newsId: 7A39BA44-F2C1-0E18-3824686BF85D0B90
Title: Decoding Aquarius
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: School of Communication professor contributes to CNN Series on the 1960s.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 07/21/2014

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
Abstract: Alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper’s gift will establish the Alper Initiative for Washington Art.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 07/18/2014

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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Title: Vaccination Research
Author: Jamie McCrary
Abstract: Team of College students win award for study on vaccines and socioeconomics.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/17/2014

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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newsId: 528B08A1-E5C2-839A-95ADD62FDB84DE15
Title: Day in the Life of a Musician
Author: Nancy Jo Snider
Abstract: Music Program Director Nancy Jo Snider gives insight into the duties of a professional musician.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 07/17/2014

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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Title: Storytelling across Cambodia
Author: Patty Housman
Abstract: Graduate student wins Fulbright- National Geographic Fellowship.
Topic: Social Sciences
Publication Date: 07/10/2014

Erin Moriarty Harrelson, a PhD candidate in anthropology, received a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. She was one of five grantees selected from among 864 applicants for the fellowship, which is the first of its kind. 

Moriarty Harrelson will travel to Cambodia for nine months, exploring the emerging culture of deaf Cambodians. She herself is deaf and will use video, text, photographs, maps, and drawings to document the lives of deaf Cambodians as they encounter each other for the first time and learn Cambodian Sign Language—a new language that is still being developed and documented. She will travel across Cambodia to Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Battambang, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap to collect stories and share them with a global audience on

Moriarty Harrelson says that she was guided through the application process by professors of anthropology Dolores Koenig, William Leap, and Audrey Cooper, along with Chris Swanson, assistant director, Office of Merit Awards. They helped her develop her project, and they wrote testimonies about her ability to overcome challenges. 

“I would not have this incredible opportunity without the support of American University,” said Moriarty Harrelson. “I am proud to be affiliated with AU because of the unwavering support I have received from fellow students and the faculty in the Department of Anthropology. This department’s scholarship epitomizes social justice and community activism.” 

Swanson said that the fellowship’s digital storytelling focus is perfect for Moriarty Harrelson. “Video is such an intuitive way to capture the story of people using sign language,” he said. “There is something deeply alluring about Erin’s topic—the emergence of a post-Khmer Rouge deaf culture in Cambodia. She is able to witness a new culture coming into being, and as a deaf anthropologist she's uniquely qualified to capture this story." 

Cambodia and the Search for a Shared Language 

More than 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia continues to rebuild itself. One of the ensuing cultural shifts is a growing sense of shared identity among deaf people. Another, according to Moriarty Harrelson, is the “creativity and tenacity of Cambodians, especially deaf Cambodians, who navigated social upheaval and found other ways to communicate without a national sign language. 

When Moriarty Harrelson first visited Cambodia in 2009 she encountered a deaf woman selling scarves at a market. The woman did not know sign language but was able to communicate effectively and confidently with tourists through a series of gestures. In her Fulbright personal statement, Moriarty Harrelson wrote, “In a way, being deaf was an advantage as she was uninhibited by the lack of a shared spoken language and easily found other ways to communicate with people who do not sign.” 

Preparing for the Fellowship

Moriarty Harrelson returned to Cambodia on research trips in 2012 and 2013 and learned digital ethnography. On her second trip she observed deaf Cambodians teaching sign language to other deaf people, some of whom were seeing it for the first time. During these trips she traveled widely, gathering stories. 

“When I conducted preliminary fieldwork in 2013,” Moriarty Harrelson wrote, “I met deaf individuals in several cities across Cambodia with compelling stories—a circus performer in Battambang, a Cham man whose parents scoured the country for a woman willing to marry their deaf son, traditional dancers in Siem Reap, an NGO worker teaching sign language in rural communes in Kampong Cham, and garment workers in Phnom Penh earning less than their counterparts because they are deaf.” 

