 20-year career in online higher education

...has focused on holistic faculty support, mentoring, training, and authentic development. She has extensive expertise in student support resource development, academic operations, and student services. Dr. Blake’s teaching experience includes undergraduate student success and critical thinking courses and facilitating workshops along with new student orientations. Dr. Blake also enjoys empowering learners when teaching doctoral-level leadership and research classes while serving on dissertation committees. Her educational background includes a Bachelor’s in Psychology, a Master’s in Education focusing on Adult Distance Education as well as Curriculum and Instruction, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. Her research interests include faculty/student connectedness, leadership, learner-centeredness, and belongingness as a Fellow for the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR).


Picture of Dr. Brett Gordon

Brett Gordon, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair Business (DBA)

Dr. Brett Gordon currently lives in Sunny South Florida with his wife

...and kids. He love to travel, and usually travels to Europe at least once a year to experience something new. Dr. Gordon has been teaching online since 2002 and since then has been working for proprietary institutions, as well as, state universities in various capacities.


Picture of Dr. Marcia (Marty) Hill

Marty Hill, PhD 

Doctoral Area Chair ACCESS/Panel Validator

Dr. Marcia (Marty) Hill joined the University of Phoenix’s College of

...Doctoral Studies in 2009 and is the Doctoral Area Chair for the ACCESS program and Panel Validators. 

Dr. Hill earned her PhD in educational leadership, administration, and foundations from Indiana State University, a Masters in secondary administration and a BA in teacher education with licensure in elementary and middle school from Oakland City University, Oakland City, IN. Marty’s first educational achievement was a degree in Commercial and Industrial Photography.

Marty’s research interests are varied and include leadership in an on-line environment, adult learning and pedagogy, and on-line curriculum and implementation in the beginning stages of the doctoral experience. 

Marty’s professional experiences include the directorship of a master’s in education program, teaching master’s and undergraduate educational courses, master’s theses and doctoral dissertation chair, teacher licensing agent for the state of Indiana, coordinator for an off-campus at-risk program for middle school and high school students as well as teaching in K-12 and post-secondary institutions both face-to-face and online.

Picture of Dr. Les H. Huffman

Les H. Huffman, DM

Doctoral Area Chair Business (DM)

Dr. Les H. Huffman is the Doctoral Area Chair for the

...Doctor of Management Program. He has been with the University of Phoenix since August, 2007 in a variety of roles and have been with the College of Doctoral Studies since September, 2015. He has 4 beautiful grandchildren that he loves to spoil and spend time with. Every day as he works with doctoral students his goal is to support their development into scholar, practitioner, and leaders, seeking to empower their creative action that will make a difference in their lives and in their communities. One of the goals of our Doctor of Management program is to produce competent, confident, and skilled thought leaders employing critical thinking to make a difference. Dr. Huffman's research interests are in Leadership and how leadership is conducted.  He enjoys doing research on the Four Pillars of Leadership (Honesty, Integrity, Humility with Self-Discipline, and Trust) and how the Four Pillars of Leadership affect 21st Century Leadership.

Picture of Dr. Crystal Lupo

Crystal Lupo, PhD, DBA

Doctoral Area Chair Research and Methodologists

Dr. Crystal Lupo is a 

...distinguished educator and academic leader with a profound commitment to instructional excellence and student success. Currently serving as the Doctoral Area Chair within the College of Doctoral Studies at the University of Phoenix, she oversees a team of faculty research methodologists, teaches research courses, and mentors doctoral students. With six advanced degrees, including terminal degrees in Developmental Psychology (Ph.D.), Business Administration/Marketing (D.B.A.), and Forestry (Ph.D.), Dr. Lupo's scholarly contributions encompass diverse areas such as health and human development, particularly as it relates to stress mitigation, small business social media marketing, education, and rural community development as it relates to natural resource management. Before joining the University of Phoenix, Dr. Lupo held significant roles in both online and brick and mortar operations management, faculty leadership, and procurement management. Her impactful guidance has led to an outstanding track record of improved faculty and employee performance, reduced turnover, and increased employee satisfaction. Additionally, she has held executive roles within consulting firms specializing in small business development and social media marketing. Dr. Lupo's service includes University Industry Councils positions, university club faculty advisor, and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. A beacon of excellence, her dedication to education and community enrichment shapes the future of higher education through innovation and collaboration.


Picture of Dr. Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair Healthcare

Dr. Daniel J. Smith has experience teaching online 

...and in-person applied statistics, doctoral research methods, health care administration, IT, business and data analytics courses since 2002 for both public and private institutions. His most recent industry role was Director of Analytics for Bon Secours Mercy Health, in which he reported to the Chief Clinical Officer of one of the largest health care systems in the United States. He has also been an analytics consultant for several large health care organizations and universities, worked as an actuary for a workers’ compensation insurance company, and has also served as the Director of Research Quality and Analytics for a large (>100k students) HLC-accredited institution. Although he has extensive experience in industry, his real passion is serving students in building their knowledge of research methods. Daniel has an MBA and PhD from Arizona State and enjoys winter backpacking and mountaineering in the Sierras and spending time at Legoland, Disneyland, and the beach with his family.

Picture of Dr. Donna Taliaferro

Donna Taliaferro, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair Research and Methodologists

Dr. Donna Taliaferro is an 

...experienced researcher and doctoral educator for over 40 years.  Her research has been focused on HIV/AIDS with studies completed in 5 African countries, Honduras, Finland, and in the US.  Her latest study was compassion and empathy in nursing students in Finland.  Dr. Taliaferro has had 18 research studies that were funded from NIH, NIMR and different foundations.  Her academic career has provided her an endowed professorship, tenured professor, and associate dean of research in face-to-face universities.  Dr. Taliaferro is past president of the International Association for Human Caring and has published articles in various journals with colleagues and with students.  She has consulted in curriculum, comprehensive exams for PhD programs, leadership development, and has taught online with UOPX for over 18 years.


Picture of Dr. Josh Valk

Josh Valk, PhD

Doctoral Area Chair Education

Dr. Josh Valk is one of the Doctoral Area Chairs 

...for the Ed.D. program. The majority of his career was spent in sales management, with responsibilities for teams of up to 200 and sales of up to $600 million. He has served as a K-12 teacher and administrator, and in higher education positions ranging from adjunct faculty to associate provost. He also has led several startups. He was born and raised in Boston, MA in 1981, moved to Houston, TX in 2004, moved to Boise, ID in 2016, moved to Salt Lake City, UT in March, 2020, and made his forever move to Douglas, WY in April, 2021. Dr. Valk’s hobbies include woodworking, competing in mud runs and obstacle course races (OCR), reading (especially Stephen King), writing, baseball, football, MMA, politics, power lifting, and video games. He is also very active politically and has run for office twice in the past and is running again in 2024. He has been married to his wife Monica since 2007 and they have three little girls: Skylar (age 16), Mikaela (age 15), and Summer (age 13). In addition to his duties at UOPX, Dr. Valk is an adjunct faculty member at Ottawa University and Eastern Wyoming College, a Realtor for Platinum Properties of Casper, and a probationary volunteer firefighter for the Douglas Volunteer Fire Department.

If you want to know more about his background he encourages you to connect with him on LinkedIn:  Dr. Valk's LinkedIn profile.