News Archives: Academic Affairs

HPU’s Dr. Celeste Church named accreditation liaison

Dr. Celeste Church 2.13.18 1BROWNWOOD – February 13, 2018 – Dr. Bill Ellis, Howard Payne University president, has appointed Dr. Celeste Church as the university’s accreditation liaison to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Dr. Church additionally serves the university as dean of institutional research and effectiveness and professor of music.

HPU has been accredited by the Commission on Colleges since 1948. The president of each member institution designates one person to be the organization’s official conduit for all correspondence with the Commission.

“Serving in her role as dean of institutional research and effectiveness, Dr. Church was a natural and obvious choice,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, HPU’s provost and chief academic officer. “With her engagement in assisting all areas of the university in making improvements based upon assessment data, Dr. Church is already very knowledgeable of the accreditation process.”

The accreditation procedure includes the thorough examination of all aspects of university operation including administrative processes, academic programs, student life, library services and physical and financial resources.

Dr. Church assumes the role of accreditation liaison following the retirement of Dr. Robert Bicknell, who served in that position since 2000, at the close of the fall 2017 semester. She and Dr. Bicknell are preparing the university to receive its SACSCOC visiting committee in April.

Dr. Church joined HPU’s faculty in 2004 and holds the Master of Church Music degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Texas Tech University. Her husband, Dr. Gregory Church, serves as professor of music at HPU.

“I look forward to stepping into this role and am thankful for Dr. Bicknell’s guidance and forethought,” she said.


Cutline: Dr. Celeste Church has been named HPU’s accreditation liaison to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Dr. Robert Bicknell retires from HPU, named first Provost Emeritus

Tew, Bicknell and Ellis at Commencement for webBROWNWOOD – December 15, 2017 – Dr. Robert Bicknell, who has served at Howard Payne University for almost 30 years, retired from his role as accreditation liaison at the close of the fall 2017 semester after stepping down from his concurrent role as dean of extended education in May. In appreciation of Dr. Bicknell’s faithful service to the university, Dr. Bill Ellis, HPU president, named Dr. Bicknell HPU’s first Provost Emeritus.

Dr. Bicknell began his career at HPU in 1989 as vice president of academic affairs before being named provost. He has since served the university in a variety of administrative and academic roles. Prior to coming to HPU, Dr. Bicknell served at Enterprise State Junior College, Wayland Baptist University and Southwest Baptist University.

As accreditation liaison to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Dr. Bicknell has successfully shepherded HPU through three decennial reaffirmations, numerous substantive change proposals and countless period reports and has served on 24 SACSCOC visiting and off-site committees, many of these as committee chair. He is a sought-after speaker regarding the subject of regional, peer-reviewed accreditation and is frequently enlisted as consultant to institutions beginning the reaffirmation process.

Dr. Bicknell also led the university in the innovation of distance learning, including the development of curriculum and the initiation of HPU’s extension centers in El Paso and New Braunfels.

He is active in the community and has served as an officer of the Brownwood Rotary Club, the Brownwood Economic Development Corporation, the Brownwood Regional Medical Center Institutional Review Board, the Brownwood Technology Board and the West Texas Telecommunications Consortium.

Dr. Ellis informed Dr. Bicknell of his Provost Emeritus designation in a recent letter thanking the retiree for his many years of dedicated leadership.

“Your service to Howard Payne and your commitment to the cause of Christian higher education deserve nothing less,” Dr. Ellis wrote.

Dr. W. Mark Tew, HPU’s provost and chief academic officer, commended Dr. Bicknell on his leadership and said his presence at HPU will be missed.

“Dr. Bicknell approached his time at HPU not only as his career but as his calling,” Dr. Tew said. “We’re appreciative of his dedication to the university and wish him all the best in the years to come.”


Cutline: A Resolution of Appreciation honoring Dr. Robert Bicknell was read during HPU’s fall 2017 Commencement ceremony. Left to right: Dr. W. Mark Tew, Dr. Bicknell and Dr. Bill Ellis.

