Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker currently serves as associate vice president for Research and Economic Development and is a member of the University’s Executive Cabinet.
In this capacity, he has responsibility and oversight for research, sponsored programs, research compliance, technology transfer and commercialization, federal relations and JSU Global. He was previously Dean and Professor of the School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences at Morgan State University. Dr. Whittaker also served as associate director of the NASA GESTAR program from 2011 to 2016 – a 5-year, $96M Cooperative Agreement from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Sciences Directorate. In addition, he developed and directed the Morgan State University Plant Biotechnology Research and Analytical Laboratory.
Prior to Morgan State University, Dr. Whittaker served in various capacities at Morehouse School of Medicine, where he led efforts in the design and construction the Neuroscience Institute, which became the prototype for 12 additional NIH-supported Specialized Neuroscience Programs established across the U.S. He holds several board and committee memberships in the public and private sectors, and served as the 73rd President of Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society. He has over 100 publications and has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards.
Dr. Whittaker received his B.S. degree in Biology at Morgan State University, and the Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from Howard University. He subsequently joined the University of Tennessee Neuroscience Center of Excellence as a Neurobiology Postdoctoral Fellow where he pursued studies on chemical and electrical signaling mechanisms in the Basal Ganglia.
Edward O. Watson serves as general counsel and is a member of the University’s Executive Cabinet.
Watson manages the efficient operation of the Division of General Counsel and serves as the University’s lead in-house attorney. He provides representation and legal consultation to the University in all campus legal matters, with the primary objective of aiding the institution in reasonable avoidance and/or mitigation of legal risk. In 2019, Mississippi Business Journal named Attorney Watson as one of the top 40 attorneys in the state as part of its 2018 Leaders in the Law awards. Attorney Watson, who served as Associate General Counsel for the University from 2014 to 2017, graduated from Tougaloo College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and earned his Juris Doctor degree from Mississippi College School of Law. He is licensed to practice law in all federal and state courts in the State of Mississippi.
Prior to joining Jackson State University’s Division of General Counsel, his legal practice included, but was not limited to litigation and consultation in the areas of municipal law, employment law including, Title VII matters, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, business formation, contracts, commercial, governmental, and general tort liability defense. He has assisted public and private entities by providing advice regarding performance evaluation appraisal systems, development of employment policies and practices, employee handbooks and employment liability. He has also worked to provide proactive representation in his practice areas by conducting legal seminars and workshops regarding the implementation of policies, procedures, and practices to mitigate and prevent legal exposures prior to the assertion of claims. He has been selected as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Top Attorneys in Mississippi for the past three consecutive years.
Robin Pack is the executive director of Human Resources and a member of the University’s Executive Cabinet.
She is responsible for all human resource functions for the university. Her areas of responsibility include employment, benefits and compensation, training and development, employee relations, student employment, and payroll.
Pack has been in the field of Human Resources Management for over 20 years. Prior to joining Jackson State University, she worked for The University of MS Medical Center, Valley Services, Inc. and Skytel/WorldCom in various HR leadership roles. She began her tenure with Jackson State in 2007 as the assistant director of Human Resources and was named executive director of Human Resources in 2012. Pack has overseen the implementation of the online employment application system, electronic personnel action form, and the creation of centralized student employment center.
Pack holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Alcorn State University. She is also certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) by the Society of Human Resources Management.
Dr. Brandi L. Newkirk-Turner is the interim associate provost for the Division of Academic Affairs.
She has a B.A. in audiology and speech sciences from Michigan State University, a M.A. in speech pathology from Western Michigan University, and a Ph.D. in communication disorders from Louisiana State University. While at Jackson State University, Newkirk-Turner has served as a department chairperson in addition to serving in leadership roles on various university committees including commencement and SACSCOC.
An active researcher, Newkirk-Turner has authored several book chapters and has published her research in the top peer-reviewed journals in her field including Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, and Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Additionally, she has secured approximately 2.3 million dollars in grants to support her research, provide research experiences to undergraduate and graduate students, and prepare graduate students for careers in speech-language pathology. She is a recipient of the Certificate of Recognition for Special Contributions in Multicultural Affairs awarded by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.
