newsId: C7A15434-5056-AF26-BEDDB912B88AEE39
Title: Students Nominated for Helen Hayes Awards
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Abstract: The annual Helen Hayes Awards are Washington theatre's highest honors.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 08/17/2015
Content:

This year, AU students were nominated for 21 Helen Hayes awards. The annual Helen Hayes Awards are Washington theatre’s highest honors and bring together theatre makers and theatre lovers to celebrate excellence on Washington professional stages. 

"The fact that we have so many students nominated for such a prestigious award certainly is testament to the quality of training students receive in our program,” said Sybil Williams, professorial lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts. “But equally important, it is evidence of the caliber of students that we continue to attract as a viable program in a city with such outstanding professional theatres. Our goal is to continue to contribute to the vibrant DC theater community by consistently producing innovative, imaginative, and disciplined theatre artists/scholars who push the boundaries of the field in wildly exciting ways."

 

2015 Nominations

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical-HAYES Production
Samuel Edgerly, BA musical theater ’12
Ordinary Days, Round House Theatre

 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play-HELEN Production 
Katie Ryan, BA theater ’12
Terminus, Studio Theatre 

 

Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HELEN Production 
Kelsea Edgerly, BA musical theater and journalism ’12
Miss Nelson is Missing, Adventure Theatre MTC 

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HELEN Production
Josh Sticklin, BA political science and musical theater ’08
Hair, The Keegan Theatre 

Ben Gibson, BA musical theatre ’06
Spamalot, Toby’s Dinner Theatre 

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HAYES Production 
Kelsea Edgerly, BA musical theater and journalism ’12
Vishal Vaidya, BA musical theatre and international studies ’08
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Ford’s Theatre 

David Landstrom, BA musical theatre ’12
How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Olney Theatre Center 

Angela Miller, BA musical theatre ’12
Sunday in the Park with George, Signature Theatre

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HELEN Production 
Pasquale Guiducci
, BA musical theatre and secondary education ’13 Chelsea Thaler, BA theatre ’14
The Island of Doctor Moreau, Synetic Theater 

Adi Stein, BA theatre and philosophy ’12
The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theater Alliance

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HAYES Production 
Michael Litchfield, BA theatre ’12
Colossal, Olney Theatre Center 

 

Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences 
Don Michael Mendoza, BA musical theatre and journalism ’10
The Jungle Book, Adventure Theatre MTC  

 

Outstanding Musical-HELEN Production 
Josh Sticklin, BA political science and musical theater ’08
Hair, The Keegan Theatre  

Ben Gibson, BA musical theatre ’06
Spamalot, Toby’s Dinner Theatre 

 

Outstanding Musical-HAYES Production 
Angela Miller BA musical theatre ’12
Sunday in the Park with George, Signature Theatre 

 

Outstanding Play-HELEN Production 
Adi Stein, BA theatre and philosophy ’12
The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theater Alliance 

 

Outstanding Play-HAYES Production 
Michael Litchfield, BA theatre ’12
Colossal, Olney Theatre Center  

 

Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company 
Adi Stein, BA theatre and philosophy ’12
Flying V

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Title: AU Faculty Improving Science Education in DC Schools
Author: Patty Housman
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Abstract: Summer institute hosted by AU focuses on new science curriculum.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 08/17/2015
Content:

For four weeks this summer, American University science faculty taught DC middle school teachers how to develop innovative and effective new science curriculum for their classrooms. 

The program, named the Learning and Teaching Science with Scientists Institute, was funded by the DC Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) through its Mathematics and Science Partnerships Grant Program. The grant was awarded to AU’s science departments and School of Education in partnership with the Ideal Academy Public Charter School in DC. In all, 14 DC public and independent school teachers completed the training: 4 from Ideal, and 10 from other DC middle schools.  

“AU is uniquely suited for this program because of the strong relationship between the science departments and the School of Education,” said Danielle Sodani, director of Project Development and Community Outreach at American University’s School of Education. “Through programs like Lab2Class, a NSF-funded initiative that prepares new science teachers to teach in DC schools, AU education faculty and science faculty have explored the issues of teaching and scientific inquiry as a way to deeply engage K-12 students in science disciplines.”  

 

Developing and Implementing Innovative New Curriculum 

The participating teachers completed weeklong one-credit graduate courses in biology, chemistry, environmental science, and physics, followed up a three-credit education course that helped them create lessons plans for their classrooms using the science content they learned. They tested their lesson plans at Ideal Academy’s summer school with students in grades 3-8, and they will officially implement the new curriculum in their classrooms this fall. 

The new curriculum was developed in response to new state and national science curriculum standards named Next Generation Science Standards (NGSI). 

“The goal of the institute was to help teachers develop curriculum based on the new standards,” said Nancy Zeller, AU’s coordinator of science teaching labs and the grant manager for the institute. “The Next Generation Science Standards emphasize both science content and the scientific process,” said Zeller. “One of the reasons why the institute was such a success was because our faculty taught the teachers the processes that scientists use when they conduct research in their labs: to make predictions and set up experiments to test those predictions. The teachers learned that by giving the students something to observe or analyze, and by guiding them through the scientific method, the students also learn the content. It is a more effective way of teaching science.”  

 

American University Scientists and Faculty 

Nine AU faculty members taught the courses:  

Meg Bentley, director in residence of laboratories, Department of Biology
Jane Ferguson, director, Chemistry Teaching Labs, Department of Chemistry
Mark Hannum, adjunct instructor, School of Education
Michele Lansigan, professorial lecturer, Department of Chemistry
Jonathan Newport, lab director and research specialist, Department of Physics
Christina Pondell, instructor, Department of Environmental Science
Sorangel Rodriguez-Velazquez, professorial lecturer, Department of Chemistry
Angela Van Doorn, professorial lecturer, Department of Environmental Science
Nancy Zeller, director, Science Teaching Labs

 

Science Teaching Labs  

In addition, seven AU research scientists from four science departments volunteered their time to give seminars to the teachers: 

Naden Krogan, assistant professor, Department of Biology
David Carlini, associate professor, Department of Biology
Jim Girard, professor, Department of Chemistry
Stefano Costanzi, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry
Kiho Kim, department chair, Department of Environmental Science
Gregory Harry, assistant professor, Department of Physics
Kathryn Walters-Conte, director, Professional Sciences Master's in Biotechnology, Department of Biology

Four undergraduate students will assist with the grant. This summer Kirk Blackmore (biochemistry ’15) and Nikita Srivastava (physics ’15) assisted with the science courses. In the fall, two more undergrads will join them in helping to implement and evaluate the lesson plans at the participating middle schools.  

