newsId: 7D7B463C-5056-AF26-BE2DD4346396EA2C
Title: AU 2030: Benjamin Stokes
Author: Gregg Sangillo
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Abstract: Incoming SOC professor looks for civic engagement through games.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 12/17/2014
Content:

*This is part of an ongoing series that focuses on the AU 2030 project. American University has invested significant resources in key subject areas that cut across schools and departments. This includes two subjects covered below: persuasive gaming and urban studies.

People often talk about how technology is an isolating force in modern life. Why sit in a crowded multiplex theater with other people when you can stream the movie alone on your iPad at home? But through his research, incoming American University School of Communication professor Benjamin Stokes has found ways that new technology and civic engagement can feed off each other. In fact, mobile technology and games can strengthen communities and play an integral role in urban revitalization.

"The intersection around civic media that is partly online and partly face-to-face is really exciting," Stokes said in an interview earlier this year.

The Human Side

If you're going to meet a friend at a neighborhood restaurant, you could obviously use Google Maps on your phone to locate the address. Yet with new kinds of games, community engagement through technology can become even more sophisticated and beneficial. And Stokes has found that the intersection of digital and human worlds often breeds the most productivity.

"The technology makes it possible with phones. We're bringing the Internet back into the physical world. And it's not just 'anywhere, anytime,' which was kind of the early model of mobile media," he explained. "I think actually the most powerful stuff with civics is resisting that, and saying it's 'somewhere, sometime.'"

Games can be effectively designed to incorporate real-life experiences, he said. "The current moment with games is that increasingly the design is shifting toward the human side, and the hard challenge is thinking about how it works with people in their everyday lives," he said.

Faculty Forum

In November, Stokes expanded on some of these ideas in a Faculty Research and Projects Forum at the School of Communication. It's critically important to focus on the distinct needs of certain local economies, he said. Yet digital games launched online are often universal, failing to address specific neighborhood challenges.

He singled out a game called Macon Money, which took place during a fixed time period in 2010-2011 in Macon, Georgia. The game involved bonds that were worth real money at local businesses. "They wanted to target businesses that were in the community that had been there for a while," he said.

Each participant got half a bond and had to find a matching person who possessed the other half. "[It] was very strategic in deliberately giving some of the bonds to one zip code, and giving a different set of the matching bonds to another [zip code], so therefore encouraging a cross-pollination across some of those socio-economic lines," he said, which included college students and residents who lived downtown.

"Sixty-three percent of the people who matched said they were very unlikely to have met the person otherwise. Even though Macon isn't a huge city, it's still bringing people together who wouldn't have otherwise connected," Stokes said.

Macon Money promotional video:

He added that during the game, some interactions moved from a physical space to an online Facebook forum. "There's an ecology that brings people together that's not purely digital or purely physical. And in fact it's the ability to go back and forth across these spaces that makes for a successful game and project."

Marching to His Own Beat

A theme surfaces when listening to Stokes. These days, we're not strictly online or offline most of the time. With mobile technology, we reside somewhere in between.

Stokes's background also defies easy characterization. He was born in Montana and grew up in Ashland, Oregon. To some extent, he was a traditional gamer like his friends. But he also took an interest in design around learning systems, and in high school he built online virtual field trips for kids. "I worked with an elementary school to have them map their neighborhood," he recalled.

He earned his undergraduate degree in physics from Haverford College. But he also dabbled in music: While studying abroad in Senegal, he played the djembe drum—and he remains a big fan of West African music today.

Before getting into academia, he co-founded Games for Change and served as a program officer at the MacArthur Foundation. He eventually earned his Ph.D. from University of Southern California, and he's now working on a post-doc at University of California, Berkeley.

He'll start at AU's School of Communication in the fall of 2015. He's a civic media research fellow in the Center for Media & Social Impact, and he'll be part of the AU Game Lab. Similar to other faculty members with the Game Lab, he believes in the power of games to enact meaningful change.

When people donate money or volunteer, they frequently don't see the results of their efforts, he said. "Games are all about giving people pretty immediate feedback about how their actions had an impact."

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Title: Nuclear Studies Institute: Teaching for Peace
Author: Alyssa Röhricht
Subtitle:
Abstract: Historian Peter Kuznick, Nuclear Studies Institute director, mines the past to provoke dialogue.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 12/15/2014
Content:

For the past 25 years, history professor Peter Kuznick has been focusing on a topic that most people would rather not touch: nuclear war. 

