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ACU announces hiring of two new college deans based on academic restructuring

Abilene Christian University has announced the hiring of Dr. Dirk Nelson as the founding dean of the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences and Dr. Charla S. Miertschin as the founding dean of the College of Science and Engineering.


Dr. Dirk Nelson

In January, ACU announced three new colleges and some new homes for various departments, all as part of restructuring to further the growing national reputation of ACU’s academic programs, capitalize on expansion in certain areas and group similar programs together for better collaboration. The new organizational structure introduces a College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Health and Behavioral Sciences; and College of Science and Engineering. Dr. Greg Straughn, dean of the current College of Arts and Sciences, will serve as the founding dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“We are thankful to our search committees and are looking forward to the expertise, passion and new perspectives Dirk and Charla will bring to these new academic units,” said Dr. Robert Rhodes, ACU provost. 

Nelson comes from West Texas A&M University where he has served as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences for more than a decade. He taught and worked in administrative roles at the University of Central Missouri, LeTourneau University and Missouri Southern State University. His undergraduate degree is in physical education from Montana State University, and he holds a master’s in the same field from the University of Kansas, as well as a Ph.D. in education from the University of Kansas. In his role at West Texas A&M, Nelson has been involved with Hispanic Serving Institution initiatives, directed the Honors College and supervised the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

“I am truly honored and excited about my role at ACU,” Nelson said. “Throughout my life, I have been fascinated with the process of teaching and learning, and I have a sense of intellectual curiosity as well as a desire to serve others. While my entire career has been devoted to academia, my life is dedicated to God, and I strive to reflect the teachings of Jesus.  From my perspective, the opportunities for the CHBS to positively make a difference in the lives of others are almost limitless – and I can’t wait to be part of that journey.”


Dr. Charla Miertschin

Miertschin joins ACU from Winona State University in Minnesota where she has been a faculty member since 1993 and dean of their College of Science and Engineering since 2012. Her move to Abilene will be a coming home of sorts, as she is a 1988 alumna of ACU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She also holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Texas A&M University, with a postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity University. Miertschin has stayed connected with her alma mater through the years as a member of the visiting committee for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and as a program review consultant. In her 11 years as dean at Winona State she led an academic college of seven departments with approximately 100 faculty and staff and 1,000 students. 

“Through collaboration with the entire CSE community, I anticipate building on ACU’s foundation of strong undergraduate teaching, grant-supported research, and service. I look forward to exploring additional opportunities to enhance students’ experiences and academic programs that prepare our students for careers and futures of Christian service and leadership,” Miertschin said. “As a proud ACU alumna, I value the role that a Christian education plays and will strive to foster the college experiences for which I am so grateful.”

–Wendy Kilmer

July 13, 2023

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