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Title: Targeting the Brain to Treat Obesity
Author: Rebecca Basu
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Abstract: AU researchers say therapies should focus on areas of memory and learning.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/31/2014
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Unlocking the secrets to better treating the pernicious disorders of obesity and dementia reside in the brain, according to a paper from American University's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. In the paper, researchers make the case for treating obesity with therapies aimed at areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Furthermore, treatments that focus on the hippocampus could play a role in reducing certain dementias.

Terry Davidson in lab with sweets

"In the struggle to treat these diseases, therapies and preventive measures often fall short. This is a new way for providers who treat people with weight problems and for researchers who study dementias to think about obesity and cognitive decline," said Terry Davidson, center director, lead study author, and a professor with AU's Department of Psychology.

In the paper, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, Davidson and colleague Ashley A. Martin review research findings linking obesity with cognitive decline, including the center's findings about the "vicious cycle" model, which explains how weight-challenged individuals who suffer from particular kinds of cognitive impairment are more susceptible to overeating.

Obesity, Memory Deficits and Lasting Effects

It is widely accepted that over consumption of dietary fats, sugar and sweeteners can cause obesity. These types of dietary factors are also linked to cognitive dysfunction. Foods that are risk factors for cognitive impairment (i.e., foods high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates that make up the modern Western diet) are so widespread and readily available in today's food environment, their consumption is all but encouraged, Davidson said.

Across age groups, evidence reveals links between excess food intake, body weight and cognitive dysfunction. Childhood obesity and consumption of the Western diet can have lasting effects, as seen through the normal aging process, cognitive deficits and brain pathologies. Several analyses of cases of mild cognitive impairment progressing to full-blown cases of Alzheimer's disease show that the first signs of brain disease can occur at least 50 years prior to the emergence of serious cognitive dysfunction. These signs originate in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memory, learning, decision making, behavior control and other cognitive functions come into play.

Still, most research on the role of the brain in obesity focuses on areas thought to be involved with hunger motivation (e.g., hypothalamus), taste (e.g., brain stem), reinforcement (e.g., striatum) and reward (e.g., nucleus accumbens) or with hormonal or metabolic disorders. This research has not yet been successful in generating therapies that are effective in treating or preventing obesity, Davidson says.

Vicious Cycle

Experiments in rats by Davidson and colleagues show that overconsumption of the Western diet can damage or change the blood-brain barrier, the tight network of blood vessels protecting the brain and substrates for cognition. Certain kinds of dementias are known to arise from the breakdown in these brain substrates.

"Breakdown in the blood-brain barrier is more rationale for treating obesity as a learning and memory disorder," Davidson said. "Treating obesity successfully may also reduce the incidence of dementias, because the deterioration in the brain is often produced by the same diets that promote obesity."

The "vicious cycle" model AU researchers put forth says eating a Western diet high in saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates produces pathologies in brain structures and circuits, ultimately changing brain pathways and disrupting cognitive abilities.

It works like this: People become less able to resist temptation when they encounter environmental cues (e.g., food itself or the sight of McDonald's Golden Arches) that remind them of the pleasures of consumption. They then eat more of the same type of foods that produce the pathological changes in the brain, leading to progressive deterioration in those areas and impairments in cognitive processes important for providing control over one's thoughts and behaviors. These cognitive impairments can weaken a person's ability to resist thinking about food, making them more easily distracted by food cues in the environment and more susceptible to overeating and weight gain.

"People have known at least since the time of Hippocrates that one key to a healthy life is to eat in moderation. Yet many of us are unable to follow that good advice," Davidson said. "Our work suggests that new therapeutic interventions that target brain regions involved with learning and memory may lead to success in controlling both the urge to eat, as well as the undesirable consequences produced by overeating."

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Title: 2014 Israel Writing Award
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Abstract: Phoebe Bradford won the 2014 Center for Israel Studies Israel Writing Award.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 07/31/2014
Content:

Congratulations to Phoebe Bradford, SOC '14, winner of the 2014 Center for Israel Studies Israel Writing Award. Bradford’s paper, “Meduzot’s Magical Multiplicity,” examined the contemporary female experience in Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret’s 2007 Camera D’Or winning film, Meduzot ("Jellyfish”). A cum laude graduate in film and media arts, she said she was attracted to the agency given the film’s three female protagonists, who “didn’t need to have a romantic conclusion to feel success in the end.” Utilizing Tel Aviv as a foundation and the image of jellyfish in the sea floating and randomly bumping into each other, “Geffen and Keret put faces to the collective experience of globalization’s effects on contemporary female Israeli identity,” wrote Bradford in her award-winning essay.

Bradford was a student in the spring 2014 Israeli Identities in Film class, taught by visiting Schusterman Professor Dan Chyutin. In a conversation with the award’s creator, literature Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew, Bradford said she had never learned about a culture through film before, and that the use of film made it a little easier to unravel complex identity issues. She realized that her previous assumptions about Israeli identity had been simplistic, and is now interested in visiting Israel after learning more about its varied landscapes and multi-ethnic society.

The annual writing award was created in 2008 by literature Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew, in honor of Benjamin and Eva Wolpe Reinkel and in memory of Harry Rinkel. Submissions run the full gamut from poetry and personal essays to lengthy research papers, and are judged through a blind review process. Said Michael Brenner, Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and director of the AU Center for Israel Studies, “we are always impressed by the variety of submissions which reveal the complexity of Israel: its people, its place in the larger world, its history, and its future.”

An aspiring cinematographer, Bradford is currently a photographer and videographer for Maker’s Row in Brooklyn, NY, and also holds the position of creative director for a DC-based production company called Boundary Stone Films. She won a 2014 School of Communications Vision Award for her screenplay Parallel, which is a final selection for the DC Shorts Film Festival. Submissions for the 2015 Israel Writing Award will be accepted in spring 2015.

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Title: Creative Writing Alumni Win Accolades and Awards
Author: Patty Housman
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Abstract: Alumni Abdul Ali is the latest MFA graduate honored for his work.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 07/31/2014
Content:

Poet Abdul Ali (MFA ’13) is the latest in a series of creative writing MFA graduates to be honored for his work. He recently won the highly competitive 2014 New Issues Poetry Prize, which draws 1,000 submissions each year. New Issues will publish his book of poems, Trouble Sleeping, in spring 2015.

Trouble Sleeping, Abdul Ali's debut full length collection, situates him beside such New Issues writers as Sandra Beasely, Mark Irwin, and Paul Guest,” says poet David Keplinger of the Department of Literature. “It is a work of great energy and wisdom, at whose center lies a quiet place of rest and knowing.”

Ali credits AU for helping him to develop his craft. “The most important gift AU gave me was permission to see my own artistic vision, even if things looked hazy at the beginning,” he says. “The faculty in the graduate Creative Writing Program were all superior, masters of their craft, generous mentors. They made me feel as if they were genuinely happy to have me in the program.”

“Abdul has always been very professional and focused on the shape and character of his final product,” said Kyle Dargan, a poet and creative writing professor. “It is not a surprise that he's been able to put forward a prize-winning manuscript so soon after graduating from the MFA program.”

Ali’s poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Gargoyle, Gathering of Tribes, National Public Radio, New Contrast (South Africa), The Atlantic, and the anthology Full Moon on K Street, among other publications. He has received grants, awards, and fellowships from The DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, the College Language Association, and the Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival at George Washington University. Ali teaches at Towson University in Maryland.

 

Other Awards, Honors, Distinctions
Over the past several years, recent graduates from AU’s creative writing MFA program have been recognized in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They have received prestigious fellowships, won national writing awards, been interviewed by major media outlets, and widely published in a variety of journals including Copper Nickel, Nimrod, Poet Lore, and Circumference.

The New York Times’ recent poetry issue featured alumna Sandra Beasley (MFA ’05) as one of its four debaters on the craft. Mark Cugini (MFA ’11) founded the magazine Big Lucks and recently published his first collection, I’m Just Happy to Be Here (Ink Press 2013). Cugini also runs the popular DC reading series, Three Tents. In May 2014, Jenny Molberg (MFA ’10) learned that her first full-length collection, Marvels of the Invisible, will appear from Tupelo Press as winner of the Berkshire Prize.

Following are four other recent graduates who have made names for themselves since graduating from the MFA Program in Creative Writing at AU.


