Published on September 8, 2021 by Sean Flynt  
Howard College of Arts and Sciences is Samford's oldest academic division

Samford University’s Howard College of Arts and Sciences welcomes several new humanities, social sciences and STEM faculty this fall. The group includes:

Department Chairs
Chad Awtrey, Professor and Chair of Math and Computer Science
Awtrey served Elon University as Associate Professor of Mathematics, Chair of Elon Core Curriculum Council, Chair of the university’s Task Force on Experiential Learning, and Associate Director of Undergraduate Research. His professional interests include number theory, undergraduate research, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Robert Elsner, Professor and Chair of Psychology
Elsner was Professor and Chair of Psychology at Erskine College, and Director of the MA in Christian Counseling at Erskine Theological Seminary. His broad research included work in gerontology/geriatrics, eating behavior, ethics, statistics, and areas of student interest, from tattoos and art to music and economics.

Tenure Track Faculty
Kenyon Gradert, Assistant Professor of English
Gradert comes to Samford after postdoctoral fellowships at Auburn University and Heidelberg University. His research specialty is early American literature and religion, but his interests range from Homer to literary theory. He is the author of Puritan Spirits in the Abolitionist Imagination.

Molly Lockart, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Lockart is a biophysical chemist who is passionate about teaching and inspiring students in the fields of health and research. Her work uses an interdisciplinary approach to exploring enzyme structure and function as it relates to human health. Her lab will focus on metalloenzymes, which are gatekeepers to our immune response to viral and bacterial pathogens, DNA damage and tumors.

Niya Pickett Miller, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Miller joins Samford’s faculty full-time after serving as a post-doctoral assistant professor. Her scholarship focuses on the rhetorical framing of otherness, with interest in race and popular culture. Recent publications include Deconstructing Albinism as the Other, Lizzo’s Black, Female, and Fat Resistance, and Sustaining Black Music and Culture During COVID-19: #Verzuz and Club Quarantine.

Jennifer Ellis West, Associate Professor of English and Director of Core Rhetoric and Seminar
West served as the director of first-year writing at Gordon College and Georgia College. Her research explores the ways people use writing to intervene in health controversies, especially concerning maternal health issues. Current projects focus on the rhetoric of doula support and writing as a tool for reflection in helping students engage in challenging conversations. West also works with the Essential Partners organization to bring dialogue about difficult issues into college classrooms.

Postdoctoral Assistant Professors
Sara Ortega-Higgs, Postdoctoral Assistant Professor of Spanish
Ortega-Higgs was a Spanish and French language professor at Lee University. Her research interests include 15th century Castilian poetry, gender studies and contemporary Spanish novels. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals in Spain and Latin-America. Her passion for human rights and social justice has led her to serve as a translator for several nonprofits and for families seeking to adopt children overseas.

Mark Reeves, Postdoctoral Assistant Professor of History
Reeves’s dissertation, Lost Horizons: Anticolonial Internationalism, 1930-1945, follows the parallel careers of anticolonial activists from Syria, India, the Philippines, and Nigeria during the interwar era and the Second World War, as anti-colonialists sought to gain independence for their countries and worked to build a new world order free of colonial domination.


As the heart of Samford University, Howard College of Arts and Sciences inspires students to a lifetime of inquiry and service through engaged learning, faculty research and vocational discovery within the liberal arts and the Christian ethical and intellectual traditions.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.