newsId: 9C943CCB-FD38-40DC-A6DF72FC1E2E02BF
Title: Former Florida Senator to Address BP Oil Spill at Reilly Awards
Author: Dave DeFusco
Subtitle:
Abstract: Former Senator Bob Graham will discuss lessons from the BP oil spill as part of an event honoring recipients of the William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Leadership.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 04/18/2014
Content:

Former Florida Senator Bob Graham will discuss “Four Years Later: Lessons Learned from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill” as part of an event honoring the recipients of the William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Leadership on Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in the McKinley Building at American University.

At the event, Dan Esty, former commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, and Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, executive director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network, will receive the William K. Reilly Award for Environmental Leadership for their contributions to environmental and energy policy and to the protection of children’s health.

William Reilly, administrator of Environmental Protection Agency during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, will also provide remarks. Reilly was co-chair with Senator Graham of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling to investigate the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The blowout at the BP Deepwater Horizon rig claimed 11 lives and spilled 206 million gallons of oil, and is considered to be the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

In addition, Kavita Mak and Jennifer Fernandez, both candidates for master’s degrees in public policy at the School of Public Affairs, will be awarded scholarships for both their academic achievements, as well as their commitment to a career addressing critical environmental and energy issues facing the nation.

“Dan Esty and Nse Obot Witherspoon exemplify Mr. Reilly’s pragmatic and inclusive approach to strengthening environmental laws, policies and practices,” said Daniel Fiorino, director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University. “Thanks to them, we are charting a safer, healthier course for the energy we consume, the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

During his 18 years in the Senate, Graham helped begin the process of restoring the Everglades. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he opposed the Iraq war. He recently traveled to Cuba to discuss oil-spill prevention and preparedness.

Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and is the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for Business and Environment at Yale. In 2011 he was appointed commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by Gov. Dannel Malloy. In 2002, he received the American Bar Association Award for Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy. Before joining Yale, he held senior positions in the Environmental Protection Agency.

As executive director for the Children’s Environmental Health Network, Witherspoon has been a staunch voice for children’s environmental health over the past decade in Washington, D.C. She also serves as a member of the Friends of Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, a strategy advisor for the California Breast Cancer Prevention Initiatives and a board member for the Pesticide Action Network of North America.

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Title: Green Roofs Keep Pollutants out of Urban Waterways
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: Professor’s research shows green roofs capture pollution while reducing energy use.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 04/17/2014
Content:

Rooftop gardens, or green roofs, are known to reduce energy use in buildings and catch stormwater runoff, but new research from American University shows that green roofs also absorb pollutants. The research, which takes on an area that previously has not been explored widely by scientists, has implications for how cities can improve the health of their rivers, streams and estuaries.  

“The potential is that institutions and businesses could reduce their pollution footprint,” said Stephen MacAvoy, assistant professor of environmental science at AU. “If large numbers of green roof systems were installed throughout Washington, D.C., they would contribute greatly to keeping harmful nutrients and suspended solids found in runoff from entering the city's waterways.”

MacAvoy works with D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services, which received a $300,000 grant for installation and monitoring of green roofs at its fire stations, financial analysis of energy savings and incentives, and research on the ecological impacts.

Significant Pollutant Capture

On the rooftop at D.C.’s Engine 12, green roof panels cover approximately 2,200 square feet. Instead of soil, a new kind of foam technology by the company Aqualok holds plants. MacAvoy and his students conduct chemical analyses, and after five storms over seven months, their results showed significant capture of pollutants, specifically suspended solids of 78 percent and nitrates by up to 82 percent. In fact, the green roof systems became more effective as time passed. After seven months, they were absorbing more pollutants than at the beginning.

Fewer pollutants entering the Anacostia River, a key waterway in the Mid-Atlantic region, is significant. D.C. has declared it wants the Anacostia "fishable and swimmable" by 2032, and reducing sediments and nutrients will help achieve this goal. “Bacteria and algae rob the river of oxygen, and low oxygen kills most invertebrates. Sediments clog fish gills and bury bottom-dwelling life forms and fish eggs,” said MacAvoy.