Chet'la Sebree (MFA ’13)
Poet Chet'la Sebree was awarded the prestigious 2014-15 Stadler Fellowship at Bucknell University, awarded to one recent creative writing MFA graduate in poetry each year. “As the Stadler Fellow, I will have the opportunity to work on Bucknell's distinguished literary magazine, West Branch, assist in the administration of the Stadler Center for Poetry, and work with Bucknell's Seminar for Younger Poets,” said Sebree. “It is an opportunity that allows me to dabble in multiple realms, while also focusing my attention on my collection.”

While studying at AU, Sebree was a 2011-12 Folger Shakespeare Theater Lannan Fellow and worked for Poet Lore and 491 Magazine. She was a 2013 finalist for the Hub City Writers House Nine-Month Residency in South Carolina. She is currently at work on her first book, The Ease with which Everything Fails.

“I came to AU as a terribly timid 22-year-old who was in awe of the third year poets. I was sure I didn't belong,” said Sebree. “I am forever indebted to the people at AU who proved me wrong. I am thankful for those people who helped entrench me in the community and who made me feel like I belonged as adjunct faculty, a staff member, and student, and, above all else, a poet.”


Sara Blaisdell (MFA '12)

Shortly before graduating from AU, Blaisdell moved to Utah where she completed a collection of poems inspired by her post-undergraduate years as a counselor and by the landscape of the American West.

Her nonfiction also explores that region, but it was her study of an intercontinental friendship between her husband and three Iraqi brothers during the Iraq War that earned her the opportunity to be featured on This American Life in 2010.

"Sara is one of those rare students who comes in to class seemingly fully formed as a writer; her voice was so strong, so full of grace and beauty,” said creative writing professor Rachel Louise Snyder. “The fact that she landed on This American Life for her first publication is almost unheard of. There are veteran writers who will never place a piece in a venue like that. It's a huge career starter, and speaks to the absolute quality of her work."


Valzhyna Mort (MFA ’11)
Valzhyna Mort is the youngest person to ever be featured on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine. Born in Minsk, Belarus, Mort writes and reads her poetry in English and Belarusian. In a New Yorker review of Factory of Tears, her first poetry collection, Mort was described as "an envoy for her native country, writing with almost alarming vociferousness about the struggle to establish a clear identity for Belarus and its language.”

“Valzhyna entered our MFA Program in 2008. She had already appeared on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine that previous spring,” said Keplinger. After graduating from AU, Mort published her second book, Collected Body, with Copper Canyon Press, and she now teaches at Cornell University.

“Mort’s work, for all its lyricism and language-play, draws enormous crowds at poetry readings,” said Keplinger. “Her work is grounded in the imagery of Eastern Europe, influenced by such writers as Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. But it is also strongly narrative. Collected Body, while considered a book of poetry, is also wrought with imaginative, gripping prose.”


Greta Schuler (MFA '11)
Greta Schuler has completed fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and at Yaddo, where she held the Dorothy and Granville Hicks Residency in Literature. She currently lives in Melville, South Africa, and her work reflects this international setting. “Much of Greta’s fiction and nonfiction is set in African countries, most notably Zimbabwe,” said Keplinger. “As an American writing from far off places, her writing often embodies a longing to connect. This urge to connect fuels each piece with conflict.”

Schuler’s work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction as the winner of the magazine’s 2009 MFA Program-Off Contest, in the Crab Orchard Review as the winner of the journal’s 2010 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, in the Chattahoochee Review as the winner of the journal’s 2012 Lamar York Prize, in the New Guard, in Cutbank, and in the Drunken Boat.

"Greta is arguably the most fearless student I ever worked with. I have a special kinship with her because like me she works in multiple forms: fiction, memoir, literary journalism,” said Snyder. “She's insatiably curious and whip-smart, and her writing is full of muscle and soul, full of all these wonderful voices of people she meets in far-flung places. Sometimes she's writing to me from Zimbabwe, and then just a couple of weeks later she'll be at some writing conference in New England. She is utterly determined to carve out a writing life, and I have so much respect for her discipline and talent."

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Title: Meet New SETH Professor Jennifer Steele
Author:
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Abstract: A Q&A with education policy expert and new SETH professor Jennifer Steele.
Topic: Education
Publication Date: 07/30/2014
Content:

Jennifer Steele is a new associate professor in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health.

Degrees
EdD in administration, planning, and social policy, Harvard University
MA in education, Stanford University
MA in English, Georgetown University
BA in psychology and English, Georgetown University


Areas of Research

Teacher and school leader effectiveness; dual-language immersion education; competency-based and technology-enhanced education; transitions to postsecondary education


What initially sparked your interest in education?
Early in my career, I taught in a private, suburban elementary school and a public, urban high school, and I trained teachers for a supplemental education services company. I became very interested in ways that students’ experiences in school shape their choices and opportunities. What drew me into research was the observation that policy decisions made without a strong evidence base can do more harm than good. It’s critical that policy be guided by rigorous analysis of good data. My passion lies in conducting research that sheds light on what works, and in helping policymakers and practitioners become informed consumers of research.


What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
I’m coming to AU from six years at the RAND Corporation, so I’ve been able to do research on a wide array of education policy topics. Right now, I’m leading an Institute of Education Sciences-funded study of dual-language immersion education in Portland, Oregon. I came to this interest through conversations with the language policy community, including Dr. Robert Slater (PhD SIS ’75) at the American Councils for International Education, who co-leads the project. It has become a passion project because access to dual-language education is still quite limited in the United States and is very unequally distributed. If we find that students randomized to these programs in kindergarten perform better in school overall than those randomized to English-only instruction, it raises the question of how we can spread these programs and what it would cost to do so. With that question in mind, we are documenting not only the causal impact of immersion on learning, but also what these programs cost and what is required logistically to implement them.


What brought you to AU?

AU has four features that attracted me: a vibrant faculty; a university-wide emphasis on public policy; a strong commitment to serving the District of Columbia, including partnerships with local schools, The New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and CityYear; and a dedication to the preparation of undergraduate and master’s degree students. When I was at RAND, I was lucky to work with several recent graduates of the School of Education, Teaching, and Health, and it was clear that they had received a great education. In joining AU, I am thrilled to have a chance to help prepare the next generation of educators and education policy leaders.


What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
Beyond continuing the work on immersion education, I have a few other near-term goals. First, I want to ensure that SETH students receive a strong grounding in the use of data that will prepare them to make important decisions in education policy and practice. Second, I want to build local partnerships focused on facilitating students’ transitions between secondary and postsecondary education. Third, a portion of my research has focused on the transition of military veterans into postsecondary education, and I’m hoping to work with the Dean of Students’ Office to learn more about that transition process for student veterans at AU.

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Title: Mathematics & Statistics Professor Publishes New Book
Author: Jamie McCrary
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Abstract: Mathematics and statistics professor Michael Robinson published Topological Signal Processing.
Topic: Mathematics
Publication Date: 07/25/2014
Content:

AU mathematics and statistics professor Michael Robinson sees his recently completed book as a beginning, not an end. “This book is a jumping off point,” says Robinson. “I’m looking to take the ideas in the book and use them as a springboard to further address the problems presented. It’s very much a foundation to build off of.”

Published by Springer, Topological Signal Processing examines the intersection between signal processing, the art of collecting and analyzing measurements, and topology, the study of abstract notions of space. Exploring challenges in the signal processing community through the lens of topology gives mathematicians and engineers new tools for problem-solving, enabling them to develop approaches outside of traditional methodology. “Typically topology has been a pure math subject, but in the past few years applied topology has become a hot area,” says Robinson. “However, no one has really applied it to signal processing, so this book is the first unified treatment of that.” 

Robinson is specifically interested in using topology to retrieve geometric data from sensors—objects that convert physical measurements into electrical signals—that are not cameras. This data can be used to create pictures, allowing people to see non-visual information, such as sounds and echoes. These sensors include complex equipment such as radar or sonar systems, as well as more simple devices such as an audio recorder. Applying topology to these sensors’ geometric data helps engineers bypass uncertainties that traditional statistical methods struggle with, enabling them to create clearer, more accurate pictures. 

Following up on a curiosity that developed while working as an engineer, Robinson was able to investigate the intersection between topology, mathematics, and engineering through his PhD research at Cornell University. Robinson studied differential equations through the point of view of topology, allowing him to apply concepts developed from an abstract notion of space to concrete, mathematical equations. This research led him to pursue a post-doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania with Robert Ghrist, a person known for applying topology to engineering problems. Robinson credits Ghrist for his motivation to write the book, acknowledging that it was through Ghrist’s urging that he committed to the project. “He basically said, ‘There is no one else who can write this and this information needs to be accessible to the public; therefore, you will write it,’” Robinson says. 

