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American Today


Faculty on the Road

By Sally Acharya

Cuba after Fidel. The New Era in Environmental Politics. Women and Political Ambition.

It sounds like a list of classes. But in fact, those are talks in an innovative series that takes professors on the road, meeting alumni as far away as Los Angeles and sharing some of their latest research.

The people in the audience may not have been on campus in 40 years.

They may be parents of current students, curious about what their children are learning.

They may even be prospective students.

But for one evening, it’s as if they’re all students in a multigenerational AU classroom, transported for a few thought-provoking hours to Los Angeles or Philadelphia or Denver.

The series is called Faculty on the Road, and this coming academic year, it will bring five professors each semester to alumni around the country in events hosted by the schools’ deans or university librarian Bill Mayer.

“The first event we ever did was in the fall of 2007, but we weren’t really thinking at that point that it would turn into the series it became,” says Tara Lang, director of alumni programs, recalling a talk that SOC professor Lenny Steinhorn gave for alumni in New York City.

Like the alumni and parents who come to the events, the faculty who participate run the gamut.

Some bring with them many years of AU experience and draw alumni eager to see remembered professors after so many years and find out what they’re doing now. Others are newer faculty, such as Matt Nisbet, School of Communications, an expert on media coverage of climate change, and Alison Jacknowitz, whose research focuses on poverty, the elderly, children and families.

One avid faculty traveler is Gary Weaver, an international relations professor and expert on intercultural communication, who has given talks in cities from Baltimore to Philadelphia to Denver to Los Angeles.

“It’s great to meet alumni and parents. That’s always fun. In almost every city, I’ve met somebody I taught 30 or 40 years ago – and sometimes they introduce me to their children or grandchildren who are thinking of coming to AU.

“They’ll often ask me about the findings in my new book (America’s Midlife Crisis: The Future of a Troubled Superpower), and also how the university has changed, how Kerwin is doing as president, and about the new buildings like the Katzen and the SIS building.

“A lot of alumni want to talk about the basketball team, too, and fortunately I like basketball and have gone to all the games. I find the alumni tend to know what’s going on on campus, but they like to hear more.”

Lang is pleased with how the program is going. “One of the really neat things about the program,” she says, “and one of the reasons we designed the program in the way we did, is that we knew schools individually already did programs targeted to their alumni, but other alums were not necessarily getting invited. Just because you graduated from SIS doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be interested in an SPA professor. You might have taken a lot of classes there. You might be in a career now more targeted to something related to SPA. Or you might just be interested in the topic.”

The series will continue in the fall, bringing AU faculty and their latest ideas to alumni from coast to coast.