Faculty & Staff

New Executive Leader at Union Institute & University

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Nikki Marks new executive leader


Nikki Marks is the new Director of Student Services for Union Institute & University. Student services provide academic support for students ranging from tutoring to career development.

Marks is passionate about student success. “Student Services is a vital piece for many students to be successful, especially working adults with factors in their lives that make it more challenging to engage in their coursework.”

Her goals include reaching as many students as possible. “I want to make sure the services we provide help each student be successful academically as well as develop the skills that will help them be successful in life,” said Marks.  “Student Services are a vital piece of student retention.  We want students to interact with our services frequently and in a way that helps them be successful while they are with Union and also after they graduate.”

Future plans include the implementation of Handshake, a career network for students and alumni, student retention, and expansion of career services.

Marks joined Union in 2012 and most recently served as Lead Program Advisor. She is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.S. in Journalism and a M.A. in Leadership, Public Policy, and Social Issues from Union.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.

Union Ranked Among Nation’s Best

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Washington Monthly 2018 College Rankings

Union Institute & University was recently ranked by Washington Monthly as among the nation’s best.

Union ranked second among Best Bang for the Buck Colleges (page 44), and scored #11 for Best 4-year Colleges for Adult Learners (page 32). Union also ranked #54 as a higher education model in Washington Monthly’s 2018 College Rankings (page 76). Washington Monthly ranks schools that welcome low-income students and focus on the opportunity to transform their lives and communities. The researchers look at social mobility as a priority, and factor in price and percentage of students receiving Pell Grants.

Union’s founding in 1964 was a result of presidents coming together from 10 colleges to create a new institution that could break down barriers to higher education and better serve working adults and others seeking to find alternatives to traditional higher education.

“This new ranking underscores and validates Union’s commitment to its social justice mission by removing barriers that so many experience as they strive to attain a college degree,” said Union President Dr. Karen Schuster Webb.

“We are committed to equity of access to educational excellence around the country and the world. In addition to degree completion programs that offer high transferability rates and accelerated learning paths, we are working to improve pathways for stackable certificates and seamless bridges from one degree level to the next. Union is the right partner to solve the need for higher education degrees due to its more than five decades of identifying and refining ways to structure and deliver education to meet the needs of online learners,” said Dr. Webb.

According to Washington Monthly’s September/October 2018 College Ranking publication, “The rankings are often listed alongside (or above) U.S. News. We rate schools on three equally weighted criteria: social mobility, research, and public service. Instead of rewarding schools that reject 95 percent of applicants, we give high marks to colleges that enroll lots of low-income students and help them graduate and earn a good living without too much debt. We factor in pure research spending and the number of undergraduates who go on to earn PhDs. And we give extra weight to colleges that send their graduates out into the world to serve the community at large.” (Carey, Page 15).

Mollie Miller, M.B.A., Director of Institutional Research & IRB Coordinator, in Union’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness said, “Washington Monthly provides a unique perspective within the higher education ranking landscape. Rankings such as these demonstrate Union’s global standing compared to peer institutions and universities.”

Founded in 1964, Union has perfected the adult delivery model: Specialized distance-learning programs that combine online and classroom coursework with high-touch faculty attention, designed for students regardless of where they live and work. UI&U academic services include small classes, dedicated faculty who are practitioners in their fields, one-on-one program advising, writing and math tutoring services, access to its renowned 100 percent online library, and career services.

Union Institute & University undergraduate students achieved a successful outcome measure (graduation rate) of 70% at 4-years (according to IPEDS Outcome Measures – Winter 2018).

To learn more about Union Institute & University and its career pathways designed for the working adult, click below.
Michael Raffanti Ph.D

Professor Michael A. Raffanti has gone to the dogs!

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Michael Raffanti Ph.D

Tacoma resident Michael A. Raffanti, Ed.D., J.D. has gone to the dogs! Dog rescue that is. He recently co-founded a non-profit organization called Mila’s Mutts to collaborate with a rescuer in Mexico to get dogs off the street, provide veterinary care, and transport them to the U.S. where they are adopted into “fur-ever” homes.