The concepts in Topological Signal Processing are not just applicable for seasoned mathematicians and engineers, though; Robinson’s students are using his topological methods in their projects here at AU. One such project is an attempt to more accurately measure and form pictures of the structure of the wind over the ocean. Typically, satellites are used to measure wind structure by assessing how rough the surface of the ocean is. They direct radar beams on the ocean’s surface and measure how much signal comes back. If it is very windy, the signals reflect a turbulent surface; if the wind is calm, the signals indicate the ocean is more tranquil. These signals are processed and form a picture of the wind’s structure. However, these pictures are taken at a low resolution, resulting in an inaccurate presentation of the data. By applying topology to the satellite’s signal processing data, Robinson and his students are able to form clearer pictures. “We’re taking ideas developed through this topological signal processing framework, turning them into algorithms that can process the satellite data, and then putting the data through these algorithms,” says Robinson. “This approach allows us to see structural detail you wouldn’t be able to see using any other system.” 

This breakthrough technique has huge implications for weather and climate prediction, connecting to industries such as air navigation. If these models can inform airline pilots the wind is turbulent in a certain area, they can avoid this region, ensuring a safe flight for passengers. And if the data and pictures reveal the wind is frequently turbulent in an area, perhaps these are regions that should be avoided altogether. 

Robinson hopes the concepts in Topological Signal Processing will be points of entry for solving specific problems like wind structure measurement and believes bringing topology and engineering together is key in providing new solutions. “I want to increase visibility for signal processing problems in the applied topology community, and I want to increase visibility of topological methods in the engineering community,” Robinson says. “Engineers have very interesting problems and topologists—mathematicians—have techniques that can be applied to solve them. Both of these communities have a lot to learn from each other.” 

You can read more about Topological Signal Processing by visiting the publisher’s website.

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Title: Changing Social Attitudes Toward Women’s Health
Author: Caitlin Friess
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Abstract: Randi Saunders looks at the stigma college women face surrounding sexually transmitted infections.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/25/2014
Content:

It is estimated that one in four college students has a sexually transmitted infection (STI). And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 19 million new cases of STIs occur every year, half of them occurring in people between 15 to 24 years old. Women are disproportionately at risk. 

Randi Saunders, BA sociology ’14, is taking a look at this high-risk group to examine what factors influence the decisions college women make when it comes to STI testing. Saunders, who worked this past semester as a research assistant for the Center on Health, Risk and Society, is examining the ways in which her target audience discusses STI testing in various contexts. She will be taking this research with her to the National Council for Undergraduate Research. 

“I have always been interested in sexual and reproductive health,” Saunders says. “And as I started researching major issues in this field during my junior year of college, STI testing for college women stood out.”  

To gather her data, Saunders arranged interviews with volunteer college students recruited through email listservs, campus resources such as Today@AU, and word of mouth. Her IRB-approved line of questioning guided each interview. The interviews examined the processes by which women make their STI-related decisions. The use of qualitative data allows Saunders to garner richer detail from her study, without forcing people’s experiences into patterns or binaries.  

“Qualitative data lets me ask more and look at more holistic experiences, to see where things intersect and interact with each other,” says Saunders. 

Assistant Professor Michelle Newton-Francis, who advised Saunders during the project, describes Saunders as a research wunderkind. “I have worked with Randi in a variety of contexts and have watched her design research and present both her design and findings. When listening to her, it is easy to forget that she is an undergraduate student,” says Newton-Francis.  

While Saunders’ work is still underway—the broader project continues to develop from her senior capstone—she has drawn some conclusions regarding those individuals most likely to discuss STIs, testing, and treatment.  

“More data collection is needed before concrete results can be claimed,” says Saunders. “That said, right now the interviews indicate that individuals who recognize they are at risk for STIs are more likely to seek testing, and that individuals who discuss STI testing with their friends, or whose friends treat STI testing as normal and/or healthy, are more likely to get STI testing. At the same time, these individuals may be cognizant of stigma or taboos surrounding STI testing outside the social group.”  

Saunders adds that without interviewing men, or people who identify as anything other than women, it is impossible to draw comparative data. Her focus now remains on women, and the changing social attitudes surrounding women's sexual activity. 

“Even individuals for whom STI testing was taboo, sex itself was seemingly okay to discuss,” says Saunders. “Attitudes regarding sexual health, however, aren't changing as quickly. For women, stigma is contextualized, and it's what their friend groups—what women they are close to—think that seems to matter the most. It's not yet clear if that is a gendered experience.”  

What are gendered experiences, she notes, are the health experiences that many women experience, such as interacting with gynecologists. 

“If we want to make sexual health more normalized and encourage women to access health services, we need to encourage providers to be non-judgmental and not make assumptions about women's lives and behaviors,” Saunders says. “When women feel safe, and do not feel judged by their health providers, they are more likely to be able to move past other social stigmas and take care of their own health.”  

“There is increased focus on the social determinants of health by researchers, policy makers, and public health practitioners,” says Newton-Francis. “This focus covers a broad range of public health concerns, including HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. Randi’s capstone/honors project is situated within this focus and seeks to understand how the decision to get tested for STIs is gendered among college women, and how it has implications on intervention and treatment.”

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Title: Decoding Aquarius
Author: Gregg Sangillo
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Abstract: School of Communication professor contributes to CNN Series on the 1960s.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 07/21/2014
Content:

Towards the end of the rain-soaked Woodstock Festival in August 1969, Jimi Hendrix took his Fender Stratocaster and made music history. He lit into a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was sublime and exultant. Yet it was also cacophonous and—like so much else from this time period—controversial. That expression of beauty and chaos, unity and discord, may have been the perfect metaphor for the 1960s.

Was Hendrix channeling the turbulence of the times? Interpretations vary. But just like the national anthem, historians are still trying to untangle everything that happened in the Age of Aquarius. American University School of Communication professor Leonard Steinhorn has intensely studied the era, and now he's providing expertise to CNN's documentary series, The Sixties. He taped commentary for three upcoming episodes, which deal with social movements, 1968, and the counterculture, respectively. The episode on 1968 is scheduled to air on July 31. The CNN series is presented in collaboration with several veteran film producers, including actor Tom Hanks.

Steinhorn is also an affiliate professor in the History Department, where he teaches a course on the 1960s.

Got a Revolution, Got to Revolution

What ignited such massive social upheaval? In an interview, Steinhorn provides some answers. Steinhorn discusses how a segregated, Jim Crow society was increasingly captured on television. "You had the brutal bombing of the church in Birmingham, the brutalization of Freedom Riders, the fire hoses and the German shepherds attacking people who were peacefully seeking their rights and dignities," he says.

School of Communication professor Leonard Steinhorn teaching

He also describes children growing up in the nuclear age, with accompanying air raid shelters and sirens terrifying them about the future. "They had the sense of either having to pull us back from the brink, or if the world's going to end, we've got to be able to do something about it now," he explains.

Music and alternative publications helped shape a rapidly developing youth culture. You had Mad magazine satirizing middle class conformity. You had rock 'n' roll, which kids increasingly listened to in their cars and out of earshot of their parents. Soul music brought people of all colors onto the same dance floors, he adds.

During the economic boom of the 1950s, the U.S. had a rising need for managers and thinkers to direct the economy. "And how do you get them? You go to universities, which had for years been places of social privilege," Steinhorn says. "You had this growing number of young people who were in universities, and who were there to learn, to ask questions, to see the world, to think critically."

Then, of course, you had the Vietnam War. "That hit everybody in their homes. Either when they were watching it on television, their kids were being drafted and fighting it, or their kids were protesting it," he says.

Sound of Marching, Charging Feet

Steinhorn lectures on 1968 as part of the One Day University program. The totality of what occurred that year was astonishing: Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election; rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Columbia University shut down.

"It was not just the rain clouds gathering. It was an electric storm that hot-wired everything at that moment in time," he says. Yet Steinhorn believes the country proved resilient. In 1969, he points out, the U.S. put a man on the moon.

Change Was Gonna Come

Steinhorn believes the countercultural forces of that decade had an overwhelmingly positive impact on American life. He deals with this in his 2006 book, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. Many of the ideas forged by early Boomers during the 1960s ushered in today's more inclusive society. Racial bigotry has become taboo, and gender equality is a widely shared goal. Businesses are less hierarchical and more participatory, he says.