Dr. Candis Pizzetta is the interim dean for the College of Liberal Arts.
Pizzetta is also an associate professor in the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Speech Communication, and served as interim department chair from July 2018 to December 2019. She has served in a number of administrative roles at JSU, including as associate vice president for Research and Scholarly Advancement and as director of the JSU Center for University Scholars.
Along with her administrative experience, she brings an understanding of the processes involved in research, publication, and grant writing. Pizzetta’s most recent research and writing efforts include a forthcoming article, “Collaboration and Interdisciplinary in the Knowledge Economy,” in [Re]Imagining the Liberal Artsto be published by the University Press of Mississippi; “Morality and Money: The Economic Value of Virtue” in POMPA(2018); and “The Recognition of Implicit Bias as a Precursor to Normalizing Blackness: The JSU ADVANCE Implicit Bias Think Tank” in the Southern Journal of Policy and Justice(2018).
Pizzetta is the general editor of the JSU Researcher: An Interdisciplinary Journaland serves as an editorial assistant for the Gale Group Publishers’ Contemporary Literary Criticismseries. She currently serves as principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant, Advancing the Research Profile of Small, Minority-Serving Institutions Through a Virtual Proposal Development Center, which works with small and mid-sized HBCUs to train faculty grant writers. Pizzetta earned her Ph.D. in English from Baylor University, where her dissertation focused on the development of the feminist mindset in early American fiction.
Dr. Ahfiya Howard is the chair and assistant professor for the Bachelor of Social Work program.
A native of Jackson, MS, Howard earned her Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work and Doctor of Public Health from Jackson State University. Prior to her recent appointment, she served as interim chair and visiting assistant professor. Howard has been employed at the university for six years. During her tenure at the university, Howard has taught numerous of undergraduate social work courses, led a study-abroad program in Bueno Aires, Argentina and served on an array of universities’ committees.
Prior to her position at Jackson State University, she worked as a mental health therapist at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and adjunct instructor at Hinds Community College.
Howard was among the first cohort to complete the Council on Social Work Education Program Director Academy. In addition, she serves as a certified site visitor for the CSWE. She has completed several certifications which includes the Standards of Quality for Family Strengthening and Support, Project Forecast Child Advocacy Studies, United States Department of Justice Child Sex Trafficking and CSWE Policy Practice. She has been a presenter at the Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conference, Hinds County Resource Agency Conference and Texas Health Institute Southern Obesity Summit.
She is an active member of the CSWE, American Public Health Association and the Mississippi Public Health Association.
Most of her research studies have focused on improving access to healthy foods for low-income children and compassion fatigue among mental health professionals.
Dr. Mario J. Azevedo is the interim chair for the Department of History and Philosophy.
He earned his Ph.D. in History from Duke University, his master’s degree in History from American University, a MPH in
Epidemiology from Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor’s degree in History from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He joined JSU through the Department of History in 1975, and left to become the chair of the Department of Africana Studies at UNC Charlotte in 1986, holding that position until 2006, the year he returned to JSU as a visiting professor in Public Health.
Subsequently, he became chair of the Department of Epidemiology, associate dean of the School of Health Sciences, and interim dean of the College of Public Service from 2018 until 2013. That year, he also transferred to the College of Liberal Arts where he became chair of the Department of History and Philosophy until he became dean of the College of Liberal Arts in Spring 2015, a position he resigned from in December 2019.
By a vote of the faculty in the Department of History and Philosophy, he was appointed interim chair of that academic unit in August 2020. Dr. Azevedo has not only been an effective and committed administrator wherever he worked but also one of the most prolific researchers at JSU. To his credit, he has published over 10 peer-reviewed books that combine history and public health, particularly in Africa, more than 20 articles and chapter articles in peer-reviewed journals and books, and some three dozen encyclopedia entries.
