newsId: D5234293-5056-AF26-BECFC7D141772280
Title: Shakespeare in the Alley
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: American University scholar in residence discusses the legacy of Bob Dylan.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 11/24/2014
Content:

Keep on Keepin' On

"Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." That was Bob Dylan, on his celebrated 1997 comeback album Time Out of Mind. But despite his own ominous lyrics, rumors of Dylan's demise are often premature. More than 52 years since his self-titled debut, he's still touring and producing albums. On November 25, he returns to Washington, D.C. for a concert at DAR Constitution Hall.

Michelle Engert has written and lectured about the cultural impact of Dylan. In an interview, she offered some thoughts on the musician's legacy and longevity. "I suppose if he was still playing the acoustic guitar and the harmonica, and stuck with those themes of the early 1960s, it wouldn't last. It would be dated. But he changed," says Engert, an American University scholar and practitioner in residence, with a joint appointment at the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Affairs.

Engert characterizes Dylan's career as one of constant reinvention. "He went from his early days when no one knew him as a Woody Guthrie imitator, to writing his own songs in the folk tradition, to using an electric guitar and leaving the folk tradition, to entering rock 'n' roll with really interesting music. Then we had the country music phase, so then we had the Americana phase. And this was all before 1970," she explains.

The Many Sides of Bob Dylan

1970 probably marked a turning point, as the consensus surrounding Dylan's brilliance started to unravel. After reeling off a string of classic albums that included Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and John Wesley Harding, Dylan released the critically-reviled Self Portrait. Dylan expert and supporter Greil Marcus used an expletive to describe it in Rolling Stone. (The comment was tame by today's Internet standards, but it's still one of the most memorable album reviews ever written.)

Aside from masterpieces like 1975's Blood on the Tracks, Dylan's 1970s and 1980s recordings were often polarizing. But Engert says this part of Dylan's catalog—which included synthesizers, saxophones, gospel-oriented female vocals, and the controversial "Christian" period—should be embraced. She mentions Street-Legal (1978) and Oh Mercy (1989) as particularly underrated albums.

"Even when he's made us angry by being different, it's a really diverse, important, ingenious body of work," Engert says.

This is related to how people first experienced Dylan in the 1960s. With protest songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are a-Changin'," and "Chimes of Freedom," Dylan was dubbed a generational spokesperson for the growing counterculture. But he's spent much of his career running away from that label, and most of his songs are not especially political.

"We all go through these phases of what might be important to us at a given time. But when Dylan wanted to move out of that phase, the others didn't want to let him. They tried to hold him in that box," Engert says. "And had he listened, can you imagine all of the songs that the world wouldn't have been able to hear?"

His lyrics delve into love and relationships, God and the Bible, and the entire human experience, she adds.

Dylan is still on his Never Ending Tour that began in 1988. Though he's less experimental these days, Dylan is known for speeding up his ballads and slowing down his up-tempo tracks. In concert, even the most die-hard Dylaniacs can have trouble singing along with him.

"I think the re-arrangements for him were to keep it fresh," says Engert, who has written about his live performances. "He had multiple interpretations of the songs." She says you can see those songs re-imagined in his paintings, another art form he's explored.

Early Influences

In the 1980s, Engert was a teenager living in the Chicago suburbs. Around that time, Dylan had hit the MTV generation, with the video for "Sweetheart Like You" from Infidels running on the network's regular rotation. With the rise of compact discs, people were trading in their vinyl records—making them suddenly more affordable for Engert. "I went to a used record store with $20 and came out with half the catalog," she recalls. "So I got this huge volume of material, and I would just sit in my room and listen to it on vinyl."

A lifelong passion was born. Among other activities, she taught a class on Dylan in Munich, Germany.

Engert is now an attorney advisor at the Defender Services Office in the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in Washington. In the fall of 2015, she's set to become a full-time faculty member in the Justice, Law & Criminology Department at SPA.

Artist of the Century

Compared to other art forms, popular music is still a relatively young medium. Thus, Dylan's name might get excluded from the traditional pantheon of creative geniuses. Yet Engert considers Dylan the artist of the 20th century.

"I think that in universities people will look at Dylan's work, as a whole, on the level that they do Walt Whitman, on the level that they do Shakespeare," she says.

His voluminous and varied contributions, she says, set him apart from his contemporaries. "[Academics] are not going to study Neil Young. They're not going to study Van Morrison. With Dylan, we've got the books, we've got the films, we've got the paintings, we've got the sculptures. It's this whole creative output of more than 50 years, and it tells the story of America."