"We may look back on the counterculture as a quaint relic of the Sixties, but the values that animated it—express yourself, experiment with the new, find your own God, don't take anything for granted, appreciate nonconformity, feel comfortable in your skin, do your own thing—have permeated American institutions, families, and lives," he writes in his book. 

"The 1960s was a profound cultural shift. It was a shift in the norms of our society. And once the norms of society shift, once the culture begins to shift, the politics will have to follow," he says.

A Little Better, All the Time

Religious Right leaders blame the 1960s for creating a host of social ills, but Steinhorn emphasizes the repressive nature of the oft-romanticized 1950s. To give just one example, he's examined 1950s help wanted ads (which were separated by gender) in venerable newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. "It was, 'Wanted: woman, 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-7 in heels;attractive.' I mean, we are living in a different universe," he says.

Even some 1960s era progressives have deemed the activist movement a failure, or at least a lost opportunity.

"We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave," wrote Hunter S. Thompson in his early 1970s classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. "Now…you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

Yet Steinhorn takes the long view of history. It took decades before Baby Boomers began holding senior positions in business, government, and nonprofits, and changes are starting to reflect that now. "This country has moved in the direction of greater dignity, respect, equality, and freedom. We're not where we need to be, but we're far better than where we were." 

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Title: AU Museum Receives Gift to Support Washington Art
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: Alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper’s gift will establish the Alper Initiative for Washington Art.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 07/18/2014
Content:

Washington is fortunate to have a thriving arts community. Now, thanks to a major gift from AU alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper, BA/CAS '68, to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, more resources will be allocated to the study and exhibition of Washington art.

Alper's gift will establish the Alper Initiative for Washington Art at the American University Museum. The initiative will dedicate space for displaying the work of Washington artists, including more tightly focused, historical shows; development of space for archives of Washington art (available for both members of the public and AU students); an endowment to support more programming of events, gatherings, lectures and films; and digitization of AU's growing collection of Washington art.

"Carolyn's gift provides American University Museum the funds necessary to elevate Washington art to the place of prominence it deserves," said AU Museum Curator and Director Jack Rasmussen. "All of Washington should be grateful as Carolyn has put her contributions where her heart is."

Rasmussen has made Washington art a priority with two "Washington Art Matters" exhibits and opportunities for regular displays of works by Washington artists. A reviewer with Washington City Paper recently wrote: "For almost a decade, the de facto museum of D.C. art has been at American University… The case has been made: Washington art does matter. All we need is the wall space to display it."

Five of the six exhibits on display at the museum through Aug. 17 feature Washington artists and collectors: Mynd Alive by B.K. ADAMS/I AM ART; Syzygy by William Newman; Continental Drift (Being Here and Being There) by Judy Byron; Passionate Collectors: The Washington Print Club at 50, with prints curated from Washington collections; and The Franz and Virginia Bader Fund: Second Act, with art by grant recipients from the region.

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newsId: 53FB7DC5-EEB7-8C02-CD4706D09123BFCE
Title: Vaccination Research
Author: Jamie McCrary
Subtitle:
Abstract: Team of College students win award for study on vaccines and socioeconomics.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/17/2014
Content:

AU rising sophomore Andrew Episcopo is committed to exploring his many interests—both through his interdisciplinary classes and through his research. This past March, Episcopo and his classmates Hannah Lappin and Alix Braun presented their study on vaccines and socioeconomics at the 2014 Mathias Student Research Conference. Together they won “Best Poster in the Sciences by a Freshman or Sophomore.”  

The Mathias Student Research Conference is an annual College of Arts and Sciences event, which provides a competitive forum for undergraduate and graduate students to present original research. Participants submit a research paper or poster, which is judged on intellectual ambition, originality and clarity of argument, and overall presentation of information. 

Episcopos’ research compared people’s opinions of vaccines to their socioeconomic status and religious affiliation, giving him the opportunity to connect his interest in public health to economics and sociology. Episcopo and his colleagues conducted surveys asking questions such as, “What is your opinion of mandatory childhood vaccinations?” and “Have you been vaccinated for tetanus or pneumonia?” The team administered a total of 60 surveys over a three- month period, interviewing people on the streets of DC and through Qualtrics, an online survey platform.  

Once responses were collected, Episcopo and his team compared answers to two separate categories: income level and religious involvement. Results indicated that the stronger one’s religious affiliation was, the less supportive they were of vaccines. Similarly, respondents with lower income levels also expressed lower support of vaccinations.  

Though these were the study’s main conclusions, Episcopo’s research also revealed another important finding: when vaccines aren’t mandatory, the number of people getting vaccinated drops significantly. Episcopo hopes that his findings will encourage people to get vaccinated, and will help the public stay healthy. “Vaccinations have been down lately. Lots of old diseases are coming back because people aren’t vaccinating against them anymore,” he says. “If one person doesn’t get vaccinated, then a lot of people are at risk. Making people aware of why vaccines are important will help make a difference.” 

Originally from Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Episcopo is currently an undeclared major, but is considering pursuing Communications, Law, Economics, and Government studies (CLEG) in the School of Public Affairs. As an interdisciplinary major, CLEG would enable him to explore multiple fields, perhaps also providing the opportunity for additional interdisciplinary research.  

Episcopo believes his classes at AU have helped inform his interest in CLEG, as well as develop a particular interest in law. “Like public health, law is a field that intersects with a lot of different fields and affects nearly everything in our society, so I think it’s a really important subject to study,” he says.

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Title: Day in the Life of a Musician
Author: Nancy Jo Snider
Subtitle:
Abstract: Music Program Director Nancy Jo Snider gives insight into the duties of a professional musician.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 07/17/2014
Content:

Music Program Director Nancy Jo Snider, ‘cellist, educator, and administrator, is a full-time senior professorial lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts.  

A multi-faceted career is “de rigueur” for artists. Playing my ‘cello in everything from period instrument performances of French Baroque music at the Opera Royal in the Palace of Versailles, to avant-garde solo playing with a Czech theatre company in South Africa, is all part of a day’s work.  

The joy of sharing the training and knowledge that has made this possible is what informs much of my teaching. Additionally, my teaching philosophy remains grounded in meeting my students where they are and helping them to their appropriate next step. Organization and communication are essential to juggling such a rich life, and it is here that my administrative talents are put to the test.  

But directing a program is not just about these details. There is a constant striving for excellence in the AU Music Program that requires vision, leadership, and the ability to engage all of the program’s components to keep it moving in a positive direction.  

 

There is no such thing as a daily task list—besides always checking email—but...

7:30 a.m.
The two E’s: espresso and e-mail.  

9:00 a.m.
Meetings with faculty, my Director’s Musicians of Accomplishment, other students, and members of the community to discuss new Music Program and Department of Performing Arts ventures and options for upcoming performances. 

11:45 a.m.
Time to teach University College Understanding Music, an introduction to musical language, to a group of 15 students. I love having the opportunity to share something I am passionate about with those who are also interested and to see their understanding grow as a result. That is the best!  

1:00 p.m.
Cortado at the Dav!  

2:00 p.m.
Afternoons are spent teaching ‘cello lessons and directing the chamber music ensembles. The ensembles perform around the DC area, and we always want to be ready for the next performance. 

4:00 p.m.
Student advising is an important part of directing the Music Program. We serve hundreds of students, and I want to make sure all of them reach their goals after graduation—whether that is attending graduate school, performing, or entering the work force. The best of our music majors are competitive with the best majors anywhere!  

5:00 p.m.
Time to exercise—either going biking, swimming, walking, or visiting the gym. 

8:00 p.m.
I make time to practice in the evening, typically 15 to 20 hours a week.  

11:00 p.m.
Reading the novel du jour. I’ll read (almost) anything, but particularly value the classics. Proust, Faulkner, and Joyce are my top three favorite authors. I also have a deep connection to the novels from the American South and follow the Booker Prize winners with special interest. 

My days also include rehearsals and performing (or attending performances). There is no typical “day in the life” for a teaching musician, only the certainty that the day will be very full with all of the wonderful opportunities we are so lucky to have.

