Higher Education Program Faculty

Dr. James DeVita

Ph.D., University of Tennessee Knoxville

James M. DeVita is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).  He earned both his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and M.S. in College Student Personnel from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. James currently works with the Applied Learning and Teaching Community (ALTC) as a Senior Associate Fellow, and serves as the Program Coordinator for the Higher Education concentration of the M.Ed. at UNCW. He also serves as the Lead Evaluator for a $1.4 million dollar State Department grant awarded to a group of UNCW faculty in 2015. 

James has presented at numerous international conferences, and published over 20 peer reviewed publications to date. He currently teaches both master’s and doctoral level courses that focus on student learning and development, social justice topics in education, and research methods. His research examines the experiences of targeted populations in higher education, particularly LGBTQ+ and racial/ethnic minorities, as well as scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) that integrates applied and/or online learning.


Dr. Kevin R. McClure

Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park

Dr. Kevin McClure is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education. He earned both his M.A. and in International Education Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. He earned his B.A. in History and Spanish from the University of Richmond. Prior to joining the department, Dr. McClure held various professional positions in academic affairs and international programs at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is an active in several professional organizations, including the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), and American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Dr. McClure is an expert in higher education finance, administration, and management. His research can be found in print or forthcoming in the Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, Journal of Student Financial Aid, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Philanthropy and Education, Innovative Higher Education, and more. A regular blogger, he has authored opinion and advice pieces for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Recent research projects include a study of patterns in giving by philanthropic foundations to higher education institutions, which won the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s 2016 John Grenzebach Award for Outstanding Research in Philanthropy for Educational Advancement.


Dr. Andrew Ryder

Ph.D., Iowa State University

Dr. Andrew Ryder is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education. Dr Ryder earned both his Ph.D. and M.S. in higher education at Iowa State University and his B.A. in History, with a second major in Government, from the College of William & Mary. He has 12 years of professional experience in academic and student affairs, having previously worked at Iowa State University, Northeastern University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is active in several professional associations, including ACPA-College Student Educators International, which has recognized him as an Emerging Scholar in higher education and student affairs, NASPA-Association for higher education administrators, where he is a member of the Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community, and the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).

Dr. Ryder is an expert in assessment in higher education, campus climates, professional practice in student affairs, and community college completion and transfer. His research in these areas and other topics can be found in the College Student Affairs Journal, Journal of College Student Development, Journal of College and University Student Housing, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Journal of Research and Practice in Assessment, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, Journal of Student Financial Aid, New Directions for Higher Education, and New Directions for Institutional Research. His research directly informs the courses he teaches most frequently, including Assessment in Higher Education, Foundations of Higher Education, and Introduction to Professional Practice.


Dr. Symphony Oxendine

Ph.D., University of North Carolina Greensboro

Dr. Symphony Oxendine, Cherokee/Choctaw, is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education. Dr. Oxendine worked in student affairs 6 years prior to pursuing her doctorate. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in Higher Education and a doctoral minor Educational Research Methodology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she also received her M.Ed in Higher Education Administration. She received her B.A. from Oklahoma State University in Applied Sociology.

Her research interests include critical awareness of the social and institutional issues that affect the educational performance and institutional support of American Indians and other underrepresented groups, graduate preparation programs, cultural identity development, Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities, student involvement and its impact on student retention, leadership development, policy, and political processes within post-secondary education institutions. Her concentration on these research areas will help shape the direction and development of higher education professionals by assisting in the understanding of various institutional, psychological, and political processes as a means to support development for underrepresented students.


Dr. Wilson K. Okello

Ph.D., Miami University

Dr. Wilson Kwamogi Okello is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Bridging the scholar-artist divide, his research draws on Black feminist theories to think about the relationship between history, the body, and epistemology; anti-Blackness in education; racial violence and stress in educational contexts; critical qualitative inquiry; and anti-deficit curriculum and pedagogical praxis. His work is published in venues such as the Journal of College Student Development, the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, and the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.

He is active in several professional organizations, including the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), American Educational Studies Association (AESA), and American College Personal Administrators-International (ACPA). Dr. Okello earned his Ph.D. from Miami University; his master’s degree is from the University of Rhode Island, and he holds a bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University.


Dr. Denise Henning

Ph.D., New Mexico State University

Dr. Denise Henning has a career in higher education that has spanned 23 years in both the United States and Canada, as well as working as graduate faculty in New Zealand. Denise has served as president and CEO at Medicine Hat College, president and CEO of Northwest Community College, president and vice-chancellor for University College of the North and Vice-President of Academic and Research at First Nations University of Canada. Denise is a proud Cherokee/Choctaw/British woman, born in Creek County in Oklahoma.

Most recently, Dr. Henning developed and now serves as CEO of the collaborative of Kiona – Oxendine & Associates, LLC which works with women who aspire to be tenured faculty and administrators in both higher education and K-12 school districts. Dr. Henning serves as the Director and Professor of Practice at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the Higher Education Leadership – Community College Leadership graduate program.
Dr. Henning believes in the principles of Appreciative Inquiry, asking the right questions and being part of the solution. She has earned a reputation for cultivating and sustaining positive relationships, building collaborative teams and energizing people in ways that foster their innovative spirit through an appreciative environment.

Her approach to leadership is valued by those who have had the good fortune to work with her. Graduates from the National Education Leadership Institute for potential Vice-Presidents (VPNeli) and the CHERD Women’s Leadership Institute, value her authentic and “REAL” approach. Her passion for employee wellness and strong focus on the needs and inclusivity of students, communities, economic and social development has earned Dr. Henning a reputation for being a wholistic and visionary leader.

Denise lives in Carolina Beach, North Carolina and continues to work on initiatives for higher education in both the US and Canada.


Dr. Marilyn Sheerer sheererm_web.jpg

Ph.D., Ohio University

Dr. Sheerer is currently holding the position of Provost at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, having served as the former provost for 8 years at East Carolina University (ECU). Her work in higher education administration has spanned over 25 years and included 10 years as the Dean of the College of Education at ECU and one year as the Interim Vice Chancellor for Advancement. Previous to ECU, she served as department chair at two other Midwestern universities.

At the UNC System level, Dr. Sheerer has been active in numerous committees and efforts; has served on the Public School Forum Board; and co-chaired the renewal of the Articulation Agreement between UNC institutions and community colleges in North Carolina. Additionally, she has served as an ongoing instructor in the BRIDGES program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dr. Sheerer received her B.S. in Education (English) from Bloomsburg State College, Pennsylvania; her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Syracuse University; and her Ph.D. in Education (interdisciplinary between Education and Psychology) from Ohio University. Her work within the university environments in which she has worked has included the following: initiation of Honors College programs; initiation of distance education programs including faculty development and support; community engagement work including an Outreach Scholars Academy; mentoring for women in leadership; successful funded grant work to serve teachers and administrators in public schools; and successful fundraising.