Institute Leadership




Dr. Marita Nika Flagler, founder and co-director, is an Associate Professor of Social Work. Through her research, training and policy work she has international experience in the area of social inclusion with a primary focus on people with disabilities and human rights. For her expertise in disability issues, in 2014 she was contracted by the World Bank to develop the criteria, the new administration and the related legislation and procedures of the bio-psycho-social assessment of disability in the country of Albania where in 2013 she also developed the National Standards of Social Services for People with Disabilities for the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth. In addition, in 2014 she was hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to conduct a Training-of-Trainers program on the implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  



Dr. Jennifer A. Clements, co-director, is a Professor of Social Work at Shippensburg University and a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Pennsylvania with over 15 years of practice experience working with children and families. She has facilitated numerous mutual aid groups with children through older adults on topics such as anger management, grief and loss, parenting and dealing with trauma. A strong advocate for creative arts, she has incorporated art, poetry and theater into her practice. In 2013 and 2014, she spent her sabbatical learning and working with teachers in Rwanda at a small school in Muhanga using creative arts. 


 Steering Committee:

Dr. Cheryl Slattery


Dr. Cheryl A. Slattery is a Professor of Reading/Literacy in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education and Human Services. She has been teaching in higher education for nineteen years, and previously taught for fifteen years in the Pennsylvania public school system as a sixth-grade teacher, Instructional Support teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, and Reading Specialist. She has also worked as a Children and Youth Caseworker. In this position, she serviced individual needs of school-aged children and youth requiring out-of-home placement, and their families. She created psychosocial reports including goal setting and permanency planning; made regular visits to the resource home and school; developed engagement with biological/legal parents; provided case management services; and conducted regular safety assessments of the children and youth. Her research interests include home-school-community partnerships and family literacy, poverty's impact on achievement, school readiness, and the Science of Reading.



Dr. Samuel Benbow, an Associate Professor of Social Work, throughout the past 25 years of his professional life, has worked consistently and diligently to educate on a local, regional, state, national and international level on topics relevant to social work practice.  His primary focus has been in areas such as multiculturalism, advocacy for mental health consumers and their families, team building, retention of African American high school students, mentorship, effective communication, crisis management, maximizing success in higher education, and student development in higher education.




Dr. Luis A. Melara, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Shippensburg University. Dr. Melara has taught in the mathematical sciences at undergraduate and research institutions. He has a B.S in Applied Mathematics with a Specialization in Computing from the University of California, Los Angeles and a M.A./Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics from Rice University. His research is in optimization, numerical analysis, differential equations and mathematical biology. He completed a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Institute of Standards & Technology. He has been the recipient of grants from the National Security Agency, National Science Foundation and Mathematical Association of America. Dr. Melara is active in increasing and retaining the number of members from underrepresented groups in STEM. In addition, he has been a faculty advisor in the Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer Program hosted by the Mathematical & Theoretical Biology Institute at Arizona State University from 2011-2013. He is an active member of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and a Life Member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. He co-founded and is the faculty advisor for the Ship SIAM Student Chapter. Since 2014, Dr. Melara has been a Chair of the Scholarship Committee for the ACM Tapia Conferences. Starting January 2015, Dr. Melara was named the Editor-in-Chief of the SIAM Undergraduate Research Online. Dr. Melara is a 2015-2016 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar.

Dr Wentz
Dr. Brian Wentz,
 a Professor in Management Information Systems, is frequently involved with applied research that focuses on the implications that Web accessibility and usability can have on business, education, employment, public policy, and societal inclusion. For more than 15 years, he has been involved in a variety of projects related to Web accessibility and usability for people with disabilities. Dr. Wentz has published over 30 refereed articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings. In 2013, he received the 2013 Honorary Service award from the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, and he is currently a Research Advisor to another non-profit, My Blind Spot, located in New York City.

Arielle Catron, LMSW, is the Director of the Women’s Center at Shippensburg University. She also serves as Chair of the ShipCares behavioral health team. She is studying sense of belonging among trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer students in her doctoral work at Millersville University. She is also an adjunct professor at Ball State University social work program.



Dr. Nicole Santalucia is an Associate Professor of English, Director of First-Year Writing, Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council, and Advisor for the student-led literary arts journal, The Reflector. Her poetry books and creative writing publications illuminate social justice and advocacy for queer communities. She develops writing workshops that foster inclusion, art awareness, and literacy through poetry. She’s the founder The Binghamton Poetry Project, a literary outreach program, and she has led poetry workshops in the Cumberland County Prison, nursing homes, YWCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as Public Libraries and after-school programs in central Pennsylvania and upstate New York.


Sahara McGrath, MSW, is the coordinator of the Pride and Gender Equity Center (PAGE Center). She is a recent graduate of Shippensburg University and newly appointed into this position. She hopes to get more involved within the community of Shippensburg and educate others on the LGBTQ+ community.




Dr. Manuel Ruiz currently serves as the Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Ship.  He has worked in higher education for 20 years and has expertise in assessment, budget planning, residence life, judicial affairs, social justice, orientation, entrepreneurship, career development, internships, and event planning.  His scholarship places emphasis on critical race theory and most recently completed a study on the retention rates of students of color.  Last, he is an active member of ACPA - College Students Educator and NASPA.