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newsId: CD6E4DA2-DCB6-68C6-7A58566F30E408CB
Title: Family Values Worth Cherishing
Author: Mike Rowan
Subtitle: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Abstract: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Topic: Education & Teaching
Publication Date: 03/25/2014
Content:

Take a family member of Robin Berk Seitz, SIS/MA ’95, or her husband, Richard (Bob) Seitz, and chances are pretty good that person is an educator. Counted among their relatives are principals, classroom teachers, reading specialists, community college instructors, instructional design specialists, and trainers who have worked with diverse populations spanning young children, college students, adults, medical professionals, ESL students, and the deaf and blind. There is a passion that is palpable, illustrated in one case by Bob’s mother, who directed a reading clinic open to people of all ages into her eighties

So when their daughter Larissa Gerstel, née Rozek, CAS/BA ’00—fittingly, an elementary school teacher on her way to graduate school in Denver to become a bilingual reading specialist—had her life cut short by a sudden illness just after her 26th birthday, their response was only natural. Within months, Robin and Bob set in motion a vision to honor Larissa’s life by inspiring students and future educators, bringing all of their extended family together in an effort that is still growing after almost a decade.

“This is important to all of us,” Robin confides.

********

As an AU student, Larissa Gerstel quickly stood out as a passionate force against injustice. While studying to become a teacher, she became an outspoken advocate of critical literacy, an instructional approach that emphasizes active analysis and questioning on the part of the reader to uncover underlying messages of power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships. Together with one of her mentors—Dr. Vivian Vasquez, a professor of education in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health, (SETH)—Larissa helped found an organization called Educators for Critical Literacy, and reached out to local communities in an urgent effort to make literacy a central component of children’s lives. It was the discovery of a calling that would become her life’s work. When it came time to enter her field professionally, she took action on her ideals.

“Larissa had been offered a teaching position in a wealthy area near her home in Port Orange, Florida,” Robin remembers. “And she chose instead to drive 60 miles each way to teach migrant workers’ children.”

Dubbed “the fern capital of the world,” the town of Pierson, Florida relies heavily on agriculture to support their local economy. Around 60 percent of the population is Latino, as classified by census figures, and one-third live below the poverty line, including 40 percent of children under 18. After a year teaching in Montgomery County, Larissa moved to central Florida, teaching at Pierson Elementary School. Shaped by her own childhood as a second-language learner growing up in Switzerland and Italy, as well as her influential experience as a Spanish tutor in high school, she found a fundamental connection with the community.

“Larissa really knew herself. Kids were really important to her, especially kids who were disadvantaged, and who came from immigrant backgrounds learning English as a second language,” says Robin. She also notes that her daughter also worked hard to involve parents, and encouraged them to be active and informed participants in their children’s education. “We really were grateful to Pierson because Larissa really found her voice as a teacher there, and really loved her students and colleagues. It was a very important place to her.”

Today, Pierson is home to the Larissa Gerstel Parenting Center, where parents join their children in reading and other literacy events.

**********

AU became home for Larissa before she even began the college application process, as a high school student while Robin was working toward her master’s in the School of International Service.

“I often took her with me to AU, to the library. Larissa became very familiar and very comfortable being there,” Robin explains. “She was always ready to grow up fast. After her sophomore year [of high school], she was ready to move on. Really the only place she wanted to go was AU.

“She really wanted to apply early decision, but you normally can’t apply two and half years through high school!” Fortunately, after meeting with the family, the administration at McLean High School wrote a statement in support of Larissa and explained her circumstances, and AU accepted her application, to Robin's delight. “She was just thrilled.”

The mother-daughter trips to AU, which set the stage for a college experience that nurtured Larissa’s passion for her chosen career and close friendships, remain special to Robin. “I’ve really been putting a lot of my efforts and energy over the last nine years into the library. It's very meaningful to me and to us as a family, because that’s where Larissa developed her passion for AU... It is still that way for me when I visit campus; I feel like I am coming home, this is where I belong.”

**********

After Larissa’s passing, an outpouring of support from her professors and mentors at AU quickly followed. As Robin recalls, “I talked to Vivian and to Sarah [Irvine-Belson, dean of SETH, another professor who knew her well] to tell them what happened. Immediately they said they needed to do something to honor Larissa’s life’s work and memory.” The Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy Collection was born, initially funded with $10,000 from SETH, plus other donations. After a pre-opening ceremony in 2006, the collection officially opened in 2007. “They [Vivian and Sarah] really helped this process a lot by initiating the vision. In fact, they both came to Larissa’s memorial service [two months later] and brought flyers about the collection to our church.”

The collection was to be housed in the Curriculum Materials Center within the AU Library, and as discussions of the concept progressed, AU librarians and development staff worked increasingly closely with SETH and the Seitz family. “It was a partnership,” Robin emphasizes. “It really evolved over time.” The scope of the effort grew to include an annual event, the Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy Symposium.

“I remember putting together the first symposium,” Robin reflects. “From the very beginning, we set up the fund so that 75 percent would go to the books and curriculum materials and 25 percent would go to a symposium. We knew early on that we wanted it to be both something living—in terms of an event—and also long-lasting, which would be the books, and the teaching of teachers through the curriculum materials.”

“The spreading of the importance of child literacy issues has really taken off,” Bob adds. “We are very happy to have this as a remembrance for Larissa, but the other goal is genuinely helping students and professors at AU communicate about child literacy issues. [The symposium] has done very good work for all the potential teachers that come out of SETH, and others who attend out of sheer interest. You get different perspectives, and a continually higher level of discussion every year.”

In the Curriculum Materials Center, among the many multicultural books for students, children, and parents to learn about issues of social justice and equity in a safe, comfortable space, there hangs a plaque with a quote from Larissa’s graduate school application essay:

“The look of understanding that comes over a child’s face when she or he finally understands a concept that before was baffling and yet now seems simple is the greatest joy I have had as a teacher.”

***********

As momentum surrounding the collection and symposium continued to build, the conversation of sustaining Larissa’s presence on campus expanded. “Over time, we gradually began discussions about establishing the Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy Endowment,” Robin stated. With the support of the extended family, the AU Library and SETH, after years of difficult but uplifting work, the endowment became fully funded this fiscal year.

“Why an endowment? It evolved into that. This is really going to be an ongoing legacy that will build—and hopefully exponentially over time—and continue to give to the school and the students, and really have an impact. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to have Larissa remembered in this way, as a living legacy.

“I think what’s really unique about this is the partnership between the school (CAS) and the Library. It’s not easy to work across departments at a university. The fact that this is such a fantastic success story, and that it’s ongoing, it’s external as well as internal—outreach to the community as well as students and teachers makes this really special. There are a lot great things about that for everybody, including the library.”

Not least among these benefits of the endowment is preserving the memories of Larissa for future generations of her family. Says her fourteen-year-old sister Loree, “AU has helped keep Larissa’s spirit and ambitions alive, and this has been an experience I will never forget. Over the past nine years, I’ve felt like the AU community has been like family to me.”

“It’s really an enduring legacy and an annual legacy,” Robin imparts. “We have the best of both. On Larissa’s birthday, we want to come on campus and be with Larissa there, and we feel the same way about the symposium during Alumni Weekend in October. This is a way of keeping Larissa’s spirit alive; that’s the value to us as a family.”

 

The Seitz family wishes to communicate special thanks to all current and former AU community members who played important roles in making the Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy Endowment a reality: Sarah Irvine-Belson, Vivian Vasquez, and Danielle Sodani of SETH; Alex Hodges, Bill Mayer, and Nancy Davenport of the AU Library; and Jenny McMillan, Sarah Papazoglakis, and Nicole Weaver of the Office of Development.

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Giving,Library,School of Education, Teaching and Health,Donor
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Title: SIRIUSXM Executive Gives Back as Mentor to Current Students
Author: Megan Olson
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Abstract: Steve Leeds, CAS/BA ’72, began a career in music while a student at AU.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2014
Content:

Today the students of American University listen to WVAU, the Internet based student-run radio station. For American University alumnus Steve Leeds, CAS/BA ’72, the campus radio station, then WAMU AM, was a second home for him during his formative years while studying at AU in the early ’70s and just the beginning of his successful career in the music industry.

Steve reminisces warmly about his time at AU – many life experiences, putting service first, and living in Washington, D.C. during the Nixon administration. He remembers fondly the house he lived in on Wisconsin Avenue his senior year as well as his experiences during the war protests in Ward Circle – even broadcasting live while wearing a gas mask. An avid music fan, Steve proudly shares that The Allman Brothers’ Band recorded an album live in the American University gym on December 13, 1970.