“Like so many animal lovers who travel to Mexico, I was astonished and saddened by the number of dogs and cats roaming the streets of La Paz, which we began visiting in 1999. Early on, we would feed strays, but were disappointed by the lack of options for us to help these animals more substantially. That changed when we discovered that it was relatively simple to transport dogs back to the U.S.

I had heard about individual “rescatistas” living in La Paz who open their homes to stray animals purely out of compassion and great personal cost, caring for sometimes more than 20 dogs. I was introduced to an amazing rescatista, Ceci, about a year ago and since that time I have become more involved in supporting her amazing rescue efforts. Desiring to make a more substantial contribution to Ceci’s labor of love, I am partnering with like-minded friends to form Mila’s Mutts so that we can support Ceci’s work in rescuing Mexican dogs and finding homes for them in the Pacific Northwest. I believe this comports with our social justice mission at UI&U; we reduce suffering for these dogs and work collaboratively, across cultures, to bring more compassion into the world.”

If you would like to help Michael and Mila’s Mutts, reach out to him at


About Dr. Michael A. Raffanti

Dr. Raffanti is Dean of the Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Studies Program. In addition to administering the UI&U Ph.D. program, he teaches seminars in research and educational studies, and supervises dissertation research. Dr. Raffanti has a varied professional background in education and social justice. While practicing poverty law in San Francisco, he collaborated with community members in launching a law academy at an urban high school, which precipitated his movement from law to education. While earning his teaching license, he directed the education department of an AIDS service organization and developed HIV prevention programs for adolescents, gay and bisexual men, and communities of color. Dr. Raffanti has taught third grade in urban settings and served in a variety of educational leadership roles. He also taught at-risk high school students in a weekend community college program. Michael has online/blended university teaching experience at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Western Governors University, Fielding Graduate University, Pepperdine University, Southern Arkansas University, and California Institute of Integral Studies. His research interests are in leadership studies, social justice education, diversity, and qualitative research methodologies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and history from University of Portland, a master’s degree from The Evergreen State College (education), a Juris Doctor from Boston College of Law School, and a Doctor of Education from Fielding Graduate University.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University Ph.D program that incorporates interdisciplinary study to expand your knowledge and expertise. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.

Union Provost Dr. Nelson Soto Appointed to Ohio Department of Education’s Finish for Your Future initiative

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Dr. Nelson Soto

Dr. Nelson Soto, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union Institute & University, has been named a member of a new initiative to improve access and outcomes for adult learners in Ohio. Finish for Your Future initiative is sponsored by the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, Randy Gardner.

Dr. Soto will be part of one of the working groups that will make recommendations in the following four areas:
1. Closing the Equity Gap. Identify successful strategies Ohio can implement to close the equity gap among underrepresented minorities and with adults in enrollment and completion.
2. High Impact Practices. Research Ohio focused, high impact strategies to increase adult learner enrollment and improve adult learner outcomes.
3. Policy Improvement. Make suggestions for institutional and state policy improvement that can be implemented statewide.
4. Return on Investment. Research the return on investment (ROI) from two vantage points; return on investment for Ohio’s adult learners as well as for Ohio’s postsecondary providers based upon increased adult learner enrollment and success.

“Dr. Soto has a unique view of adult higher education and marginalized populations, including adults, having spent his career serving the non-traditional student. His insights will be valuable as he sheds light on new ways to help adults complete their education and move their careers forward,” said Union President Karen Schuster Webb.

Dr. Soto looks forward to working on issues close to his heart. “I have spent my career working to remove barriers to higher education degrees,” said Dr. Soto. “This working group will make great strides in uncovering impediments to marginalized and underserved populations.”