Fire Stations = Ideal Subjects

Keen on going green, D.C. Fire & EMS conducts sustainable projects such as collecting rainwater and rooftop gardens. Fire stations provide ideal subjects since green roofs can cool the floor directly below the roof. Each station is a two-story building with a non-air conditioned ground floor garage and a heavily air-conditioned second-floor dormitory. Results comparing utility data on Engine 12 from 2013 and 2012 showed a 5 percent annual reduction in electric consumption after installation of the green roof.

The setup is fairly simple: Pans collect untreated runoff and flow through green surfaces of planted roof panels, unplanted roof panels and a ground-level "bioswale," which looks like a large square rain barrel stuffed with plants (grasses and ferns). Plant varieties growing in a three-to-four inch thick foam matrix capture and absorb nitrogen from rainwater. MacAvoy’s analysis shows fewer suspended solids and nitrates are leaving the bioswale as well. This year, the research will be expanded to include three more green roofs of both foam and soil.

A Model of Best Practices

“At D.C. Fire & EMS, we play an active role in practicing sustainability. Through our efforts with green roofs, we hope to determine a kind of ‘best practices’ approach that can benefit residents, businesses and our colleagues in the municipality, for which kind of green roofs work best,” said D.C. Deputy Fire Chief David Foust. “Green roofs must yield economic benefits and ecological performance to be truly effective and desirable for property owners and municipalities.”

With help from Glenn Williamson, owner of Amber Real Estate LLC, and civil engineers, an economic assessment on energy savings and potential stormwater credits will be done when the project concludes next year. The assessment will provide an estimate of stormwater credits that could be received through public incentive programs and how water fees could be reduced.

“The idea is for businesses or institutions to know clearly what must be invested up front and what kind of actual returns can be generated to repay or offset that investment,” Williamson said.

All of the economic and environmental findings will be reported back to the grantor, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. MacAvoy and Williamson also have been invited to present the findings at the annual Cities Alive sustainable building conference in Nashville later this year.

“Fewer chemicals entering our waterways is crucial to ecosystem health,” MacAvoy said. “People want to live in nice, clean cities, and greening our cities must be a priority for all of us.”

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Title: Exploring the Science of Sports
Author: Abbey Becker
Subtitle:
Abstract: Visit AU faculty and students at the USA Science and Engineering Festival April 26 and 27.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 04/17/2014
Content:

While many visitors descend on D.C. in April to see the cherry blossoms, it will likely be for a different reason on April 26 and 27. The USA Science and Engineering Festival will take over the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a weekend of science, engineering, technology, and math-inspired exhibits, workshops, and hands-on activities aimed at people of all ages. American University will run a booth for the third time this year, with a “Science of Sports” theme. Past years’ themes included the “Physics of Music” and “Science in the Kitchen.” 

The effort this year is supported by the departments of biology, chemistry, public health, physics and athletics. Various faculty, staff, and students contribute to the preparation of AU’s exhibit, and students will staff the booth at the event. “We’re committed to STEM outreach, and the best way to get strong science students at AU is through this kind of event,” says physics professor Nate Harshman, who led the event the past two years. “It’s something that responsible and future-minded scientists should do. It creates a more scientifically literate population.” 

The AU booth will showcase the collaboration between the departments toward science-based sports demonstrations. Public health is bringing Jell-O molds in the shape of small brains that can be used to observe what types of materials best protect this vital organ. Booth visitors can clip on fingertip pulse monitors brought by the Biology Department to measure their pulse and level of oxygen in their blood before and after they run in place for a few seconds. AU will also provide Styrofoam heads with acceleration sensors to illustrate how concussions can be prevented with helmets. 

This year, Nancy Zeller, director of the biology teaching labs at AU, is leading the university’s participation, with help from Harshman. She was involved in the planning for one of the festivals two years ago. “We calculated that about 1,500 people came by our booth. That means 1,500 people were excited about American University science,” she says. “It was a great way to advertise that science is a very important part of AU.” 