“One of the sad things for me,” he says, “is that nobody talks about nuclear history in the United States, and students don’t really learn about it.” 

This is mainly what prompted Kuznick to found the Nuclear Studies Institute at AU in 1995—50 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its mission is to educate the public about the history of nuclear weapons and the nuclear arms race. 

Kuznick was also inspired by AU alumna Akiko Naono, whose grandfather was killed in the Hiroshima bombing. During the institute’s inaugural summer, he worked with Naono and fellow history professor Valerie French to host an exhibition of artifacts from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first such exhibit outside of Japan. Officials in the two cities were eager to find an alternative venue after the Smithsonian Institution cancelled its planned Enola Gay exhibit under political pressure from Congress and veterans groups. 

The AU exhibit, which included personal objects, like the lunchbox of an 11-year-old girl who was vaporized in the bombing, endeavored "to grapple honestly with the moral and military implications of the atomic bombings, including the fact that they knowingly opened the door to potentially ending all life on the planet," says Kuznick. 

Since that first summer, Kuznick, who directs the institute, has led AU students on an annual study-abroad trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, during which they live, travel, and study with students and professors from two Japanese universities. The educational and cultural exchange is often a deeply emotional and sometimes life changing experience for students. 

This past summer,there was the added element of celebrity,when Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone, Kuznick's collaborator on the New York Times best-selling book and 12-part Show-time television series The Untold History of the United States, joined the trip. 

"In Japan, we are looked upon as America's peace university," Kuznick explains. 

AU was selected to serve as the center of next year's events in the United States commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombings. The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center will display 6 of the 15 renowned Hiroshima Panels, a series of large murals by internationally acclaimed artists Iri and Toshi Maruki. 

The works, which have not been shown in this country for decades, depict the suffering of the bombing victims. Kuznick likens them to Pablo Picasso's painting Guernica and describes the figures depicted in the murals as "ghosts walking through hell." 

While the murals are controversial and haunting, says Kuznick, they provide a springboard to get people talking about our history—the bad as well as the good. 

"This is essential. Countries have to face their historical responsibility, and educating the public about our past is the first step."

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Title: AU Game Lab Presents Pop-Up Video Game Arcade at Smithsonian
Author: Patty Housman
Subtitle:
Abstract: More than 4,000 people attend pop-up indie event.
Topic: In the Community
Publication Date: 12/15/2014
Content:

There was something for everyone at Indies in the Middle at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on December 7. The event transformed the museum’s atrium into a one-day pop-up indie arcade, filled with video games of all kinds. 

More than 4,000 people of all ages stopped by to play new indie games, classic arcade games, educational games, shoot ’em up games, games for social change, virtual board games, and even meditative Zen games. 

“Visitors learned that games are more than Super Mario Brothers, Halo, and Call of Duty,” said Lindsay Grace, director of the AU Game Lab and Studio and associate professor at the School of Communications. “They experienced games that experiment with emotion, affection, storytelling, history, politics, and more. The indie games we selected helped to open people’s eyes to the wide variety of games being made today.”  

 

The Indies in the Middle and the AU Game Lab and Studio 

Four organizations worked together to produce the indie arcade: the American University Game Lab, a joint venture between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication; the International Game Developer's Association (IGDA); gaming festival organizer MAGFest; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  

AU’s prominent role in the event demonstrates the strong growth of the AU Game Lab, said Grace. “In just 15 months, the Game Lab went from an idea on paper to a key collaborator in one of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s most successful games events. Thanks to AU’s institutional support, the Game Lab has become a central resource in developing the games community in the DC metro area and beyond.”  

The arcade focused primarily on video games created in the mid-Atlantic area. Independent game developers from DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia brought some of the most cutting-edge examples of their newest and most exciting work. Participants got to meet the developers, play lots of games, and even learn how to create their own games. 

"We wanted to bring attention to indie games in our region and give the public an opportunity to meet game developers in person," said Chris Totten, AU Game Lab's artist-in-residence and chair of the Washington, DC, IGDA chapter. 

“When I was growing up, games seemed to be made by mystery guys who lived far away,” Totten explained. “This is no longer true, and we want the general public to meet real, local people just like them who make games. We want them to know that they can make games too—and that they can express themselves through games they create.”  

 

Old Games, New Games, and Classes 

One of the surprises of the pop-up arcade was the wide diversity of the games created in the mid-Atlantic region. Highlights included Alum, a point-and click narrative adventure game; Dr. SpaceZoo, which lets players save animals from aliens; Lord and Ladies, an indie-produced virtual board game; Let There Be Life, a meditative game with hand-painted watercolor artwork; and, Flutterbombs, which gives users a virtual reality helmet and lets them shoot through the sky as a butterfly.  