Before her departure for her upcoming trip, Moriarty Harrelson will receive training by National Geographic staff in digital storytelling techniques, including effective blog writing, video production, and photography. A National Geographic editor will mentor her throughout her trip. 

When she returns, Moriarty Harrelson will complete her PhD studies at AU. She received an MA in public anthropology from AU in 2013. She also earned an MA in communication in contemporary society from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in art history and anthropology from Smith College. She has worked for the American School for the Deaf, Telecommunications for the Deaf (TDI), and Gallaudet University.

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Title: We, Robot
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: AU literature professor’s new book analyzes artificial people in film and fiction.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 07/07/2014

Robots and androids hold a powerful sway on our cultural imagination. Countless science fiction books have depicted artificial intelligence, and robots battling humans for global supremacy is usually a summer blockbuster waiting to happen. Each new robot tale may seem cutting edge.

But as Despina Kakoudaki details in her new book, Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People, this obsession with artificial intelligence is nothing new.

"I was interested in this topic because it seems to be perennially new, even though it is one of the oldest things in the book," says Kakoudaki, an American University professor in the Literature Department. "It's not even about modernity. It's not about the scientific revolution. It goes to antiquity. It goes to ancient origin stories and myths."

Origin Myths

Philosopher Aristotle used a lot of mechanical metaphors for the human body, she says. The story of God creating Adam was probably a paradigm for how the artificial creature in Jewish folklore, the Golem, was created.

"The stories of people who are artificially created are modeled on stories about the creation of people," says Kakoudaki, who teaches interdisciplinary courses in literature, film, technology, and visual culture.

She organizes the book around four commonalities in robot stories: the artificial birth; the mechanical body; the use of robots as slaves; and questions about what it means to be human (which she labels "the existential cyborg").

Despite similar patterns in ancient and modern animating fantasies, technology becomes more of a life-giving force in later works. She notes that in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor's monster is born adult—a frequent occurrence in stories of artificial people. "Everything that usually takes place inside the body is externalized: processes of conception and gestation are transformed into visible and instantaneous events, and the pain and mystery of childbirth are replaced by technological promises of clarity and control," she writes.

Thin Lines: Android and Human

There's often a sharp divide between human and robot. Yet other times, it's not so clear-cut. "A classic robot is metal and stilted, and it doesn't have a lot of human characteristics. It doesn't use slang terms, or possess humor or love. It would be easy for that to be so other, and for us to feel so human," she explains.

Yet sometimes the robot takes on human features. In the book, she draws a contrast between Iron Man's Tony Stark, a man inside the machine, and The Terminator's T-800 model, a machine inside what looks like a man.

"In the beginning of the first Terminator film, you have a range of human behaviors that are just abusive and horrible and murderous, and then it turns out that those were behaviors of this Terminator. But for a while, they look like human behaviors," she says.

Indeed, the Terminator series chips away at the wall between human and machine. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg learns human behavior and lingo from the character he's trying to save, John Connor. This creates some of the movie's most memorable lines, such as Schwarzenegger's famous, "Hasta la vista, baby!" She writes that "not only does it seem that the cyborg is learning, evolving, choosing, and changing its programming but also that it is finally doing some proper thinking."

Yet, in other instances, the human is envious of the robot. Lieutenant Commander Data from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation puzzles bystanders by his apparent inability to show emotion. "Our fascination with Data implies that sometimes we wish we did not feel emotion, either. It would be a kind of immunity," she says. Robot emulation is present in everyday life, she adds, when someone says, "I feel like a robot" or "I'm on automatic pilot."

Are We All Cylons Now?

Depictions of artificial people raise deeper philosophical questions about how we identify as humans. In Cold War America in the 1950s and 1960s, anticommunist paranoia and a racially-tinged fear of others were represented in science fiction. Author Philip K. Dick worked out of that tradition, she says.