HPU names six faculty promotions

Faculty Promotions Fall 17BROWNWOOD – September 19, 2017 – Howard Payne University announced the promotion of six faculty members at the beginning of the fall 2017 semester. Receiving promotions are Dr. Celeste Church, Dr. Gregory Church, Dr. Kevin Kelley, Dr. Paul Lilly, Dr. José Romero and Dr. Rusty Wheelington.

“We’re proud to acknowledge the accomplishments of these individuals,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, HPU’s provost and chief academic officer. “The promotions granted are indicative of their hard work and faithful service to the university.”

Dr. Celeste Church, HPU faculty member since 2005 and formerly associate professor of music, was named professor of music. She additionally retains the title of dean of institutional research and effectiveness.

Dr. Gregory Church, formerly associate professor of music, has been named professor of music. He joined HPU’s faculty in 2004.

Dr. Kevin Kelley, who joined the HPU faculty in 2013, was named associate professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology and Family Studies. He was formerly assistant professor of organizational psychology and business.

Dr. Paul Lilly, formerly assistant professor of criminal justice, was named associate professor of criminal justice. He joined HPU’s faculty in 2011 and also served as director of HPU’s Department of Public Safety from 2011 to 2017.

Dr. José Romero, previously associate professor of mathematics, was named professor of mathematics. He joined HPU’s faculty in 1996 and additionally serves as chair of the Department of Mathematics.

Dr. Rusty Wheelington, who joined the HPU faculty in 2006, was named professor of Christian studies. Dr. Wheelington formerly served as associate professor of Christian studies.


Cutline: Six HPU faculty members were promoted at the beginning of the fall 2017 semester. Left to right: Dr. José Romero, Dr. Rusty Wheelington, Dr. Gregory Church, Dr. Celeste Church and Dr. Paul Lilly. Not pictured is Dr. Kevin Kelley.

Dr. Nina Ouimette named HPU dean of nursing

Dr. Nina OuimetteBROWNWOOD – August 17, 2017 – Having served as a teacher and administrator in faith-based educational systems for almost 20 years, Dr. Nina Ouimette, Howard Payne University’s new dean of the School of Nursing, recognizes the importance of holistic nursing care.

“This means providing for the whole person – physically, mentally and spiritually,” she said.

Dr. Ouimette joined HPU’s faculty this summer after serving 17 years with Abilene’s Patty Hanks Shelton School of Nursing, most recently as dean and professor of nursing with tenure. She has additionally worked at hospitals and health care systems in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Her career experience and fields of specialization are broad, ranging from women’s and children’s health to nursing informatics. Dr. Ouimette holds a Doctor of Education degree in instructional technology from Texas Tech University. Her dissertation, which focused on developing and implementing online nurse education, was titled “Community of Inquiry as a Foundation for Academic Success: A Study of Social, Teaching and Cognitive Presence in Undergraduate Nursing Hybrid Courses.” Additionally, she earned a Master of Science in Nursing degree from Hardin-Simmons University; a Master of Science degree in child development and family relations from East Carolina University; and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from George Mason University.

As a nursing school administrator, Dr. Ouimette has experience in matters of program and curriculum development, recruitment, regulation and accreditation. At HPU, she will lead the university’s efforts in making application to the Texas Board of Nursing to offer a pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

Dr. Ouimette has numerous publications to her credit and her professional memberships include the Texas Nurses Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Informatics Association, the National League for Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

Dr. W. Mark Tew, HPU’s provost and chief academic officer, said the university is pleased that Dr. Ouimette has joined the faculty.

“Dr. Ouimette has extensive experience in the areas of administration, education and nursing,” he said. “We look forward to seeing HPU’s School of Nursing advance under her leadership.”

Dr. Ouimette said she feels called by God to the nursing profession and to the education of nurses.

“I believe the nursing profession provides a platform of spreading the word of God to others while also promoting healthy living,” she said. “We try to follow the example of what Jesus did Himself – teaching, preaching and healing.”


