newsId: D0D1EC35-0C46-BEB6-A239092B2E13C090
Title: Childhood Obesity and Cognition: Exploring the Link
Author: Rebecca Basu
Abstract: Psychology Prof. Terry Davidson will chair a symposium of scientists next month, the first gathering of its kind that is focused on obesity and cognition in children and adolescents.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 09/26/2014

Difficulties learning, remembering, and concentrating. An inability to resist environmental temptations to eat. A lifetime of progressive deterioration in the brain. These may be the prices paid by children who regularly consume a diet high in saturated fat and sugar.

Research by Prof. Terry Davidson, director of AU's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, and others studying obesity and cognition, are steadily making this case. Davidson will chair a symposium of scientists on Oct. 13-14, the first gathering of its kind that is focused on obesity and cognition in children and adolescents.

A key question facing researchers: Do diet or obesity-induced cognitive deficits that occur early in life predict more serious impairments later on? "Almost no one with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias gets diagnosed until after serious damage to the brain has occurred," Davidson said. "By identifying signs of pathology and cognitive dysfunction much earlier life, we hope to then prevent more serious cognitive dysfunction." 

Growing field

More than 30 percent of children who live in the United are overweight or obese and at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and bone and joint problems. But physical diseases are not the only threats. Findings from many laboratories, including Davidson's, link obesity and dietary factors to late-life dementias, such as Alzheimer's.

At the two-day symposium, leading researchers from around the world will present new findings about how these factors also produce learning and memory deficits in children and adolescents. Together, they will explore how their findings converge, and how they can help one another better understand the problem of the brain and obesity. Afterward, the speakers will write papers, to be published in a special issue of the journal Appetite in 2015.

It's an exciting time in the field because, in recent years, interest in the 'obese brain' has grown, said Davidson. In 1993, Davidson's research team published their first paper linking food consumption and body weight regulation to the hippocampus, the brain area for learning and memory, and the target of pathologies associated with late-life dementias. Subsequently, many new findings about the adverse effects of diets that promote obesity on hippocampal function came to light. According to Google Scholar, researchers have cited research by Davidson's laboratory on the topic more than 1,300 times in the past five years alone.

Healthy schools

A unique feature of the symposium will be how scientific findings can translate to policy action. For example, day two focuses on interventions, such as creating healthier school environments and working with children to improve their diets and control body weight. Dean Sarah Irvine Belson and Professor Stacey Snelling of AU's School of Education, Teaching, & Health will present their research evaluating D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act, a law enacted four years ago to reduce obesity among students attending D.C. schools.

A recent finding indicated a correlation between the number of physical education minutes students received and their scores on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System in reading and mathematics. As physical education minutes increased, scores also improved on the test for third, fourth and fifth graders. In addition, Irvine Belson, Snelling, Davidson, and Professor Lauren McGrath (also of SETH) are embarking on a new study that will apply concepts and findings from basic research on the brain and behavior to improve understanding of the relationship between diet, obesity, and cognitive function in children ages 7 to 11. They will collaborate with the National Institutes of Health.

"Everyone knows what to do to lose weight. Eat less, eat better, get exercise. But not everyone can do it," Davidson said. "If we could simply follow that advice, we wouldn't have an obesity problem. One of the reasons we seem unable to may be that what we eat changes our brains in ways that make it more difficult to refrain from overeating. We need to know more about how and why these brain changes occur."

Obesity and the brain is just one of many focal points of the AU's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Interdisciplinary in its nature, the center brings together psychologists, biologists, chemists, and other scientists who seek to understand the relationship between nervous system behavior and disease.

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Title: Women on the Verge Coming to AU
Abstract: A Q&A with performing arts professor Carl Menninger.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 09/26/2014

Writer, director, playwright, and assistant professor of performing arts Carl Menninger talks about directing the upcoming AU production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. 

A musical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's beloved film by the same name, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a story about women and the men who pursue them . . . finding them, losing them, needing them, and rejecting them. 

The play runs October 16-25 at the Greenberg Theatre.


Why did you choose Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?
Our theatre season is a "Passport to the Arts." We are presenting plays and musicals that are translations of or were inspired by non-American writers. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is an adaptation of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar's 1988 film of the same name. 


Tell us a little bit about the staging and production of this play.
The play takes place in numerous locations, there is a car chase scene through the streets of Madrid, a woman jumps off a balcony, a bed catches fire, a character makes a blender of gazpacho on stage. 

The original production tried to show the chaos and confusion of the plot by employing a complex set with projections, motorized vehicles, conveyor belts that transported actors and scenery across the stage, and numerous realistic sets. 

In our production, we hope to show the chaos and confusion that the characters feel it, but limit the action to a unit set (a single, stationary set) so as not to overwhelm the audience. The shifts in location and movement will be achieved through lighting and shifting furniture. 