Lt. Col. Natosha Reed is the chair for the Department of Aerospace Science.
A native of Birmingham, is the new commander of JSU’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Detachment 006, and chair of the Department of Aerospace Science. Reed, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1998, is responsible for the education and training of ROTC cadets from JSU and five associated crosstown universities. Her role is to develop cadets to become Air Force leaders and citizens of character who are dedicated to serving the nation. In addition to her roles as commander and chair, Reed is a faculty member and professor who collaborates and coordinates with university leadership and other colleagues to ensure program success and student growth.
Fidel Ezeala-Harrison is interim chair for the Department of Business Administration and professor of Economics in the College of Business.
For nearly 20 years, he has been teaching, researching, and mentoring students in economics and business. Ezeala-Harrison takes pride in actively engaging, advising, mentoring, and instructing students; and leading them on to pursue their goals and engage their talents to reach for the highest heights attainable. At Jackson State, he has received numerous recognition awards for his dedication and high productivity in teaching, research, and academic service to the University.
Dr. Ebony Lumumba is chair of the Department of English, F.L. and Speech, and associate professor of English for the College of Liberal Arts.
She specializes in postcolonial literatures of the Global South and black mothering as resistance in her research, academic publications, and instruction. Lumumba served as department chair of English and Modern Languages at Tougaloo College for nearly six years. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Mississippi, a Master of Arts in English from Georgia State University, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She was named the 2013 Eudora Welty Research Fellow by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Eudora Welty Foundation and was honored as Tougaloo College’s Humanities Teacher of the Year in 2014.
She is an active scholar with publications that include a chapter in From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-Authored Texts of Black Life; an article in the Eudora Welty Review titled “‘Caught in the act of living’”: Welty as a voyeur and witness of black life”; a chapter titled “The Matter of Black Lives in American Literature: Eudora Welty’s Non-Fiction and Photography” in Teaching the Works of Eudora Welty: Twenty-first Century Approaches; and a chapter in the collection New Essays on Welty, Class, and Race titled “Demonstration of Life: Signifying for Social Justice in Eudora Welty’s ‘The Demonstrators’.”
Lumumba is also an avid supporter of education and the arts. Her zeal for both are evinced in her participation in various community projects. She currently serves as a board member for the Foundation for Mississippi History, the Mississippi Humanities Council, The International Ballet Competition, New Stage Theatre, and The Mississippi Book Festival and participates on the national advisory boards of the Eudora Welty Foundation and the Mississippi Museum of Art. She is the founder of Mothers Obtaining Justice and Opportunities (MOJO)—a non-profit organization that supports mothers pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. In her spare time, she hosts episodes of “Write On, Mississippi”—a literary podcast sponsored by the Mississippi Book Festival.
Lumumba is happily married to her kindergarten sweetheart Chokwe Antar Lumumba—Honorable Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi—and the couple has two unbelievably adorable daughters, Alaké and Nubia.
Dr. Deidre L. Wheaton is the interim chair of the EMES department and associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development.
Wheaton devotes her time to conducting research and teaching in the Department of Educational, Multicultural, and Exceptional Studies. Her research, teaching, and service all come together to reinforce her personal and professional commitment to using research to create increased equity and access to high quality educational experiences for all students—particularly those who are currently underserved. Her professional concern for educational equity includes research and interventions directed toward broadening participation of minorities in higher education, promoting career advancement and faculty development, examining the implications of race and racism in education, and exploring evidence-based strategies for effective teaching, learning, and assessment at minority serving institutions. She holds academic degrees in American Culture with a focus on African Americans and Race in the 20thcentury (Ph.D. and MA) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; English (MA) from Jackson State University, Jackson, MS; and English with a minor in African World Studies (BA) from Dillard University, New Orleans, LA.
Jimmy Mumford is the associate professor of graphic design and chair for the Department of Art and Theatre in the College of Liberal Arts.