Cutline: Dr. Nina Ouimette has joined HPU’s faculty as dean of the School of Nursing.

Statement from Dr. Bill Ellis, HPU president, on recent accreditation action

On June 21, 2017, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) placed HPU on Warning status for 12 months, based on concerns arising from HPU’s efforts to launch a pre-licensure nursing program. While we take the SACSCOC action seriously, recent media reports have generated some concern, and I am taking this opportunity to share more details and address specific issues.

What is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges?
SACSCOC is one of six regional accrediting bodies in the United States. These organizations accredit the entire operation of colleges and universities, not individual majors or academic programs within colleges or universities. Membership in SACSCOC is voluntary and compliance with all regulations is verified through a peer-review process. The Board of Trustees of SACSCOC is comprised predominantly of college and university presidents. Howard Payne University was first accredited by SACSCOC on January 1, 1948, and has remained so ever since, with most recent reaffirmation of accreditation in December 2014.

How close is HPU to losing accreditation?
We are confident that we will be able to maintain our accreditation and are taking the necessary steps to ensure our standing with SACSCOC. Although any of the regional accrediting bodies may remove an institution from its membership at any time for serious noncompliance with the accreditor’s rules and regulations, the normal process by which SACSCOC would remove an institution from membership would be following a monitoring period of 12, 24 or even 36 months. During such time, an institution could be on Warning, Probation or Continued for Good Cause. Following a review of the post-licensure nursing program in September 2016, during its regular board meeting in June 2017 SACSCOC placed HPU on Warning for 12 months and requested the university clarify specific issues that occurred during the recent attempt to introduce a pre-licensure nursing program.

SACSCOC’s Public Disclosure Statement regarding HPU is available at

Information about SACSCOC’s Sanction Policy is available at

What is the status of students’ accumulated coursework?
Howard Payne University is accredited by SACSCOC to award degrees at the associate, baccalaureate and master levels. Accordingly, all academic credit earned is recognized as having this status.

What does this mean for our new and returning students moving forward?
HPU remains accredited. Classes will commence on August 21 as planned.

What are the next steps?
HPU has already begun addressing the concerns of SACSCOC. A thorough narrative will be drafted that includes evidence that documents the university’s assertion of ongoing compliance. This report will be forwarded to a visiting committee that will review the specific nursing issues stated in SACSCOC’s notification letter on-site prior to April 2018.

What are the future plans for HPU’s nursing program?
HPU has employed a new dean of nursing who is preparing a new proposal to the Texas Board of Nursing (TBON) for a pre-licensure nursing program. The university looks forward to meeting all the requirements of the TBON in this process.

Integrity and rigorous academic standards have been hallmarks of HPU’s identity since its founding in 1889 and will continue to be as the university moves forward. Recognition of HPU’s academic credibility is vital to the health of our institution, and we remain committed as always to ensuring the university’s good standing. We will continue to cooperate fully with SACSCOC and I am confident we will address the organization’s concerns well before the April site visit.

Thank you for your continued commitment to Howard Payne University. I join with you in looking forward to a positive, healthy 2017-2018 academic year and beyond.

Dr. Bill Ellis

(Posted July 27, 2017; updated July 28, 2017)

HPU awards honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to El Paso’s Richard W. Nassar

Dr Richard Nassar for webBROWNWOOD – February 25, 2016 – Howard Payne University recently granted its highest honor, the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, to Richard W. Nassar of El Paso. Dr. Nassar was awarded the degree during the university’s fall Commencement ceremony in December.

Dr. Nassar was born in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States in 1975. He is an active member and ordained deacon of El Paso’s First Baptist Church. Dr. David Lowrie, senior pastor of the church and former member of HPU’s Board of Trustees, wrote a letter to Dr. Bill Ellis, university president, recommending Dr. Nassar for this honor.

“As a Christian businessman he looked for ways to use his professional and personal influence to advance the cause of the Christ in the world, especially in El Paso,” wrote Dr. Lowrie. “He helped many people escape the dangers of persecution by sponsoring them for citizenship.”