 

What’s Next  

The Learning and Teaching Science with Scientists professional development program will continue throughout the upcoming academic year.  

“AU undergraduate student assistants and faculty will work with teachers in the program's partner school, Ideal Academy, and other DC schools to implement the lessons they created this summer. Preliminary data already show that the program has increased teachers' knowledge of the inquiry approach to teaching science,” said Sodani.  

The institute was a real partnership between the faculty members and teachers, said Zeller. “Everyone worked together enthusiastically, and as a result, the AU science faculty members look forward to seeking similar science education grants in the future. There was nothing more fulfilling than watching the students at Ideal Academy in lab coats investigating electric circuits, germinating bean seeds, and analyzing a forensic robbery scene. We hope to create more opportunities like this in the future.”

Tags: Biology,Biology Dept,Biotechnology,Chemistry,Chemistry Dept,Education,Elementary Education,Environmental Science,Physics,Physics Dept,School of Education, Teaching and Health,Science
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Title: Race to the Finish
Author: Gregg Sangillo
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Abstract: AU assistant track coach Kerri Gallagher will compete in the IAAF World Championships in China.
Topic: Athletics
Publication Date: 08/13/2015
Content:

Out of the Blocks

Through countless hours of training, American University assistant track coach Kerri Gallagher pushes herself to the limit. And now she's getting ready for perhaps the biggest race of her life. She's heading to Beijing, China to compete at the IAAF World Championships, which start on August 22. Gallagher is one of four standout athletes representing the United States in the women's 1500 meter.

After finishing third in the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, she qualified for Beijing by hitting the world standard time in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy. Her 4:03.56 Italy time was about five seconds faster than her previous personal best.

In an interview last month, Gallagher was overjoyed about her recent accomplishments. "It's been a big year for me," she says. "It was my highest finish at the U.S. championships. So it's been exciting, for sure."

Journey to AU

During her formative years, Gallagher found a way to exceed expectations. A New York City kid, Gallagher dabbled in soccer, swimming, and basketball before discovering track. "Everybody does a little bit of everything when you're young. So I stayed with basketball in high school, freshman year. And I was riding the bench the whole year. I was like five feet tall. And, you know, they took me on the team mainly because I was fast," she recalls. "I got better, but by sophomore year, my mom suggested maybe I should try cross country. And I was a little hesitant; I didn't really want to do cross country. But then I tried it. I said, 'All right mom, I'm not going back if I don't like it.' But, of course, I liked it and I stayed with it."

While attending high school in Brooklyn, her track skills developed and she started to meet with college coaches. Her high school coach was friends with American University's cross country/track & field head coach Matt Centrowitz. Gallagher then took a trip to AU and was completely sold on coach Centrowitz' program. But wanting to stay close to home, she attended Fordham University in the Bronx. She ran the 800 meter during her freshman and sophomore years. Her strength increased, and by senior year, she was running her current specialty, the 1500. Gallagher earned her bachelor's degree in mathematics, with minors in computer science and economics.

She started off working in the financial sector, but fate and initiative drew her back to AU. As detailed in a recent Runner's World profile, she quit her job and came down to D.C. on a bus. She trained with Centrowitz and took a volunteer coaching job, before eventually getting hired as a full-time assistant coach. "I'm actually really happy that I was able to come down here to work with him, because it just kind of solidified that feeling I had four years earlier."

At AU, Gallagher is also earning her master's degree in quantitative analysis, and she's enjoyed both statistics and business courses.

The Long Run

As part of her training regimen, Gallagher usually runs about 12 miles a day, seven days a week. Put in perspective, that amount of mileage over a full year would be like running from New York City to Salt Lake City and back again. And especially during the season, she stays entirely focused and eschews headphones and music during workouts.

"A lot of times I find myself on runs visualizing races coming up. And I don't plan my runs for that, but when those natural thoughts happen, I want to let them happen," she says. "It's a good time for reflection in that way. I'm not trying to distract myself."

So, what makes Kerri run? Unlike that cliché about how you race against yourself, Gallagher admits she's quite focused on the competition. "For me, it's pushing myself to see how good I can be here in the U.S. and even on a world stage," she says.

And she jokes about the need for a quirky personality. "I think runners are all a little bit crazy in a way. You kind of have to be."

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Title: Winning Essay - 2015 Alumni Association Scholarship
Author: Sirah Bah
Subtitle:
Abstract: Sirah Bah, Class of 2019, submitted this essay describing how her father's student experience influenced her own decision to attend AU. This was one of the requirements to apply for the Alumni Association Scholarship.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 08/07/2015
Content:

My father was a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University in 1990 with a focus in Development Management. My father's time at AU has not only shaped his life but has influenced me with my current passions and interests. One reason why I would like to attend AU is because it is dedicated to help educate their students to grow into a person who favors philanthropy, and uses their knowledge to make a positive impact in the world. My father's education at AU exposed him to international relations, and social change work 20 years before it became a "fad". AU is on the forefront in all educational fields, encourages their students to push the boundaries, and inspires their students to "Be the change that you wish to see in the world" (Gandhi). Although after my father's time at AU ended he did not leave behind that mantra, and used those very same words to help me aspire to be the person I am today. I would like to attend AU, because it is a unique institution that cares about educating the "whole body", and more importantly focuses on social change. I give all credit to my father's unwavering vocation to enact social change, because of his experiences at a truly unique university, and to his philanthropic fervor that has motivated me to follow in his footsteps. With the seed of philanthropy within me, I took the first giant leap in starting a nonprofit to create a brighter future.

