Welcome 2023-24 New Faculty Members

Welcome new faculty members to Appalachian State University's Reich College of Education. Read on to learn more about each, including research interests and why they joined the faculty at App State.

Peijuan Cao 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special Education - Assistant Professor

Cao earned a Ph.D. from the University of Florida and an M.Ed. from the University of Missouri.

Prior to Appalachian, Cao was an English as a second language teacher in China, an adjunct instructor at the University of Missouri, an instructor in the reading and literacy program at the University of Florida, and a research assistant for a National Science Foundation grant in STEM education at the University of Florida.

“I am most excited to see my students applying what they learn from my class into their practicum as they start to teach kids to read. I am also looking forward to collaborating with my wonderful colleagues.”

Cao’s research interests include early reading instruction and assessment, disciplinary literacy, literacy instruction for English language learners, and reading teacher preparation.

Why Appalachian? 

“I am falling in love with the pleasant weather and beautiful mountain scenery in North Carolina. The position aligns very well with my teaching expertise and research interests very well. More importantly, the faculty are very hospitable and supportive of each other. I feel this is a great fit for me.”

Dr. Rong Zhang 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special Education - Assistant Professor

Zhang earned a Ph.D. from Purdue University.

Prior to App State, Zhang was a doctoral fellow working as a research assistant and teaching assistant at Purdue University.

“I am excited to join the big family of Appalachian State University and grow my identity as a new faculty. I look forward to teaching new courses and working with my students. I am also thrilled to collaborate with my colleagues and develop my professional skills in both teaching and conducting research.”

Zhang’s research interests include children's literature, bilingual education, and multimodality.

Why Appalachian?

“People at Appalachian State University are professional, warm, and supportive. The College of Education has a prominent reputation and diverse resources and programs that support the development of faculty and students. I feel excited to work with people here who are equipped with rich knowledge and enthusiastic attitude. In addition, Boone is a beautiful place with natural views and comfortable weather, which boosts my experience working and living here.” 

Dr. Lindsay M. Griendling 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special  Education - Assistant Professor 

Griendling earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in special education from the University of Virginia, an M.S. in special education - curriculum and instruction specialist from Longwood University, and a B.S. in elementary education with a specialization in special education from Lebanon Valley College.

This is Griendling's first position in higher education. Prior to pursuing a doctorate, she was a special education teacher in self-contained and inclusive middle school mathematics classrooms in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“I'm super excited to be leading the Mathematics Clinic within the Reich College of Education, which will be running for the very first time this fall.”

Griendling’s research interests include multiplying marginalized students/intersectionality, bridging policy and practice with student and family voices at the center, and mixed methods research approaches.

Why Appalachian? 

“Aside from the absolutely gorgeous setting, I was super excited for the opportunity to become colleagues with such an amazing group of faculty members within the special education program.”

Dr. Angie Harris 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special Education - Assistant Professor

Harris earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood studies with a minor in history, a master’s degree in early childhood education, and a Ph.D. in special education all from the Ohio State University.

Prior to Appalachian, Harris taught second and third grade at Marburn Academy.

“I am looking forward to creating relationships with my students, colleagues, and local schools.”

Harris’s research interests include academic interventions for elementary students with high-incidence disabilities. Harris created a tool to support spelling and hopes to implement the intervention with local students. 

Why Appalachian? 

“I am excited to join a college with a strong history of preparing educators. I am also excited to join the Boone community!”

Dr. James A. Larsen 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special Education - Assistant Professor

Larsen received a Ph.D. in human environmental science and an M.S. in human development and family science from the University of Missouri.

Prior to Appalachian, Larsen was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

“I am eager to get back to teaching! I spent the past two years in a research-focused postdoctoral appointment and have missed interacting with students. I am also excited about forming new collaborative partnerships and exploring opportunities to contribute to the institution and surrounding community.”

Larsen’s research interests focus on understanding and supporting children's creative potential. Specifically, he is interested in improving methods and measures for studying creative thinking skills and identifying practical ways caregivers and educators can nurture children's creativity.