The appointment also underscores Union’s commitment to its social justice values. Union serves diverse populations: minorities (44 percent), women (56 percent), and an adult population (average age of 39), and focuses on serving the underserved with curriculum that engages difference and applies theory to practice. More than 25 percent of Union’s undergraduate students are Hispanic adult learners, leading to Union being named the only university in Ohio designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education Hispanic-Serving Institutions Division .

Dr. Soto holds a Ph.D. in educational policy studies from Indiana University, Bloomington, a master’s in education, and a bachelor of arts in business from the University of Cincinnati. He came to Union from Harrison College, Indianapolis, where he served as associate provost and vice president for curriculum and instruction from 2010 to 2013. Prior to Harrison College, he served as an assistant dean in the graduate office at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) from 2008 to 2010 and as an instructional development specialist at IUPUI’s Center for Teaching and Learning from 2005 to 2008. Dr. Soto has served as faculty at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis in the School of Education; at Indiana University, College of Arts and Sciences; University of Missouri-Columbia, College of Education; and the University of Cincinnati, University College.

In addition, he serves or has served on several boards, including the Hoxworth Blood Center Community Advisory Board, Harvard Business Publishing Advisory Board, Cengage Private Sector Advisory Board, Pearson Service Learning Board, and was chair of the Harrison College Military Advisory Board. He has received numerous grants for his research and efforts, including from the Office for Professional Development, Research Grant ($20,000), the Alliance for Graduate Education and Professoriate Dissertation Grant, a Professional and Organizational Development Network Grant, and the Maris M. Proffitt and Mary Higgins Proffitt Fellowship at Indiana University.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University Ph.D. program that incorporates interdisciplinary study to expand your knowledge and expertise. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.

United States Army veteran chooses social work major to make a difference

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James Terrell

Social Work Month is an opportune time to reflect on the important contribution social workers make to our communities. James Terrell, a United States Army veteran, chose the UI&U Social Work Bachelor’s degree program because he wants to make a difference. Read more about James and his goals in the Q & A below.

Q. What do you plan to do with your degree?
A. My goal is to work with the Veterans Administration to help veterans who are battling PTSD and depression. I deployed in 2008 and three to four months after our return from Iraq, two guys in my squad committed suicide. I feel compelled to help my fellow veterans.

Q: What led you to this program?
A:  I attended a job fair and met a Union representative. I knew that Union was for me because I had to work fulltime and attend college on my own schedule. Union fit that requirement for me.
I had to complete a 400 hour internship that allowed me to get real work experience. The internship only furthers my appreciation of social workers and the important work they do. Social workers are on the front line helping the homeless, the hungry, the marginalized populations in our communities.

Q: Why did you choose Union for your studies?
A: I chose Union for its flexibility and online degree program.

Q: If you could give a piece of advice to your 20 something, what would it be?
I would say have a direction or goal. The goal can change, but have a plan.

Q: Who has influenced you the most in your life, and how have they influenced you?
I was fortunate to have strong mentors in my late teens. A teacher and a pastor took an interest in me and helped me with direction.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in the Social Work Bachelor’s degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.
Carleen Robinson Ph.D social work faculty member

Social Work faculty member credits mentors with her success

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Carleen Robinson Ph.D social work faculty member

Each month, faculty and staff are recognized for their enormous contribution to Union. Today’s spotlight is on Carleen Robinson, PhD., LCSW Part-time Social Work Faculty. Learn more about Carleen in the Q & A below.

Q: What excites you about being part of higher education?

A: Throughout my life I have been mentored primarily by outstanding African American female educators who encouraged me to advance my education. Later many multi-cultural/ethnic educators expressed similar sentiments that reinforced this message. So now that I am a part of higher education, I get excited thinking about all the special people who made it possible and whose confidence has helped bring me to this point. More importantly, I feel I have an obligation to transfer the same spirit of direction, guidance and nurturing to students regardless of their background and/or circumstances. Making a contribution to the future of persons who are doing their best to succeed and accomplish educational goals is a profound responsibility. As an adult learner I can relate to students on so many different levels especially by demonstrating how theory and practice can be successfully combined. I consider higher learning to be the main pathway to self-determination, independence, career growth and development.

