Merrimack College Welcomes New Faculty for 2022

Twenty-four scholars representing a wide range of disciplines and specialties joined Merrimack’s faculty ranks for the start of the 2022-23 academic year.
View of the church steeple.
Merrimack is thrilled to introduce 24 new faculty members to campus where they’ll bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the College.

Meet the newest members of the Merrimack faculty. These new faculty join a community of scholars whose rigorous studies, innovative research and collaborative teaching are vital to the College’s mission. Through a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, Merrimack faculty make significant contributions to society and are sought-after authorities in their fields.

Adam Aakil, Ph.D.

Adam Aakil, Ph.D.
Assistant Instructional Professor, Computer & Data Sciences
  • Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering Imaging, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • M.S., Biomedical Imaging, Boston University School of Medicine
  • B.S., Computer Science, University of Massachusetts (Boston)

Adam Aakil, Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and clinical innovator, is empowering independence and inspiring the next generation of scientific research. He is a highly acclaimed strategist for neuroimaging abnormalities, liver metabolism, breast and prostate  cancer. He also has extensive experience in clinical research of human and animal data targeting microvasculature disorder in the brain structures using a deep learning algorithm programmed in MATLAB for quantitative magnetic resonance imaging perfusion (MRP). He has served as a Research Associate at Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine, and acted as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute.

Mark Adelung, Ph.D., RN

Mark Adelung, Ph.D., RN
Associate Clinical Professor, Nursing
  • Ph.D., Nursing Educational Leadership, Kean University
  • M.S.N., Clinical Administration, Kean University

Mark Adelung comes to Merrimack College with 12 years of clinical nursing experience in the areas of emergency and community/public health nursing. He began his academic career in 2013 and transitioned to full-time faculty in 2015 at Stockton University, where he was an Associate Professor of Nursing before moving to Massachusetts in 2021. His current research interests include clinical education, interprofessional education, and diversity/equity/inclusion. He has published and presented nationally and internationally on the topics of clinical and interprofessional education; and his most recent research is focused on nursing students’ perception of racism in health care. He has taught courses in critical care nursing, community/public health nursing, nursing leadership, research, and nutrition. Mark has also served as a committee member of the Doctor of Nursing Practice project.

John D. Colautti, Ad.D

John D. Colautti, Ad.D
Lecturer, Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Ph.D. Candidate, Criminology and Justice Studies - Terrorism and Security Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • C.A.S, Forensic Science, University of New Haven
  • M.P.A, Public Administration, University of New Haven
  • B.S, Justice & Law Administration, Western Connecticut State University

John D. Colautti has over 30 years of law enforcement, probation and private security experience. He retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons with over 25 years of service, holding various roles of increasing responsibility. He was involved in the management of several high-profile cases, which included Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He served on several different local and national crisis response teams, with over 20 years of crisis negotiation experience. He is also an instructor for Crisis Systems Management, LLC.

Deanna Malvesti Danforth, Ph.D.

Deanna Malvesti Danforth, Ph.D.
Post Doctoral Fellow, Honors Program
  • Ph.D., English, Boston College
  • M.A., English, San Francisco State University
  • B.A., English, University of California, Berkeley

Deanna Danforth’s current teaching and research interests focus on food. In her first-year writing course entitled “Doing Food Justice,” she invites students to explore how food can inform our understandings of race, class, gender, morality, politics, and a variety of cultures. Through service and experiential learning projects and in writing assignments, she asks students to engage with pressing concerns in creative, meaningful, and effective ways. Danforth is not only interested in food in a contemporary context. Using her training as an early modernist, she is presently completing a digital, annotated edition of a seventeenth-century satirical cookbook about Oliver Cromwell’s wife.

Mary Lynn Davis-Ajami, Ph.D.