Why Appalachian?

“Appalachian’s commitment to community engagement and approach to teacher preparation are what initially piqued my interest. By the end of my first campus visit, it was clear that there was a strong alignment between my values, goals, and interests and those of the department, college, and University. The stunning scenery didn’t hurt, either.”

Tonya Moore ’14 ’19 

Child Development, Literacy, and Special Education - Lecturer

Moore earned a Bachelor of Science in special education and a Master of Arts in reading education from Appalachian State University. She is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, focusing on a concentration in literacy and special education.

Prior to Appalachian, Moore taught for four years as a special educator at the secondary level in both Ashe and Watauga counties. She was the student project coordinator for the iSHINE program. Additionally, she served as a literacy consultant for the Clinton County Regional Educational Service Agency in St. Johns, Michigan, providing consultation to instructors regarding the presentation of content and instruction for providing comprehensive literacy instruction to students with extensive support and complex communication needs. 

“I’m excited about collaborating with colleagues on several research projects that are in the works. I’m also thrilled to teach courses across both special education and literacy program areas with our wonderful undergraduate and graduate students. Our students get to collaborate and learn with, from, and about their peers from other disciplines by actively engaging with each other’s professional knowledge. I believe this type of inter-professional learning offers strong affordances for preparing teacher leaders who can engage in the type of advocacy and collaborative work that is necessary for creating truly inclusive and socially just classrooms.”

Moore’s research interests include literacy instruction for students with extensive support needs, teacher professional development and teacher collaborative learning in inclusive literacy instruction, the integration of disability studies pedagogy into literacy teacher education, interdisciplinary practicum experiences in literacy education, and the diagnostic reading profiles of students with Williams syndrome.

Why Appalachian? 

“I am drawn to the Appalachian community because of its commitment to mentoring preservice and in-service educators who are caring, reflective, competent, and engaged in the deeply important practice of maintaining a supportive, positive, and socially just learning environment for all students. I also appreciate the interdisciplinary collaboration that occurs across the CLSE department in research and in coursework.” 

Dr. Patrick Cunningham 

Counseling, Family Therapy, and Higher Education - Assistant Professor

Cunningham earned a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University, an M.S. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a B.A. from Elon University. 

Prior to Appalachian, Cunningham was a school counselor for the Wake County Public School System, the Universal American School of Dubai, and the Korea International School. Most recently, he worked as a graduate research associate for the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center.

“I am most excited to work with the students and faculty in my department. There is already a strong sense of community, and I am excited to contribute to it with my unique background and experiences.”

Cunningham’s research interests include school counseling intervention research, understanding and promoting the role of school counselors as family engagement leaders in schools, suicide prevention, and antiracist school counseling practices.

Why Appalachian? 

“I have really enjoyed the sense of community among the faculty members in my department. Everyone has been incredibly kind and welcoming. I am also excited about the balanced emphasis on teaching and learning as well as research.”

Dr. Tatjana Farley ’18

Counseling, Family Therapy, and Higher Education - Assistant Professor

Farley earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Appalachian State University, and she recently completed her Ph.D. from Florida State University. Last year, she taught at App State as a visiting lecturer. 

“I am most excited to watch my students grow within their classes and as they begin to see clients.”

Farley is interested in research concerning anger and aggression among youth. 

Why Appalachian? 

“I received my masters in Appalachian’s Marriage and Family Therapy program, and it felt great to be able to come and give back to this program.”

Dr. Dena Kniess 

Counseling, Family Therapy, and Higher Education - Associate Professor

Kniess earned a B.S. in English writing from Slippery Rock University, an M.A. in college student personnel from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and higher education.

Prior to Appalachian, Kniess was an associate professor and program director for the Ed.D. in higher education administration at the University of West Georgia, an assistant professor in college student affairs at Eastern Illinois University, and has 11 years of experience as a practitioner in student affairs. 

“I am most excited about getting to know the campus and collaborating with new colleagues.”