Tell us a little bit about what is involved in producing a play?
The process begins with the directing presenting his vision/concept to the design team. With that information they create their designs. The actors are auditioned and the sets, sound and costumes are constructed during the rehearsal process. It all comes together when during technical rehearsals which usually begin the week before the show opens. That's it in a nutshell. 


What advice would you give students who want to pursue a career in theater?
I wrote a book titled Minding the Edge: Strategies for a Fulfilling, Successful Career as an Actor. The first critical step is to figure out what makes you fulfilled and determine your own definition of success. 

The other major factor is discipline. Actors who manage their careers like a business have a better chance of success than those who don't think and operate like a small business owner. 


What are the performance dates and ticket information?
Performance Dates:
October 16-18, 8 p.m.
October 24-25, 8 p.m.
October 18, 25, 2 p.m. 

Theatre: Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre
4200 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

Tickets: For tickets and more information, call 202-885-ARTS or visit Tickets are $15 regular admission and $10 for the AU community and seniors.

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Title: Meet New Mathematics and Statistics Professor Kristina Crona
Abstract: Kristina Crona is a new assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 09/25/2014

Kristina Crona is a new assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

PhD mathematics, Stockholm University
BS mathematics, Stockholm University  



Areas of Research
Mathematical biology, specifically applications of discrete and algebraic methods to evolutionary biology. The main application is antimicrobial drug resistance mutations, where the goal is to predict, prevent, and manage drug resistance problems.  


What initially sparked your interest in mathematics and statistics?
“The starting point was my interest in science, especially physics and biology. A high school experiment where we determined the velocity of light was important. In school I considered mathematics the language of science, so that it seems logical that I returned to biology after years of research in pure mathematics.”


What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
“Mathematical biology is exceptionally interesting at this point in time. Thanks to DNA sequencing and other laboratory techniques, we can finally test conjectures phrased 100 years ago. New mathematical approaches are critical for interpretations of empirical data, theory development, and clinical applications. Importantly, I realized that my own background in discrete and algebraic methods was very useful in evolutionary biology.” 


What brought you to AU?
“A great job, great school, and great location, and the position seemed like an exceptionally good fit. Indeed, the math group explicitly stated an interest in applications with ‘deep roots,’ which reads like a description of my profile.”  


What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
“The ultimate goal for my research is to make evolutionary biology a more exact and applicable science. We want to be able to predict and manage evolutionary processes, including the development of antibiotic and HIV drug resistance. My vision is to involve AU student in this research, as well as to establish interdisciplinary collaborations at AU.”

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Title: Nifty Fifty at AU
Author: Caitlin Friess
Abstract: Professor Arthur Shapiro named Nifty Fifty speaker for promoting STEM activities.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 09/19/2014

Over the next two academic years, 200 of the country’s most inspiring STEM professionals will be traveling to middle and high schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia to share their passions with young students. Among them will be Nobel Laureates, chief scientists, the top experts in their fields…and American University Psychology Professor Arthur Shapiro. 

Inspiring a New Generation 

The Nifty Fifty (times 4) are scientists and teachers across disciplines whose work had a substantial impact on STEM research, which encompasses the intersection of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The speakers are called upon to help re-invigorate the interest of K-12 students in science and its related fields.

Nifty Fifty Speakers talk about three things: their field of science or engineering, their career path (including the rewards and stumbling blocks), and where they see opportunities for young students in the sciences. For Shapiro, those opportunities are in the visual realm. 

Shapiro is a vision scientist and a creator of visual illusions that challenge the brain at the intersection of art, psychology, and computer science. His internationally acclaimed illusions have won awards in the Best Visual Illusion of the Year contest held by the Neural Correlate Society.  

“What an honor,” Shapiro said of his nomination, “What more can you say, when you’re invited to participate with a group of people like this?”  

For Shapiro, the study of visual sciences and illusions resides at an interdisciplinary crossroads. In helping us understand the brain and the visual system, illusions prove to be an engaging way to involve students in STEM—or STEAM—related activities (STEAM includes the arts).  

“I’ve given talks at high schools, junior high, elementary schools,” he said. “And students are always very engaged in discussions of what illusions are and how you make a phenomenon that tricks you, and pulls you out of your comfort zone.”

USA Science and Engineering Festival 

The Nifty Fifty is a signature program of the USA Science and Engineering Festival. AU exhibited at each annual festival, which featured more than 3,000 exhibits and 150 stage shows discussing various aspects of science and engineering.

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Title: Jamming at the White House
Author: Patty Housman
Abstract: AU professors invited to first White House Educational Game Jam.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 09/19/2014

Earlier this month, three American University professors spent an intense weekend at the White House showing off their video game skills.  

It was all part of the first White House Educational Game Jam, a 48-hour challenge to develop prototypes of cutting-edge educational video games for children. Computer science professors Mike Treanor and Josh McCoy were invited to participate, along with AU Game Designer in Residence Chris Totten. They were part of a group of 102 developers and game designers representing Disney, Sony, Ubisoft, and other leaders in game development.  