Mary Lynn Davis-Ajami, Ph.D.
Professor & Department Chair, Nursing
  • Ph.D., Health Service/Health Outcome Research, The Ohio State University
  • M.B.A., Business Administration, Wake Forest University
  • M.S., Family Nurse Practitioner, University of Southern Indiana

Mary Lynn Davis-Ajami, RN, FNP, is a health services researcher focusing on Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) in chronic conditions and their comorbidities. Her refereed works have appeared in the American Journal of Managed Care, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Headache, and Value in Health. She holds awards from Indiana University, the Novant Health System, North Carolina, and the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR). She served on executive committees directing the planning and building of the Indiana University – IU Health collaborative multimillion-dollar Regional Academic Health Center. Currently, she serves on AcademyHealth’s Workforce Interest Group Advisory Committee, and holds membership in several international and national organizations.

Virginia Durnford, Ph.D.

Virginia Durnford, Ed.D. Lecturer, Applied Human Development and Community Studies
  • Ed.D., Teacher Education and School Improvement, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • M.S.W, Boston University
  • M.A., Special Education, University of Connecticut
  • B.A., Psychology, Trinity College
Dr. Durnford’s research interests center around PTSD and the increased risk for learning difficulties. She has used resiliency training with youth and young adults to help them decrease stress and anxiety and improve their quality of life. Her experiences teaching in special education settings and counseling in high-needs schools informs her practice. As the Director of School Counseling at Virginia’s previous college, she had the opportunity to create and teach courses, supervise student counselors in the field, and develop relationships with a variety of schools and community service centers.

Inyene Essien-Aleksi, Ph.D., AGNP, RN

Inyene Essien-Aleksi, Ph.D., AGNP, RN
Assistant Professor, Nursing
  • Ph.D., Health Promotion/Nursing, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • M.S.N., Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Northeastern University
  • B.S.N., Nursing, Northeastern University
  • B.A., Biology, Providence College

Inyene Essien-Aleksi has a Master’s in Nursing from Northeastern University and a Ph.D. in Health Promotion/Nursing from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her dissertation focused on sociocultural factors associated with persistent prescription opioid use among Puerto Rican adults. Inyene’s research interest is on causal mechanism driving opioid overdose deaths and disparities in treatment access for opioid use disorder among underserved populations. Inyene has taught didactic courses for master’s level advanced practice students and provided clinical preceptorships and mentorship for graduate nursing students. She has extensive years of clinical experience as a Nurse Practitioner in Hospitalist Medicine, acute care, and primary care medicine.

Jill Flanagan, M.A.

Jill Flanagan, M.A.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Communication and Media
  • M.A., Public Relations, Rowan University
  • B.A., Communication, La Salle University

Jill is a strategic communication expert and professor. Throughout her 30-year career, Jill has looked for ways to use her talents in service of others. From her university teaching to her work with non-profits to freelance projects that supported local artists, she has consistently sought out opportunities that enhance lives. For 14 years, Jill taught public relations at Villanova University. Recognizing the changing landscape of higher education and student needs, Jill was one of the first in her department to teach courses online at both the undergraduate and graduate level. While at Villanova, she was also selected to run the prestigious Rome Internships program. Before joining the university, Jill served as the Associate Director of Communication at the American Heart Association specializing in media relations.

Cheng Her, Ph.D.

Cheng Her, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Biology
  • Ph.D., Biochemistry, University of New Hampshire
  • B.A., Chemistry and Biology, Assumption College

Cheng Her was recently hired as a lecturer in the department of Biology at Merrimack College. His experience is as diverse as his love of food. Having done biophysics in graduate school, pharmaceutical sciences in one postdoc and Immunology in another, he is constantly looking to build on his interests regardless of his lack of previous experience. His teaching philosophy is based on his own experience as an undergraduate student. A one size fits all teaching method does not work as many students do not have the same quality of high school education (unlike kitten mittens), are first-generation students and thus do not have the experience of their parents to better navigate college or may have skills that traditional testing overlooks and undervalues. His research interests are in the stability, characterization and immune responses of drug product formulations.

