Professional Development Featured Speakers

School of Professional Studies speakers will inspire you with their unique perspective, expertise and heart. Learn more about our speakers and add their sessions to your schedule today!

Jessica Martinez-PalaciosJessica Martinez-Palacios, M.Ed.

Associate Director of Online Teaching and Learning

Raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessica loves to be known as a "Valley Girl.” She graduated from the University of Texas Pan-American with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She completed her master's degree with two concentrations: Higher Educational Leadership and Administration and E-Learning Technology and Design from Jones International University.

Jessica joined the University of Texas Pan-American as an Instructional Developer Designer where she was the lead trainer and designer for various courses and programs. She implemented and taught an Online Certification Course for faculty who were interested in teaching online. She received a Meritorious Service Award for increasing the number of online courses offered at The University of Texas Pan-American.

After moving to San Antonio in 2012, Jessica served at the University of the Incarnate Word (Broadway Campus). She worked with various subject matter experts to create web-augmented, blended/hybrid, flip classrooms and online courses. In addition, she was the lead designer in implementing the first UIW Broadway campus online and blended course template.

At the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine, Jessica worked as an Instructional Designer, Educational Specialist and eLearning Specialist Program Coordinator. She maintained quality assurance and accessibility standards for the Master of Biomedical Sciences (MBS) and Master of Public Health (MPH).

Currently, Jessica serves as the Associate Director of Online Teaching and Learning at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Professional Studies. She oversees the quality of all courses and professional development. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member. She has over 20 years of experience in Adult Education, Online Learning, Leadership, and working with nonprofits. Jessica is skilled in Curriculum Development, Course Design, Quality Matters, Quality Assurance Standards, Accessibility, Adult Learning Theories, Educational Technology Programs, Assessment Program Standards, and Professional Development. She is married to UIW alumnus Bishop Conrado Palacios, Jr., and they have three children.

Read Jessica's Resume

Headshot of Leanna WalkerLeanna Walker

Director of Academic Affairs

Leanna has 25+ years of experience in education, in Canada, the UK, as well as here in Texas. While most of her career was spent working in K-12 education as a teacher, instructional technologist and school administrator, her most recent position before joining SPS was National Director for the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Education Services. Leanna has an Ed.S. in eLearning and Technology Integration in Education, an M.Ed. in Education Administration, and a B.Ed. in Secondary English and French Education. She loves being part of the SPS family and is excited to work with faculty to continue to deliver high-quality education to our students.

Headshot of Dr. Gail ZitzDr. Gail Zitz

Gail Zitz joined the Incarnate Word Family in 1997. She worked at IWHS for four years as a teacher and the registrar before joining SACHS as a teacher and campus minister. In 2001, she joined the fledgling online program at the University as an adjunct professor of religious studies. She is the mother of three boys and five grandchildren and has been married for almost 55 years.

Headshot of Dr. Deborra FinlanDr. Deborra Finlan

Dr. Deborra Finlan’s educational journey at UIW commenced in 2011 when it was known as the Adult Degree Completion Program, now recognized as the School of Professional Studies. Deborra completed her Bachelor of Administration in 2013. After a brief hiatus, she returned in 2017 and earned her Master of Business Administration. She transitioned to the main campus in 2018 to pursue her Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership/Adult Education, successfully defending her dissertation in June 2022.

Deborra’s dissertation focused on adult learners/nontraditional students and their challenges as well as catalysts in higher education. Specifically, motivation, technology, barriers (situational, institutional, and dispositional), and support. Her theories and theorists included Knowles: Andragogy and Self-directed learning, Mezirow: Adult learners returning to higher education after a hiatus, and many well-known authors (Bandura, Blanchard-Fields, Butler, Carstensen, Cross, Kasworm, Merriam/Caffarella/Baumgartner, and Ryan & Deci, Tinto). Statistics were mostly gathered from the National Center for Educational Statistics, Pew Research Center, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From her perspective, adult learners possess distinctive qualities. They bring both personal and professional experiences into the classroom, demonstrating personal discipline in pursuing their higher education goals. Crucially, they uphold themselves to elevated standards. It is through these strengths that Deborra leveraged and enhanced their learning experience as she moved them toward their personal goals.