“It was great to be invited to this event along with such well-established industry professionals,” said Treanor. “Josh and Chris are the newest members of the AU Game Lab, and it was a lot of fun to work as a team with them and create something together over a weekend. We look forward to putting some finishing touches on the game and releasing it in a few months.” 

Engaging Students in Learning 

The jam, organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Education, was developed in response to President Barack Obama’s 2011 call for investments in “educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game.”  

Treanor said that the White House’s sponsorship of the event illustrated the potential of video games as valuable education tools for teaching academic subjects and building critical problem-solving skills.

“In case people still had doubts, having the White House sponsor a game jam proves that games are no longer seen as distractions for children,” he said. “This event is symbolic of games being recognized as an important cultural form with huge educational potential.”

The Challenge 

The challenge was to develop an educational video game that met academic standards for grades K-12. The 23 teams had until 7 p.m. on Sunday night to develop a game prototype and create a two-minute video. 

The AU team created Function Force 4, an action-packed math game. Users fly on a spaceship and transform mathematic functions to aim and fire a laser cannon. This allows them to defeat enemies, collect items, and activate switches. 

“Our goal was simply to make a fun educational game. Changing the frequency of a sine wave looks cool and is fun. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be taught that way,” said Treanor. “We tried to make a game that didn’t feel like it was trying to force you to learn.”  

Treanor explains that video games like Function Force 4 let students learn by doing. “I believe that the power of educational games lies in making the educational subject the object of play,” he said. “In Function Force 4, the player controls the shape of their blast by modifying math functions. While these topics are taught in high school, I don’t think people really get it until much later (and many people never do). Personally, while I could pass tests with questions about this topic, I never truly understood it until I programmed using it—until I was able to play with it.” 

Function Force 4 was featured in a USA TODAY article and on gaming review site said it had the potential to make the top math game list this year. 

The AU Game Lab 

Treanor, McCoy, and Totten all work together at AU’s Game Lab, part of AU’s new game design and persuasive play program jointly run by the College and the School of Communication. The American University Game Lab serves as a hub for experiential education, persuasive play research, and innovative production in the fields of games for change and rhetorical play. The Game Lab is working to develop a new generation of leaders in social impact gaming. The program offers a master’s degree in game design, and its studio works with clients to produce socially responsible games.

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newsId: 609DE109-CEEF-4494-A6D77BF93565F2C9
Title: AU Economics Professor Wins Two Prestigious Grants
Author: Jamie McCrary
Abstract: Professor Paul Winters will study efficacy of economic programs in Africa.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 09/18/2014

AU economics professor Paul Winters believes that using data to evaluate the efficacy of economic programs can make a real difference across the world. “Countries spend a lot of time and money on economic development, and oftentimes don’t know if what they did worked,” Winters said. “Even if programs are effective, they can always work better. Policies can always be improved.”  

Winters has been awarded two grants to assist in the evaluation of government programs in Africa. The first is a $106,700 grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The second is a four-year $321,600 grant from the American Institute for Research.  

Evaluating Cash Transfer Programs in Africa
Winters’ grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations falls under the From Protection to Production project. The grant uses data collected on cash transfer programs in Africa under the Transfer Project. Winters’ role is to collect and organize research from all participants into a book, which will be published by Oxford University Press next year. 

“No one has really researched the impact of government programs using cash transfers in Africa,” said Winters. “This is why Oxford University is interested in the book—because it is a new and necessary collection of research.”  

Cash transfers are a social protection strategy governments use to reduce poverty and raise the quality of life for their poorest citizens. Cash is given directly to qualified individuals. Sometimes it is given conditionally, with the requirement that the money is used for social purposes such as education or healthcare, and other times it is given unconditionally, with no restrictions for use. Money is given unconditionally in Africa because its institutional structure makes it difficult for governments to monitor how the cash is used, and because some argue that conditions are unnecessary to induce investment in health and education. As a result, little to no research on the efficacy of these unconditional programs exists—which is why Winters’ research collaboration and book is so crucial.  

While Winters’ research focuses specifically on the impact of cash transfers on agricultural production, the book focuses on the program’s impact on multiple aspects of African society. Evaluations from eight African countries will be included, compiling research on the impact of cash transfers on health, education, and production. “We want to make a definitive statement about what cash transfer programs do in Africa, both on the social side and the productive side,” Winters says.  

Evaluating Agricultural Programs in Kenya
Winters also recently secured a four-year grant from the American Institute for Research to evaluate the impact of the Kenyan-based program, Plantwise, managed by CABI (Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International).  

Plantwise, which works to improve food security and the lives of the rural poor by reducing crop losses, places plant clinics throughout Kenya where farmers can bring ailing plants for diagnosis. “It’s like going to a health clinic,” said Winters. “You bring in your sick plant and get it diagnosed by trained agriculture extension agents—plant doctors.”  