Q: What attracted you to become part of the Union family?

A: There are multiple reasons I became part of the Union family. First, the positive team spirit exhibited by the Social Work administrators’ group who hired me. Then, I was trained on the cutting–edge learning format via CTL and learned to utilize this for development of effective online teaching methods. I really felt it was special and unique to be using a videoconferencing platform such as GoToMeeting to connect with students across the nation. I was particularly impressed by the ability to engage with social service agencies throughout the country. It really helped to have the convenience and supportive location of the Florida Academic Center staff and faculty. Last, but not least, I continue to be impressed by the way students feel free to express enthusiasm, a consistent level of preparedness to work hard and strong commitment to their educational goals which in my opinion is a tribute to the quality of education at Union.

Q: If you could have any job in the whole world, what would it be?

Ideally as a seasoned clinical researcher, I would love to be a Principal Investigator (PI) of a major research study examining various topics such as “The Impact of Stress on Adult Learners and the Family.”

Q: What surprises people about you?

I am a vocalist who throughout my formative years was trained in classical music. After high school I performed with two music groups: The Afro-Asian Music Ensemble (Jazz-recorded 2 albums) and JAMONTRAD. The acronym stood for Jamaica, Monserrat & Trinidad, and we performed R&B, Reggae and Calypso music.

Q: What is your favorite book and why?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. Naturally, given my musical background, the title of the book immediately caught my attention. This book was inspirational and came at a time in my life to help me rise above many challenges. I felt empowered by Maya Angelou’s story especially when faced with obstacles during the early phases of trying to obtain a college education. It continues to be a standard reminder for me of the “need to stay positive and despite difficult experiences to continue to persevere.”


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in the Union Institute & University Social Work Bachelor’s degree program that incorporates social justice advocacy. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

Dr. Timothy William Quinnan President of Richmont Graduate University

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Dr. Timothy William Quinnan

Union Institute & University’s historical commitment to ethical and creative leadership and the insights gained over the past 55 years as a leader in adult learning is the inspiration for the monthly series, Union Leaders.

This month we feature Dr. Timothy William Quinnan, the newly appointed president of Richmont Graduate University. Dr. Quinnan is one of a group of 26 Union alumni who are serving or have served as a college president. Learn more about Dr. Quinnan and his leadership skills in the Q&A below.

Q: How do you define leadership?
A: Leadership is the mindful use of persuasion rather than power to achieve a desired goal.

Q: When did you first feel that you were a leader? What was the experience?
A: It was in my late teens, particularly in athletic or social settings, that I first noticed others gravitating toward me for advice, support, and direction, even when there were other team captains or event coordinators. Back then, I wasn’t comfortable in the role and, in fact, tried to avoid it! Which is why it surprised me that I somehow succeeded in almost every instance that I led. In college, more co-curricular opportunities came my way and I began to embrace them, sensing that leadership might be an innate strength. Moving forward to the start of my career in higher education, I consciously, actively sought out opportunites. It was a recognition that I could never reach my professional goals without experiencing the rewards, challenges, and deep learning that attended leadership.

Q: Share an example of how you’ve put leadership in action.
I have long held that creativity is the soul of leadership, perhaps above all other factors. Consequently, I strive to promote work settings where innovation is prized as a means to enhance staff performance and organizational impact. An example would be the “Next Generation Initiatives” grant program I launched at the University of Texas at Arlington. Annually, we invited staff, faculty, and students to propose utterly new and experimental programs/services to improve student success by providing seed grants to pilot test them. Those demonstrating high impact were soon institutionalized as new, cutting-edge ‘best practices’ in our operations.