My father is very proud about having attended American University, and his enthusiasm about the school is another reason in why I wish to attend for the upcoming school year. I would love to be a part of an institution that will leave such long lasting positivity within their graduates. My father does not entirely show much emotion about a lot of things, but when he speaks about AU, and about his time in the DC campus, his face truly lights up. He marvels over his time at AU, and speaks about his professors and friends from there with such irrefutable glee. I love to see my father's face when he talks about AU, and I know that if I am able to attend AU, I will meet people like he did that will lead me to speak about AU with so much joy.

As a proud alumnus of American University, my father has taken advantage of our close proximity to the school to attend some of the basketball games. At these events in Bender Arena that are full of students seeping with team pride, and with the eagle mascot running around enticing uproarious cheer from the stands, I can see myself at an institution like so. I would love to attend AU, because groups of students from SIS to CAS to Kogod can all come together in a non-academic environment to meet one another, and form a strong school community that means so much to me.

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Title: Meet Sirah Bah, recipient of the 2015 AU Alumni Association Scholarship
Author: Patricia Rabb
Subtitle:
Abstract: Sirah is a legacy student whose father attended AU in the ’80s.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 08/06/2015
Content:

 "Whenever he would talk about his time as an Eagle, his whole face would light up. He would reminisce about his favorite parts on campus, or about his professors, or the friends he made while he was a student," says new student Sirah Bah, CAS/BS '19, who is continuing the legacy of attending American University begun by her father in the late 1980s. 

The daughter of Alpha Bah, CAS/MA '90, Sirah is the 2015 recipient of the Alumni Association Scholarship and describes wanting to be part of the same AU community as her father. "To see the glow that a school could leave on a student almost 30 years in the future was truly inspiring, and a huge factor as to why I decided to attend AU," exclaims Sirah.  

Another reason she decided to enroll at AU was its location in DC. Although she grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, with "DC in her backyard," Sirah is looking forward to living at AU and exploring everything that Washington has to offer. "Attending a school in DC allows me several unique opportunities that I would not be able to receive if I were to attend a school outside of this city," she says.

AU has always been a part of Sirah's life. "I'm sure that I visited campus the first time when I was a baby due to my father attending alumni events," she says. Then, when she was seven or eight years old, Sirah's father decided to show her a "special place" during a drive through DC at night. "I saw campus for the first time and I thought it was so beautiful with all the trees, flowers, and lights illuminating the campus at night," adds Sirah.

When she's not on campus, Sirah plans to spend time visiting Capitol Hill, Eastern Market, and "the great museums that DC has to offer". She also looks forward to experiencing the election season this coming year. "I am excited to see the many active groups on campus holding events and to see how the city transforms during this very special season," she adds.  

The Alumni Association Scholarship provides financial support to students whose parent or grandparent holds a degree from American University. The scholarship, worth $5,000 per year toward tuition, is renewable for a maximum of four years and is funded through the AU Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Alumni Audit program

The scholarship is awarded based upon the student's academic record, demonstrated leadership abilities, connection to American University, and an essay describing how their parent's or grandparent's experience at AU influenced their own decision to attend AU. 

While at AU, Sirah plans to major in biology and perhaps double-major in Spanish at the College of Arts and Sciences. She is extremely passionate about healthcare and infectious diseases and would like to donate her time to help others. Sirah hopes to use her studies in biology and Spanish to travel to Latin America and participate in research relative to infectious diseases and women's healthcare. "After I graduate, I would like to attend medical school, eventually become an infectious disease doctor or an OB/GYN, and be a part of Doctors without Borders," says Sirah.

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Title: The Mushroom Cloud
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: For the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima, CAS professor examines and criticizes the decision to use the bomb.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 08/04/2015
Content:

It's been 70 years since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the debate on whether it was justified is far from settled. Peter Kuznick, an American University history professor, has closely studied the circumstances surrounding the American use of atomic weapons. And he's formed a highly critical view of President Harry Truman's decision—one he calls baffling and militarily unnecessary. Though numbers are inexact, Kuznick says that estimates in 1950 found 200,000 people dead in Hiroshima and roughly 140,000 killed in Nagasaki.

In an interview timed with the August 6th Hiroshima anniversary, Kuznick expands on why he thinks the U.S. went nuclear. And he challenges basic assumptions many Americans hold about the end of World War II.

The Prospects of Invasion

Kuznick says a persistent myth about the bombings is that they thwarted a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. The 'bomb instead of invade' narrative is powerful, presupposing that a lot more American and Japanese lives would have been lost if the U.S. hadn't swiftly ended the war that summer.

"I think that is a theory that was concocted after the bombing in order to justify such a horrific act," Kuznick says. Truman's post-bomb statements were that "thousands of American lives were saved. Truman steadily increases that number over the years, as the criticism of the decision to drop the bomb mounts," he explains.

A massive mainland invasion was unlikely, Kuznick says. "In August, we dropped the bomb, allegedly, to avoid an invasion that was not intended to begin until November?" he asks incredulously. "It was going to be a question of finding another way to force Japanese surrender or else using the bomb. No president would have allowed an invasion."

Japanese Surrender

Another question arises in this discussion: How close were the Japanese to surrendering? If Japanese leaders were actually ready to end the war, this undercuts the argument that atomic weapons were necessary.

Below: A photo of the "Atomic Bomb Dome" in Hiroshima, Japan.

A photo of the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima, Japan.

Some historians have characterized Japanese leaders as recalcitrant, with surrender far from imminent. But Kuznick disputes this, based on what U.S. intelligence knew at the time. "The United States, you have to remember, broke the Japanese diplomatic codes. We were intercepting Japanese cables," he says. "And we know that as early as May [1945], the Japanese had decided to try to enlist the Soviet Union to help the Japanese get better surrender terms."