Winters believes Plantwise is innovative and effective because it is both cost-effective and a way to monitor plant disease outbreaks. Past programs like Plantwise have paid agricultural professionals to travel to farms, diagnose plant sickness, and train farmers on disease prevention. Plantwise’s clinics allow farmers to come to them, saving time and money for the program. The clinics also collect and monitor geographic data about plant disease outbreaks. “They are like the CDC in the United States—the plant doctors record and report the number of diseases that occur,” Winters said. “Now we know if there’s a new outbreak of a plant disease, and the government can respond.”  

Evaluating for Efficacy
Winters hopes that his research—both on African cash transfers and on the Plantwise program—will ultimately impact African countries’ policies. By using data to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, governments can decide what is working and what is not. “The levels of poverty in Africa have been so high for so long that something needs to be done,” Winters said. “Hopefully these programs will impact the way governments are doing things, and improve the well-being of the population.”

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Title: Building the Knowledge Network
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: Meet American University’s 23 new tenured and tenure track faculty members.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 09/17/2014

American University has amassed a talented crop of 23 new tenured and tenure track professors for the upcoming year. As part of the AU 2030 project, the university has invested significant resources in key subject areas that cut across departments. The new faculty will help foster an environment of academic excellence.

College of Arts and Sciences

Though the substance of his work delves into indecision, Mark Laubach has a clear idea about the research that animates him. "I like trying to figure out decision-making. How does the brain resolve a decision?" Laubach poses. "And how do you learn from one occasion to the next to do something better next time?"

Laubach is a new associate professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Along with other professors, Laubach hopes to collaborate with Terry Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.

Laubach has been working with a National Science Foundation grant to understand brain circuits for executive control. Through Klarman Family Foundation support, he's been conducting research to comprehend neuronal circuits that control food-seeking behavior.

Originally from Bergen County, New Jersey, Laubach did his undergraduate work at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. He was initially inclined towards marine biology, and one summer in Oregon he did a research project on crabs and their claws. He refocused his attention to neuroscience and neurobiology, eventually earning his Ph.D. from Wake Forest University.

American Univeristy associate professor of biology Mark Laubach.

Most recently, Laubach was an associate professor of neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine. He's made the move to Washington with his wife, Bernadette—a chemist and a preschool teacher—and their daughter and son. True to his North Jersey roots, Laubach is still loyal to the New York Mets and the New York Giants. But he's open to some of the local teams, and he's already started going to games with his sports-fanatic son.

Given his academic field, does he think about the neurons in his brain while he's fulfilling routine chores? "No, when I do my own decision-making, I do not think about my brain's role in it. But when I drive my car home, I end up having my best work-related ideas."

Other new CAS faculty:

Nicole Angotti is a new assistant professor in the Sociology Department. She's also a faculty affiliate at AU's Center on Health, Risk, and Society.

Michael Baron, who previously taught at the University of Texas at Dallas, is now a professor in the Mathematics and Statistics Department. Also teaching math and stats is assistant professor Kristina Crona.

John Bracht is now an assistant professor in the Biology Department. His research interests include genomics and cell biology.

Catherine Anne Claus is a new assistant professor in the Anthropology Department. Her teaching interests have included ocean studies and political ecology.

Joshua McCoy is an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department. He's focused on new video game experiences through game technology, design, social science, and artificial intelligence.

Ying-Chen Peng is a new assistant professor in the Art Department. She's researched late imperial and modern Chinese art history, globalization in art, and Asian material culture.

Jennifer Steele is an associate professor in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health (SETH). She's an urban education policy researcher and she formerly worked at the RAND Corporation. Also joining SETH is assistant professor and nutritional neuroscientist Kathleen Holton.

Kogod School of Business

Andrew Schnackenberg, a new assistant professor of management at the Kogod School of Business, is not one to accept received wisdom. He's explored areas of the informal economy, discovering that industry consensus sometimes obscures a much more complicated reality.

He observed a dramatic shift in the discourse surrounding medical marijuana, and a certain amount of industry myth making. "[The industry has] repositioned the product as being less a threat to public well-being and more of a benefit to public health," Schnackenberg says. "There's evidence that marijuana is good for your health, but there's also a lot of evidence that it's not so good for your health."

He's also studied payday lending, an industry that he says is increasingly stigmatized. Much of his earlier research was on corporate transparency.

Schnackenberg was born and raised in Japan. He was heavily influenced by the experience, and it's even reflected in his research choices. "I've been interested in this idea of transparency because in Japan things were very nontransparent," he says. "With these controversial issues I've studied, there's a tremendous amount of symbolism and myth making that goes on. And this is something that I think happens all the time in Japan."

He did his undergraduate studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and started working at a private equity firm. He then went back overseas to complete his MBA in Australia. Upon returning to the U.S., he says he wasn't "satisfied with the answers to the compelling questions that business professionals have around these kinds of issues." He subsequently entered academia and earned his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University this year.