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newsId: 207F2A07-5056-AF26-BE66AFF2B025D370
Title: A Very Thankful Thanksgiving
Author: Carolyn Supinka
Subtitle:
Abstract: The AU community shares the things they are thankful for.
Topic: In the Community
Publication Date: 11/20/2014
Content:

What are you thankful for this year? Students, faculty, and staff at American University answer this question in ways as diverse as the community itself.

"I'm thankful for lots of things. I'm thankful that I have people who care about me. That I'm not alone."
— Robert C. Yi (MFA studio art '15)

"I'm thankful that my mom is back in the United States. She was in Guantanamo Bay for 18 months as a health officer."
— Ariel Cutter (BS environmental science '17) 

 

"This year has been about transitions and taking big steps, and throughout the whole process of applying and starting graduate school and quitting my job, I learned who the best people are in my life. I am thankful for my family and for my inner circle of friends both in DC and from back home who dealt with all the highs and lows from getting into school to the endless hours of GRE studying." — Helene Genetos (MA arts management '16)

 

"I'm thankful for my two beautiful kids and my fabulous community here at AU."
— Andrew E. Taylor, associate professor, Arts Management Program 

 

"I'm thankful for family. That's it."
— Scip Barnhart, printmaker in residence, Department of Art

 

"A friend of mine recently returned from Asia remarking that her travels offered her a better perspective on life. I remember experiencing a similar sense after leaving the Dominican Republic. A cab driver there called it the most beautiful prison in the world. This year, I am reminded to be thankful for everything we so easily take for granted. We have many opportunities to experience a much broader version of ourselves. I try not to lose sight of that fortunate reality."
— Mohamed Sheriff (MFA creative writing '16)

 

"First and foremost, I'm thankful for my health. And I'm thankful that I'm living in a city."
— Charles Breen (BA undeclared '17) 

 

"I'm thankful for my wife and family."
— Craig Moschouris (MA history '16)

 

"I'm thankful to be young in a world full of exciting challenges."
— Rachael Somerville (BA environmental studies '15)

 

"I'm thankful to be here. I'm thankful for my family and their support of me."
— Joe Blaine (BS audio technology '18)

 

"I'm thankful for my friends and family for being a good support system. I'm just thankful for everything."
— Sela Grabiner (BA public health '15) 

 

"I'm thankful for the opportunities that AU and the whole activities life on campus have given me — in philanthropy, in internships, and leadership positions."
— Mahdi Khan (BA CLEG '17)

 

"Collegiality."
— Jenny Wu (MFA studio art '15) 

 

"This year I am especially thankful for Florida. I am just glad that it exists and I can imagine myself there, on the beach in the sun, drinking a gin and tonic."
— Nathan Harshman, chair, Department of Physics 

 

"I'm thankful that the term is coming to an end soon."
— Pedram Partovi, assistant professor, Department of History 

 

"I'm thankful that I got fed well this year. My boyfriend cooks really well! He's from the south, so lots of bacon fat and butter."
— Lauren Van Alstine (BA psychology '15) 

 

From all of us at American University, have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Title: Research Yields Clues About Inflammation Control in Songbird Brains
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle: Potential for therapies in humans
Abstract: A process in the brains of zebra finches shows that the songbirds respond quickly to trauma, thereby controlling inflammation that occurs to protect the brain from injury.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 11/19/2014
Content:

A biological process in the brains of zebra finches shows that the songbirds respond quickly to trauma and are capable of controlling the natural inflammation that occurs to protect the brain from injury.

Understanding the process well enough could lead to therapies in humans to control inflammation and hasten recovery from brain injury such as stroke, said American University Prof. Colin Saldanha, who presented new research findings during the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C. Through experiments, Saldanha and his colleagues' found that estrogen-producing glial cells play a role in the rapid response.

"The most surprising thing to me is that the inflammation control is happening within hours, and that estrogen is made in the brain around an injury site in response to an injury," Saldanha said. "These animals have evolved a mechanism to protect their brains from injury very quickly."

Preserving brain function

Inflammation is a normal part of the body's immune response. It affects the brain differently compared with other parts of the body. In the brain, too much inflammation can cause degenerative effects, or in the worst case scenario, death. Chronic inflammation causes cell damage and the loss of important neurons that regulate memory, mood and movement. Being able to control and limit inflammation in an injured brain may preserve vital brain function.

As a neurobiologist and member of AU's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Saldanha studies estrogen in songbirds. The birds produce the common sex steroid in their brains, as do humans and other mammals. It's been known that hormones affect the brain since the 1850s, but realizing that similar hormones could be made in the brain itself, took until the 1980s. Songbirds make good research subjects for neuroscience for many reasons, including because of their brain plasticity.