The AU Game Lab presented several games of their own. Totten shared Dead Man’s Trail, described by gaming review website VGW as “a truly innovative approach to the zombie apocalypse by combining Oregon Trail-inspired travel gameplay with Diablo-style dungeon crawling.” Arcade participants also lined up to play Grace’s Big Huggin’ game, which challenged users to hug a giant teddy bear to help the on-screen bear get past various obstacles. 

Totten and Grace said that the arcade showed the public that video games aren’t just for entertainment anymore. Many are educational, and they can change the way people think about social and political movements and events. “Participants played social impact games, designed to change the way we understand topics as diverse as immigration or the culture of native Alaskans,” said Grace.  

At the same time, participants could play plenty of classic arcade games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, Tron, Star Wars, Donkey Kong, Nintendo’s Duck Hunt, and more. Also throughout the day, the Hirshhorn Museum’s ArtLab+ presented workshops for children and adults on making their own simple video games and 3D characters.

 

Video Games: A Growing Part of American Culture 

This is not the first time that video games have been featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The indie arcade follows the success of the museum’s 2012 Art of Video Games exhibition. The exhibit, which celebrated video games as an art form, broke attendance records and is still traveling to other museums across the nation.  

The Smithsonian first approached Totten and the AU Game Lab to help in developing educational programming for its current Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image exhibition, which features multimedia digital art. From there, the idea for a pop-up arcade grew into reality, as Totten worked to get the mid-Atlantic IGDA chapters involved. 

“The support by the Smithsonian American Art Museum demonstrates an institutional acceptance of the creative efforts in game-making as art,” said Grace. “Games are being recognized as more than mere entertainment, but as an expressive, culturally relevant medium. Games, in all their forms, are overcoming the same hurdles as other popular forms of media. Like various forms of music (e.g. rock, rap, or techno), games are emerging from the niche of geek culture to integral elements of everyday life.” 

 

The Future: More Pop-Ups, More Collaboration 

Totten said that the arcade’s success laid the groundwork for future collaborations with the Smithsonian and other museums. Grace added that the Game Lab is already thinking about planning a similar event for 2015. “Visitors can expect more of what made this year great, and some new elements that provide a national perspective on the creative efforts of game makers across the nation.”

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Title: AU Professor Constructs Model of Receptor Protein Linked to Human Growth
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: Biochemistry Prof. Stefano Costanzi's model provides an important visual as researchers work to uncover possible treatments for growth-altering conditions.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 12/11/2014
Content:

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals the role of a receptor protein derived from a gene that has been linked to human growth. Co-author Stefano Costanzi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biochemistry at American University, developed the three-dimensional computer model of the receptor that appears in the study.

"As the study reveals the receptor's role in growth, it may ultimately lead to the development of drugs to treat those affected with conditions that alter growth, such as gigantism or dwarfism," Costanzi said. "The construction of the model is an initial step in that direction. We are well-positioned to identify molecules that can activate or block the receptor, which is how a drug discovery endeavor starts."

Collaborative work

The work was led by researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under Scientific Director Constantine Stratakis, M.D., D.Sc., the lead investigator and the study's senior author, and involved a total of 51 authors from the United States, Belgium, France, India, Canada, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Their investigation led to the discovery of a receptor linked to gigantism in children and acromegaly in adults, a rare disorder resulting from excessive growth hormone production in the pituitary gland. Patients with gigantism have a larger body stature and increased height, and muscles and organs may be enlarged.

The receptor derived from the gene belongs to a 'superfamily' of signaling proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). GPCRs are common targets to which many drugs bind to exert their action. Hence, a large percentage of the marketed drugs act through GPCRs, including those for the treatment of allergies, depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders, thrombosis, high blood pressure and many other conditions. GPCRs are activated –or turned on, like a light switch -- by a wide range of natural molecules produced by the body, such as neurotransmitters and hormones. This triggers a cascade of events leading to a biological response.

In the case of the gene linked to human growth -- called GPR101 -- researchers discovered that excessive growth occurs when it is overly activated. This finding makes the receptor derived from GPR101 a potential target for drugs to stimulate or reduce human growth, and Costanzi's computer model illustrates the putative three-dimensional structure of the target. To construct the model that appeared in the study, Costanzi based his work on the structure of another member of the GPCR superfamily.