Lisa Houh, M.S.

Lisa Houh, M.S.
Assistant Instructional Professor, Mathematics
  • M.S., Mechanical Engineering, Tufts University
  • B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Before joining Merrimack College, Lisa worked as a tutor and adjunct Math Instructor at Middlesex Community College. While she taught courses in a lecture-based setting, Lisa also worked in a self-placed studies math program for much of her time at Middlesex Community College. Here, she was afforded the opportunity to teach in a less traditional way and to help with curriculum development. The one-on-one instruction also allowed her to make more of a connection with the individual student. She also served as math tutor for the TRiO Student Success Program working with First Generation students. Prior to teaching, Lisa was a Senior Mechanical Engineer at the Polaroid Corporation using Finite Element Modeling to analyze the structural components in various imaging products.

Kelly E. Keough, M.F.A.

Kelly E. Keough, M.F.A.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Media and Studio Coordination
  • M.F.A. American Film Institute
  • B.S., Leisure Management and Tourism Program Administration, University of New Hampshire

Kelly E. Keough is a bestselling self-help author on In addition, she’s an award-winning podcast producer, published cookbook author, and reality TV series creator, writer, and host. Her multidisciplinary teaching background includes media communication, First Year Writing, TV and film production, screenwriting, and arts entrepreneurship. Kelly studies and creates narrative stories in print and digital across publishing platforms to impact society positively. She looks at sources of conflict within the universal human condition that appeal to a global audience. As an instructor, she wants to empower her media students in the discovery of voice and believes young people can transform their future careers by strategically building their communications skills.

Jonathan Kessler, LICSW, S.A.C.

Jonathan Kessler, LICSW, S.A.C.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Social Work
  • M.S.W., Simmons College School of Social Work
  • B.A., Psychology and English Literature, Denison University

Jonathan P. Kessler, LICSW, is a clinical social worker with over 30 years of experience. He has provided clinical services in a variety of settings, including criminal justice work, in and out, patient treatment, addictions and trauma. He is the former Clinical Director of Camp Amesbury, a residential facility for incarcerated adolescent women and, for the last seven years, has been the lead social worker for North Shore Educational Consortium’s Transitions Program working with young adults on the autism spectrum. He has advanced clinical skill training in hypnosis, trauma, motivational interviewing as well as individual, group and family therapy. He has been teaching at Salem State University, School of Social Work for the last eight years.

JoAnn Kilpatrick, Ed.D

JoAnn Kilpatrick, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Director of Online Education Programs
  • Ed.D., Boston University, Administration, Training, and Policy
  • M.A.T., Secondary Education, Simmons College,
  • B.A., English, University of Vermont;

JoAnn Kilpatrick is an education entrepreneur with experience in K-12 teaching and school leadership, higher education teaching, building online university partnerships and programs scaling to $30m in revenue, and advising education technology startups and non-profits. She studies the parent education choice movement, including ways to best support innovation and emerging education models. Her doctoral research focused on students’ access to global learning opportunities in Massachusetts. JoAnn has taught as an adjunct in the Master’s and Ph.D. programs at Simmons University.

Christian Kronsted, Ph.D.

Christian Kronsted, Ph.D.
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Honors - Philosophy
  • Ph.D., Philosophy, The University of Memphis
  • M.A., Humanities, The University of Chicago
  • B.A., Philosophy and Political Science, Marymount Manhattan College

Christian Kronsted has an MA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from The University of Memphis in philosophy and cognitive science. Christian is also the artistic director for the artist collective Stylin Out Network (Chicago), and is a long-time champion competitive breakdancer. Mixing his interests in embodied cognition and dance, Christian’s current research investigates group agency in large improvising crowds (dance floors, protests, festivals, concerts, crowds of pedestrians, and the medieval dancing plague!). While much of his research focuses on embodied cognition, Christian has also published papers on general artificial intelligence and political deception.