Q: What leader do you admire most and why?
A: Oh my, that’s impossible for me to answer. There are too many leaders I admire to choose one. For me, it’s more about the qualities displayed in life-defining moments or major crises and less about the entire resume of that person. That said, I tend to find historical figures the most compelling. Perhaps this stems from my aversion to a flood of contemporary experts who promise instant leadership success if one buys their book or attends their seminars. Maybe I’m an outlier but I still lean toward believing that leadership is more organic and less learned. Also, I’m awed by those who transformed the very nature of the fields they worked in, from politics, to the arts, to business. Only leaders who lift the worlds they inhabit to new and unprecedented heights have truly achieved their full potential.

 Q: What is your favorite inspiring leadership quote?
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility” T.S. Eliot

Too many in positions of leadership forget how long it takes to get there and how easy it is to lose.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. It all starts with You! And is all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to choose the degree program that is right for you.

Union Institute & University Offers an Immediate Solution for Displaced Adult Students

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CINCINNATI, OH – Union Institute & University is a solution for adult students searching for an alternative to continue their degree pathway due to recent closings amongst community education providers. Union can serve as an immediate solution for those students who want to pick-up where they left off in their education path.

Union places value on the student by offering a personal accord that most schools are not able to incorporate into their enrollment process. We believe that students deserve one-on-one attention to find the education path that suits their needs.

Union is here to serve adult learners through the transfer process in the following ways:

  • FREE application – Union’s application process is complimentary, never a charge to apply.
  • Transfer friendly – Union is transfer friendly. For example, up to 90 credit hours for undergraduates, PLUS a free transfer credit review.
  • Personal university – Union is known for its one-to-one attention to students. We have over 400 faculty & staff for our adult learners in ways other universities can’t match.
  • Displacement Scholarship – $100 discount per credit hour up to a maximum of $3,000 on the condition that students maintain continuous enrollment in good standing with UI&U.

Since 1964, Union Institute & University has specialized in adult education by offering busy, highly motivated adults the one-on-one attention that’s so hard to come by in their time-strapped lives. Union places students at the center of their own education. We like to say we are hi-tech and hi-touch.

To learn how Union can assist you in completing your degree, visit or call


About Union Institute & University

Union Institute & University is a non-profit, regionally accredited university specializing in providing quality higher education degrees for adults nationwide. Founded in 1964, Union’s academic programs and services are the result of more than five decades of identifying and refining ways to structure and deliver education to meet the needs of adults. Distinguished as the pioneer in adult education, Union perfected the concepts now common in higher education such as the hybrid model, a blend of online and traditional classroom instruction, interdisciplinary studies, and student centered education with socially relevant and applicable learning outcomes in its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs. The university is guided by its core mission to educate highly motivated adults who seek academic programs to engage, enlighten, and empower them to pursue professional goals and a lifetime of learning, service, and social responsibility.

Union is a national university with four academic centers located in: Ohio, Florida, and California.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University Ph.D. program that incorporates interdisciplinary study to expand your knowledge and expertise. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.

Union Alumna Named One of 2019 Top Women in Business CEOs

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Dr. Patricia Savage, President/CEO Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries

March is Women’s History Month. The month celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting alumna Dr. Patricia Savage who graduated with her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies and a concentration in Organizational Leaership in 2005. As president and CEO of Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries (ALSM), Dr. Savage provides leadership to manage the programs of ALSM, a faith-based, not-for-profit organization that supplies health and human services throughout eight counties in western central Pennsylvania. She was just named one of Pennsylvania Business Central’s 2019 Top Women in Business CEOs. Learn more about Dr. Savage and her views on leadership in the Q&A below.  

Q: How do you define leadership?
A:That’s difficult. The concept is an abstraction. I think leadership is as diverse as the people who are leaders. Something good leaders have in common is that they place the good of their organization, team, unit, culture, society, family —whatever— over benefit to themselves.

Also, they are mission-driven—which is to say that their heads are screwed on right; they don’t get distracted from the vision that inspires their mission. They control themselves.