Steve, who is now vice president of talent and industry affairs at SIRIUSXM, is an active AU alumnus. In his current role, Steve is part of the department responsible for providing talent for all of the channels at SIRIUSXM. At the office, no two days are ever the same for Steve. His responsibilities range from maintaining relationships with promoters, publicists, and record labels to coordinating times and talent from New York to Nashville, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C.

Even though Steve’s job can be demanding, he continues to serve as a dedicated alumni volunteer and mentor to numerous SOC students. He is passionate about giving his time freely in an effort to provide students with access to candid career advice. He says he enjoys “sharing insights with students and helping them to see the forest through the trees while they are trying to navigate what to do next after AU.”

Steve’s involvement reaches beyond personally advising students. He also invites students to his office at SIRIUSXM in New York during the annual SOC site visit trip. SIRIUSXM is always a favorite site for students to attend, and Steve asks his colleagues at various levels in the company to provide them with stories about how they got started in the industry.

Steve continues to pay it forward, acknowledging how instrumental a mentor can be in shaping someone’s future. He recalls that his faculty advisor at AU was vital helping him figure out how to turn his passion into a career, including assisting him in creating an interdisciplinary degree track, which is known today as the BA in American Studies, as well as encouraging him to continue on to graduate school at Syracuse University, where he received an MS in television and radio.

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Title: Alumnus Daniel Maree wins Do Something Award for Creating Social Change
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Subtitle:
Abstract: When Daniel Maree, SOC-CAS/BA ’08, heard about the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, he took action.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 09/12/2013
Content:

When Daniel Maree, SOC-CAS/BA ’08, heard about the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, he knew he had to take action. “I lived in Gainesville, Florida for two years, and I’ve been in positions like [Trayvon was in]. I’ve been stopped in predominantly white neighborhoods in Florida by police or [citizens] just because I was an African American male. … Trayvon could have easily been me or my little sister, and I knew immediately I had to do something about it.”

Daniel definitely did “do something.” He launched the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice movement, and because of its success, on July 31, 2013, he won the Do Something Award, broadcast on VH1, which includes a grand prize of $100,000.

Trayvon was wearing a hooded sweatshirt the night he was killed, so Daniel recorded a YouTube video to launch Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. “We were calling on people around the world to show solidarity for Trayvon’s family with one act – simply by putting on a hoodie and sharing a picture of themselves in the hoodie,” Daniel says.

This sparked a social media firestorm, the fastest-growing petition in the history of the internet, as well as more than 50,000 people participating in more than a dozen protests in different cities across the United States, including 5,000 people in New York City’s Union Square.

Daniel credits American University for giving him the opportunity to create his own interdisciplinary major in history, philosophy, and film so he could study how social change occurs and how to use media to create change. He says some of his mentors are Professors Russell Williams, SOC/BA ’74, Peter Kuznick, and Gemma Puglisi.

“I had the privilege of being taught by some of the best professors. … I look back every day, and I see how their coursework and the conversations I had with them, not only in the classroom but during office hours, helped establish my foundation in critical thinking and exploring issues beyond the surface,” he says, “The School of Communication provided a great basis for my training in interactive media and film, which has been a huge part of the Million Hoodies movement. We leverage media and entertainment every day to galvanize people to the cause.”

When asked how he will spend the prize money to continue his activism, Daniel says, “Trayvon Martin is just the tip of the iceberg. … We want to prevent [incidents like this] from ever happening again, so we really have to attack to root causes: racial discrimination and structural violence against young people of color – black, Latino, Hispanic, Asian American, the list goes on. It’s not just African Americans.”

Daniel hopes to accomplish this by educating young people and engaging them in conversations on race and gun violence at an early age. He is in talks now with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a digital study guide for classrooms to start these discussions. He also hopes to start local conversations about racial profiling and common sense gun legislation because, he says, change must come from the local level.

“We are calling on college students to start Million Hoodies chapters on their campuses, and we will give them the resources they need to have an impact on their local communities. And I want American University to be the first Million Hoodies college chapter. All it takes is one student,” says Daniel.

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Title: Nicole Zangara, CAS/BA ’06, Has New Book Analyzing Female Friendships
Author: Patricia Rabb
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Abstract: The book is an analysis of how to find and keep female friendships in the age of new technology and social media.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 07/17/2013
Content:

“I truly hope that after reading this book, a student or alumna walks away with validation and adopts the ‘it’s not just me’ mentality when finding/managing her friendships.”

So says alumna Nicole Zangara, CAS/BA ’06, about her book, Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, an analysis of how to find and keep female friendships in the age of new technology and social media. Nicole is a licensed clinical social worker and provides psychotherapy in Arizona, where she moved to be closer to family.

Nicole decided to write the book because she felt that “there wasn’t enough information out there for women who have experienced complicated friendships – from how we meet and make friends to the long-lasting friendship that ends without any explanation, to having to let go of an unhealthy friendship.”

In this book, Nicole not only recalls her own experiences but also includes stories from women ranging in age from 20 to over 60. “Regardless of age, every woman has a story,” she says. “Another reason for the book is that, as women grow older, we tend to focus on our family and career, and sometimes friendships take a backseat in our lives; it’s not good or bad, it simply is, and I want to acknowledge the shifts that so often happen in female friendships.”

The book examines what Nicole calls a popular myth about female friendships —that they will last. “Friendships take work. They take both parties putting in time and effort to keep the friendship going. Oftentimes, friendships lose steam if both people are not reaching out in some way,” she says.

The longest friendship that Nicole herself has consistently maintained has lasted seven years (and counting). “This friendship has lasted so long because we both put in time and effort to make it last. And the kicker is that we don’t live in the same state, so it takes even more time and effort – calls , emails, and text messages to maintain the friendship,” she says.

According to Nicole, one of the best parts of writing the book was “asking various women for their incredible stories, thoughts, and experiences and being able to give them a voice.” She says also enjoyed the “journey” of making a book.

Nicole also maintains a blog.

When sharing aspects of her AU experience that have stuck with her since graduation, Nicole says, “I learned a great deal about friendships during my time at AU and even write about some of these experiences in the book. College allowed me to grow as a person, yet also provided insight into how friendships can change.”

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Title: AU Students and Alumni Build Skills in the Office and at the Movies
Author: Roxana Hadadi
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Abstract: AU students and graduates make up the ranks at entertainment marketing firm Allied-THA, creating a community that encourages creative thinking and research.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 06/14/2013
Content:

In his three years at the entertainment marketing firm Allied-THA, publicist David Lieberson, CAS/SOC/BA '10, has seen more movies than he can remember. He’s met celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Jesse Eisenberg. And, during a career that has already included two promotions, Lieberson continues to be surrounded by other AU students and alumni. One third of Allied-THA’s D.C. staff is made up of former Eagles, and current AU students consistently dominate the office's intern pool.


Working in film promotion has its celebrity-focused perks, but the firm’s numerous opportunities for creativity and development coupled with the opportunity to work alongside fellow Eagles is appealing enough on its own, Lieberson says.


“It’s been kind of nice to learn different positions coming right out of college,” says Lieberson, who worked on AU’s WONK campaign before joining Allied-THA full time. “And when you’re working with other AU alumni, everyone knows what we’re talking about.”


That connection to AU came in handy not only when Lieberson started at Allied-THA as an intern—he learned about the position from one of his fraternity brother’s friends, who was working there at the time—but when, after working his way up the ranks to junior publicist, he took over the Allied-THA intern program with another AU alumna. For more than a year, Lieberson and his co-worker drew on friends, acquaintances, and other AU students to staff the intern program. Internship responsibilities range from clipping articles and sending out packages to distributing screening passes for films and working on specific releases. 


“In terms of what attracts AU students, it’s a good intersection of communications, entertainment, and film, but we’re also a large PR firm,” explains Lieberson. “We have over 200 employees; we have 15 or 20 offices. It’s not like a little boutique firm. … The only thing we do day to day is clips; other than that, everything is different.”


Now as a full publicist with seven clients including Universal Pictures, Summit Entertainment, and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lieberson spends more of his day planning press tours and events. Time management is key, says coordinator Jenna Irish, SOC/BA '11, whose responsibilities include working public film screenings, helping prepare reports for studios that include audience feedback, and pitching story ideas to press members. 


“When I was an intern, the things I was concerned about getting done and my responsibilities were nothing compared to here,” Irish says. “The amount of stuff you’re working on is intense.”