Yet that vocabulary began to disappear. In the two versions of the TV series Battlestar Galactica, the cybernetic Cylons wage war on human civilization. But during the re-imagined series (2004-2009), Cylons also live amongst the humans and can have children with them.

"The story starts from this absolute distinction that is deadly," she says. "And then at the end it's almost like, 'Do you know how to cook? Do you know how to do anything on this planet? You're good enough! Let's just build something.'"

Does this reflect human progress? Well, maybe, maybe not. Kakoudaki avoids prophecies about where we're headed as a species, and she cautions against viewing each robot story solely as a product of its time period.

There's also a danger in viewing humans and robots too similarly. In the 2001 Steven Spielberg movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, parents grieve when their son goes into a coma. To ease their pain, they adopt a robotic boy, but the human son soon wakes up. Trouble arises with two children together, and the parents banish the robot son to the forest.

Initially, it seems that there's a clear distinction between the real boy and the artificial boy. But on closer inspection, she says, the parents are cavalierly equating the two. "It's the parents' position of, 'We need to have a child. Where's the child? Give me a real one, give me an artificial one, I don't really care,'" she explains. "The artificial person actually reveals how endangered the real person was. That is why I think that they have a lot to teach us."

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Title: Biology Student Making Strides in Cancer Research
Author: Caitlin Friess
Abstract: Biology student Nicholas Watson researches the link between blood cancer and obesity.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 07/03/2014

A cell and molecular biology lab on campus, run by Professor Katie DeCicco-Skinner, has a particularly resourceful way of securing the sample cells it uses for research.

It’s liposuction, and according to Nicholas Watson, an undergraduate technical assistant, the lab collaborates with a plastic surgeon to collect the lipoaspirate left over from his surgeries. It’s a financially beneficial move for both parties: the surgeon doesn’t have to pay for waste disposal, and the lab doesn’t have to purchase sample cells from a company.

With this lipoaspirate, students in the lab can isolate stem cells, which they treat with growth hormones to create specific cell types—in this case, fat cells. The students use the fat cells to study the link between obesity and multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that manifests in bone marrow.

The Research

In the lab, Watson and his peers are studying the link between this form of cancer and obesity.

“If you’re obese, you have a higher chance of developing cancer,” said Watson, “and if you do develop a form of cancer, it is likely to be more aggressive and more deadly. We are trying to find the connections on a molecular level as to how obesity makes this happen.”

Members of the lab grow and culture multiple myeloma cells with adipocytes, which are human fat cells. They place these cells in different conditions to study how they behave in the presence of obese versus lean fat cells.

“It gives us a way to mimic the bodily environment,” Watson says. “And what we’re looking for is which molecular markers and proteins the cells are making that link to multiple myeloma. Specifically we want to know if they make more of them when they are grown with obese fat cells compared to when they are grown alone or with lean fat cells.”

The types of markers they typically look for are inflammation factors, angiogenesis (the pull of blood vessels to the cancer), and invasive factors that cause the cancer to spread.

“What we see a lot of the time is that cancer cells like to produce more inflammatory factors, like to bring more blood vessels to the cancer, and like to invade more when they are grown with obese fat cells,” Watson says. “From this we can reasonably assume that these reactions would be a more aggressive in a live person.”

If the lab can find certain factors that are very highly regulated in cells that are classified “obese”, their data can go to organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create drugs and treatments that are more tailored towards multiple myeloma and obesity in general.

Watson, who has accepted an assistantship to continue his graduate studies at AU, is eager to continue his work in DeCicco-Skinner’s lab.

“Hopefully we can continue doing what we’re doing and keep gathering data. Right now my hope is that at the end of my master’s in two years I’ll have my own publication on this research.”

The Lab Community

“We are known in the bio department as the lab with all the undergraduates,” Watson says. “We usually have seven or eight undergraduates in there at any given time, and at different times throughout the week. It gives people a great look at how research works outside an academic setting.”