Cables and reports informed American policymakers about a key sticking point: Japanese leaders insisted on keeping their emperor, Hirohito, as opposed to "unconditional surrender" sought by the U.S. "Unconditional surrender, to the Japanese, meant that the emperor would be executed as a war criminal, which they couldn't abide. To the Japanese, the emperor was almost a god," Kuznick says.

A number of American military and diplomatic officials believed that those surrender terms should be changed, Kuznick says. But adviser and Secretary of State James Byrnes had Truman's ear, telling the president that any change in those terms would be politically disastrous. The irony is that the Japanese were ultimately allowed to keep their emperor after the war concluded.

Atomic Diplomacy and the Soviets

American mistrust of the Soviet Union played a role in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kuznick says. At the July-August 1945 Potsdam Conference in Germany, Truman met with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss postwar plans. With hopes for a quick end to the Pacific war, Truman secured Stalin's assurance that the Soviets would enter the war against Japan, too. Yet during the conference, Truman got another piece of news and a subsequent full report: American scientists had successfully tested the A-bomb in New Mexico.

At this point, Kuznick says, Truman no longer wanted the Soviets' help. If the U.S. could unilaterally finish off Japan with the bomb, the thinking went, why give postwar concessions to the Soviets? Churchill observed Truman's suddenly confident demeanor at Potsdam, which Kuznick says is important to ascertaining the American president's mindset. "I couldn't understand it. When he got to the meeting after having read this report he was a changed man. He told the Russians just where they got on and off and generally bossed the whole meeting," Churchill noted, according to Secretary of War Henry Stimson's diary.

Another aspect of this is usually known as "atomic diplomacy." In other words, the bomb was a warning shot to Stalin just before the onset of the Cold War. "It would send a message to the Soviet Union that if they mess with the United States and American interests, they were going to get the same treatment," Kuznick says.

Citing evidence of atomic diplomacy, Kuznick points to statements made by Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project. "There was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this [Manhattan] Project any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and the Project was conducted on that basis," Groves would later say.

Reclaiming History

Kuznick covers this subject extensively in The Untold History of the United States, a book he co-authored with filmmaker Oliver Stone. At AU, Kuznick is director of the Nuclear Studies Institute. Since its founding in 1995, he takes AU students to Japan every summer to meet with survivors and learn about the bombings. It's a history too often overlooked or purposely ignored, Kuznick believes.

This is partly because World War II is thought of as "the Good War," defeating Nazi, fascist, and imperial powers. Kuznick agrees that World War II was a just fight, but he also urges students and citizens to examine the totality of the conflict.

"I've done a number of sessions with World War II veterans. And by the time I start off the discussion, everybody in the room defends the bomb. An hour and a half later, almost nobody will defend the bomb," he says. "In some ways, what we're saying is that the American troops, actually, deserve the credit for defeating the Japanese. Not some bombs. That we had already won the war, and they should be credited."

In commemoration of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries, Kuznick teamed up with the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center to bring the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb exhibition to campus.

The exhibit includes 20 artifacts collected from the debris of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as 6 large folding screens that depict the horrors of the event. The 1995 Nobel Peace Prize nominees, Iri and Toshi Maruki, created a total of 15 screens over 32 years from 1950. This exhibition, made possible by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagaski Atomic Bomb Museum, is meant to deepen understanding of the damage wrought by nuclear weapons and inspire peace in the 21st century. 

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Title: AU 2030: Catherine Stoodley
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: Psychology professor explores the cerebellum’s role in cognitive development.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/21/2015
Content:

The cerebellum is located at the bottom of the brain. And for many years, it was generally confined to the outskirts of academic discourse on cognitive neuroscience. But through her research, American University assistant professor Catherine Stoodley has discovered that the cerebellum should be front and center in understanding how the brain works.

Stoodley teaches in the Psychology Department of AU's College of Arts and Sciences. As principal investigator and head of the Developmental Neuroscience Lab, she's working with graduate and undergraduate students on cutting-edge research to explore the cerebellum's vital role in cognitive development. Neuroscience at AU is thriving, and it's been identified as an interdisciplinary area for investment under the AU 2030 project.

Developmental Disorders

The cerebellum plays a critical part in the brain's ability to learn. As a result, the cerebellum can tell researchers a lot about developmental disorders, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia. "It's got half the neurons in the brain packed into it," Stoodley says. "We're finding that there are different components to this structure that are involved in movement or language or cognitive functions."

While examining developmental disorders in other parts of the brain, studies tend to yield a wide variety of results that aren't always illuminative. But especially with a child who has autism, the cerebellum shows remarkably consistent signs of abnormality, she says.

Through post-doc work, Stoodley characterized certain functional sub-regions of the cerebellum, and this became beneficial for later research. "This really forms the basis for understanding what the cerebellum is doing in these disorders, because there are differences in which parts of the cerebellum are disrupted in ADHD versus autism, for example. And that is consistent with the fact that they don't look the same behaviorally," she explains.

Research Hurdles and New Discoveries

The advent of neuroimaging enabled researchers to better visualize and observe brain activity, and this enhanced research into the cerebellum. Additional technological innovations could bring researchers closer to helping children with developmental disorders. Neuroscientists are starting to use Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, a research tool that sends currents from one electrode to another. When these currents run through brain tissue, they temporarily alter the excitability of that tissue.

"A lot of people are proposing that this kind of stimulation could be used in a therapeutic sense. But the research has to be there first. We need to understand how it's working and what it's doing," Stoodley says.

Stoodley's research can be quite complicated. Neuroscientists believe that developmental disorders have a genetic component, and the brain is therefore not developing conventionally during those early months. Yet there's a constant interplay between how the brain is structured and how a person behaves.