"This is possible because the members of the GPCR superfamily closely resemble one another. In particular, I used as the template a receptor naturally activated by adrenaline," Costanzi explained. "I chose that structure because, among those available, it is the one that best reflects the activated state of the receptor, and therefore is likely to resemble the conformation adopted by GPR101 that leads to the stimulation of growth."

Leader in the field

Costanzi has been at the forefront of GPCR modeling. In 2008, with a single author article published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, he was the first to demonstrate that accurate models of GPCRs could be constructed. Later the same year, he confirmed the same concept by succeeding in the first blind assessment of GPCR modeling. Scripps Research Institute researchers organized the assessment, asking scientists from all over the world to submit computer models of a receptor for which the researchers were establishing the structure. The models had to be submitted before the unveiling of the structure. Subsequently, the Scripps researchers compared the models with the structure, and Costanzi's were the most accurate of all those submitted.

"After the discovery of the function of a receptor, computational modeling can greatly assist the quest for molecules that can modulate its activity," Costanzi said. "As more structural data on GPCRs becomes available and further information on their physiological role is unveiled, modeling will likely play an increasingly more significant role in drug discovery and development."

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Title: Featured Database: Met Opera on Demand
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Abstract: Our featured database, Met Opera on Demand offers an extensive catalog of more than 500 performances, all available to watch instantly.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 12/09/2014
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Whether you're a classical music buff looking for something new –or simply curious about opera, the AU Library has your daily dose of drama. From Aida to Die Zauberflöte, Met Opera on Demand offers an extensive catalog of more than 500 performances, all available to watch instantly. Since 2006, the Met has been filming select performances in high-definition (HD), meaning that some of the newer additions are available in this format. You'll be able to catch every detail of those glorious costumes and sets!

All of the Met Opera on Demand videos contain English subtitles, so you won't need to worry about missing any important details. Also, many recent HD additions to the Met Opera on Demand catalog contain subtitles in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

See iconic performances such as Wagner's Ring Cycle, without leaving your apartment (or spending hundreds of dollars on a ticket!) This collection includes operatic interpretations of Shakespearean works, like Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, classic productions featuring the famous Luciano Pavarotti, and even contemporary works, such as Doctor Atomic.

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Title: Chopped: A Chemistry Lab Cooking Challenge
Author: Patty Housman
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Abstract: Chemistry students learn the science of food through real-life cooking competition.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 12/08/2014
Content:

For a few days at the end of this semester, the halls of Beeghly filled with the smells of chocolate, simmering butter and sugar, cranberry-apple pie, and potato latkes.  

It was all part of AU’s very own version of Chopped, the Food Network’s cooking show that challenges chefs to turn baskets of mystery ingredients into three-course meals.  

At AU, the competition took place at the end of the semester in the Chemistry of Food class taught by chemistry professor Matt Hartings and professorial lecturer Sarongel Rodriguez. “Our students have been studying the science behind individual foods and techniques all year,” said Hartings. “This competition was a chance for them to put all of their training and preparation together into a single event. In educational terms, this was like a cumulative exam…only more fun.”  

 

The Competition 

At the beginning of the Chopped competitions, each pair of lab partners received a bag of five mystery ingredients, plus access to additional pantry items. In one hour, they had to prepare an appetizer or brunch dish that would be judged on creativity, appearance, and aroma.  

“A successful dish will incorporate all of these ingredients in a creative and compelling manner,” said Hartings. “Chefs of a successful dish will also be able to put their chemistry knowledge to use in bringing together disparate ingredients into a cohesive plate.”  

The students went to work, chopping, slicing, baking, frying, and sautéing their ingredients, using basic cooking utensils and Bunsen burners. “It’s a fun way to learn chemistry, and it actually applies to real life,” said Joanne Frangias (BS finance ’17). Her lab partner, Brook Friday (BA theatre ’17) added, “Now I can understand the processes of cooking and the chemistry behind them. It’s really useful because cooking is something you’ll do for the rest of your life.”  

 

The Science Behind the Food 

The students, who are all non-science majors, trained for the Chopped competition since their first week in lab, said Hartings. Each lecture and lab focused on scientific principles involved in cooking, including structure and function, acid/base chemistry, and reaction energetics. In the lab, students performed experiments on different types of food: they learned how to make yogurt from milk, why gluten holds breads and pastas together, and how to reduce the starch in potatoes to make crispy French fries.  

