Masters of Education in Literacy Faculty | Judson University Christian College

Master of Education in Literacy Faculty

Steve LayneSteven Layne, Program Director

Dr. Steven Layne is a highly-acclaimed children's book author, international literacy consultant, motivational speaker, and featured author at schools, institutes, and conferences throughout the world. Dr. Layne teaches children's and young adult literature at Judson and also serves as the Chair of Graduate Programs in Literacy Education. Dr. Layne’s research interests include the affective domain, adolescent literacy, and oral language development and usage. Full Profile


Kristy Piebenga

Kristy Piebenga, Assistant Program Director

Professor Kristy Piebenga spent many years teaching in second, third, and fourth-grade classrooms before transitioning to her role at Judson University. She now shares her passion for literacy education with both undergraduate and graduate students. Professor Piebenga continues to participate in local schools by working with teachers in the classroom and developing strategies for building readers and writers. Her research interests include teaching ideology, processes of literacy, and literacy as social practice.


Karen Biggs-Tucker

Karen Biggs-Tucker

Dr. Karen Biggs-Tucker has been an elementary school teacher for 25 years working extensively in grades two and five. A graduate of Loyola University's doctoral program, Dr. Biggs-Tucker loves to share ideas with others about how to instill a love for both reading and writing in students of all ages. In her spare time she enjoys Chinese food, walks on the beach and reading books by her favorite authors. Dr. Biggs-Tucker's research interests include children's literature and literacy engagement.


Brenda Buckley-Hughes

Brenda Buckley-Hughes

Dr. Brenda Buckley-Hughes teaches with enthusiasm and energy, and she has a passion for her students' speaking success in a variety of disciplines including literacy education, theatre, and worship arts. Dr. Buckley-Hughes is the author of Introductory Speech Communication: Overcoming Obstacles, Reaching Goals. She has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level at wide range of colleges and universities. Dr. Buckley-Hughes' research interests include public speaking, oral interpretation of literature, and fluency.


Val Cawley 2

Valerie Cawley

Dr. Valerie Cawley has over thirty-five years of experience teaching junior high language arts.  She serves on the Advisory Council for the Master of Education in Literacy Program and teaches courses at Judson in grammar and writing instruction. Dr. Cawley was honored as the “Reading Educator of the Year” by the Illinois Reading Council in 2011. Dr. Cawley’s research interests include grammar, linguistics, and writing instruction.


Elizabeth Gore2

Elizabeth Gore

Professor Elizabeth Gore has spent her teaching career in various elementary classrooms and is currently teaching first grade at Mackeben Elementary School in District 158. Professor Gore enjoys reading educational trade books and loves to share new picture books with students and colleagues. She also enjoys attending and presenting at various conferences. Her research interests include social and emotional development in early childhood education, the use of picture books as an instructional tool, and classroom culture and environment. 


Heather Kraus 2016

Heather Kraus

Professor Heather Kraus is a former middle school language arts teacher who is currently teaching 5th grade in School District 308. Professor Kraus enjoys her time in the classroom and was honored to be one of twelve Illinois State Teacher of the Year finalists in 2014. She appreciates the opportunities to present at various conferences, sharing classroom and school literacy ideas.


Melissa LeisnerMelissa Leisner

Professor Melissa Leisner is a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Prairie Knolls Middle School in District #301. Prior to joining the faculty, she worked as a graduate assistant with Dr. Wells and Professor Cawley. Melissa is also an alumni of the MLIT program! Professor Leisner has presented at various state and national conferences on literacy topics and was honored to receive the National Milken Educator Award in November, 2013.


Griselda PirtleGriselda Pirtle

Professor Griselda Pirtle was an elementary transitional bilingual teacher in second and third grade before starting her journey as a kindergarten Dual Language Teacher. After five years teaching kindergarten, she accepted a position as Director of Multilingual Programs for CCSD 59. In this role, she oversees the district's English as Second Language and Dual Language programs. Professor Pirtle is passionate about language acquisition, particularly how it impacts literacy development for all students but especially for second-language learners.

Joe Rumenapp

Joseph Rumenapp

Dr. Joseph Rumenapp has been involved in urban education for the past 10 years in several capacities. Whether focusing on literacy development in bilingual elementary classrooms, working with students in afterschool programs around the city, or aiding in adult ESL programs for resettled refugees, he brings a critical and global perspective to literacy development across the lifespan. He also spends time working with K-12 teachers to develop teacher-research practices necessary to address the diverse needs of classrooms in the world today.


Noor Shammas 2018  Noor Shammas

Professor Noor Shammas is a fourth-grade teacher in School District 308 in Oswego. In addition to her time in the classroom, Professor Shammas has presented at state and national conferences and was honored by her district as teacher of the month in December, 2015. As a graduate of Lewis University’s Instructional Technology program, she has a passion for supporting teachers’ integration of technology and literacy into their classrooms.


A. Gillian Stewart-WellsA. Gillian Stewart-Wells

Dr. Gillian Stewart-Wells is a former middle/high school English teacher and administrator who sought to implement reading and writing across the curriculum. She has worked at a variety of high schools and universities in six different states. Although in her 17th year teaching at the university level, she maintains a frequent presence in K – 12 schools in order to keep her practice relevant to today's teachers. Dr. Wells’ research interests include social equity, teacher efficacy, and faculty development in higher education. Full Profile


Megan Truax 2016Megan Truax

Dr. Megan Truax has taught at both the primary and middle school levels throughout her career. She enjoys spending her time attending and presenting at various local, state, and national conferences, as well as sharing her love of literacy with the staff and students with whom she works on a daily basis. Dr. Truax’s research interests include reading and writing motivation and the impact of teachers’ language on students.


Brian Tucker 2016Brian Tucker

Dr. Brian Tucker has taught over twenty years in elementary schools and at the undergraduate level. He is the co-author of Transforming Literacy Teaching in the Era of Higher Standards. The Illinois Reading Council honored Dr. Tucker as the "Jerry Johns Teaching Educator of the Year" in 2017. He also presents at conferences to help educators prepare students to meet the challenges of 21st-century learning. Dr. Tucker's research interests include social semiotics, meaning making, and multimodality. 


Lizzy Vander Woude2Lizzy Vander Woude

Professor Elizabeth Vander Woude is an instructional support coach for the District 303 middle schools in St. Charles.  Before this, she served as a middle school language arts teacher and as a special education teacher working with students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.  She enjoys learning and growing beside the teachers and students with whom she works.  As a doctoral candidate, her interests include social equity, critical literacy and pedagogy, and critical multicultural content analysis.  


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