Kniess’ research interests include college access, assessment, and faculty development.

Why Appalachian? 

“The students, the people, and the program.”

Dr. Candice Peters 

Counseling, Family Therapy, and Higher Education - Assistant Professor

Peters earned a Ph.D. in education from Rowan University, an M.Ed. in higher education from the University of Georgia, and a B.A. in communications from Adelphi University.

Prior to Appalachian, Peters served as a graduate coordinator in the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion & Conflict Resolution (SJICR) at Rowan University, developing educational and social programs that celebrate students of color, advance equity, justice, and inclusion, and challenge harmful institutional norms that shape the educational realities and outcomes of minoritized communities.

“I am excited about meeting and growing alongside the students, collaborating with a community of educators who are committed to championing social justice, and exploring a new culture, the Mountaineer culture, in the High Country!”

Peters’s research interests are grounded in criticality, Black feminist ideologies, and qualitative inquiry. Peters’s research and scholarship foreground intersectional analyses of the realities of systemically oppressed populations in the U.S. academy.

Why Appalachian?

“When I met the people with whom I would work, peace washed over me because there was a palpable energy for diversity, equity, and inclusion which felt genuine and aligned with my values. This critical atmosphere, along with the sense of belonging that I felt while on campus, pulled me in. Ultimately, I believe that, with App State as my academic home, I will find community and thrive as I promote academic excellence and social justice in education.”

Dr. Frannie Varker

Leadership and Educational Studies - Assistant Professor

Varker earned a Bachelor of Science degree in special education from East Carolina University, a Master of Science in parks and recreation management, a Master of Arts in peace and conflict studies, and a Ph.D. in educational studies with a concentration in cultural foundations from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Prior to Appalachian, Varker taught as an adjunct instructor at various institutions in North Carolina. 

“I am most excited to have the opportunity to focus on getting to know App State better and not be torn between several universities.”

Varker’s research interests include experiential education, social justice education, community building, critical pedagogy, and peace and conflict studies focused on education. Her research is centered on moving past student belonging, to making students feel as though they authentically matter. Varker is deeply dedicated to being what she calls a “pracademic, “a scholar committed to living out her ideals of democratic education through her practice, service, and scholarship.  In this capacity, Varker has demonstrated a commitment to academic collaboration in practical ways, most notably in participating in UNCG’s first-ever co-authored dissertation.  

Why Appalachian?

“I have taught the foundations course at Appalachian since January 2020. I feel a kinship with the students at App State as I've been in Boone off and on all my life. I believe I am able to connect with students in ways that encourage them to feel comfortable as we process through all that the foundations class offers to me and to them. Having worked at other universities, I feel like I fit in and like this is home.”

Dr. Jenny Arcila 

Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum - Lecturer

Arcila earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Kent State University, a master's degree in reading education from Florida Gulf Coast University, and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Prior to Appalachian, Arcilia was a third-grade teacher in Naples, Florida, and a literacy specialist at the elementary level in Pennsylvania.

“I am excited to be a part of the AppState community! I am excited to learn more about how App State prepares students for the future, teaches students in Hickory, and builds a community of learners at App State Hickory.” 

Arcila’s research interests include ways in which pre-service and in-service teachers use multiple languages in the classroom, how reflective practice influences the beliefs and values of preservice teachers and how this influences their teacher identity, and ways that preservice and in-service teachers are using biliteracy in the mainstream classroom.

Why Appalachian?  

“Appalachian is one of the top education schools and I am excited to be helping extend the reach of an excellent university to Hickory. This will allow App State to prepare even more highly qualified teachers to support students in the North Carolina schools.”

Dr. Yejun Bae 

Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum - Assistant Professor

Bae earned a Bachelor of Arts in science education from Ewha Womans University, a Master of Arts in biology education from Korea National University, and a Ph.D. in science education with a minor in mathematics education and a graduate teaching certificate from the University of Iowa. 