Upon his retirement, Dr. Nassar focused his efforts on establishing a dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews, Dr. Lowrie continued in his letter of recommendation.

“In 2013, he helped the church launch the Middle Eastern Studies Ministry which has created a safe place for people of different Middle Eastern faiths to dialogue and seek greater understanding,” wrote Dr. Lowrie. “All the while, Mr. Nassar’s focus has been on presenting the claims of Christ by his words and example. His influence in the Middle Eastern community of El Paso is vast and very significant. I believe Mr. Nassar is the kind of man of courage and peace who offers hope in our world that we can find peaceful ways to live together.”

Dr. Nassar is an author and poet and recently finished a book of Arabic poetry. The collection is scheduled to be published in Lebanon in 2016.

“HPU was delighted to present its honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to Dr. Nassar, a man who has made the pursuit of peace among nations and the cause of Christ his lifelong mission,” said Dr. Ellis. “We commend the work he has done in El Paso and around the world and join him in prayer for a more peaceful world.”


Photo cutline: Upon receiving the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, Dr. Richard Nassar addressed the crowd at HPU’s fall Commencement ceremony.

HPU’s Dr. Evelyn Romig named Distinguished Professor of Literature

BROWNWOOD – September 10, 2015 – After 34 years of extraordinary service to Howard Payne University, Dr. Evelyn Romig has accepted the position of HPU’s first Distinguished Professor of Literature.

Dr. Romig has served the university faculty as head of the Department of English, dean of the School of Humanities, president of the Faculty Assembly and, since 1988, as full professor of English.

“When Dr. Romig expressed the desire to reduce her teaching load or possibly retire, we discussed the opportunity for her to serve in a new role,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, university provost and chief academic officer. “Known for her innovations in classroom teaching, Dr. Romig is again assisting the university to pioneer new avenues of educational excellence.”

As the university’s first Distinguished Professor of Literature, Dr. Romig will continue to teach on a limited basis, providing the same exemplary experience for which she is known.

“I can’t think of a teacher who better balances commitment to her subject matter with commitment to her students,” said Dr. Millard Kimery, professor of English and chair of the Department of English. “The English department is lucky to have more time to learn from her example.”

Dr. Romig is the recipient of numerous Excellence in Teaching Awards at HPU and the Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year Award in 1991. She is published by Salem Press and in scholarly publications such as Dickens Quarterly and Literature and Psychology. She earned a Master of Arts degree from Texas A&M University and Doctor of Philosophy degree from Rice University.

Dr. Romig has been very engaged in the community, serving as a leader at the United Methodist Church, as member of the American Association of University Women and with the Pecan Valley Arts Festival. She served for 12 years with the Brownwood Independent School District Board of Trustees, including a term as its president.

“I am excited for our students and the university that Dr. Romig will remain on the faculty through which she has served the Brownwood community so faithfully,” said Dr. Tew.


Photo cutline: Dr. Evelyn Romig was recently named HPU’s first Distinguished Professor of Literature.

Dr. Daresa Voss named interim dean of HPU’s School of Education

Daresa Voss for webBROWNWOOD – September 8, 2015 – Dr. Daresa Voss, professor of education at Howard Payne University, was recently named interim dean of the university’s School of Education.

Dr. Voss joined HPU’s faculty in 2003 following 14 years of service elsewhere in Christian higher education at Wayland Baptist University and William Jewell College. She holds Master of Education and Doctor of Education degrees from Texas Tech University.

With numerous publications and presentations to her credit, Dr. Voss also is certified in Bilingual Elementary Certification, Elementary Teacher Certification and Kindergarten Endorsement.

Dr. Voss earned the Excellence in Teaching Award at HPU in 2009 and was named the Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year for the 2010-2011 academic year.

“I am looking forward to Dr. Voss joining the efforts of the Deans Council and anticipate her rendering exceptional leadership,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, provost and chief academic officer.