Hartings credits professorial lecturers Rodriguez and Jane Ferguson for putting the Chopped competitions together. “We love this concept because it requires students to draw from all of their instruction in a single demonstration,” he said. “We also love this competition because our students are really able to show off their creativity. Many often see science as a dry subject. We contend that the opposite is true. Good science demands creativity! And our students, through this competition, prove that.” 

 

Who Got Chopped 

Inside the lab, students ran back and forth, putting the finishing touches on their projects before the clock ran out. Each team presented their dish and explained the science behind the food and their cooking techniques.  

At the end, only one team survived the chopping block. But the teams produced a wide variety of creative dishes including chocolate-covered strawberries, a cranberry-potato pudding pie, and a chocolate-cranberry poutine with candied cranberries.  

“Success in this event was easy to see. And we observed it any time a student’s idea didn’t work,” said Hartings. “When this happened, the students rethought what they were doing, modified their prep, and fixed their recipes. From a chemist’s perspective, they were applying the scientific method exactly as we hoped they would.”  

Hartings hopes that the lessons learned in The Chemistry of Food will make a lasting impression. “Even if none of these students go into scientific professions when they graduate, they are all scientists while cooking in a kitchen. And we expect them to use the scientific mindset that they develop here after they graduate and leave American University.”

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Title: Statistically Speaking
Author: Abbey Becker
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Abstract: Statistics professor Michael Baron explores the possibilities of sequential analysis.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 12/04/2014
Content:

Statistician Michael Baron thinks big when it comes to his subject. The new faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics plans to continue his research on the expanded application of statistics. 

His focus is sequential analysis, an approach through which data is collected and evaluated sequentially in real time, with no fixed sample size. When significant results are observed, the sampling of data is stopped. This type of statistical analysis often leads to conclusions at an earlier stage than is possible with traditional techniques—and at a lower cost. 

Currently funded by a National Science Foundation grant, he and a former computer science colleague at the University of Texas–Dallas, where Baron worked previously, are working with the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to study distribution changes in Internet traffic to improves the prediction of potential threats, such as terrorist attacks. “We look for frequencies of certain keywords in text data streams,” he says. “When some of their distributions suddenly change, we know there has to be a reason for it, maybe a potential threat.” 

Born in Russia, Baron received an MS in mathematics from Saint Petersburg State University. He subsequently came to the U.S. to enroll as a PhD student in statistics at the University of Maryland. While there, he discovered that sequential statistics would allow him to apply the elegant math theories he learned in Russia to solve the daily operational problems challenging many companies. “I worked at IBM for a year, and they were interested in finding out very quickly where the distribution changes on their factory lines were occurring,” he says. “In fields like epidemiology, security, and quality control, you want to know when something has changed—and why.” 

Baron likes the applicable outcomes he gets from sequential analysis. “I’m always satisfied when I can prove a result or derive a new method, something that people can actually implement and use,” he says. “It feels like a discovery.” 

He also likes to instill this feeling of accomplishment in his students. When asked to create a new undergraduate statistics course at the University of Texas–Dallas, Baron designed a class for computer science and software engineering majors weighted with stochastic modeling and simulation. “I didn’t want them to think this course was just a curriculum requirement,” he says. “I wanted to show them how statistics can be useful in their professional careers and everyday life.” 

It was a hit. Based on the success of that course, Baron wrote a book, Probability and Statistics for Computer Scientists (Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2007). The book generated a huge response from academics around the world; today, it is used as a classroom text at some 15 universities in eight countries, and a second edition was published in 2013. 

Baron likes to check in with his former PhD students and advisees to see what they’re up to. “Many of them pursued academic careers, and some have already graduated their own doctoral students,” he says. “That makes me an academic grandfather.” He also solicits their feedback to improve his teaching for current and future students. 

Now that he’s based in DC, Baron looks forward to partnering with organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Defense. But there’s one aspect of Washington he’s not sold on: “I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan,” he admits. “I guess I’ll have to become a Redskins fan now.”

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Title: Ebola and Ethics: A Public Health Discussion
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Abstract: Five questions for Public Health Program Director Jolynn Gardner.
Topic: Social Sciences
Publication Date: 12/04/2014
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Jolynn Gardner is the director of the College Public Health Program. One of her professional interests is the investigation of the perception, experience, and consequences of stress. Gardner is a certified health education specialist and recently wrote From Stress to Strength: Increasing Optimism, Gratitude, and Resiliency (Cognella Publishing).

In the recent panel discussion, “Consequences of Ebola: Biology, Culture, and Ethics,” Gardner discussed the effects of extreme stress on personal ethics. She also highlighted other ethical dilemmas that have risen as local and global public health agencies respond to the crisis.  