Watson credits DeCicco-Skinner’s involvement for the functional learning environment the lab creates.

“Just being in the lab you learn a lot, and DeCicco-Skinner is really good about being there and working with you regardless of whether you are in the lab or the classroom.”

Watson has worked in the lab for the past 10 months and has begun to teach and supervise new students as they learn new lab techniques.

“I was lucky to work in the lab in the summer, which is a time when you get to learn a lot and get the bulk of your research done,” Watson says. “I had the chance then to learn how to do everything from start to finish. Getting to teach helps me, too, because explaining something to someone who doesn’t understand helps you understand it even better.”

Watson encourages new students to speak to their professors, get to know what work they are doing, and ask them if they are looking for help in their labs.

“Professor DeCicco-Skinner talks about her research a lot in her classes, which is how she finds most of her researchers,” Watson says. “She can see how well they know the subject matter and what their work ethic is like. Professors don’t expect you to know everything about their research, but it matters when they see you express interest and enthusiasm about the material. It’s the best way to get into this side of science.”

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Title: Favorite Summer Activities in the DC Area
Abstract: College of Arts and Sciences faculty and staff share preferred summer activities.
Topic: In the Community
Publication Date: 06/30/2014

Summer has arrived in the Washington, DC, area! And with that brings a range of summertime opportunities. This could mean checking out the thousands of lotus flowers at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, enjoying BBQ at the National Building Museum, listening to jazz in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, or taking advantage of DC museums to learn something new—and stay out of the heat. 

Interested in additional recommendations? College of Arts and Sciences faculty and staff shared some of their favorite summer pastimes.


Photo courtesy of Karl Kippola.

Karl Kippola
Theatre/Musical Theatre Professor

My summer will begin by playing Brutus in Julius Caesar and Malvolio in a musical version of 12th Night at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg (June 25-July 20). After that is finished, I can enjoy the numerous summer theatre opportunities in the DC area. I love the Capital Fringe Festival (July 10-27), which presents an enormous spectrum of new work—tending toward the cutting edge, avant garde, or downright bizarre. The Page-to-Stage Festival at the Kennedy Center (late August, dates TBA) offers free readings of works under consideration for future seasons. I am also looking forward to the Shakespeare Theatre's Free For All (August 19-31). They are presenting The Winter's Tale, one of my favorites. (Photo courtesy of Karl Kippola.)


Photo by Thor.

Anne L'Ecuyer
Arts Management Professor

In the category of cheap therapy, consider Rocky Gorge Batting Cages up Columbia Pike just past the T. Howard Duckett Watershed. The short drive is enough to leave the city behind, and the bat is a satisfying tool to send your worries sailing. A quick search will turn up a few other batting cages in the region, but I'm partial to Rocky Gorge, with a put-put course past its prime and the grubby goodness of the old orange cages. They have a driving range too. Open every day until 11 p.m., no appointment necessary. (Photo by Thor.)


 Photo of Kathy Franz near a wooden Hungarian Puli at the 2013 festival.

Kathy Franz
History Professor

I love the Smithsonian Folklife Festival because it's a chance to do something rare—talk to people from different cultures and communities, and learn more about their food, dress, craft, technology, and music. Yes, you can learn about these things in books, online, or even traveling, but the folklorists bring it all to you at the National Mall. It's right in our backyard, and it's an amazing cultural experience. I like it so much that I volunteered last year. Anyone can volunteer and help the folklorists document and preserve these cultural traditions for the Smithsonian collections. (Photo of Kathy Franz near a wooden Hungarian Puli at the 2013 festival.)


Photo by Daniel Lobo.

Michael Robinson
Mathematics and Statistics Professor

I discovered that bicycle riding in DC is wonderful—there are lots of fun trails in the area that are both pleasant and scenic. For instance, I recently got back from a ride from Bethesda to the Lincoln memorial on the Capital Crescent Trail. Last week, my family rode the Sligo Creek Stream Valley Trail, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and others! (Photo by Daniel Lobo.)