But attending the festival isn’t just about getting the AU science word out; it’s an opportunity for AU students to have a hand in promoting science education. “A lot of our students feel that STEM outreach is really important,” says Harshman. “And the students have a really good time. It’s fun to see them work to communicate complex information to a lay audience. These young kids see them as ‘big kids,’ so it’s funny to see the kids’ eyes light up and the students’ eyes light up.” 

Faculty members encourage students to be part of the festival to strengthen the AU science family’s unity. “We want students to know that they’re an integral part of this community. We’re trying to offer as many opportunities as possible for students to get involved,” says Zeller. “Our students are great teachers and talented scientists.” 

If students are planning to attend graduate school, volunteering at the festival can help them show they have a continuing interest in the dissemination of science information. “Graduate schools want to see that students are committed to the broader endeavors of science,” says Harshman. “Outreach demonstrates that they’re committed to broader impacts and that they embody the ethical standard of scientists.” 

The hands-on methods that AU brings to the festival helps students connect with the event’s attendees, particularly in an increasingly tech-driven world. “It can seem like our technology really is like magic, and that’s something we want to avoid,” says Harshman. “We want them, even if they don’t become scientists, to realize that people do these things. We want them to know that science, engineering, and math are fun and are great ways to be curious as a job.”

Tags: Biology,Biology Dept,Chemistry,Chemistry Dept,College of Arts and Sciences,Physics,Physics Dept,Public Health,Athletics
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Title: 2014 Mathias Student Research Conference Winners Announced
Author:
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Abstract: Undergraduates, graduates, and doctoral students win at 24nd annual Student Research Conference.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 04/11/2014
Content:

Professional Presentations

The winners of this category receive funding that will cover the cost of three days attendance at a professional peer-reviewed national conference at which the student is presenting. Two students have been awarded this prize in 2014:

 

Cerebellar Grey Matter Correlates with Early Language Delay in ASD
Anila D'Mello
, PhD Candidate, Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:
Untold White Desegregation Narratives from Oxford, Mississippi
Anna Kaplan
, PhD Candidate, History

 

Oral Presentations

Best Oral Presentation in the Arts and Humanities by a Freshman or Sophomore

The Variation of Educating through "Whiteness" in
the Movies Freedom Writers and Stand and Deliver
Estephanie Amaro
, Sophomore, American Studies

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Arts and Humanities by a Junior or Senior (tie)

Composition and Geopolitical Readings of Andrea del Verrocchio's Christ and
Saint Thomas at the Orsanmichele
Gennie Stegner-Freitag
, Junior, Art History

Performing Domesticity, Practicing Rebellion:
Gender and Power Theory in the Grimms' Fairy Tales
Lilly Mcgee
, Senior, Literature

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Arts and Humanities by a Graduate Student

Beyond Humansim: Fra Angelico, Giovanni Dominici,
and The Mocking of Christ at San Marco
Brittney Bailey
, MA Candidate, Art History

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Sciences by a Junior or Senior

Computational Analysis of the Riemann Zeta Function
Andreas Wiede
, Senior, Mathematics

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Sciences by a Graduate Student

Using the Fractional Logit Model to Assess the Impact of Transportation-Related Particulate Matter Pollution on the Abundance of Epiphytic Communities: What's Not to Lichen?
Joshua Wayland
, MA Candidate, Global Environmental Policy
Shea T. Caspersen, MA Candidate, Environmental Science

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Social Sciences by a Freshman or Sophomore

Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Children at War
Toby McCarrol
l, Sophomore, History

 

Best Oral Presentation in the Social Sciences by a Junior or Senior (tied)

Information Rigidity in Macroeconomic Forecasts: An International Empirical Investigation
Jonathan Wallen
, Senior, Mathematics and Economics

Music and the Afghan Refugee: Identity, Memory, and Place
Sydney Krieck
, Senior, Music & Anthropology

 

Best Performance

Hiroshima through the Eyes of Three Girls
Fu Hamabe
, Senior, International Studies

 

Poster Presentations

Best Poster in the Sciences by a Freshman or Sophomore (tied)