 

Can you give us an overview of the types of ethical concerns that arise when we have an international health crisis like Ebola?  

When a large public health crisis like the Ebola outbreak occurs, ethical issues can arise from a variety of areas. Questions develop in the personal context as well as the professional, medical, societal, and political contexts. Many of theses ethical issues have roots in questions such as: 

  • Do we have a duty to respond?
  • If so, how do we respond?
  • Why do we respond?
  • What type of response is needed, expected, and adequate?
  •  What are the personal, social, and political implications of our response?

For many of these questions, there are multiple possible answers. This is what leads to the “ethical dilemma.”

 

Why is it important for public health students to understand these ethical concerns? 

The mission of public health is to protect and promote the health of the population. This a very noble and also very broad mission. Virtually every public health issue has an ethical dimension.  

Sometimes, the ethical dilemma can be framed as a debate surrounding individual freedom versus the common good. Other times, the dilemma might involve making a choice of where to devote scarce resources… in essence, forcing a choice between serving equally deserving populations. Thus, it is extremely important for students of public health to study these issues, become aware of their personal thoughts on ethics, and to understand the social, political, and economic factors that often influence public health action. 

 

Why was the initial international response to the Ebola crisis so slow? How would it have been different if it occurred in a developed nation?  

It is now widely agreed that the initial international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was too slow, not well organized, and poorly funded/supported. I think many factors played into this scenario, many of which deserve consideration.  

It could be that many public health and medical professionals in the affected countries initially thought the outbreak would not be very widespread, or that it would be easier to contain. It also could be that the international community may have initially viewed the outbreak as limited in scope and geography (which, of course, we now know is a short-sighted view). I don’t know if the response would have been different had the outbreak occurred in a developed nation like the United States, but it is certainly an important question for all of us to ponder.  

 

How do ethical considers factor into vaccines? Why is there no vaccine for Ebola and how can we encourage and support more vaccine research in the future for diseases like Ebola? 

Vaccines are literally “miracles” in that they can afford protection to virtually entire populations. But they are very expensive to produce and, in many cases, only one or a few doses are needed per person. The profitability is rather limited when you compare vaccines to drugs that have to be taken on a daily basis for a number of years.  

Because of this scenario, many pharmaceutical companies have gotten out of the vaccine business. Given this, it is wise for governments to provide financial or other incentives to companies doing vaccine research, or to afford more resources to publicly funded research agencies like the National Institutes of Health.  

 

What are the critical ethical (and practical) lessons learned from the Ebola crisis, and what can public health students take away from this crisis?

I think one of the lessons learned from this crisis is that the right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do, given economic, political, and social factors. However, many stories of exemplary personal ethics as well as organizational ethics have arisen from the outbreak, too. These examples (of health-care professionals willingly treating Ebola patients, of aid organizations providing basic support services in the hardest-hit countries, of people donating whatever funds they can to support relief efforts, of public health officials speaking out against hysterical reactions, of corporations donating supplies, medical equipment, etc.) provide inspiration for all of us, but especially future public health workers.  

This crisis will provide a basis for many “ethical case studies” in years to come. If we can use the lessons learned from this crisis to elevate the discourse and then provide resultant ethical responses, we will be moving in the right direction. In public health, we have a duty to promote and protect the health of the entire population…locally, nationally, and globally.

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Title: AU’s Initiative for Russian Culture Celebrates Cultural Collaborations
Author: Carolyn Supinka
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Abstract: Hosted events at Embassy of the Russian Federation and at the National Geographic Foundation.
Topic: In the Community
Publication Date: 12/04/2014
Content:

With back-to-back festivities at the Embassy of the Russian Federation and the National Geographic Society, AU’s four-year-old Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) furthered its accomplishments in building greater cultural relations between Russians and Americans.  

“The IRC brings students together from across the Washington, DC, region to learn about Russia through its art, music, and culture,” said Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “In a short period of time, the IRC has been incredibly effective at creating greater cultural understanding among today’s students, and in building a next generation of leaders in U.S.-Russia relations.”  

 

An Evening at the Embassy  

On November 18, more than 350 guests gathered at the Embassy of the Russian Federation to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Mosfilm Studios, Russia’s largest and most prestigious movie production company. Film Director and Head of Mosfilm Studios Karen Shakhnazarov was honored for his dedication and commitment to the IRC, and guests were treated to a screening of Shakhnazarov’s 1991 film, Assassin of the Tsar

“This is our way of saying thank you to Mosfilm for sharing its incredibly rich film library,” said Anton Fedyashin, AU assistant professor of history and executive director of the IRC. 