"What happens is that the circuits you form in your brain are dependent on how you use your brain," she says. "So if the brain is structured differently from the start, the way the brain works is going to be different and that's going to change the structure. It's like this endless loop."

Since many research breakthroughs come after discovering patterns, researchers are starting to analyze those trends in a more sophisticated way. "I think as the field moves forward, it's going to be more about big data, multivariate analysis, and pattern analysis," Stoodley says.

A Career Launched

Growing up in the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, Stoodley babysat for extra money. But it became more than just part-time work, as Stoodley was fascinated by child development. "I just found it intriguing how quickly children change. If I babysat on a Friday night, by the next Friday they would have learned numerable new words and skills. And I was always interested in the biological underpinnings of that," she recalls.

During her undergraduate years at Tufts University, Stoodley was torn between attending medical school and doing advanced research. She then stumbled upon neuroscience. "I thought this could be what I use to answer these questions that are so interesting to me," she says.

Stoodley later earned her master's and Ph.D. from University of Oxford in England. After observing how children with tumors in a particular part of the cerebellum had reading difficulties, she focused her doctoral dissertation on the cerebellum's role in dyslexia. Following two post-docs—one at Oxford and the other with Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School—she was offered a position at AU in 2010.

Though she rowed competitively at Oxford, these days her time is consumed by her four-year-old son. She won't turn him into another research subject, but she couldn't resist giving extra scrutiny to his development during his early months. But he's a quick study, too—perhaps taking after his mom. "I always tell my students if they complain about learning brain anatomy," she says, "if he can do it, you can't tell me this is not learnable. Because he's four, and he can tell you where the cerebellum is located."

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Title: An Invitation to Experience Awe, and Communicate It
Author: Helen Dodson
Subtitle:
Abstract: “Science is a reservoir of great stories,” author Ivan Amato told AU students doing summer research
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 07/20/2015
Content:

“Science is a reservoir of great stories,” author Ivan Amato told 20 AU students, urging them to embrace the art of communication in order to make an impact on their world.

The students are working on faculty research projects as part of AU's Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) in the Sciences and Math, which offers exposure to diverse areas of scientific research and teaches students how to develop a career in the sciences.

Amato is a highly regarded science journalist — a writer, editor, storyteller, and author who has spent his career deconstructing science and technology and sharing his infectious awe for the wonders of nature. He champions science — and science literacy — through his articles, books, collaborative panel discussions, and well-attended “science cafes” including one at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC.

Amato is currently serving as a communications and public affairs consultant for DARPA, the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which supports the development of innovative and breakthrough technologies aimed at improving national security.

When he speaks to groups like the AU science students, he stresses the importance of scientists learning to communicate well, not just to other scientists but to lay audiences who may find the technical, multi-syllabic jargon of science off-putting or even incomprehensible.

“My key strategic guidance is to remember what it was like before you knew what you know now,” Amato told the students, urging them to learn how to translate their highly technical thoughts, observations, and study findings into plain English.

“Regardless of whether you are interested in pre-med or doing research, communicating well opens all kinds of doors.” He noted that scientists who are able to do so might be more successful with grant applications, gaining managerial, decision-making jobs, and talking to state and national legislators who are appropriating money for research.

Science, he said, is pushing what humanity knows, and “an invitation to experience moments of awe.” Amato added, “You might discover something no one else on the planet knows.” But communicating that awe is crucial, he said, whether it’s to a reporter or your friends and family. “It’s a great thing, a gift to yourself and others.”

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Title: The Role of Religion in Environmentalism
Author: Rebecca Basu
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Abstract: American University professor's book examines religious roots of the modern environmental movement.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 07/13/2015
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Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change marked an historic event, but as American University Philosophy and Religion Associate Prof. Evan Berry points out, Christianity's ties with ecology are far from new.

Berry, author of the book, "Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism," makes the case that Americans' understanding of those ties is necessary to solving the problems of climate change. In an edited interview below, Berry discusses how Judeo-Christian theological concepts ignited Americans' early passion for nature, and set the tone for many of the goals of today's environmental movement.  

Q: Can you talk about the central tenant of the book, which hinges on the idea that Americans have forgotten the religious roots of environmentalism?
Berry: The perception that religious faith and environmental concern are at odds began in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1980s. A century ago, as today, religion played a powerful role in shaping ideas about public health, outdoor recreation, healthy lifestyles, etc. Many historians acknowledge this fact, but only rarely do we stop to consider the lasting impact that religious ideas had on American environmental attitudes.

Q: What is one major central religious idea that played a role in establishing American environmentalism?
Berry: If you look at the way many Americans talk about and write about climate change, you can easily identify elements of the Garden of Eden narrative. Human beings once inhabited a perfect and bountiful environment, but acted greedily and brought our innocence to an end. We now find ourselves cast out of the proverbial garden, wishing to return to the abundance and simplicity that preceded our hubris. Ideas like these are applied to climate change today, and have long been part of the way Americans talk about environmental degradation.

Q: Should there be less or more emphasis placed on environmental leaders' religious motivations?
Berry: Rather than getting hung up on whether certain environmental leaders are religiously motivated—for example, on whether and to what degree the prominent climate activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben is motivated by his Methodist faith—we would do better to think about the different ways that religious ideas about nature are put into practice. Americans spend lots of money on "natural" products, place a great deal of faith in the restorative power of outdoor recreation, and love TV shows about the survival of the fittest. Tracing these kinds of activities back to their roots tells a much more nuanced story about the American devotion to nature.

Q: In the book you discuss how the roots of religious environmentalism have, in part, caused difficulties for major American environmental groups as they try to build a coalition with groups in the Global South, communities of color and others. What words of advice do you have?
Berry: Many of the benefits secured by the environmental movement—ranging from federally protected wilderness areas to urban farmers' markets—are disproportionately enjoyed by wealthier citizens. There is lots of room to create a more inclusive environmentalism. Debates about food security, renewable energy, and climate adaption offer opportunities for environmentalists of all stripes to think about how to forge just, democratic societies in which environmental well-being is equitably shared.