Photo by Tim Evanson.

Thomas Husted
Economics Professor and Department Chair

I really like to go play some golf at the East Potomac Golf Course in DC and wish I could go more often. It allows me to get some great views of the monuments. Open year round, the East Potomac Golf Course has three courses, a driving range, and miniature golf. (Photo by Tim Evanson.)



Photo courtesy of Marla Boren.

Marla Boren
Undergraduate Advising Director

Hopping on the Metro and going to National's Park to see a ballgame is definitely my favorite summer pastime. The park has great views of the Capitol, you can watch the racing presidents, and pick up some great AU wonk trivia. If you are a real fan of the game, you'll have an opportunity to see an up-and-coming team with some terrific young players: Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg. Whether you want to hang out on the red porch for happy hour and watch the game from the outfield on a Friday night, or take in a day game and enjoy a traditional hot dog on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it's a good time. If they don't win, it's a shame. (Photo courtesy of Marla Boren.)


Photo by Scott Frances.

Tim Doud
Studio Art Professor

I recommend checking out Glenstone in Potomac, MD. The museum features work from the collection of Mitchell and Emily Rales, and there is a great exhibition by collaborative artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss on display this summer. The exhibition includes a tour de force piece of work that resembles a workshop/studio, but the entire room is constructed from painted styrofoam—it takes a moment to realize that you are looking at art. Overall, the artists' practice is broad and sometimes very humorous. 

The museum is private, so you have to call ahead and make reservations. They allow only small groups into the museum, which is a real benefit, and you will be shown the exhibition spaces by a knowledgeable guide. The museum recently acquired a living piece by Jeff Koons, it should be blooming by now (It is an enormous cartoon-head topiary). There are several pieces on the road to the museum, one by Charles Ray near the entry gate—including a toy tractor that looks plastic, but it's actually several tons of steel—and several enormous Richard Serra sculptures. The museum is located in a beautiful area, it is a nice drive to get there, and it is free! (Photo by Scott Frances.)

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newsId: 4563FE5D-9F13-4D19-F05AC152DEAF3475
Title: Taking the Freedom Ride
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: Two AU students will attend a special commemoration of the Civil Rights Act.
Topic: Government & Politics
Publication Date: 06/30/2014

The Civil Rights Act was signed a half century ago, but it's still a living, breathing law for millions of people. Two American University students have certainly contemplated its legacy. Tatehona Kelly and Daniel Sweig will take part in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark law on July 2 through the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

Get on the Bus

As part of this event, Kelly, Sweig, and other college students will ride a bus with some of the original Freedom Riders from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Va. Along the way, the bus will make brief stops at several sites that symbolize the struggle for racial equality. This will include the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case was decided in 1954, and the Lincoln Memorial, scene of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

"I'm excited to be on the bus. I know the first leg of the trip, you sit by someone specific, and then they switch you around so you get to talk to everyone. So I'm excited to see what kind of dialogue occurs," says Kelly, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In 1961, the Freedom Riders bravely rode buses in the American South to challenge segregated transportation facilities. One of those activists was Dion Diamond, then a student at Howard University. More recently, he spoke to one of Kelly's AU classes, and now he's scheduled to take part in the upcoming celebration. Other Freedom Riders expected to attend include Rev. Reginald Green and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

"As a history major, I just love people's stories. And as a writer, I love people's stories. So I just want to know the Freedom Rider experiences, and learn about things that can be transplanted to today's work," says Kelly.

History Lessons, Family Roots

Kelly's family history is emblematic of the African-American experience in the 20th century. "My great-grandmother was 102 when she passed, and when I was growing up, she used to tell us about working in Mississippi and sharecropping," Kelly recalls. Like so many African-American families, they journeyed north during the Great Migration, eventually settling in Ohio. But, as was often the case, discrimination persisted, and both of Kelly's parents dealt with busing and segregation.