But the intern program is engaging because it provides chances for students to come up with their own kind of promotional ideas, Lieberson and Irish both say. If an intern comes up with an idea for a partnership with a local business to promote an upcoming film, they’re encouraged to pursue it—“you get out how much you put in,” Lieberson notes—and that kind of leadership and dedication to a project will look good on a resume. 


And so far Raakkel Sims, SIS/BA '13, has put in a lot. Although her previous internships have been more directly related to her academic focus on international relations—including her internships with the White House in summer 2012 and Finland’s Foreign Ministry while she studied abroad in Brussels, Belgium, in fall 2012—her internship with Allied-THA has provided her more insight into marketing methods and targeted writing. Those skills may come in handy during her internship with the Department of State this fall, Sims says, and for her eventual career goal of joining the Foreign Service.


“It’s really broadened my capacity to think outside of the box,” says Sims, who has worked on campaigns for films like “The Big Wedding,” “Safe Haven,” and “The Purge,” of her internship. “I know I can apply marketing to different SIS aspects; if I’m writing a report, I know how to word it in a certain way so the person reading remains interested.”


The large contingent of AU interns have helped bring a sense of familiarity and comfort to her experience with Allied-THA, Sims says, and she would encourage any student—movie obsessed or not—to consider an internship with the firm for the chance to improve and develop creative thinking, public speaking, and research skills. You may even be small enough for Sims’ favorite part of the job.


“I’ve done a lot for the movie ‘Despicable Me 2,’ and there have been a lot of appearances of the Minion costumes, which I am fortunate enough to be short enough to fit into,” Sims says with a laugh. “So when I think of Allied, I think of the Minion costume. I always volunteer to do it because that’s a fun thing to do. Everyone can be creative—you don’t have to just be a marketing major or minor to be here.”

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Film,Film and Media Arts,School of Communication,School of International Service,Career Center,Career Development
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newsId: 4247EC8B-A7D0-E9A7-2D5BA65F399FC37F
Title: Alumnus Captures the Power of Storytelling
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Subtitle:
Abstract: Paul Costello, CAS/MFA ’97, believes: “If you want to change the world, you have to change the story.”
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 06/12/2013
Content:

“If you want to change the world, you have to change the story,” says Paul Costello, CAS/MFA ’97.

He should know. For the past 20 years, Paul has been bringing young people from areas of conflict around the world to D.C. for the summer. His most recent venture, New Story Leadership, unites college students from Israel and Palestine.

“Understanding that Middle East is old-style leadership stuck in old stories, we have to find new leaders. We have to create new experiences that will spark them to write a new story,” Paul says.

The students live with host families, learn the art of narrative storytelling, and immerse themselves in American culture – visiting the Library of Congress while learning about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and experiencing the Fourth of July festivities in the nation’s capital. They also intern at prestigious institutions like Congressional offices and the World Bank.

“The power of the United States is the power of its stories, and D.C. is the perfect platform for these students to learn,” Paul says.

Students work together to craft their stories and understand one another and then share those narratives with people who wouldn’t otherwise hear them. Students have told their stories in Congress, embassies, and international conferences.

This is important, Paul says, because, “In Washington, the story of Israel and Palestine is largely told by politicians and government. We get these students a seat at the table by telling stories of hope. We are not trying to change the Middle East; we are trying to change Washington.”

The bonds these students form are long-lasting and transcend cultural barriers. Paul recalls the story of a Palestinian student, Dia, who made the dangerous, day-long journey through multiple military checkpoints from Amman, Jordan to Palestine and then Tel Aviv, Israel, to surprise an Israeli friend, with whom he shared a host family in D.C., for her birthday.

In the past, Paul has worked with people from Northern Ireland and South Africa to open a dialogue and foster understanding. Paul credits much of his success to AU and the people he met here.

Kathie Hepler, CAS/MA ’95, whom he met while studying at AU, worked with Paul for years. He also says Professors Henry Taylor, Myla Sklarew, Kermit Moyer, Richard McCann, and Jo Radner were inspiring. Jim Gray, an AU psychology professor, opens his home and hosts students for New Story Leadership.

“I have AU interns working with me all the time, and I just hired Elliot Jeffords, [SOC/BA ’13], to be my summer program manager. … I don’t feel I’ve ever left AU. I still get books from the library. I don’t know where I’d be without AU. It’s a backstop and an inspiration. I’m a huge booster. AU is in this work very deeply,” Paul says.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: 3886D2A2-BDA9-0F95-35E4AA4F609FD671
Title: AU Experiences Assist Pennsylvania Communications Specialist In Influencing The Political Process
Author: Milt Jackson
Subtitle:
Abstract: Alumna’s position in Pennsylvania politics enhanced by AU education.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 06/07/2013
Content:

To say that Nicole Reigelman, CAS/BA ’01, communications specialist for Pennsylvania’s House Democratic Policy Committee, keeps busy is an understatement. The Doylestown, Pa. native not only manages all aspects of communication for the very busy political office, she also proudly serves her country as an officer in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

As the daughter of two military parents – and as a competitive figure skater - Nicole had discipline and significant travel experiences under her belt early in life. When the time came to choose a university, she was initially drawn to AU because of its location and international studies foci. However, when she arrived on campus as a student, she found AU compelling for other reasons as well. “AU not only taught me the mechanics of government, it also enhanced my perspective on viewing relationships with others. I better understand where people are coming from,” she says.
 
Part of learning the mechanics of government included being educated by world-class faculty and a studying abroad stint in Brussels, Belgium. While in Brussels, Nicole saw the European Union Parliament in action, and this experience, among others, eventually helped inform her decision to become a political communications professional.

After completing her studies at AU, Nicole attended the University of Chicago where she earned an MA in social science. There, she took part in a class which featured then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama as a speaker. Additionally, her social science horizons were expanded when noted Freakonomics author and economist Steven Levitt agreed to serve as her thesis advisor. These personal experiences, in conjunction with an internship at a Chicago nonprofit, helped cement Nicole’s path and led her back to her native Pennsylvania.

Nicole says her career path was greatly enhanced in 2002 when she joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Commissioned in 2006 as an officer, she eventually was assigned the position of directorate chief in Horsham Air Guard Station’s Public Affairs Section, her current position. As the supervising officer, Nicole manages other community relations staff and supports their professional development efforts, in addition to advising and counseling rising military personnel and producing a newsletter.

Nicole’s return to her home state also allowed her to fine-tune her skills in the political waters of Harrisburg. Initially taking a position as a media specialist in the capitol, she managed communications and constituent outreach for multiple state lawmakers. Her dedication and professionalism soon earned her a communications specialist position serving the House Democratic Policy Committee. In this, her current position, she plans and executes holistic communications strategies directed at constituents, advocacy groups, and the media.

Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster, House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman) says, “Communicating with the public and the media are essential responsibilities in my role as a lawmaker. Nicole has helped me successfully keep my constituents in the loop by using every tool in her arsenal to spearhead my messaging in a dynamic communications environment.”

Despite these significant responsibilities, Nicole also finds time to serve AU’s Central Pennsylvania alumni as a chapter leader. In this capacity, she and other Keystone State alumni assist their alma mater by planning, executing, and participating in events, from cultural activities to networking gatherings, structured to raise visibility and awareness of AU – and to strengthen the ties between its valued constituents.

When asked about the benefits of her AU education, Nicole said, “AU opened my eyes to the world and that personal experience can influence [political] policy. Whether it was studying abroad or visiting the Library of Congress, there hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I don’t feel fortunate.”

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences,Communication,Government
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newsId: 958227C0-C038-4A6F-650CF77DF42165BF
Title: A Passion for Reading, from Literature to MRIs
Author: Phil Recchio
Subtitle:
Abstract: Dr. Laurie Cutting, BA/CAS ’93, is a leader in new field of “educational neuroscience.”
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 05/10/2013
Content:

As a Northwest D.C. native, Dr. Laurie Cutting brought her voracious love of reading to AU's library even before she was enrolled as a college student. Recalling her high school memories of studying in Bender Library, Laurie returned to AU as a student. While she always knew that she wanted to work with children somehow, she, like many students early in their careers, was unsure of how to get there. Laurie excelled in her literature degree program while also taking some pre-med classes and graduated cum laude in 1993. 

From D.C. to Chicago, Laurie went on to receive her doctorate in communication sciences and disorders from Northwestern University. While there, she completed an internship with top-notch childhood development learning centers, such as Johns Hopkins Kennedy Krieger Institute, Yale University School of Medicine's Center for Learning and Attention, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Coupling her understanding of literature with her learning in cognitive development, Laurie conducted research for 12 years, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a member of the faculty, at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine/Kennedy Krieger Institute. She tested how learning disabilities manifest themselves in early childhood and how the neural structure and function of the brain can begin to inform educational practices.