Q: What's the lesson for environmentalists who seek to distance the movement from its religious roots?
Berry: The desire to distance environmentalism from its religious roots seems to be softening, at least from within the movement, where the mounting engagement of faith organizations with climate change is generally seen as a good thing. Many secular environmental NGOs released statements of support of the encyclical, and many groups that two decades ago might have been wary of collaborating with the Vatican were eager to syncopate their climate justice messaging with Rome.

Q: What complicates religious and secular groups' working together to find solutions to environmental problems?
Berry: Despite the celebration of the papal encyclical by many environmental organizations, there do remain a number of ecological issues that complicate collaboration between religious and secular groups. Population and family planning are obvious sticking points, but so too are nuclear energy and genetically modified crops. Much more worrisome, however, are the Christian extremists who continue to deny climate change and characterize environmentalism as "secular cult." As long as such groups find an audience, it will be difficult for religious moderates to facilitate climate compromise in domestic politics.

 

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Title: Professor Wins Department of Defense Grant
Author: Helen Dodson
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Abstract: Michael Robinson receives nearly $1.5 million to study topological methods for analyzing data in defense department grants.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 07/13/2015
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AU’s math and statistics department has won a large share of nearly $1.5 million in defense department grants to study topological methods for analyzing data—a field that visualizes and examines the geometric structure and shape of data.

These grants aim to solve problems in engineering and data science through an aggressive application of sophisticated mathematical techniques to detailed, practical models of systems. These problems involve measurements in which both the old methods and the new “big data” methods fail dramatically.

AU’s lead researcher, Michael Robinson, will use algebraic topology to develop powerful new algorithms that will be of immediate use to practitioners.

The five funded research projects, which are already underway, will focus on the relationship between complex sets of data, and how they may predict, for example, the network of interactions between biological proteins, or the sonar echoes of mines buried deep at sea.

AU’s collaborators include the University of Pennsylvania, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, SRC, Inc., and ARiA Consulting Services, LLC.

 

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Title: Two Alumnae Mix Business with Conscience
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
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Abstract: Glen’s Garden Market and Peeled Snacks want to bring you delicious, sustainable food and products.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 07/10/2015
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Students buying coffee at Starbucks on campus (and across the nation) can also find a healthy option to munch on between classes: Peeled Snacks. Started by alumna Noha Waibsnaider, CAS/BA ’96, Peeled Snacks offers organic dried fruit, trail mix, and other tasty treats. In Dupont Circle, Glen’s Garden Market, owned by alumna Danielle Vogel, WCL/JD ’07, also sells Peeled Snacks along with a bevy of other organic food and locally-sourced sustainable products.

Noha Waibsnaider found the inspiration to start Peeled Snacks during the anti-globalization protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999. “Seeing the protests on the news, I realized we need people on the inside of business to make a difference,” she says.

Noha went to Columbia Business School and landed a job in brand management at a large food company. “Working there, I learned about how horribly processed all of our food is,” she says. “Food companies add lots of preservatives, chemicals, and sugar. I realized people deserved better and thought I could make something better.”

Thus, Peeled Snacks was born.

Inspired by her childhood in Israel, where people have been eating dried fruit and nuts for thousands of years to make the fruit last longer after harvest, Noha started Peeled Snacks in 2005 with dried mangos. She works closely with the farmers in Mexico to ensure they use sustainable practices and that the local economy benefits from the business. Peeled Snacks is a certified B Corp, meaning it focuses on benefiting all stakeholders and is held to rigorous standards regarding the social and environmental impact of its business decisions. Peeled Snacks are sold nationwide at Starbucks, Hudson News, Giant, Whole Foods, and locally at Glen’s Garden Market.

Danielle Vogel focused on environmental law while completing her degree at the Washington College of Law. She went on to work in the Senate on climate change legislation, but when the political climate proved that legislative progress was at an impasse, she decided to create her own change by opening Glen’s Garden Market. “We call it progress one bite at a time,” Danielle says. “We have created a space where our neighbors can only make good choices for the environment.”

All products sold at Glen’s are locally-sourced from the six states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the building is constructed with sustainable and reclaimed materials. But Danielle is not only committed to the environment, she also helps fellow green entrepreneurs by launching their brands in the store.

“We grow small businesses along with our own... That is how we expand this movement beyond our four walls. We help grow, incubate, and accelerate small food brands that treat their land, animals, and ingredients with respect,” Danielle says.

In its first two years, Glen’s Garden Market has launched more than 35 other small businesses by providing them with a first opportunity to sell their product in a grocery store. Danielle is also focused on a second location in Shaw at the intersection of 8th and U streets, slated to open in November 2015.

Both Danielle and Noha say their AU education has been immensely helpful in starting and running their businesses. Noha says her major in Spanish and Latin American studies helps her establish relationships with Mexican farmers and understand their culture as well as the issues they face. Danielle says her degree from the Washington College of Law has given her the knowledge to negotiate contracts and the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

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Title: CAS Alumna Returns to AU for Alumni in the KNOW: Women in Leadership
Author: Nina Cooperman, SPA/MPA '15
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Abstract: Virginia Louloudes, CAS/MA ’84, reflects on an AU experience that set the stage for her success.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2015
Content:

Virginia Louloudes, CAS/MA '84, received her degree at AU when the arts management program was just beginning. Since then, she has gone on to become a prominent leader in the arts management world, serving as the executive director at Alliance of Resident Theatres in New York (A.R.T./New York). Louloudes was a panelist at this month's Alumni in the KNOW: Women in Leadership event, where she shared her thoughts on the career landscape for women in the arts and gave advice to current students. 

Louloudes has been in her role at A.R.T. New York for more than 20 years. The organization is devoted to assisting 300 member theatres in managing their organizations. A.R.T New York does everything from offering shared office and rehearsal spaces, to serving as the nation's only revolving loan fund for real estate, to providing technical assistance programs for emerging theatres. According to its website, "A.R.T./New York supports nonprofit theatre companies in New York City by providing four core programs: Funding, Training, Space, and Connections." 