Q: When did you first feel that you were a leader? What was the experience?
A: It was in school. I was a good student in high school, didn’t that did not seem to be an arena in which I would lead. In college, I began to realize that I was in control of what I was learning. I started producing knowledge, not just absorbing it. I recall one experience when I began to take control of myself and found that my vision could inspire others to share that vision.

Q: Share an example of how you’ve put leadership in action.
A: Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries (ALSM) serves a large number of senior citizens, both those who live independently and those who are in health care centers. As we age, we strive to maintain our cognitive fitness. Although many of our residents participate in activities and do cross word puzzles, word search, and other programs that enable them to maintain their level of cognition, I challenged the enrichment staff to find a research-based program that would increase cognitive fitness. At first, there was some resistance and some doubt about a program like this being of benefit. At a conference that focused on healthy seniors, I found a software-based program and I shared this program with our team. They liked it and reviewed the results of the research, although there was some concern that our residents would be fearful of a computer-based program. After some training of both the staff and the residents, the program was embraced and is being used today. It has been successful on some of our campuses/programs, and others are still in the process of integrating the program. The example of leadership is that I worked with our team who is committed to the quality of care of our residents and challenged them to build on our programs. As a result of education and discussion, a new program was embraced.

Q: What leader do you admire most and why?
Martin Luther. It took great courage to be a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. He was a person of high morals, vision, courage, and persistence, all qualities that I admire.

Q: What is your favorite inspiring leadership quote?
“As a leader, you have to have the ability to assimilate new information and understand that there might be a different view.” – Madeleine Albright

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University Ph.D. program that incorporates interdisciplinary study to expand your knowledge and expertise. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.

Student stars in Clownvets – Premiere is March 7

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Bruce Reges has found that laughter can be the best medicine. The veteran and Ph.D. student suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He recently joined nine other veterans on a trip to Guatemala with Dr. Patch Adams, (yes, the one made famous by Robin Williams). The trip was a pilot program to help veterans by helping others. They dressed as clowns and visited hospitals and orphanages.

The film named Clownvets premieres March 7 in San Jose, California. Click to watch the Clownvets trailer with Dr. Patch Adams

“The experience helped me to get in touch with my emotions again,” said Reges. “In war, it is necessary to shut down to stay alive. You don’t get close to someone because they may be gone tomorrow.”

Reges is no stranger to performing. “My mother was a teacher and used puppets to reach children.  I helped her with the shows. In high school, I did a stint with Bozo the Clown on television in my hometown of Grand Rapids.”

While serving in the United States Army in Iraq, he used puppets to bridge a gap between the children and soldiers. “The kids were frightened. The puppets allowed the children to see us as people. In the end, the puppets helped the children open up and let us know where bombs were hidden. The puppets saved lives. That is how Peace Through Puppets started.”

Currently a Ph.D. student in Educational Studies, he was encouraged to enroll at Union by his VA doctor and master’s degree advisor, both of whom graduated from Union.

His dissertation/committee chair Dr. Beryl Watnick, has encouraged him every step of the way. “Bruce entered his Ph.D. program with some trepidation about whether he was up to the challenge of such a rigorous and scholarly journey,” says Dr. Watnick.  “Over the semesters, I have witnessed his growth as a doctoral student as well as his desire to contribute to scholarly conversations on the state of our current educational system. Bruce’s military service, along with his work as an innovative educator, deepen his passion for his continued evolution as an educational leader and scholar.”

Reges hopes to make a positive impact in education. “I hope I can be a force for social justice and more male involvement in elementary school instruction. Too many times, I have worked in elementary schools where I was literally the only male there on a consistent basis. Everyone including the support staff were all females. I feel a balance is needed of positive male influence.”

Even though there is not a cure for PTSD, Reges is hopeful. He has a daughter he loves spending time with, continues to spread joy through Peace Through Puppets, and looks forward to receiving his Ph.D. “Laughter may not be a panacea, but it sure can’t hurt.”

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University Ph.D. program that incorporates interdisciplinary study to expand your knowledge and expertise. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click below to learn more.