Her father's intellect helped shape her consciousness. He is a history buff, and he inspired Tatehona to learn about the nation's tumultuous past. "'Jeopardy!' was on every night, and we would sit and watch the History channel. And we talked all the time about what he experienced growing up, being born in the 1950s, and seeing all of that transition," she says.

The allure of Washington, D.C. brought her to American University. In addition to her coursework in the History Department, she's a minor in public administration and policy in the School of Public Affairs. She's also had valuable internships with the Innocence Project and the Congressional Black Caucus. She's currently writing a grant proposal for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Kelly is a member of the Black Student Alliance, and she's volunteered for the DC Books to Prisons Project.

Sweig is a nontraditional student, having worked for a number of years before enrolling at Harry S Truman College in Chicago. He transferred to AU in January, and he's currently working with faculty to craft his own interdisciplinary major, "The politics and economics of criminology."

Sweig traces his interest in civil rights to his idiosyncratic family background. His father was an American Jew who roped in rodeos, while his mother was a non-Jew born in wartime Germany in 1944. They had him late in life, and Daniel was always grappling with his mixed background.

"I was cognizant of the fact that there was a lot of stress in the family regarding my father's marriage to my mom," he says. "And since I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, naturally I went to a Buddhist preschool. So if I wasn't confused already!" he jokes. "Part of my passion for civil rights is my own pursuit of my identity. So I got very interested in history at a very young age, in attempt to figure that out."

He did a congressional internship with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and he's currently working with One by 1 Inc., a nonprofit focused on reducing recidivism and empowering youth.

Bill of the Century

Among other things, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in hotels, restaurants, and similar public accommodations, and it encouraged the desegregation of public schools. "No single act of Congress can, by itself, eliminate discrimination and prejudice, hatred and injustice," said President Lyndon Johnson, regarding the bill he would sign. "But this bill goes further to invest the rights of man with the protection of law than any legislation in this century."

Both Kelly and Sweig applied for and were accepted to be part of this special ceremony. They're not only appreciative of the Civil Rights Act's successes, but they believe it should be enhanced to combat current inequities.

"I think it needs improvement. It's still relevant, and it needs to be fluid for today's growing issues—like the resegregating of schools and districts," Kelly opines.

"We still haven't addressed so much, in terms of predatory lending and artificial devaluation of minority communities through predatory foreclosure practices," says Sweig.

Social justice advocates believe much work needs to be done. This commemoration should offer a bridge between two generations of civil rights activists. King's impassioned speech in Memphis just before his assassination still rings true, and still offers hope: "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

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newsId: A85B4CA5-BEB4-2D8F-868B5E59A2452B02
Title: AU Misses & Misters Shine at DC Pageants
Author: Patrick Bradley
Abstract: Students earn top spots as D.C.’s finest and brightest.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 06/27/2014

Waiting backstage before the pageant, Ariana Kruszweski felt something strange: nerves. A junior musical theater major at AU, Kruszweski had performed in scores of productions before arriving as a contestant at the Miss D.C. Scholarship Pageant.

This time, however, was different.

“It was a very odd experience, and made me more nervous to go out onstage as myself and not have a character, a story to tell,” Kruszweski explained.

She wasn’t alone in her jitters; four other current and former AU students accompanied her on stage, each vying for the coveted title of Miss D.C.—a title that would take the winner to the national Miss America Pageant.

Ariana Kruszweski 'En Serio'

Recent AU grad Tori Vogel joined Kruszweski as well as fellow Eagles Emily Solan, Kiersten Gonzalez, and Jana Bernard in the June 15 event at Washington, D.C.’s historic Arena Stage Theater.

Vogel, her nerves mounting, lined up with the other 16 college-age contestants for the swimsuit portion of the evening.

That’s when the fire alarm sounded.