Photo cutline: Dr. Daresa Voss, professor of education at HPU, was recently named interim dean of the university’s School of Education.

Four join HPU faculty

new faculty fall 2015 for webBROWNWOOD – September 4, 2015 – Howard Payne University started the fall 2015 semester with four new faculty members. Joining HPU were Dr. James Finch, professor of business administration; Rafael Franco-Cuevas, instructor of Spanish; Leslie Greaves, instructor of nursing; and Dr. Derek Smith, associate professor of chemistry.

“We’re pleased to welcome these four additions to the university’s extraordinary faculty,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, provost and chief academic officer.

Dr. James Finch received his Bachelor of Science degree from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1980; his Master of Business Administration degree from The Ohio State University in 1984; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree, also from The Ohio State University, in 1987. His past experience includes serving in a variety of positions, most recently professor of business administration, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Rafael Franco-Cuevas received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California in 1981 and his Master of Arts degree from California State University in 1993. Previous experience includes various positions related to the Spanish language and Hispanic literature and culture. He also served as Spanish instructor for both Pima Community College District and The University of Arizona South.

Leslie Greaves received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2000 and her Master of Science in Nursing degree in 2013 from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Her past experience includes serving in a variety of positions at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, such as patient safety officer and patient safety services supervisor, education supervisor, clinical educator/training center coordinator and staff registered nurse. She has also taught various nursing courses since 2005.

Dr. Derek Smith received his Bachelor of Science degree from Angelo State University in 1991; his Master of Science degree from The University of Texas at Dallas in 1994; and his Doctor of Chemistry degree, also from UT Dallas, in 1996. Dr. Smith previously taught at HPU from 2007 to 2011. Other past experience includes serving as scientist at Hydrozonix and as a teaching assistant at UT Dallas.


Photo cutline: Four joined the HPU faculty during the fall 2015 semester. Left to right: Leslie Greaves, Dr. Derek Smith, Rafael Franco-Cuevas and Dr. James Finch.

Deans among new faculty at HPU

BROWNWOOD – September 23, 2014 – Two deans are among the nine new Howard Payne University faculty members this semester. Dr. Richard Fiese serves as dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts and professor of music, while Alexia Riggs joins HPU as dean of libraries and associate professor of library science.

Richard Fiese for webDr. Fiese most recently served as professor in music education at Houston Baptist University from 2000 to 2014. Additionally, he has served as associate professor of music education at the University of Miami from 1995 to 2000; associate professor of music education at the University of Houston from 1989 to 1995; and director of bands at Henry L. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables, Fla. from 1986 to 1989. He earned his doctorate from the University of Miami in 1989.

Dr. Les Plagens, dean of HPU’s School of Business, co-chaired the selection committee in the search to fill the position.

“Dr. Fiese brings both depth and breadth in higher education administrative experience to this dean position at HPU,” he said. “He has accomplished a significant body of scholarly activity nationally and has produced an impressive record of service for the music education profession in Texas.”

Alexia Riggs is a 2002 HPU graduate. Her previous experience includes serving as reference librarian at Del Mar College from 2012 to 2014; technical services librarian at Paris Junior College from 2009 to 2012; government document librarian intern at Texas Christian University in 2009; and as a music library assistant at Hardin-Simmons University from 2004 to 2005. She has completed all but her dissertation toward a doctoral degree from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

Alexia Riggs for web“Alexia is a wonderful addition to our faculty and we’re delighted that she chose to return to serve her alma mater,” said Dr. W. Mark Tew, provost and chief academic officer.

According to Dr. Tew, choosing those who will serve as leaders among the HPU faculty is a tremendously important task.

“The semester has only just begun and we’re already benefiting from their knowledge, experience and leadership,” he said. “I am deeply appreciative of the faculty and deans who worked tirelessly as members of the search committees that recommended these two extraordinary candidates.”


Photo cutlines: Two deans are among the new faculty at HPU.

Dr. Richard Fiese serves as dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts and professor of music.

Alexia Riggs serves as dean of libraries and associate professor of library science.