In 2010, A.R.T./New York received Tony Honors for Excellence, and Louloudes had the opportunity to attend a luncheon for honorees in New York City. About the experience, she said, "I never felt so special in my life." 

When Louloudes was an arts management student at AU, she worked part-time at organizations like Arena Stage and the National Endowment for the Humanities. According to Louloudes, the course material in the arts management program challenged her to "use a different part of my brain, and talk about the quality of life that the arts brings to the United States." 

According to Louloudes, one of the benefits of attending AU is the proximity to "the wealth of arts that exist in Washington. Being in Washington, DC was great. Having access to the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, and Arena Stage was such a resource. Being in a city where the arts are vibrant is really amazing. It's something that is special about AU." 

Before she came to campus for Alumni in the KNOW: Women in Leadership, Louloudes said she was "looking forward to seeing how much campus has changed, meeting students and the other panelists." The one piece of advice she hopes sticks with students is to become comfortable with being yourself. After the event, students seemed to connect with her message and were actively engaged.

When asked about how the arts management program has evolved since she was a student, Louloudes says the industry has changed. "It has become much more specialized, and it's wonderful to hear that the program has become a great one," she says.

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Title: Emerging as a Young Leader in the Arts
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as SVA Theatre's Director.
Abstract: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as the Director of the SVA Theatre.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 01/15/2015
Content:

As the director of the School of Visual Arts' SVA Theatre in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, has had some incredible opportunities – from hosting events featuring Oprah and Beyonce in 2013, to moderating a Q&A with actor David Duchovny in 2014, and finishing the year with a special 25th anniversary screening of Batman

Adam's path to being SVA Theatre's director started while he was a student at American University. At AU, he created his own interdisciplinary major – a bachelor's in directing for theatre and film – by combining the fields of visual media, psychology, and theatre. He credits his "three terrific advisors" for helping him reach his potential: Caleen Jennings, professor of performing arts; Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communication; and Anthony Ahrens, professor of psychology. "I was able to take many other classes; I wasn't strictly confined to theatre and film. I was incorporating other courses from a wide range of programs, all of which I feel like gave me a really well-rounded experience," he says. "I think that is really important in this line of work."

Adam remembers a particularly seminal experience as a member of AU's performing arts group. "My first semester on campus I got to stage-manage and assistant direct a production, which was the unheard of for a freshman," he recalls. This unique opportunity reinforced a passion for directing. "I was always interested in this line of work. I performed as an actor in high school, but I didn't want to live the life of an actor. Then I realized that there are also starving directors." 

In his final year at American, Adam interned at the National Endowment of the Arts, leading him into what would become his first job in the field of arts administration. He says, "Without the internship, I wouldn't be on the path that I am on now. I wouldn't have been able to interact with all the different professionals in the field." His success prompted an invitation to come back to AU to speak at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium in 2009, on a panel called "Challenges of Being a Young Leader." He also served in a leadership role for Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy organization, which connects him to the AU and D.C. arts scene. 

Adam works with groups both inside and outside the community to bring a variety of productions to SVA Theatre's stage. He organizes everything from lectures and conferences to student events and film screenings. He especially loves the ability to bring some artistic programming to the theatre, like the inaugural alumni film and animation festival called "After School Special," which he launched in September.

Adam hopes to continue his success as SVA Theatre's director by "becoming a player in the New York art scene" and continuing to have diverse programmatic events that attract people from all walks of life. To see what is next on his schedule, check out SVA Theatre's calendar.

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Title: Alumni Board Member Uses Family Business Experience to Assist Others
Author: Patricia Rabb
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Abstract: Lee Tannenbaum actively supports family-owned business
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/12/2014
Content:

"I guess you can say that I came to AU in 1976 and never left," says Lee Tannenbaum, CAS/BA '80, about his ties to AU. "A college counselor told me how beautiful the campus was and felt that I would be at home there since I had grown up in the suburbs," he adds.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lee has lived in Rockland County, N.Y., since 1960. Upon graduation from high school, Lee knew he wanted to attend college in Washington, D.C., since he was fascinated with politics and its effect on business.  

After arriving on campus as a freshman, he immediately went to Capitol Hill and was hired as an intern in the office of his Congressman, Benjamin Gilman, who served as a U.S. Representative for New York for 30 years. Thus began Lee's "love affair" with Washington, D.C.   

During his time at AU, Lee wrote for the university newspaper, played intramural sports, and made several life-long friendships. "My best friend at AU is still my best friend today," says Lee. His favorite memory is attending concerts and writing music stories for The Eagle. Lee was able to meet several artists whose music inspires him to this day. He recalls meeting Dennis DeYoung, founding member of the rock band, Styx. Lee says the rocker called out to him, saying, "Get over here and ask me some questions, kid."  

Since graduating, Lee has been the president and owner of Mill Supply Division, wholesale fabricators of Hunter Douglas blinds. He runs the company with his brother, Ross, and the two have been working together there for more than 33 years. Their father started the company in 1969 and Lee joined him upon graduation from AU. Over the years, he's helped grow the business from $4 million in revenue in 1994 to $23 million in 2013. Lee says that the most rewarding part of operating this company came from the example his father set. "I got to work with my dad and brother. We were always there for each other," says Lee. 

Lee is now a business development manager for a growing family business, Designs by Town & Country, a full-service window treatment company in Greenwich, Conn. Lee is helping the owners build their family business by enhancing their brand and improving their networking with interior designers, architects, and home automation integrators. In this role, Lee helps the father and son team use lessons he learned while running his own family business.

Lee says that volunteering his time to AU has been very rewarding. "The fact that I can still help my alma mater makes me feel valued," he says. In addition to being a member of the Alumni Board, Lee serves as an Alumni Admissions Volunteer. At a recent college fair in New York, Lee says he was impressed by the quality of the prospective students. "Just seeing the types of young men and women being accepted by our university makes me feel good about our future," he says.