Other new Kogod faculty:

Shuai Ma is a new assistant professor in the Accounting Department. He's delved into issues such as tax reporting and corporate governance.

School of Communication

Benjamin Stokes is an incoming professor at AU's School of Communication. Stokes is currently doing his postdoctoral work at University of California, Berkeley, and he'll start at AU as a full-time faculty member in the fall of 2015. He's listed as a civic media research fellow at AU's Center for Media & Social Impact, and he'll be part of the AU Game Lab with SOC professor Lindsay Grace and others. His research and teaching revolve around civic learning and technology.

Incoming American University School of Communication Benjamin Stokes.

Stokes was born in Montana, but grew up in Ashland, Oregon. Even in high school, he was building online virtual field trips for kids. He got his bachelor's degree in physics from Haverford College. While living abroad, he studied West African drumming in Senegal.

Before launching a full-time academic career, Stokes worked in the nonprofit world. This included online education work on global poverty. "Increasingly, I got pulled into games," he says. While dealing with global interdependence and global citizenship, the biggest challenge was getting people engaged. "We discovered that games were a powerful way to build some of that cause and effect learning." He later joined with colleagues in launching a nonprofit, Games for Change, which facilitates gaming for social impact.

In designing games—particularly for mobile devices—he emphasizes the human component and game interactivity with everyday life. It's not just about advanced technology and coding, he says.

"The intersection around media that is partly online and partly face-to-face is really exciting. And it's a really good time for this right now. The technology makes it possible with phones. We're bringing the Internet back into the physical world."

School of International Service

Miles Kahler has been teaching on the West Coast since 1986. So moving across the country to take a new job at AU's School of International Service is certainly a big life change. Yet Kahler is no stranger to the area: He grew up near Baltimore, Maryland, and he spent time in Washington in the 1980s. In 2012-2013, he was on sabbatical and serving as a fellow at the D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Among other activities, he attended conferences at AU and met with SIS Dean James Goldgeier. "I was just very impressed with the trajectory of the institution," Kahler says.

Kahler will serve as a distinguished professor at SIS as well as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's an expert on international politics and international political economy, with a focus on global governance and international monetary cooperation. He previously taught at University of California, San Diego.

During the Vietnam War era, Kahler became curious about international conflict. "It did get me interested in the question of imperialism, and why great powers or superpowers get involved in wars with much weaker powers," he recalls. When he eventually prepared his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, he focused on decolonization in Great Britain and France.

Kahler maintains many other intellectual passions, and he has an enduring connection to China. He was part of an early academic delegation there in 1979, around the time the U.S. formally recognized the rising nation. In 1980, he undertook his first teaching stint in Shanghai. "China was just opening again to the international economy and to the world," he says. "And meeting the students—who in many ways had their entire lives set back by the Cultural Revolution—was really quite an important experience for me." Kahler would return to Shanghai to teach in 2009.

In conjunction with his latest research, Kahler will teach an undergraduate senior seminar this spring on emerging economies, including Brazil, China, and India, and global governance. SIS has developed impressive faculty expertise to address issues related to governance at all levels, Kahler adds.

"'What is the most efficient, just means of governing an interconnected world?' is one of the critical questions that we face in the coming decade," he says.

Other new SIS faculty:

Adam Auerbach, a new assistant professor, recently received the 2014 Best Dissertation Award from the urban politics section of the American Political Science Association.

Austin Hart is now an assistant professor. He specializes in political campaigns and public opinion, with a focus on Latin America.

Sarah Snyder, also an assistant professor, is a historian of the Cold War and U.S. human rights policy.

School of Public Affairs

Derek Hyra is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and he will serve as the director of SPA's new Metropolitan Policy Center. "One of the missions of the center is to do interdisciplinary, collaborative research, but also to show and highlight AU's engagement in Washington, D.C.," says Hyra.

Hyra was first drawn to urban studies not in the classroom, but on the basketball court. Hyra grew up in Somers, N.Y., which he describes as a mostly white, middle-to-upper income suburb. Yet he played competitive basketball through an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team based out of West Harlem. "I saw Harlem in the late 80s and early 90s, when it was still coming off the crack epidemic. And there were a lot of abandoned buildings and vacant lots," he recalls. "A lot of what I learned through developing relationships with my teammates, who were mostly African-American kids from Harlem and the Bronx, really taught me about race in America." Hyra notes the overall value of this experience. "I didn't know it at the time, but it had a very dramatic impact on what I eventually did as a career."

Hyra ended up going to Colgate University, where he played Patriot League basketball for four years. He also discovered the writings of sociologist William Julius Wilson and learned about the historic conditions creating urban blight.

He's had a rich and varied career since that time, working at both the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Treasury Department. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Earlier this year, he ran in the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat in the Northern Virginia-based 8th District. Though he lost, Hyra feels like he elevated the discussion on affordable housing.