Previous work by Saldanha and his colleagues explored how hormones communicate with neurons. They discovered a new method of communication, synaptocrine signaling, by which neurons create and feed high levels of estrogen to one another. That's when they also discovered which cells were synthesizing estrogen under conditions of brain injury: the glial cells, which are important, non-neuronal cells that live in the brain.

For more than a decade, National Institutes of Health has funded Saldanha's research because of the implications it has for treating neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, strokes and inflammatory diseases.

Controlling inflammation

The release of estrogen in the brain to control inflammation is a natural process. It happens within about 24 hours in songbirds. The same process occurs in mammals over several days -- perhaps far too late to stop brain degeneration or an end to life.

In the current experiments, Saldanha discovered another important function of glial cells: They activated the rapid response to protect the birds' brains. However, more needed to be understood about how the protective process was keeping inflammation in check.

So the researchers conducted three experiments using a type of acute injury, similar to a stroke. The injury spurred the secretion of small proteins called cytokines, which trigger an inflammatory response.

At certain points during the response, Saldanha and his colleagues controlled the levels of estrogen by preventing aromatase –the key protein needed for estrogen production –from working.

In the first experiment, researchers injured both sides of the brain, but flooded only one side with estrogen. The side flooded with estrogen showed less inflammation. In a second experiment, researchers injured both sides of the songbird brain and limited aromatase function to only one side of the brain. On the side without aromatase, the inflammatory cytokines remained dangerously elevated.

That's when researchers knew estrogen controls inflammation and its very production occurs in response to injury.

Estrogen is a complex chemical, which makes it exciting to study, Saldanha said. "We can't just pump people full of estrogen. It can have very bad effects on systems other than the brain. It's very tricky, which is why exploring this is so important, so we can figure out how to harness its power without any deleterious side effects."

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Title: AU Economic Students Win 2014 Regional District Fed Challenge
Author: Patty Housman
Subtitle:
Abstract: Team advanced to semi-final round of prestigious competition.
Topic: Social Sciences
Publication Date: 11/19/2014
Content:

For the third year in a row, AU economic students won the regional district College Fed Challenge. They are one of three university teams that advanced to the semi-final competition round at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.  

The competition challenges teams of university students to analyze economic conditions in the United States and recommend appropriate courses of monetary policy. The challenge is sponsored by Federal Reserve Banks, and judges in the final rounds are Federal Reserve staff members.


The AU Team

Professor of economics Evan Kraft advised the AU team for the third year. Team members included senior economic students Adam Treece, Zareef Hamid, John Pedersen, and Joseph Shadel—all volunteers who came together during an Economics 480 class. 

“It’s a big commitment. If we are successful, we travel to all the competitions,” said Kraft. “And of course this means lots of preparation.”  

 

The Challenge 

The challenge is two-fold. “First the teams do a presentation, which includes their analysis of what is currently going on in the U.S. economy and recommendations for what they believe the Fed should be doing about it,” said Kraft. Second, they must answer questions from the judges. 

“This part is very challenging,” said Kraft. He added that the questions have ranged from whether the dual mandate should be changed, to whether or not the Federal Reserve should alter its policies about purchasing bonds. “Teamwork is very important because multiple members of the team must all answer all the questions together.” 

 

The Team

Kraft said he is proud of the team's performance. They presented effectively, calmly, and with time to spare,” he said. “Their answers to questions were thoughtful. Importantly, all of the team members participated very extensively both in the presentations and in the Q&A.”  

Kraft points out that the preparation and learning involved in the challenge is part of the reward. “Participating in the challenge is a big motivator and confidence booster for students,” he said. After graduation, previous team members have gone to jobs in the government, and to graduate programs at the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago, the University of North Carolina, and Duke. “It’s really exciting for students to exchange ideas with economists and other experts in the field.”

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newsId: DDDD27B3-5056-AF26-BE09429DAFFA1411
Title: CAPRI Initiative Launches at AU
Author: Patty Housman
Subtitle:
Abstract: Collaborative for Applied Perceptual Research and Innovation brings together science, art, and technology.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 11/19/2014
Content:

With the launch of the Collaborative for Applied Perceptual Research and Innovation (CAPRI), American University now has one central interdisciplinary research hub where science, art, and experimental technology can come together. 

Founded by the College of Arts and Sciences, CAPRI breaks down traditional walls between university departments and disciplines. It provides opportunities for faculty in different fields to collaborate on new interactive technology tools in multimedia art, scientific research, and advanced data representation. 

 

Changing the World 

CAPRI is dedicated to the belief that developments in interactive technology over the next 30 years will change the world as much as the Internet has shaped the last 30 years, said Psychology Professor Art Shapiro.  