Society's Perspective on Fruits and Vegetables and the Affects of Luminescent Food
Nina Kaplan
, Freshman, Undeclared
Sarah Kravetz, Freshman, Undeclared
Andrew Long, Freshman, Undeclared

Vaccines and Socioeconomics
Andrew Episcopo
, Sophomore, Undeclared
Hannah Lappin, Freshman, Undeclared
Alix Braun, Freshman, Undeclared

 

Best Poster in the Sciences by a Junior or Senior

Temporal Sensitivity of the Chromatic Visual System
Venice Cowardin
, Senior, Mathematics

 

Best Poster in the Social Sciences by a Junior or Senior

Evaluation of Participation Barriers for Child and Adult Food Care Program (CAFCP) in Community Child Care Homes
Tahmina Ahmed
, Senior, Public Health
Maram Alfi, Senior, Public Health
Jessica Gioe, Senior, Political Science & Public Health
Amanda Lynen, Senior, Public Health
Diana Williams, Junior, Public Health & Sociology

 

Best Poster in the Social Sciences by a Graduate Student

Taste Tests Increase Vegetable Consumption in DC Schools
Devin Ellsworth
, MS Candidate, Health Promotion Management

 

Best Poster in the Social Sciences by a Freshman or Sophomore

The Correlation Between Sexual Health Awareness and
Availablity of Resources on DC College Campuses
Morgan Grant
, Freshman, Undeclared
Karl Laubacher, Sophomore, Undeclared
Julia Norman, Freshman, Undeclared
Roshan Thomas, Sophomore, Undeclared
Julia Eigner, Freshman, Undeclared

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Title: Baby Steps in Toddler Gaming
Author: Caitlin Friess
Subtitle:
Abstract: The results of the AU Association for Computing Machinery’s Baby Steps: A Game Jam for Toddlers event.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 04/08/2014
Content:

In the rising tide of toddler-friendly tech, it can be hard to tell what games actually appeal to tiny consumers. Simple swipes, primary colors, and pop-culture twists were all central themes in the AU ACM Baby Steps: A Game Jam for Toddlers hackathon, held at AU on March 21-23. Three teams from the university’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery competed against one another in a friendly 48-hour dash. Each team, consisting of three to five students with coding and graphic design skills, designed and built a tablet-friendly game aimed at toddlers aged three to six.

The focus on toddlers came from computer science professor Michael Black, the faculty supervisor for the AU ACM. Black came upon the idea after purchasing a child-specific tablet for his three-year-old daughter and finding it unsatisfactory.

“When you buy these tablets they come pre-loaded with all this spyware and manufacturer products that really don’t work for this kind of device, especially for children,” Black says.

Hackathon events such as this are a common phenomenon among universities and often involve teams from different universities competing against one another. AU ACM’s experience with these events made it easy for them to coordinate their own AU-specific weekend, according to club president James Matthews.

“It’s an interesting challenge to design for,” Matthews says, “Ordinarily you’re making a game and the trick is to balance the complexity, the level of difficulty, with how well you are able to understand the game itself. Those challenges still apply, but on a very different scale. It has to have few enough moving pieces and simple parts so four or five year olds can understand what’s going on.”

The teams also wanted to make sure their scope of ideas could be accomplished in one weekend at a casual pace without forcing members to sit and code for 36 straight hours. Instead, teams worked between 12 and 24 hours to finish their entries.

“There are hackathons where you do that,” says club treasurer Dri Torres, “So we put teams and ideas together on Friday and started hacking on Saturday morning.”

The final judging of the Android-optimized games took place on March 23 at 1:00 p.m., in a room full of toddler judges, their parents, and the hopeful teams. Each child was given a chance to play the games while their parents observed and filled in rubrics rating such qualities as the child’s interest in the game, how easy it was to play, and how it handled on the devices.

The scores were incredibly close, all ranked on a 75-point scale. In first place, with a score of 75 was Brite Lite, a reinvention of the old 1967 game Lite Brite optimized for tablet and web. Kids using the app piece together little colored dots to form an array of images, either on their own or using one of 20 templates.