Tori Vogel” height=

“That made me laugh a lot,” she recalled. “I was really nervous, and then after that there wasn’t anything funnier than the idea of me having to walk outside in heels and a swimsuit.”

Thankfully, the false alarm was called off before the group exited the building.

Both Vogel and Kruszweski entered the pageant on a whim, just looking to try something new. “I had no pageant experience, and I definitely had my own prejudices going into it, but it was a very positive experience,” Vogel explained. “It focuses a lot on being a well-rounded person.”

Each participant chooses a social justice issue on which to speak and raise awareness. Vogel, who has spent more than 100 hours volunteering with Live D.C., spoke on Washington’s lack of affordable housing for the poor.

Jana Bernard with Matthew Myers

The event paid off for these two participants—literally—as the pageant also serves as a scholarship competition. Vogel, who majored in sociology, placed fourth, netting her $1,000 in scholarship moneys. Kruszweski put her vocal skills to use, winning the talent portion of the evening and placing fifth overall. She took home $500 in academic funds.

For Kruszweski, the pageant experience felt oddly familiar. “In some ways, it was similar to the AU environment,” she explained. “I met a lot of different kinds of people that are really passionate about causes, global affairs, politics. Whatever their field is, they’re coming together, inspired to make a difference and work hard.”

Kiersten Gonzalez” height=

And Vogel can’t agree more; she’d recommend the experience to any AU woman. “I would encourage people to try it out,” she said. “It can really surprise you, the network of people that are in it. I met a lot of bright, well-connected women.”

In fact, AU’s male students should take note as well: the Miss D.C. Pageant works arm-in-arm with the Mr. D.C. competition. Current and former AU students James Connors, Matt Meyers, Jack Vogtle, and Jacob Bell teamed up with the AU ladies to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

In the men’s own early-May competition, Connors—coupled with Vogel—earned the title of Mr. D.C. Unfortunately, he won’t move on to a national stage, as his title is simply ceremonial.

Emily Solan

Vogel believes her success with Connors extends in part from the go-getter attitude that AU instills in its students. “AU really taught me to take advantage of every opportunity,” she said. “Representing AU, all of us showed how engaged AU makes you become.”

And the group truly did represent the university. After all the jitters melted away, the fire alarm was called off, and the winners announced, Kruszweski looked over at Vogel—each woman holding a colorful bouquet—and felt something different: pride.

“It was at that moment, that I felt really proud for representing AU,” she said. “I felt proud of all the AU girls. I think we did a great job and represented our school well.”

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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

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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newsId: 23A354A3-08DC-6AA5-D4C948B8A867E86A
Title: SIRIUSXM Executive Gives Back as Mentor to Current Students
Author: Megan Olson
Abstract: Steve Leeds, CAS/BA ’72, began a career in music while a student at AU.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2014

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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newsId: C4C2C1BD-B0C1-206B-F6A5151137FE3300
Title: Alumnus Daniel Maree wins Do Something Award for Creating Social Change
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
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

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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newsId: 528D56DD-EB88-65D2-CC4833E8E6916E04
Title: Nicole Zangara, CAS/BA ’06, Has New Book Analyzing Female Friendships
Author: Patricia Rabb
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

“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
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

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
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

“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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Title: AU Experiences Assist Pennsylvania Communications Specialist In Influencing The Political Process
Author: Milt Jackson
Abstract: Alumna’s position in Pennsylvania politics enhanced by AU education.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 06/07/2013

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
Abstract: Dr. Laurie Cutting, BA/CAS ’93, is a leader in new field of “educational neuroscience.”
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 05/10/2013

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.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: C0ADB7D3-ABF4-3582-C2DEC7E2634B4247
Title: Sara Nieves-Grafals: Psychologist, World Traveler, Alumni Board Member
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
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

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
Abstract: Mayra Rivera, CAS/BS '13, has taken advantage of FWS opportunities to promote healthy living.
Topic: Student
Publication Date: 12/17/2012

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,, 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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