"I try to look at how you can bring redevelopment to a low-income area, but do it in a way that's equitable," Hyra says of his research. He's examined gentrification and economic transformation in Harlem in New York and Bronzeville on Chicago's South Side.

For a forthcoming book, he completed a five-year ethnographic study of the redevelopment of the Shaw-U Street neighborhood in D.C. Outside of work, Hyra is a fan of jazz—one of the great cultural traditions of this Shaw-U Street area.

Other new SPA faculty:

Ryan Moore is a new assistant professor and his research interests include the politics of health, pensions, and welfare.

Elizabeth Suhay is an assistant professor of government. Her specialties have included political psychology and public understanding of science.

Erdal Tekin, a new professor, is an expert on health economics and policy. He comes over from Georgia State University.

Vicky Wilkins is a professor in the Department of Public Administration & Policy and an associate dean for academic affairs.

Thomas Zeitzoff is a new assistant professor. He's conducted research on political violence and political psychology.

American University Washington College of Law

AUWCL has several new faculty leadership appointments. Lia Epperson, an expert on constitutional law and civil rights, is now associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. Jenny M. Roberts has been appointed associate dean for scholarship. A former public defender and law clerk, she's done research on issues of right to counsel and indigent defense. Amanda Frost is the new director of the Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.) Program. Frost has published widely and has been a frequent contributor to SCOTUSblog.

Tags: Biology Dept,College of Arts and Sciences,Featured News,Gamelab,Management Dept,Media Relations,School of Communication,School of International Service,School of Public Affairs,Provost,Public Administration & Policy
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newsId: 2F9F592F-FFAB-2DBC-6B5CFE38D7E4FF64
Title: New Moves
Author: Carolyn Supinka
Abstract: AU Dance Program partners with American Dance Institute.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 09/12/2014

American University’s Dance Program is setting things in motion with an exciting new partnership with the American Dance Institute (ADI). ADI is a Rockville-based performance venue for internationally renowned dance companies and choreographers, as well as a dance school. The Washington Post described it as “fast becoming one of the area’s leading presenters of choice experimental dance.” 

The partnership will offer free master classes for AU students, as well as opportunities to watch rehearsals and interact with ADI’s visiting dancers and choreographers. Melanie George, director of the American University Dance Program, will present pre-performance talks at ADI, and ADI will provide a venue for the AU Dance Program’s annual fundraiser. 

A Natural Partnership  

“An important part of being a student of dance is that you need to see multiple and varied dance performances. Dance is an art form that exists in the moment, and it never happens the same way twice, so seeing it live is critical for your understanding of the form,” said George. “The variety of artists they (the students) are exposed to will help them to cultivate diverse perspectives about dance. The palette from which they build their own aesthetic will be much wider because of that.”  

Steven Skerritt-Davis, director of institutional relations at ADI, said that his organization is thrilled to be partnering with American University. 

“When we had the idea to add an educational component to the incubator program, we thought the best way to do that was through a partnership with a university, and AU was a great pick,” he said. “AU is one of the premier institutions in the D.C. area, and we’re thrilled to be embarking on this partnership that aims to benefit dance students throughout the region.”  

As for what the partnership would bring in the future, Skerritt-Davis said, “We’re hoping it will give something to both dance students and the visiting artists. ADI is always evolving, so this is part of that…It’s a great synthesis of coursework and practical experience. We’re excited and we hope it continues and grows.” 

The partnership has three components: the Inside the Incubator series, master classes, and the Dr. Naima Prevots Guest Artist Fund.  

Inside The Incubator Series 

The Incubator at ADI is a unique dance residency program that gives visiting choreographers the time and space necessary to develop their work at ADI’s facilities. 

The AU partnership adds an educational component to the residency, giving AU dance students the opportunity to observe rehearsals and talk with the artists and choreographers. At the end of each residency, the choreographers will perform their work for the public, and Melanie George will present pre-show talks. AU students can receive a discount for all of the performances offered at ADI.

Master Classes  

As part of the partnership, AU will host a series of master classes taught by ADI’s visiting choreographers and dancers. Each of three master classes offered this fall will have room for about 25 students to attend. They will be taught by award-winning choreographers Vicky Shick and Aszure Barson, and by the Vertigo Dance Company. ADI will offer these classes on AU’s campus. They are open to students and the general public.  

Dr. Naima Prevots Guest Artist Fund 

ADI will provide the venue for the annual benefit performance of the American University Dance Program for the Dr. Naima Prevots Guest Artist Fund, in honor of Dr. Naima Prevots, the founder of the AU Dance Program. All proceeds go to bringing emerging and veteran artists to AU’s Dance Program. 

For More Information 

To read more about the upcoming performances at ADI, visit the ADI website.

To register for master classes, contact Melanie George at

Tags: Dance,Performing Arts,Performing Arts Dept,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: F98A3770-91F7-7F0C-FD2CCB72972700E6
Title: A Wonder Material
Abstract: Ben Derby researched graphene during his NIST summer fellowship.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 09/11/2014

Senior Ben Derby, a physics major minoring in economics, spent the summer in Boulder, CO, on a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). 