Second place went to Toddler Selfie at 73 points. This app-only game was designed to capture a picture (or “selfie”) of the toddler through the device’s camera and break it into a puzzle on the screen that the child could piece together. There are two modes: “easy” with six pieces, and “hard” with 24.

The third place team came in a single point behind team two with 72 points. Alphabet Snake is another reinvention of an old classic and encourages toddlers to piece together the alphabet in the correct order without running their “snake” into itself as the line grows longer.

Each of the games created by the teams will soon be up and running on Google Play.

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Title: Merging Theatre and International Relations
Author: Abbey Becker
Subtitle:
Abstract: Jeff Gan ’14 finds his sweet spot at the junction of theatre and international relations.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 04/07/2014
Content:

When Jeff Gan arrived at AU, he declared a major in international relations in the School of International Studies. Like many of his fellow students, he wanted to work at the State Department and join the Foreign Service. But then he caught a bug that altered his path. 

On a whim, Gan joined the University College, a small-group learning and living community for first-year students. Participants share an on-campus “residential neighborhood” and attend an intensive seminar together, which for Gan’s cohort was Theatre: Principles, Plays, and Performance. 

Gan had done some theatre in high school, and he had made some new theatre friends through the program, so he decided to take a few theatre courses on the side. “I thought I’d be a theatre minor at most,” he says. 

But the more classes he took, the more he discovered professors he really liked, and he developed a passion for the art. 

Gan noticed that he had begun to look at international relations through a cultural lens—and at theatre through an international perspective. A cultural context, he discovered, enriched his understanding of history—and vice versa. And so Gan decided to declare a second major: theatre. 

“The more I got into the liberal arts curriculum, the more I realized there were more options that could give me a broader reach,” he says. “I could touch economics, politics, the arts, literature, and sociology through this art form.” 

It didn’t take long for Gan to become a part of AU’s small and intimate performing arts community, where everyone is on a first-name basis. “We have regular meetings as an entire department, initiated by Professor Sybil Williams,” he says, “and we hold informal freshman-senior gettogethers every month to address concerns, offer advice, even play Apples to Apples.” 

Gan knew he loved theatre, but he wasn’t sure where his second major might lead. His revelation, he says, came in Cara Gabriel’s theatre history class. Gan approached his teacher after class one day and told her, “I really enjoyed this—how can I do more of this kind of thing?” She told him that he could be a director or an academic—or look into dramaturgy. It turns out he didn’t have to look long or far. 

Gan went to see theatre professor Carl Menninger, who was directing the show Bare: A Pop Opera, and he asked how he could get involved in the production. Menninger suggested that he be the dramaturge. And that is how Gan discovered his path. 

“You get to form this very passionate relationship with the text,” he says. “Some directors say that their experience feels like giving birth—you pour so much of yourself into it. With dramaturgy, you’re really involved with the process, but it’s less emotionally draining.” 

Research is at the center of dramaturgy, which satisfies Gan’s insatiable curiosity. “You get to reach into subjects that aren’t necessarily about drama,” he says. “I get to do a lot of historical research. For one of the shows I did, I devoted three hours to researching the postage system in Weimar Germany, and I loved it.” 

Gan has long been a fan of the performing arts, but now he understands them on a deeper level. “Every live performance is unique. You’ll never have the same confluence of audience and actors or have the cues called in the exact same way,” he says. “It’s a really beautiful and very brief relationship between the audience and the performance that can’t be replicated.” 

Gan’s enthusiasm for theatre and his passion for research have not gone unnoticed by his professors or the directors he’s worked with. 

“Jeff is perfectly suited to life in the theatre because he is something of a Renaissance man,” says professor Meghan Raham. “He has a truly curious mind and is eager and able to synthesize ideas and information from seemingly disparate disciplines into a central idea. Jeff’s interest in everything makes him particularly valuable as a collaborator, and he also manages somehow to be quite likeable while knowing a lot about everything—an even more unique trait. I can’t wait to see what the world looks like once he takes over.” 