He has served as interim chair since 2016. Mumford is recognized locally, nationally and internationally, as an award-winning designer. He has over twenty years of experience working in-studio and independently as a freelancer. Mr. Mumford is a graduate of Delta State University in Cleveland, MS, where he majored in graphic design. He holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from Memphis College of Art.
Dr. Bessie House-Soremekun is interim chair and professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts.
She has served in several other administrative capacities, which include associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, director of Africana Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), faculty fellow in the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculties at IUPUI; and the director of Affirmative Action at the University of Denver. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in International Studies from what is now the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She is the author/editor of 8 books and has published numerous journal articles in the top journals in her field and book chapters in edited book volumes. Her books include Class Development and Gender Inequality in Kenya: 1963-1990; African Market Women and Economic Power: The Role of Women in African Economic Development; Globalization and Sustainable Development in Africa; Gender, Sexuality and Mothering in Africa; Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio, 1stand 2ndEditions; Yoruba Creativity: Cultural Practices of the Modern World; and African American Entrepreneurship: Philanthropic Giving, Self-Help, and the Struggle for Economic Empowerment, which is under contract with Indiana University Press. She holds three high Yoruba Chieftaincy titles, which include Erelu Bada Asiwaju of Egbaland, conferred on her by His Royal Majesty, King (Oba) Michael Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, the Okukenu IV, Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, Nigeria; the Iyalode of Bakatari; andErelu Maiyegun of Keesi.She is also a Lady of the Knight of John Wesley, which is the highest honor awarded to female members of the Methodist Church. She has received close to 50 additional awards through the years for her research, teaching, and scholarship, public and civic engagement activities, entrepreneurial excellence and advocacy, and for developing international collaborations that have global impact. She has also written and received 24 grant awards totaling about $1.5 million dollars to support her research and programmatic outreach activities.
Dr. Lisa Beckley-Roberts is the chair for the Department of Music and associate professor of Ethnomusicology in the College of Liberal Arts.
She earned her doctorate in Ethnomusicology and master’s degrees in Ethnomusicology and Harp Performance at Florida State University, after having received her bachelor of arts degree in Harp Performance from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Beckley-Roberts has taught courses including Minority Music in America, American Roots Music, American Popular Music, World Music Cultures, Western Music History, and African Music and Dance in addition to guest lecturing and presenting papers on Africana religious practices and the role of music in them, Peruvian shaman ritual chanting, and the creation of sacred space through music. She is also an accomplished performer who has been principal harpist with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and the Central Florida Symphony Orchestra. Beckley-Roberts has performed with orchestras throughout the Southeast, and maintains an active performance career having accompanied singers with the neo-soul and hip-hop performers of Tallahassee Nights Live.
Beckley-Roberts currently teaches both graduate and undergraduate students courses in Music History, Studies in Historical Musicology/Ethnomusicology, Music Appreciation, Applied Harp Lessons World Music Cultures, and Seminars in Music History, and Ethnomusicology. She began the Jackson State University African Drum and Dance Ensemble shortly after arriving at the university and held the inaugural performance of the ensemble on November 30, 2016. She has authored articles and film/album reviews that have appeared in the Journal for the Society of Ethnomusicology, Journal of Africana Studies, and Worlds of Music Journal and has presented at numerous professional conferences including African Studies Association Conference, Caribbean Studies Association Conference, African and Diasporic Religious Studies Association Conference, and Regional Society for Ethnomusicology Conference. Additionally, she authored the chapter, “Cinematic Journey’s to the Source: Critical Film Exploration of Music and Repatriation to Africa” which appears inThe Oxford Dictionary of Music and Repatriation published in 2018.
Having been a Fulbright-Hayes Scholar in South Africa as well as a FLAS scholar in Nigeria, Beckley-Roberts’ research focuses on traditional African religious practices in diaspora communities of the Americas and the role of music, dance and chant in conversion processes. However, she has also done research on exoticism in the Romantic era, the performance of gender in Western art music, and the musician’s role in contemporary resistance movements in America and the Caribbean.