Derby, who also won an honorable mention for a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, worked with graphene at NIST. Graphene is a newly discovered "wonder material" that is expected to revolutionize the next generation of electronic devices. 

Why did you choose to study physics and economics?

I came to AU as a communications, legal institutions, economics, and government major hoping to someday serve in public office. Professor Ivy Broder's Principle's of Macroeconomics course introduced me to two subjects I would learn to love: math and economics. I would not find my academic home, however, until taking Professor Harshman's Principles of Physics course. I knew right away that this subject would not only challenge me intellectually, but it would allow me to use my hands in an experimental sense. 

How did you decide to apply for the fellowship?

I had not been introduced to experimental physics research until 2013 where I worked at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Surface and X-ray Science laboratory. I was able to work with gold nanostructures and characterize thin films using X-ray diffraction. Being able to understand and then manipulate materials left me in amazement. 

I started reading the literature in condensed matter physics and become fixated on this seemingly revolutionary material known as graphene. I kept reading about all its potential uses that could transform many industries. I knew then that I wanted to work in a graphene lab over the following summer. I had looked at the research NIST Boulder was completing and was very happy to see that they were looking for a SURF fellow for the summer in the graphene lab. 


What was the most rewarding part of the fellowship?

Not only did I further my understanding of graphene, magnetics, and spintronics, but I gained experience on laboratory equipment not many undergraduates get to play with. Being able to conduct experiments on my own by the end of my time at NIST truly enlightened the budding experimentalist inside me. 

In addition I was able to connect with NIST scientists who have global impact and very unique expertise. Learning from them and discussing my future goals with them, especially with my mentor, helped me define my career path. My mentor allowed me to connect with researchers at the NIST Gaithersburg who experiment with graphene, and it is my intention to join a graphene project during my senior year here at AU. 

And who could forget all that I was able to experience in Boulder, Colorado!

What are your plans for the future?

In the short term I would like to pursue a master's degree in materials science in Germany. The institutions in Germany, specifically RWTH Aachen and Technishe Universitat Munchen, are world renowned for their materials science and condensed matter physics programs. I am also very excited about their research in the area of using graphene for renewable energy harvest. I would like to be a part of this research because I think graphene could help divert our current energy crisis for the long term. Also being a dual-citizen with the country, I have always wanted to spend time there to connect with my family and bolster my working knowledge of the language. 

After this, I plan on pursuing a PhD in materials science and engineering in order to be able to conduct research at an academic institution or in the industrial setting.

What are your other interests? 

I served as the director of the Community Service Coalition during my sophomore year and have maintained an active role since. I believe service is the life-blood of any community, and it is very important to me. I am also a member of the Leadership Program here at AU. It has provided me immense training in how to be an effective leader in any setting I choose later in life. 

I have also been granted the opportunity to work at the National Air and Space Museum since my freshman year. This gives me an amazing experience sharing my love with science to a younger audience. 

Outside of AU, I am very excited to be currently pursuing a private pilot's license. Last summer I had the amazing experience of soloing a Piper J-5 aircraft.

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newsId: C8498583-0F5F-099D-08A091F70E6A5A82
Title: Announcing the 2014 AU Alumni Award Winners
Author: Traci Crockett
Abstract: The AU Alumni Board announces the 2014 Alumni Awards recipients and the October 18 event details.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 09/10/2014

American University is known for its accomplished alumni. AU graduates are thought leaders, business leaders, and world leaders. This year, the university's Alumni Association celebrates five outstanding alumni for their achievements.The American University Alumni Board and the Office of Alumni Relations are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2014 Alumni Awards. Selected annually from nominations submitted by faculty, staff, and alumni from around the world, these awards are the highest honors presented to alumni by the Alumni Association. The 2014 Alumni Award winners are as follows:

Alumni Achievement Award – Barry Josephson, SPA/BA '78
The Alumni Achievement Award recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves through their professional accomplishments.

Barry Josephson is a film and television producer and is the owner and president of Josephson Entertainment, a production company. Mr. Josephson's producer credits include Life as We Know It, Bones, The Lady Killers, Like Mike, Enchanted, and Wild Wild West. He has earned two Golden Globe and three Oscar nominations plus a Critic's Choice Award for "Best Family Film." 

Prior to his film career, Mr. Josephson worked as a manager for musicians such as Paula Abdul, Patti Labelle, Morris Day, and Whoopi Goldberg. He also helped found Sandollar Films, whose productions included several of Dolly Parton's made-for-TV movies and specials and such feature films as Gross Anatomy and True Identity. Mr. Josephson is a member of the SOC Dean's Council, a member of the Entertainment and Media Alliance Leadership, and a former SOC Alumni Mentor;he previously taught as a guest lecturer in SOC's Summer in L.A. and Executive Suite courses. 