While world domination doesn’t seem to be part of his agenda, Gan hopes eventually to follow in the footsteps of those who have inspired him most: his theatre professors. “I want to expose as many people as possible to theatre,” he says. “I believe in its power, and I want to help build a sustainable consumer base for the arts.”

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Title: Chemistry Professors Improve Furniture Smoldering Test
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: Results show that current test can severely underestimate smoldering-combustion propensity in real furniture
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 04/04/2014
Content:

American University chemistry researchers and scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) discovered a way to improve a test that gauges how well upholstered furniture can resist smoldering combustion to delay the possible onset of fire. The research results are available online in the scientific journal, Polymer Degradation and Stability.

In the United States, fires in which upholstered furniture is the first item ignited account for about 6,700 home fires annually and result in 480 deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires can be started from an open-flame source, such as a candle, or from a smoldering source, such as a lit cigarette or incense.

In the smoldering test, two foam pieces about two-inches thick are covered with fabric and placed in a wooden frame to replicate a small-scale version of seat and back cushions. It mimics a scenario where furniture foam sits on a non-air-permeable substrate (e.g. the wooden frame). A cigarette (certified to burn consistently) is placed in the frame’s crevice. To pass the test, the lit cigarette should not cause sustained smoldering of the fabric or the underlying foam.

A More Realistic Smoldering Test

Household furniture typically includes open wooden frames and springs, which enhance air flow through foam and increase the propensity for smoldering.

The researchers changed the frame design to allow for air flow by including wire mesh to separate the foam pieces from the wooden frame. Their design better represented real furniture and provided a more realistic simulation of smoldering. In the process, they also identified foams that could be used for better smoldering consistency.  

“Our goal is to help regulators develop a more realistic smoldering test. Our results show that the current test can severely underestimate smoldering propensity in real furniture,” said Mauro Zammarano, research assistant professor of chemistry at American University and NIST researcher. “We recommend that regulators who administer the test consider creating gaps in the frame design to increase air flow.”

Modified Cellulose as “Green” Flame Retardant

The finding of the improved smoldering test came about as AU associate professor of chemistry Doug Fox, Zammarano, and their colleagues work to design non-toxic “green” flame retardants.

The team focuses on molecular chemistry research using ingredients from natural materials such as cellulose. Cellulose, the most abundant polymer on Earth, is an effective reinforcing fiber for polymer composites, but it is extremely flammable. Fox’s team modifies cellulose, often with phosphates or silicon-containing compounds. Modified cellulose acts as a flame retardant and a reinforcing phase, so that when blended with plastics, the fire resistance of the composite increases without weakening, as is often the case with other flame retardants.

Effective flame retardants in furniture delay time for ignition and the spread of flames, and the researchers envision a future where industry embraces green flame retardants. Currently, there are few options for affordable flame retardants that are effective, and the ones available are increasingly unpopular because of potential toxicity issues.

California Regulations Are Key

In recent years, scientific studies have linked exposure to flame retardant chemicals in furniture with negative health effects in people. Because of the concerns, last year lawmakers in California voted for a change to the state’s nearly 40-year-old flammability standards. Lawmakers ended the requirement for an open-flame test for filling materials in upholstered furniture. (The open-flame test, unlike the smoldering test, often required the use of flame retardants to pass.)

California’s regulations are key because many foam manufacturers follow them for the entire U.S market rather than make separate products for California. The end of the open-flame test, however, hasn’t meant all manufacturers have ended the use of flame retardants, which is why Fox’s group pushes on to create a green solution.

“While manufacturers are no longer required to use flame retardants, some in the furniture industry still place them in foam due to concerns over potential lawsuits, possible reinstatement of open flame tests, or to satisfy the needs of European or commercial products, which still require a level of flammability reduction,” Fox said.

High Profile Fires Show Value of Flame Retardants  

The role of flame retardants in fire safety is seen in recent, high-profile fires.

The 2003 fire that killed 100 people at The Station Night Club in Rhode Island started when pyrotechnics—part of the act of the headlining band Great White—ignited soundproofing material. When NIST scientists conducted an experiment using pyrotechnics to ignite soundproofing material containing flame retardants, the soundproofing material did not catch fire.