Interactive technology is already being used in research and teaching across American University. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The interactive experiences of the future will entertain us, educate us, keep us healthy, keep us safe on the roads, and help us manage nearly every aspect of our daily lives. 

At the same time, this technology is becoming accessible to more and more people. “You no longer have to be an engineer to use interactive technology,” said Shapiro. “So the goal of CAPRI is to help faculty and students push the technological envelope in their individual fields. We want to build up a culture of cutting-edge technological innovation across American University.”  

 

Across Departments and Disciplines 

Shapiro believes that one of the biggest questions for 21st century academics is “Are we going to organize ourselves by content or by methodology?” 

He believes it will be the latter. “The methodology and new technologies cut across disciplines in ways that could not have been imagined 50 years ago,” he said. “CAPRI is betting that the new interactive technology will cross our previous divisions. Faculty and students in different fields will come together to develop new tools and technologies to help their research and teaching.” 

Shapiro points to the work of Michael Bader, assistant sociology professor, who is mapping data about the civil rights movement and neighborhood demographics. Bader is using GIS (Geographic Information System) tools to identify this information and present it in the most engaging way. 

“The interactive mapping tools used by professor Bader,” said Shapiro, “can also be used by scholars in other disciplines. Once we see tools working in one field, we can adapt them for our own fields.” 

 

Inspiring Creativity and Innovation 

CAPRI will also offer events and demonstrations to showcase its new projects, spark creativity, and inspire new ways to collaborate using technology. 

Its first event, Magic and the Brain, drew more than 200 participants. Renowned neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde discussed how magicians’ techniques can help neurologists better understand brain functions.  

The talk was followed by interactive demonstrations of cutting-edge AU projects that blend scientific research, art, and experimental technology. Shapiro presented interactive visual illusions. Performing arts professor William Brent focused on sound: visitors could control the brightness, loudness, and richness of sounds with their hand movements. And in physicist Jonathan Newport's demonstrations, visitors explored auditory illusions and created laser light shows using their voices. 

At the next event, Sounding Movement: Cross-mappings in Music and Dance, Brent, dancer Mirenka Cechova, and 'cellist NJ Snider will discuss how they use technology to create relationships between physical movement, acoustic/computer-generated sound, and video. This event takes place on December 7, at 3 p.m. in the Katzen Arts Center Studio Theatre.  

 

The Future: Projects and a New Home 

CAPRI will ultimately become an incubator for cutting-edge software and interface development for digital musical instrument design, medical testing, improved training procedures, and educational tools.  

It will also be a place for innovating technical solutions for real-world applications in a range of industries, ranging from museums and performing arts to assistive technologies for the partially disabled. 

In fall 2016, the university's state-of-the-art Don Myers Technology and Innovation Center will officially open, becoming home to CAPRI and also the Departments of Computer Science, Physics, and Mathematics and Statistics, and the new program in game design, offered jointly with the School of Communication. 

“In the new building, CAPRI will become an open collaborative laboratory, hosting students and faculty from departments across AU campus, as well as visiting researchers from around the world,” said Brent. “The work will be exceptionally public and visible—creating a space of interactive demonstrations and installations that the general public can freely explore. CAPRI’s exhibits will illustrate both what we know and are still exploring of human perception.”  

For More Information For more information about CAPRI, visit its website.

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Title: A Culture of Service
Author: Caitlin Friess
Subtitle:
Abstract: AU students and faculty organize Thanksgiving volunteer efforts.
Topic: In the Community
Publication Date: 11/19/2014
Content:

This Thanksgiving season, many families and individuals across the district will not have a place to go or a special meal to prepare. That’s why students and faculty across campus are working together to bring food and gifts to families in need. For students, the opportunity provides perspective on their own privilege, while giving them the chance to give back and get to know the city around them.  

Following is a sampling of Thanksgiving Volunteer efforts across campus. 

 

A Wider Circle 

The College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s office will be partnering for a second year with Silver Springs-based charity A Wider Circle. This partnership will raise funds to provide a single family with a full Thanksgiving dinner. 

“AU in particular has a culture of service, and I think supporting local efforts to help those in need is an important part of that,” says Alyssa Röhricht, special assistant to the Dean. “Our office was very excited to donate to A Wider Circle last year, and I anticipate the same level of enthusiasm for giving again this year.”  

A Wider Circle seeks to end poverty for individuals and families across North America.  

 

We Are Fortunate 

These past few weeks, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries partnered with DC Central Kitchen for a campus-wide canned foods drive. The proceeds will be transformed into a Thanksgiving meal and distributed to the homeless.  