Alumni Achievement Award – Monica Jeffries Hazangeles, CAS/MA '96

Monica Jeffries Hazangeles was named president of Strathmore Hall in November 2010. She held several former positions with Strathmore, including executive vice president for administration, capital campaign director for the Music Center at Strathmore, and special events coordinator. Before joining Strathmore in 1994, Ms. Jeffries Hazangeles worked for The Smithsonian Associates and the Chamber Music Kansas City.

In 2011, Ms. Jeffries Hazangeles was named one of Washingtonian magazine's "100 Most Powerful Women." She has also served as a panelist for the Maryland State Arts Council. In addition to her MA in arts management from AU, Ms. Jeffries Hazangeles holds a BM in flute performance from the Florida State University, a MM in flute performance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Alumni Recognition Award – Mark Bergel, CAS/MS '87, CAS/PhD '96
The Alumni Recognition Award recognizes alumni who inspire the world around them through service to a philanthropic mission or the AU community.

Mark Bergel is founder and executive director of A Wider Circle, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to serving children and adults who are challenged by poverty, homelessness, and abuse by providing donated furniture and other goods, resources, and education. Prior to founding A Wider Circle in 2001, Dr. Bergel spent 15 years managing health and wellness initiatives and served as a part-time faculty member at AU. 

A nationally acclaimed speaker on poverty, health, and social connection, Dr. Bergel has been featured on national television and radio programs. In 2008, he received the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region's Linowes Leadership Award. He has also been voted one of People magazine and Major League Baseball's "All Stars Among Us" and has received the Dr. Augustus White III Award for Civic Engagement and Service, the Andrea Jolly President's Award, the Essence of Leadership Award at the Greater DC Cares Business and Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit, and in 2014 he was named a "CNN Hero."

Alumni Eagle Award – Jolene McNeil, SPA/BA '97
The Alumni Eagle Award recognizes alumni who have rendered outstanding service to the University and/or the Alumni Association.

Jolene McNeil is an associate director of meetings and conventions at the American Psychiatric Association. She was previously a meeting manager at Fernley & Fernley, a program and meeting planner at the Drug Information Association, a conference planner at the Child Welfare League of America, and a meetings and membership assistant at the General Federation of Women's Club. 

While a student at AU, Ms. McNeil was an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and president of the Black Student Alliance. She served on the reunion committee for her class and was most recently chair of AU's Black Alumni Alliance. She is also an Alumni Admissions Volunteer for the university.

Rising Star Award – Daniel Maree, CAS/BA '08
The Rising Star Award recognizes young alumni (those who received their undergraduate degree within the last 10 years) who are already making significant contributions to greater society through professional or philanthropic work.

Daniel Maree is the founder and chief executive officer of M-PWRD, LLC, the founder and executive director of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, and the Grand Prize winner of the 2013 Do Something Awards. Mr. Maree created the Million Hoodies Movement in 2012 in response to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Prior to launching M-PWRD and Million Hoodies he worked as a senior digital strategist for both Havas Worldwide and McCann-Erickson, where he had previously held the position of social strategy lead. He was also a communications consultant at The World Bank, special assistant to the founder of The Enough Project at The Center for American Progress, and special assistant to the executive vice president of Social Action and Advocacy at Participant Media.

Please join the Alumni Board and President Neil Kerwin, SPA/BA '71, in honoring these recipients at the 2014 Alumni Awards Dinner during All-American Weekend on Saturday, October 18 at 6 p.m. in the School of International Service Atrium. Tickets are $25 per person and include a cocktail reception and seated dinner. Special pricing is available for current AU students.

For more information about the 2014 Alumni Awards Dinner, contact Carlita Pitts, director of alumni programs, at 202-885-5921.

To learn more about the 2015 Alumni Awards nomination process, contact Isaac Thweatt, director of alumni outreach, at 202-885-5930.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Board,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,Alumni Weekend
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newsId: 92A036D3-D3B8-7ED8-1D1FF5C18BA9706B
Title: Brett Smock, CAS/BA ’92: From Dancer to Producing Artistic Director
Author: Patricia C. Rabb
Abstract: AU alumnus is Producing Artistic Director of The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 09/09/2014

"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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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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Giving,Library,School of Education, Teaching and Health,Donor
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newsId: 23A354A3-08DC-6AA5-D4C948B8A867E86A
Title: SIRIUSXM Executive Gives Back as Mentor to Current Students
Author: Megan Olson
Abstract: Steve Leeds, CAS/BA ’72, began a career in music while a student at AU.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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newsId: C4C2C1BD-B0C1-206B-F6A5151137FE3300
Title: Alumnus Daniel Maree wins Do Something Award for Creating Social Change
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Abstract: When Daniel Maree, SOC-CAS/BA ’08, heard about the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, he took action.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 09/12/2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni Board,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,Psychology,Psychology Dept,Clinical Psychology,College of Arts and Sciences
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