In the airline crash of Asiana flight 214 in July 2013 in San Francisco, people survived in part because flame retardants delayed the time it took for the plane to catch on fire, providing people minutes, not seconds, to escape, Fox added.  

While Fox and his team focus on creating green flame retardants used in furniture, the research could have wider industry applications. In addition to furniture, flame retardants are used in products that must meet flammability standards, including electronics, insulation and textiles. 

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Title: Clinton Ambassador to Deliver Perlmutter Lecture
Author: Dave DeFusco
Subtitle:
Abstract: Stuart Eizenstat will discuss major geopolitical, economic and security challenges that are reshaping the Jewish world.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 04/04/2014
Content:

Stuart Eizenstat, an ambassador to the European Union and an undersecretary in the Clinton administration’s State and Commerce Departments, will discuss “The Future of the Jews, How Global Forces are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel, and Its Relationship with the United States” as the Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Graydon Center.

Eizenstat’s talk, based on his 2012 book of the same name, published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, examines how major geopolitical, economic and security challenges are reshaping the Jewish world and its relationship with the United States. He will discuss how shifting global power away from the United States and Europe to the emerging powers in Asia and Latin America poses challenges for the Jewish community and the relationship between Israel and the United States.

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In addition to Eizenstat’s talk, a student will be presented with a scholarship honoring the legacy of Rita Simon, a former American University professor and widely published author.

The event is hosted by the School of Public Affairs and Center for Israel Studies. For more information, contact Eric Fleddermann (ericf@american.edu). 

Eizenstat has a lengthy record of government service, having been director of the White House domestic policy staff under President Carter, as well as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration. A native Chicagoan and graduate of Harvard Law School, he is an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington and Burling.

In his 2004 memoir, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II, Eizenstat draws on his experiences negotiating reparations for Holocaust survivors who were persecuted in the postwar period.

Rita Simon

Dr. Simon, who died last year at the age of 81, joined the American University faculty in 1983. She was the former editor of three scholarly journals, American Sociological Review, Justice Quarterly and Gender Issues. She wrote or edited more than 60 books and 325 articles on immigration, public opinion, and racial and gender justice.

For 19 years before joining American University, she was a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois. She also taught at the University of Chicago and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She served on the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics created by the Secretary of Education.

Amos Perlmutter, a Washington-based political scientist, author and commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, was a beloved professor at American University from 1972 until he died in 2001. He was the author of 15 books and many articles and essays about strategic studies, military sociology and comparative politics in the Middle East.

Tags: Public Administration & Policy,School of Public Affairs,Center for Israel Studies
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Title: Forecasting Space Weather
Author: Abbey Becker
Subtitle:
Abstract: Student Dhanesh Krishnarao’s NASA internship sparked interest in space weather research.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 04/03/2014
Content:

When he was young, Dhanesh Krishnarao, BS physics and mathematics ’14, took a family vacation to Disney World and to nearby Kennedy Space Center. That’s when he fell in love with space and astronomy. 

Now Krishnarao’s dream job is to be an astronaut, but he’s taking it one step at a time to get there. Last summer he began an internship with NASA in the area of space weather forecasting. “These forecasts can predict the sun’s effects on Earth and its magnetic field, among other things,” he says, all of which is helpful information for NASA robotic missions, the military, and the government. 

Last fall, he teleworked on his internship project from AU. This semester, he is traveling to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, one day a week to work on a new project: observing solar flares. “I always had an interest in astronomy,” he says. “Space weather wasn’t a focus until I started at NASA.” 

It was U. J. Sofia, physics professor and associate dean of research, who recommended Krishnarao for the internship. “What’s particularly exciting about Dhanesh’s experience is that he was able to bring back [to AU] skills that he learned at NASA. He is applying them to an astrophysics research project in my field that he is working on for his honors capstone,” says Sofia. “It’s the perfect scenario when a student brings knowledge learned at AU to an internship—and then the expertise gained from the internship back to AU.” 

The internship has broadened Krishnarao’s network of contacts, which will likely be helpful to him in the future for things like “advice on graduate schools and internships.” 