Lee notes that much has changed at AU since he attended in the late '70s. He recalls the time, before Bender Arena was built, when students had to ride a bus to the Fort Myer gym in Virginia to attend basketball games. "All the new academic buildings on campus demonstrate that this indeed is a new AU. There is a new attitude and it is infectious," he says.

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Title: "Braven" The Odds
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Marshall Thompson, CAS/BA ’03, opens Braven Brewing Company in New York City
Abstract: Marshall Thompson, CAS/BA ’03, opens Braven Brewing Company in New York City
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/12/2014
Content:

"Perseverance, patience, persistence and pride" –that is the mantra of Marshall Thompson, CAS/BA '03. Marshall is owner and CEO of Braven Brewing Company in Brooklyn, New York, and the journey to get to this point has taken several turns. 

Marshall came to American University with an interest in business. He enrolled as a freshman in Kogod, but transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences to complete his bachelor's degree in anthropology. Marshall says that he was attracted to the program because of his interest in people and culture. As an entrepreneur, he says one of the best parts of his work is meeting new people.

Appropriately, people have been a large part of Marshall's success. He credits AU for bringing together people who are "really driven, smart, and creative." Marshall's sophomore year roommate, Dan McAvoy, introduced Marshall to his now-business partner, Eric Feldman, who is a friend of Dan's from high school. 

Marshall surrounded himself with talented and creative friends during his time at AU, and most of them have stayed connected more than 10 years later. Marshall emphasized his strong support network of AU friends and family members who he says continue to encourage him to pursue his dreams. 

After graduating from AU, Marshall's first venture into entrepreneurialism was District Line, a clothing store that carried brands which were popular in the United Kingdom but hard to find stateside. Envisioned after his study abroad program in London, the store saw great success online, getting orders from all over the world. District Line closed in 2008 (during the recession), but Marshall learned from this great experience, saying "It taught me that I need to believe in what I am doing, that it needs to be authentic and real." 

Now, continuing to live by his mantra, Marshall has persevered through challenging setbacks, was patient with slow-moving bureaucracy, and persisted to fulfill his dream of opening a brewery. Braven Brewing Company, located in the historic Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, will be open to the public in the spring of 2015. You don't have to wait to try their beers though –restaurants and bars all around Brooklyn will be getting Braven beers on tap by the end of this year. 

Keep an eye on the New York Young Alumni Chapter events calendar –soon Braven will be on it!

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Title: Brett Smock, CAS/BA ’92: From Dancer to Producing Artistic Director
Author: Patricia C. Rabb
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Abstract: AU alumnus is Producing Artistic Director of The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 09/09/2014
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"I remember getting out of the car and walking across the quad and immediately having this sense that things felt right." So says alumnus Brett Smock, CAS/BA '92, about his first impression of AU.

As the son of a diplomat, born in Hawaii but raised predominantly overseas, Brett enjoyed living in countries such as Libya, Pakistan, Israel, and France. During his junior year in high school in Singapore, he took a two-month tour of select U.S. universities – starting at UCLA and ending at NYU. His second to last stop was American University. "I am someone who listens closely to my gut reaction, and it has never let me down. I went back to Singapore with AU on the brain; and well, the rest is history."

Trained as an Olympic swimmer, graduating from AU as a theatre major, and then becoming a dancer, Brett realized that he also enjoyed the business side of theatrical companies. In June 2014, he assumed the role of producing artistic director for The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, a three-venue operation, after working with the company for almost 30 years. 

Brett now oversees a budget of roughly $5 million and a staff of approximately 20 that grows to a company of over 250 at the height of the season. This includes the youth theater and the programming and operation of the festival's musicals at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse at Emerson Park, Auburn Public Theater, and The Pitch at Theater Mack in Auburn, N.Y. Auburn, located in central New York on one of the Finger Lakes, is an historic city where Harriet Tubman and William H. Seward lived while helping lead slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.  

Much has changed since the time when Brett first started at this playhouse. He recalls actors brushing their teeth in a spigot in the yard. Now, alongside a renovated 500-seat, state-of-the-art facility, two more venues have been added. In line with his organization's mission, Brett says, "When the arts flourish, so do local communities. That's exactly what we've seen happen. Auburn is thriving. [It's] certainly not entirely as a result of the arts, but we're a driving force."

In terms of his goals for the coming years, Brett is focused on growing the festival's audience, developing the next generation of theatre-goers, introducing important works of musical theatre, and developing musical theatre writers. The company operates on three stages and plays to audiences of more than 65,000 each season. "We're an arts organization and our sole task is to create terrific theatre. That is my mantra and my light in the storm. If we do that and we provide theatrical excellence, the rest will organically follow," says Brett.  

Brett has returned to AU many times since graduating more than 20 years ago. He has served as a guest director and as a choreographer several times – beginning almost immediately upon his graduation and continuing to the present. Brett has gratitude for his time at AU and likes to support other AU alumni whenever possible. "I am a product of that investment – not only by the faculty but by the institution itself. AU has given me a lot and I feel, as a leader in the arts today, an incredible responsibility to pay that forward as well as pay that back to AU in every way," he says. 

Brett splits his time between homes in New York City and Auburn. He spends more time in Auburn as a result of this position but gets back to the city whenever possible. He admits to being a workaholic and recalls training for the Olympics by swimming in the pool daily, both at 5 a.m. and immediately following school. He brings a lot of passion to his work in theatre. "If you don't get out of bed and run to work, what are you doing?" he asks.

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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
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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newsId: 23A354A3-08DC-6AA5-D4C948B8A867E86A
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.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences
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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
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.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences,School of Communication
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newsId: 528D56DD-EB88-65D2-CC4833E8E6916E04
Title: Nicole Zangara, CAS/BA ’06, Has New Book Analyzing Female Friendships
Author: Patricia Rabb
Subtitle:
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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