Sara Lafkas, Ed.D., LICSW

Sara Lafkas, Ed.D., LICSW
Assistant Professor of Practice, Social Work
  • Ed.D., Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • M.S.W., University of Washington
  • B.A., Psychology, with a Specialization in Education, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Dr. Lafkas began her career working as an elementary school teacher in South Los Angeles. After receiving her MSW, she was a social worker in Child Protective Services in Northern California. Some of her additional professional experiences include working as a psychotherapist in private practice and at college counseling and community mental health service centers. Dr. Lafkas has also previously served as a social work faculty member and as an instructor for graduate-level counseling courses. Dr. Lafkas’ dissertation focused on Latter-Saint (Mormon) Women who experienced parental divorce. She has also presented and written on many other topics, including self-compassion practice. Some of her recent research has focused on women’s perceptions of self-compassion.

Paulo Lemelle Fernandes, Ph.D.

Paulo Lemelle Fernandes, Ph.D.
Professor of Practice,
Program Director, Computer Science
  • Ph.D., Computer Science, Grenoble INP - UGA
  • M.S., Computer Science, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
  • B.S., Computer Science, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul

Paulo Lemelle Fernandes is a researcher and Professor in Computer Science with a wide range of knowledge and experience, including teaching, mentoring and coordinating research projects and groups both in Academia and with Industrial partners, mostly congregating interdisciplinary teams. He has experience with consulting, mostly related to natural language processing, data mining, and information retrieval. Paulo is an author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and principal advisor for more than 80 postdoc researchers, Ph.D., M.Sc. and B.Sc. students, and has considerable experience in academic administration and evaluation, with large international experience.

Sharon Milne, Ph.D.

Sharon Milne, Ph.D.
Associate Clinical Professor, Nursing
  • Ph.D., Nursing, Endicott College
  • M.S., Nursing Education, Salem State University
  • M.A., Criminal Justice, Anna Maria College
  • B.A., Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Sharon’s area of research focuses on the reduction in the use of restraint and seclusion when appropriate and/or alternatives to the use of four-point restraints in emergency situations. She has also researched the concept of moral distress within the psychiatric nursing profession. She has also worked in the electroconvulsive/trans-magnetic simulation clinical as well. Sharon has also spent over 10 years working as a clinical instructor on various psychiatric units in various hospitals in Massachusetts. Sharon’s research interests include: Restraint and Seclusion, Psychotic Disorders, Substance Use/Abuse Disorders, Moral Distress in Nurses, De-institutionalization: Incarcerated Mentally Ill Individuals and Mental Illness and Homelessness.

Jared R. Peterson, P.E., MSCE, ’17

Jared R. Peterson, P.E., MSCE, ’17
Assistant Professor of Practice, Laboratory Instruction, Civil Engineering
  • M.S., Civil Engineering, Merrimack College
  • B.S., Civil Engineering, Merrimack College

After graduating from Merrimack College, Jared spent five years in industry, where he focused on structural and geotechnical engineering within the public transportation sector. As a licensed Professional Engineer, Jared has had the opportunity to be a contributing member on several teams and projects throughout New England. He has been an active alumni member to the Civil Engineering Department, and a mentor to the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) on campus. Most notably, he serves as a mentor for the ASCE/AISC Student Steel Bridge Competition. Jared’s continued engagement with alumni and students coupled with a deep understanding of the department’s curriculum offers the perfect opportunity for him to share his passion for teaching and inspiring new engineers.

Deanna Pomfret, M.S., ’18

Deanna Pomfret, M.S., ’18
Lecturer, Nutrition and Public Health
  • M.S., Health and Wellness Management, Merrimack College
  • B.A., Modern Languages Russian and French, Northeastern University

Deanna Pomfret has taught as an adjunct lecturer at Merrimack College since 2019 for the School of Health Sciences. Deanna’s area of expertise is health education with a primary focus on food and nutrition, physical activity, public health and promotion. Deanna focuses her time teaching and volunteering in the local sports and medical communities. Deanna shares her enthusiasm for the courses she teaches with her students and she enjoys helping them gain experience beyond the classroom. Before becoming a teacher Deanna created Athletic Pursuits LLC a company that promoted endurance sports and the great outdoors.