But he also has nothing but praise for the physics department at AU. “It’s a small department, but we have really great faculty,” he says. “I feel like we’re all friends.” 

Krishnarao entered AU as a physics major, but he picked up math as a second major because, he says, there’s a lot of overlap between the two subjects. “It’s particularly relevant because I’m interested in going to graduate school for something related to astrophysics.” 

And the deeper Krishnarao delves into astrophysics, the more he finds there is to discover. “It’s nice to look up at the sky and realize that I have some idea of what’s going on up there—but also that I have no idea about what’s going on,” he says. “There’s so much that we don’t know."

Tags: Physics,Physics Dept,Research,Students,Mathematics and Statistics,Mathematics and Statistics Dept
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Title: The Rhodes Less Traveled
Author: Abbey Becker
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Abstract: Doors open for scholarship finalist Hanaleah Hoberman, BA psychology ’13.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 04/03/2014
Content:

When she was a freshman, Hanaleah Hoberman, BA psychology ’13, would read about stellar students who were accomplishing seemingly insurmountable feats. “I’d compare myself to the kids in the articles and feel like I wasn’t doing enough,” she says. “It always seems like someone is doing more.” 

In 2013, however, Hoberman joined that pool of stellar students when she was named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. “I actually didn’t consider doing the Rhodes initially,” she says. “I was interested in doing a Fulbright in Mexico on the power of oral traditions to heal cultural trauma among indigenous peoples in Oaxaca. But I had only been studying abroad in Chile a month, and my Spanish wasn’t good enough yet to pass the language requirement.”

When her merit awards adviser suggested that she might be a good candidate for a U.K. scholarship, such as a Marshall or a Rhodes, she began to rethink her options. “I knew 100 percent that graduate school was in my future,” says Hoberman. “I decided to look into the awards as a vehicle to get there.”

The more she learned about Rhodes through research and conversations with former scholars, the more confident she became that the award might be a good fit. “They put a big emphasis on service and community, and I’d really emphasized those things in my time at AU,” she says, referring to her efforts to help found a labor rights student organization and organize workers at AU to improve the labor situation. 

The oldest of international fellowships and among the most respected, the Rhodes provides full tuition to a degree program at Oxford University. Past winners include former president Bill Clinton, political correspondent George Stephanopoulos, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, and astronomer Edwin Hubble. 

Each year, 32 Americans are selected through a process whereby the 50 states and Washington, D.C., are grouped into 16 districts. Members of each district committee conduct interviews and select the strongest candidates, no more than two, who will represent the state or states within that district as Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. The winners are announced at the close of the interviews; no alternates are selected. 

There is no limit as to how many students a university may nominate, but AU typically keeps its list small. Hoberman was one of only a handful of nominees. “The merit awards office puts so much energy into the people they choose,” she says, “and they want to give [the students] as much support as possible.” 

Rhodes applicants must submit a personal essay. Hoberman, whose minor was creative writing, focused on her gap year between high school and college, when she taught English at a school in a Bedouin desert community in Israel. “I wrote about how that experience shaped the way I think and about psychology and intervention, particularly regarding empowerment- based community intervention and activism as a means for preventing mental illness.” 

After learning that she had been selected as a finalist, Hoberman flew to Texas, her home state, for her district interview— and a luncheon. When the interviews were finished, the names of two winners were announced. Hoberman’s was not among them. 

She was disappointed but not discouraged. “At the end of the day, I gained so much from the experience,” she says. “The merit awards office set up mock interviews, so I got to know a lot of amazing professors outside of my field.” 

She even found the application process to be valuable. It gave her an excuse to do a lot of reading, she says, and exposed her to issues normally off her radar, such as the special relationship between the U.K. and the United States. 

And it got her thinking about her plans for graduate school. “Before I applied for the Rhodes, I was thinking I wanted to go for my doctorate in clinical community psychology,” she says. “Now, I’m also considering a master’s in public health with a mental health focus. I’m seeing that there are more opportunities than I thought.”

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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
Subtitle:
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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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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