Prior to Appalachian, Bae was an assistant professor of education and the director of the School of Education at Carolina University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as well as a National Science Foundation-funded Quantitative Research Methods scholars program cohort. 

“I am most excited about being part of Appalachian State University. I am ready to learn and grow by collaborating with colleagues and students.”

Bae’s research is grounded on generative and inclusive STEM learning environments. In current research projects, Bae is investigating students’ sense of belonging and its relationship with mathematics and science academic achievement using international large-scale assessment data. She is also interested in developing multiple research methods skills including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods. 

Why Appalachian?  

“Supporting pre-and in-service teachers is a priority for me and consistently fills me with excitement. Appalachian State University is a perfect platform to lend my support to teachers, collaborating with people who share a deep passion for education. I look forward to collaborative partnerships and active community involvement through App State.”

Carly Mize ’13 

Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum - Lecturer

Mize earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from App State and a master’s degree in elementary education with a focus in elementary science education from North Carolina State University.

Prior to Appalachian, Mize taught third and fifth grades in Watauga County Schools. She also worked for App State's Mathematics and Science Education Center, helping run family science nights in the local community schools and libraries.

“I'm most excited about helping prepare future teachers for their career in teaching. I'm also excited to work alongside the faculty here in the Education Department.”

Mize’s research interests include elementary science and social studies education.

Why Appalachian? 

“I love App State! I love living in the mountains and the community here in Boone. When I graduated back in 2013, I knew I wanted to live here. I strongly believe the education program here at App prepared me well for becoming a successful teacher. I'm now excited to come back full circle to help future teachers become prepared for getting out in the field.” 

Dr. Teena Coats

Media, Career Studies, and Leadership Development - Lecturer

Coats earned a Bachelor of Science in technology, engineering and design education from North Carolina State University, a Master of Arts in education, curriculum and instruction in integrative STEM education from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. in STEM education, engineering and technology education from North Carolina State University. 

“I am excited to meet new people and learn new things. I'm looking forward to getting to know my students and being a part of the Appalachian community.”

Coats’s research interests include teacher education, teacher retention, and attrition.

Why Appalachian? 

“App State is a known leader in educator education. Plus as a North Carolina native, I've always loved the mountains.”

Dr. Jason LaFrance 

Media, Career Studies, and Leadership Development Educational Leadership - Visiting Assistant Professor

LaFrance earned an Ed.D. in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida, an Ed.S. in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University, an M.Ed. in elementary education from the University of South Florida, and a B.A. in business administration from Moravian University.

Prior to Appalachian, LaFrance was the director of the Center of Educational Leadership and Service, master's degree program coordinator, and associate professor of educational leadership at Georgia Southern University. He also worked at Flordia Southern College as an associate professor of educational leadership and master's degree program coordinator. 

“I am most excited to build relationships with my colleagues and to support educational leaders in the school districts the App State serves.” 

LaFrance’s research interests include cybersecurity, technology integration in schools, and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) in higher education.

Why Appalachian?  

“I am excited to join Appalachian State University because of its strong commitment to fostering transformative and inclusive learning environments and the unique opportunity to conduct research in North Carolina.”

Dr. Dominick O. Manusos 

Media, Career Studies, and Leadership Development - Assistant Professor

Manusos earned a B.S. in technology, engineering, and design education with a minor in graphics communication from North Carolina State University, an M.S. in technology in appropriate technology from Appalachian State University, and a Doctor of Education in technology education from North Carolina State University.

Prior to Appalachian, Manusos was an assistant professor at Millersville University in the Department of Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology, Construction Management and was an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa in the Department of Technology, Technology Education.

“I am most excited about the opportunity to work with colleagues on research and publications that have a real impact on our teachers in the classroom.”

Manusos’ research interests include scaling down traditional career and technical education projects for implementation into classrooms where cost and space are major factors for student engagement.

Why Appalachian?  

“My career goal has been to teach in pre-service teacher education. App State has a comprehensive CTE program with great faculty and wonderful students. Plus, I get to return to my alma mater and help support our teachers before and during their time in the classroom.”