Currently, Laurie holds multiple faculty positions at Vanderbilt University, including an endowed chair with appointments in both Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education and Vanderbilt's Medical School. She is also the faculty director of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic, and part of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute. Her diverse research is part of a new discipline known as educational neuroscience, which integrates previously isolated bodies of knowledge to form new exciting connections. Laurie embodies a new age of scientists whose backgrounds in the arts serve to inform their passion and dedication to social causes.

Laurie excitedly admits that while her educational path was non-traditional, in retrospect, she wouldn't have it any other way. "I would not be where I am today without my time at AU," she said. She remains very close with several of her friends from AU, including her best friend. Their sons were born two weeks apart, and the families regularly hear stories from their time on campus.

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newsId: C0ADB7D3-ABF4-3582-C2DEC7E2634B4247
Title: Sara Nieves-Grafals: Psychologist, World Traveler, Alumni Board Member
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Subtitle:
Abstract: Three-time AU alumna Sara Nieves-Grafals , who is coauthor of a cookbook, recently joined the AU Alumni Board.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 04/11/2013
Content:

Dr. Sara Nieves-Grafals, CAS/BS ’75, CAS/MA ’79, CAS/PhD ’80, practiced clinical psychology for 32 years, has traveled the world, co-authored a travel cookbook called Mystical Places and Marvelous Meals with her husband, and speaks five languages fluently. She is also one of the newest members of the American University Alumni Board.

While growing up in Puerto Rico, Sara says, “I had a life-changing experience that influenced my desire to celebrate life everyday and to keep learning for the rest of my life. When I was 18 years old, I contracted viral encephalitis from a mosquito bite. I was in a coma for a week.

“Physicians told my parents that if I survived, I should forget about ever going to college because I would likely have brain damage. I fully recovered. Yet it was not until I took a battery of neuropsychology tests while training as a doctoral student that I breathed a sigh of relief.”

Despite her doctors’ predictions, Sara began her undergraduate degree at another institution, and eventually transferred to AU for its more challenging academics. She completed her bachelor’s in psychology, then decided to pursue her doctorate in psychology at AU as well.

“The [psychology] professors were excited about the field and helped guide students. … The whole experience was such a privilege. It was a very collaborative environment and conducive to learning,” she says. She especially admires psychology professors Dr. Jim Gray and Dr. Tony Riley – now the department’s chair.

Sara decided to become more involved with AU after receiving two free men’s basketball tickets in the mail. “Why not get in touch with your inner Eagle?” asked her husband, whom she says is “an Eagle by marriage.”

“Now that I am retired, I have more time, and AU was so helpful to me,” she says. Sara has taken advantage of all AU has to offer while volunteering her time and expertise to help the university.

In addition to joining the Alumni Board, Sara is auditing an art history course through the alumni audit program. “I love being able to go back to school to see the technology and how people learn now. I have my first exam on Friday. I’m excited!” she says.

She is helping plan a psychology reunion to honor current department chair Dr. Tony Riley, who has been at AU for 35 years. Since she lives near the university, she enjoys coming to alumni events and interacting with current students. “I was at a multicultural alumni event the other day, and it was like an AU family. Alumni can guide and mentor students now in a way that wasn’t available to us as students,” she says.

Tags: Alumni Board,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,Psychology,Psychology Dept,Clinical Psychology,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: 9DB90A93-AA13-E425-634F22C41698F2DC
Title: AU Student Gives Back Through Federal Work Study
Author: Roxana Hadadi
Subtitle:
Abstract: Mayra Rivera, CAS/BS '13, has taken advantage of FWS opportunities to promote healthy living.
Topic: Student
Publication Date: 12/17/2012
Content:

When Mayra Rivera, CAS/BS ’13, was a senior at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., she was No. 2 in her class of 173 students. But as the daughter of El Salvadorian immigrants and with her mother a small business owner, Rivera wasn’t sure if she was going to apply to college.  

“I never heard of American University, even though I live here in Washington, D.C.,” Rivera says. “But during my junior and senior year, we had a representative from AU come over and give us a presentation, and I started thinking about it.”

Rivera applied to AU, and, thanks to a competitive financial package, she accepted. Four years later, with multiple federal work study (FWS) positions under her belt and a passion for working with children, Rivera is taking advantage of an assortment of student employment and volunteer opportunities both on and off the campus. As a first-generation student, Rivera is changing her family’s expectations about a college education and blazing a trail for her younger relatives while still finding ways to give back to her community.

Rivera has plans to use her degree in health promotion to educate children about the power they have over their bodies and choices. The adaptability and individuality of the subject appealed to Rivera.

“You have the power to change your health—to eat healthier, to exercise—and I feel like the reason why a lot of people don’t stick to diets or don’t go and work out is because they don’t know, they lack the education,” Rivera said. “So with health promotion, I’m learning how to implement programs and ways to approach how to make changes today.”

Sharing those lessons with children has been the main thrust of Rivera’s FWS positions with DC Reads and Kid Power. Introduced to the organizations through the Career Center’s Student Employment Coordinator, Tasha Daniels, Rivera worked with DC Reads for a year and then transitioned to Kid Power, where she has been for the last two years.

Students looking for FWS positions or part-time jobs on campus should regularly check the AU Student Jobs website, www.american.edu/studentjobs, keep an eye on list-serv or department emails that may advertise positions, and should be persistent, Daniels says. Look often, both before and during the semester, to see what kind of opportunities are out there, she suggests.

“Finding any job is a process,” Daniels says. “Keep applying until [you] land a position. … Submit professional application materials—resume and tailored cover letter—to increase [the] likelihood of landing a position.”

With both of her FWS opportunities, Rivera has been able to stay local and focused on her educational goals. During her time at DC Reads, Rivera worked with students one-on-one at CentroNía, a bilingual charter school in Columbia Heights—a five-minute walk from her home. At Kid Power, where Rivera both works as a FWS employee and is conducting an internship, Rivera is applying her knowledge about physical health and nutrition while leading whole classes.

“I was able to give back to my community,” Rivera says, and her impact is still felt years later. “The mom of the girl who I tutored at DC Reads works at Target and I also work at Target, and we always talk, and I always ask her questions about her daughter—I just saw them, and she’s grown up. And it’s nice to see they remember me.”

Rivera ensures the students remember her lessons about health, too. Thanks to encouragement from her Kid Power supervisor Shaden Dowiatt, Rivera is involved in the program Veggie Time, teaching students about gardening and nutrition.

“She’s fantastic; the kids really, really love her,” says Dowiatt, SIS/MA ’10, LAMB Site Director for Kid Power. “I think she relates really well to the students; she’s always very positive, smiles a lot, is pretty easygoing. Her passion and her focus is obviously on health education. This year she’s been doing an internship with me—she’s helped develop some of the lessons about nutrition and I’ve encouraged her to share those lessons with the students.”

And Rivera isn’t the only AU student at Kid Power. The organization employed both university alumni and 44 FWS students in fall 2012—about five to six AU volunteers are located at each of Kid Power’s 10 sites, Dowaitt says—and that atmosphere creates an undeniable sense of camaraderie.

“This past summer, we had this close connection,” Rivera says of her AU peers who also worked with Kid Power at their summer camp. “We all hung out at night, we had dinner and stuff together—we created this little AU family.”

And as for Rivera’s own family, they’ve been affected by her college choice, too. Although her mother was initially skeptical of her decision to apply to AU and hoped Rivera would help her with her small business, she’s grown to appreciate that Rivera “wants to do more”—“she’s always encouraging me, and now she brags about me going to college,” Rivera says. And Rivera’s younger sister has followed in her footsteps, and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

With graduation coming up in May, Rivera hopes to volunteer with other health- or children-focused nonprofit organizations and eventually gain employment at one; graduate school isn’t out of the question, either. But for now, she’s staying with Kid Power, hoping to introduce students to healthy recipes and eating habits. Without these FWS opportunities, Rivera says she’s not sure how she would have been able to so effectively prepare for her career.

“I never heard of Kid Power or DC Reads before federal work study, but it’s my interest to work with kids and to help them,” Rivera says. “If it weren’t for [FWS], I don’t know how I would get this experience.”

Tags: Career Center,College of Arts and Sciences,Federal Work Study
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