Mosfilm has partnered with the IRC since the initiative was founded in 2011 with support from Susan Carmel Lehrman, a philanthropist and businesswoman who chairs the initiative’s advisory board. The IRC and the Russian Embassy reached out to Mosfilm when the initiative was first formed to receive permission to screen Mosfilm movies for free. “Mosfilm was very supportive of our idea to make film the centerpiece of this initiative,” said Fedyashin. “Film is the most accessible way to share culture.”  

After the film, Shakhnazarov answered audience members’ questions about his views on art, politics, and how film can bring cultures together. “I’m very grateful to Susan Lehrman, for Anton Fedyashin, and for everyone who made this evening for me, and I’m very excited,” he said. In expressing his hopes for the young people of both countries, Shakhnazarov said, “I don’t want new generations of both nations to repeat this [Cold War] experience. I hope that our meetings will help both sides not to repeat this mistake.”  

Fedyashin said he has high hopes for the future of the IRC. “We anticipate expanding our programming even further. We’ve had great success since the initiative launched. In all, more than 13,000 students have attended our events. Up to 350 people attend our film screenings, which are open to students from all universities in the area.”  

The IRC events are held at the Embassy of the Russian Federation and other venues throughout the city, including the Amphitheater of the Ronald Reagan Building, the Library of Congress, and the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.  

 

Photojournalism and Cinematography Gala at the National Geographic Society
The following night, the IRC and the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation (ARCCF) co-hosted a black-tie gala honoring the role that photojournalism and cinematography play in promoting cultural understanding between the United States and Russia.  

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the iconic National Geographic cover story titled “Young Russia: the Land of Unlimited Possibilities,” written by then-editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor. 

The ARCCF commemorated the anniversary of this article with a 2014 ARCCF Award, which was accepted by Grosvenor’s grandson and National Geographic Chair Emeritus, Gilbert M. Grosvenor. In honor of the 90th anniversary of Mosfilm Studios, Shakhnazarov was presented with an ARCCF Award for his cinematic achievements and his contributions to building cultural bridges through film. 

Later in the evening, Fedyashin presented the third annual James W. Symington Award to Patrick Reed, an SIS major at AU, to fund his tuition and travel for the interdisciplinary summer program in Russian language, culture, and international relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Reed will travel to Moscow during the summer of 2015. 

In all, approximately 400 guests attended the celebration. The evening’s entertainment featured Barynya, a renowned Russian music and dance ensemble, and the program featured speeches by Ambassador Kislyak, former US ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, as well as the Honorable James W. Symington, the chairman of the board of the ARCCF.  

John Fahey, chairman and CEO of the National Geographic Society, spoke about the importance of cultural understanding at the event. “You can’t understand people unless you understand culture,” he said, “This is what National Geographic has been doing since its very beginning.”  

Lehrman emphasized the importance of cultural understanding and encouraged young students to take advantage of all the opportunities the IRC provides. “I would tell young students to keep an open mind and take advantage of all the opportunities you have. Our program is so unique: you can see Russian films, food, embassies—short of actually going to Russia, you can experience the culture,” she said.  

Lehrman spoke about the importance of youth engagement in cultural understanding and exchange. “It is critical to achieving mutual respect and cooperation,” she said. “Without respect, you can’t work through any issues. It’s very important in the lives of young people—these are our future leaders, people who will be at the forefront of future cultural relationships.” 

All of the evening’s speakers discussed the importance of the IRC’s mission in light of the recent political conflict between the United States and the Russian Federation. All were optimistic and spoke to the power of art in creating a meaningful cultural exchange between the two nations. “There is an enormous amount of possibility for collaboration between artists and cultural leaders,” said Shakhnazarov, “and it’s up to the artists to decide the terms.”  

Fedyashin recounted an instance in the history of IRC that demonstrates the power of art in cultural exchange. Following a past IRC film screening, he was talking to several of his students when ambassador Kislyak joined them and asked the students what they had learned from the experience. After a moment of thought, one student said that what made the strongest impression on her was how much she had in common with the protagonist of the film. 

“The character’s anxieties, fears, hopes, and dreams made her think of her own,” said Fedyashin. “This is what makes it all worth it.”

