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New department chairs named in Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences

By Ellen Gwin Burnette

BOONE, N.C.—Three faculty at Appalachian State University have been named chairs of their respective departments.

View larger imageDr. Eric Marland, Department of Mathematical Sciences chairView larger imageDr. Zack Murrell, Department of Biology chairView larger imageDr. Rahman Tashakkori, Department of Computer Sciences chair

Dr. Rahman Tashakkori, currently the Lowe’s Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science has been named the chair of the Department of Computer Science. Dr. Eric Marland, a professor of mathematics, has been named the chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. And, Dr. Zack E. Murrell, a professor of biology, has been named the chair of the Department of Biology after serving as the interim chair of the department since August 2015.

“After national searches, I am excited that all three of our new chairs have been chosen by their colleagues for these important leadership positions. Drs. Tashakkori, Marland and Murrell all have strong records of teaching, scholarship and service to the college and university. I look forward to working with each of them as they step into their new roles,” said Dean Neva Specht, College of Arts and Sciences.

Tashakkori joined the College of Arts and Sciences in July 2000 in the Department of Computer Science and completed his Ph.D. in computer science at Louisiana State University the following May. Since joining Appalachian, he has established interdisciplinary collaborations, conducted research and engaged students in providing service to the department, university and the community. He created and taught several undergraduate and graduate courses in computer science that include Image Processing, System Security and Administration, Scientific Computing with Visualization, Applied Neural Networks, Data Science 1 and Data Mining of Scientific Data.

He has directed several grants from the National Science Foundation and the McKinney and ECRS Scholarship programs in the department; presented and published his work in computer science journals and conference proceedings; and conducted workshops at professional conferences. He has led more than 15 graduate theses. His students, undergraduate and graduate, have conducted research and presented their work at regional and national conferences that include the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) and the IEEE conferences, the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology.

He is married to Sharareh Nikbakht, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and they have two children, both Appalachian alumni: Parisa, BS Chemistry ’13, and Sina, MS in Computer Science ’15.

Marland received his Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Utah. Marland joined the College of Arts and Sciences in 2000 in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Marland’s research focuses on using mathematical and statistical approaches to study biological and environmental systems. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA and the U.S. Forest Service for his research and outreach projects. Marland has also been heavily involved in organizing professional development opportunities for faculty and in managing several workshops in mathematical biology, mathematical modeling and humanistic mathematics.

Marland and his wife, Kimberly, have been instrumental in bringing robotics and mathematics events to regional K-12 students. They participate in organizing several events each year, including the popular Watauga SumoBot competition held as part of the North Carolina Science Festival.

Murrell received his Ph.D. from Duke University and completed his postdoctoral work at University of Arizona and Harvard University. He joined the College of Arts and Sciences in 1998 in the Department of Biology. He is a plant systematist and a herbarium curator. Over the past 17 years, Murrell has been helping organize the herbaria of the Southeast to provide support and develop collaborations among the 233 collections in the region.

In 2005, Murrell organized a group of curators in the Southeast to submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a five-year project to develop a “virtual community” of curators and affiliated scientists and teachers. This project was funded as a Research Coordination Network (RCN) called SERNEC: SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections ( Over the ensuing five years this group developed collaborative relationships to build a federated database of specimen information. Murrell was recently awarded a four-year NSF grant to extend this project into a digitization effort including 104 herbaria and six information technology entities.

Murrell is author of a plant systematics textbook titled “Vascular Plant Taxonomy.” Murrell’s research is focused on species and speciation and he has mentored 18 master’s students in systematic, floristic and comparative biogeography projects.


About the Department of Computer Science

Appalachian’s Department of Computer Science provides a rigorous, high-quality education that prepares students for the computing industry or graduate education. It offers a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science, which is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET, and a Master of Science degree in computer science.

About the Department of Mathematical Sciences

The Department of Mathematical Sciences offers undergraduate degrees in Actuarial Science and Mathematics, with concentrations in business, computation, life sciences, physical sciences, secondary teaching and statistics, plus a general, self-designed concentration. The department also offers the Master of Arts in Mathematics with concentrations in college teaching and secondary teaching.

About the Department of Biology

The Department of Biology, housed in Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences, is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations – from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery.

About the College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, two stand-alone programs, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities, social sciences, and the mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university’s strengths, traditions and unique location. Our values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of our students as global citizens. There are approximately 5,850 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.