Continuing and Professional Studies Division Announces Inaugural Advisory Board

January 11, 2022
Palo Alto University’s Division of Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS) is proud to be a leading resource for continuing education and professional training for mental health professionals. As CAPS has grown, an inaugural Advisory Board has been formed to guide decision-making and programming.
Patricia A. Zapf, Vice President of CAPS, said, “The breadth and depth of expertise represented by this advisory board will allow for the recruitment, selection, and strategic prioritization of continuing education offerings that provide meaningful training experiences for mental health professionals in alignment with the greater equity and social justice mission of Palo Alto University.”
CAPS welcomes six esteemed professionals to the Advisory Board: 

Virginia Barber-Rioja, PhD, currently serves as Clinical Director of Correctional Health Services (CHS) for New York City Health and Hospitals. The New York City jail system is the second largest in the nation, and approximately 25% of admissions will receive mental health services through CHS. In this position, Dr. Barber Rioja is responsible for the overall clinical oversight, management, supervision, and innovative development of the approximately 250 non-medical clinical staff, consisting of supervisory and line psychologists, mental health clinicians, social workers, art therapists, and treatment aides.


Eduardo Bunge, PhD, is Professor in the Psychology department and Director of the Master’s in Science of Psychology at Palo Alto University. Additionally, Dr. Bunge is the Director of the Children and Adolescents Psychotherapy and Technology (CAPT) Research Lab. He earned his undergraduate and MS degree at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, and received his Ph.D. in psychology from the Universidad de Palermo, Argentina.


Kelly Coker, PhD, is a professor and Associate Chair in the Counseling Department at Palo Alto University and the Faculty Director of Assessment and Student Learning Outcomes. Dr. Coker is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and Qualified Licensed Supervisor in North Carolina as well as a Board-Certified Tele-mental Health Provider. She has presented and published in areas related to distance counselor education, substance abuse prevention and intervention, clinical training and supervision, the use of play in counseling and supervision, and the importance of program evaluation and assessment in counseling.


Manuela Garcia, LCSW is the Executive Director at United Family & Children’s Society, an agency licensed by the NJ Department of Human Services for adoption and mental health outpatient services. The agency serves as a field placement for local clinical degree graduate programs. Ms. Garcia has served as CONCEPT’s social work liaison since 2015.


Kristel Nazzal, PhD, is the Director of Educational Excellence with Palo Alto University, focused on training and enhancing evidence-based teaching practices among university faculty and graduate students. Dr. Nazzal also serves as Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Internal Communication and leads various diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives. In addition, she advises on the institutional strategy for inclusive excellence. Dr. Nazzal is also a speaker, trainer, and consultant on topics related to improving wellness and building inclusive spaces.


Megan Speciale, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program at Palo Alto University. Dr. Speciale has worked as a professional counselor and advocate in a variety of community settings, focusing primarily on sexuality health and wellness. Specifically, she works with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQQIA) children, adolescents, adults, and their families. Dr. Speciale is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in New Mexico.

To learn more about CAPS live and on-demand workshops, visit our website.