Tags: Initiative for Russian Culture,History Dept,College of Arts and Sciences,Featured News
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Title: Graduates Find Career Success Off The Beaten Path
Author: Devin Symons
Subtitle:
Abstract: From porcupines to proposals, AU grads follow their passion to find jobs they love.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 12/04/2014
Content:

AU alum Kenton Kerns, CAS/BA '07, doesn't have your typical workday. At 6:30 every morning, Kerns and his coworkers begin the day by checking on the hundred animals living in the National Zoo's Small Mammal House. From feeding, cleaning, and medical checkups to enrichment activities, training, and research—no two days are exactly the same. 

"Working at the National Zoo is really exciting," Kerns says. "There's always something new going on, and you definitely feel like you're part of something bigger that's helping save species and habitats around the world."

Kerns started working at the National Zoo as an intern during his senior year at AU. After graduation, he applied for a full-time position that opened up at the Small Mammal House. He's been there ever since. 

"Before my internship, I didn't really understand what zoos did," he says. "The National Zoo, especially, is a leader in conservation and research—so much happens behind the scenes."

The research aspect was appealing to him and also a reason he was able to stand out as a candidate. 

"AU's biology program was research focused, and that was an advantage," he says. "A lot of people don't have that research background."

Through AU, he was also able to study abroad in Australia, which he says was an important element of his animal-focused education. Since graduation, Kerns has stayed in touch with some of his professors, and has been invited back to AU to speak to current students. 

"I feel really lucky to have found a job in a career I love that still offers so many opportunities," he says. "Meeting interns and students who are just starting out is an energizing reminder."

Joshua Joseph, CAS/PhD '04, is another alum who followed a unique career path. As an undergraduate, Joseph studied painting and history, both subjects he was passionate about but wasn't sure how to apply after graduation. He's now an officer of planning and evaluation at the Pew Charitable Trusts and an adjunct instructor for AU's School of International Service. 

"I was one of those pretty clueless undergraduates—I had such a limited idea of what I could do with my majors," he says. "I thought I could either be a graphic artist or starving artist. I didn't realize then how design thinking might be used in so many different ways, that the way they teach you to write and analyze and research in history could be valuable in other areas."

Joseph now runs "Networking for Introverts" workshops for the Career Center, based on his own experience of finding alternative ways to make contacts and connections. He wants to help current students learn from his approach and from his career path. 

Joseph credits Marie Spaulding in the AU Career Center with helping him develop ways to investigate potential career options and communicate his interests and abilities to employers.

He says, "I think that's one of the biggest challenges for career centers: to help students recognize where the gems are in their experience and pull those out, to see the value in things they are passionate about."

Joseph finds his work at the Pew Charitable Trusts fulfilling because it allows him to do just that, to apply his whole range of experience to the job.

"What I really like about what I do now is that it takes everything that I've ever done and pulls it all together," he says. "In this job you need a technical background to understand how the research works, but also soft skills, knowing how to communicate, how to give feedback and ask questions in ways that are constructive."

Speaking from his own experience, Kerns has advice for current AU students on finding your own way.

"Really accentuate the positives of your degree, and take full advantage of your location in D.C.," says Kerns. "Because the College of Arts and Sciences is not a huge school, it's easier to make connections with professors and other students in your program, and the networking opportunities are easier and more helpful than they might be somewhere else."

His advice for students who want to work at the zoo: "Volunteer. Get as much animal experience as you can. You need the degree, but that alone is not enough."

If you're not sure exactly what you want to do, that's perfectly fine too, says Joseph. It's not necessarily about the title, but rather the area you're passionate about and what you can bring to it. 

"Don't focus so much about finding the right job; a lot of people have a job in mind, but what's more important especially early on is figuring out the direction you want to go in," says Joseph. "Ask yourself, what do I like to do? What have I liked doing in the past? What are the skills I want to be using in my next job? Aim to figure out what are the things you want to do, as opposed to the specific name of the field or position."

In other words, do what you love. The rest will follow.

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newsId: 79AD04BF-E6B0-3D37-42620014133494E9
Title: Alumni Board Member Uses Family Business Experience to Assist Others
Author: Patricia Rabb
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Abstract: Lee Tannenbaum actively supports family-owned business
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/12/2014
Content:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I remember getting out of the car and walking across the quad and immediately having this sense that things felt right." So says alumnus Brett Smock, CAS/BA '92, about his first impression of AU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

***********

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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
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Abstract: AU students and graduates make up the ranks at entertainment marketing firm Allied-THA, creating a community that encourages creative thinking and research.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 06/14/2013
Content:

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences,Communication,Government
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