Nicholas SantaBarbara, Ph.D.

Nicholas SantaBarbara, Ph.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor & Graduate Program Director, Health Sciences
  • Ph.D., Kinesiology, Columbia University in the City of New York
  • M.S., Strength and Conditioning, Bridgewater State University
  • B.A, Communications, Stonehill College

Nicholas’ primary research interests are broadly focused on the use of exercise for the treatment and prevention of chronic disease. Much of his work to date has included marginalized, hard-to-reach and often stigmatized populations such as substance users, those with mental illness, and people living with HIV. Some of his more recent work has also focused on developing scalable and sustainable workplace wellness programs that combine regular exercise and nutrition education to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and increase worker productivity.

Roberto Santos, Ph.D.

Roberto Santos, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Program Director, Management
  • Ph.D., Business Administration, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • M.S., Technology Commercialization, Northeastern University
  • B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Roberto Santos started his career as an engineer, but found his calling in academia. As a business professor, he draws upon over 20 years of experience in R&D, new product development, and technology commercialization to bring a different perspective to the classroom and his research. Prior to joining Merrimack College, he worked as an educator, business consultant, and mechanical engineer and holds 22 U.S. patents. His research interests lie at the intersection of three domains: technological innovation, venture financing, and global strategy.

Melissa St. Hilaire, Ph.D.

Melissa St. Hilaire, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Data Science and Analytics
  • Ph.D., Cognitive and Neural Systems, Boston University
  • M.S., Bioinformatics, Northeastern University
  • B.S., Mathematical Sciences, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Dr. St. Hilaire joins Merrimack College as full-time faculty in the Department of Computer and Data Sciences. She previously held a faculty position at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where her research has focused on applying experimental and computational approaches to explore the impact of insufficient sleep and circadian disruption on health, safety, and performance. She has two active NIH grants, one of which focuses on examining the interaction between the menstrual cycle and sleep-wake patterns on neurocognitive function and another that focuses on using predictive analytic and machine learning approaches to assess circadian rhythms in large-scale biomarker data.

Vanessa Vath, Ph.D.

Vanessa Vath, Ph.D.
Associate Clinical Professor, Nursing
  • Ph.D., Northeastern University
  • M.S.N, Northeastern University
  • B.S.N, Northeastern University

Grounded in significant experience in the adult acute care setting, Vanessa Vath has been a nurse educator for over 10 years in the clinical, classroom and laboratory settings working with a diverse population of students in a variety of degree programs including associate, bachelor, and accelerated tracks. Here, she developed a passion for wellness among college students which fueled her dissertation work focused on internal resiliency factors and environmental context in psychological well-being among freshmen. She has experience teaching a range of courses throughout the nursing curriculum including introductory through capstone courses and enjoys observing and being a part of students’ progression from novice to expert.

Katherine Willard, Ed.S.

Katherine Willard, Ed.S.
Assistant Professor of Practice, Social Work
  • Ed.S., Bridgewater State University
  • M.S.W, Specialization in Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Simmons College
  • B.A., Psychology, Children Development & Family Relations, East Carolina University

Katie is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with expansive knowledge in supporting children, adolescents and families. Most recently, Katie served as the Assistant Director of School Counseling to a local urban school district, where she was tasked with overseeing all social-emotional learning initiatives for the district, providing supervision to all mental health clinicians, guidance counselors and social workers and leading all mental wellness initiatives for the district. Most notably, she was able to connect the district with the Early College Program. Katie also has experience as a School Adjustment Counselor, an Outpatient Counselor, Day Treatment facilities and residential programs.