The students within the organization divided themselves into groups, with each group competing to donate cans together and earn points. Cans were collected in the lobby of Kay each week before the Thursday Night Worship service.  

Stephanie Large, the vice president in charge of community service, reported that 673 cans had been collected at the close of the drive on November 13. 

“I was hoping to get 200. We had a total of 673, which exceeded my goal by over 400 cans,” Large says.  

“I think it is very important for students to be involved in volunteer efforts because they help people who are in desperate need of help. We are so fortunate and really don’t take the time to think about those who are less fortunate than us, but these volunteer events cause us to step back and reflect on what is important in life.”  

Chi Alpha Campus Ministries is a nationwide organization organization dedicated to the spiritual growth and service leadership of its students. 

DC Central Kitchen aims to reduce hunger by serving healthy school meals and training unemployed adults for culinary careers.  

 

A Book to Every Child 

Pre-medical fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon is planning a mega-book drive starting on Saturday, November 22, to benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The drive will be structured as a competition within the fraternity, with teams trying to obtain the largest number of books to be donated.  

“We have been informed that they are currently running low on children's books, so we are hoping that our efforts will bring a book to every child,” says Phi Delta Epsilon officer Anand Adhikari. “We will be reaching out to the local community bookstores in order to obtain books that can be donated. We hope to have this event on November 22 and 23.”  

Children’s Miracle Network seeks to raise funds and awareness for local children’s hospitals across the U.S. and Canada. 

 

Forging a Connection 

Service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega also hosted a food drive, seeking to collect food that could be distributed to low-income families in Ward 8.  

“The APO food drive was pretty small because it was last minute,” says student Rachael Somerville, who ran the drive. “I started it because when I volunteered at Cox Farms with Horton's Kids, one of the leaders mentioned that she had been trying to get in touch my organization for the purposes of doing a Thanksgiving food drive. So I decided to take the lead on it.” 

Horton’s Kids provides tutoring and mentoring services as part of an overall effort to empower children and families.  

The drive collected 59 Thanksgiving-related food items, all donated by APO brothers. Somerville delivered them to Horton’s on November 12, for distribution on the 20. 

“I think it's important that AU kids do service: I do community service to connect with areas of DC that I wouldn't normally go to,” Somerville says. “Community service is important to me because I have many privileges that my neighbors do not. Offering my time and resources toward pressing causes empowers me to help solve problems, rather than be a bystander.”

“We get stuck in the Northwest bubble and fail to see the pervasive inequity that characterizes this city. Giving back to the community can begin to close that gap by providing key services to vulnerable populations. That's what gets me excited about service.”

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Title: Five Questions for Art History Professor Helen Langa
Author:
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Abstract: Helen Langa discusses the fifth annual Feminist Art History Conference at AU.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 11/10/2014
Content:

American University’s Art History Program sponsored its fifth annual Feminist Art History Conference (FAHC) from October 31 to November 2. The conference brought together scholars and students from all over the world to share their research on art history, feminism, and gender studies.

Helen Langa was the director of the American University Art History Program from 2008 to 2014. Currently she teaches American and contemporary art at AU. Her research addresses women’s art, political art in the 1930s, and queer identity and representation.


This is the fifth year of the FAHC. How has the conference grown and evolved since 2009?

For our first conference, we received 70 proposals for scholarly papers, and this year we received 178.

We invited major scholars in varied fields of feminist art history as keynote speakers, ranging from Renaissance to recent African American Art. Each year we have had a strong number of international presenters and some international attendees. This year, there are 16 people speaking or attending from countries including Canada, South Africa, China, Japan, Israel, Italy, and Scotland, as well as several international scholars who are teaching this year in the United States.


Can you tell us a little about the keynote speaker?

This year’s keynote speaker, Lisa Gail Collins, is a professor of Art History at Vassar College. Professor Collins earned her PhD in American studies from the University of Minnesota and has taught at Vassar since 1998. Her talk, “Here Lies Love: Feminism, Mourning, and a Quilt from Gee’s Bend,” is drawn from her current book project on history, memory, creativity, and community.

The keynote this year was very moving and interesting because Professor Collins took a single quilt image and demonstrated how much you can do with the cultural contexts of a single work. This really illustrates how writing art history is not only the result of doing archival research, but can go much deeper by exploring a work’s social and cultural meanings. 


How is this conference unique amongst other art history conferences?

The opportunity for networking with other scholars in one's field who share feminist interests is very important. Younger scholars are able to connect with more established speakers and participants, and some professors who attend have encouraged their students to come to the conference or to apply to our graduate Art History Program.

Many art history conferences focus only on one specialized time period, or are not particularly welcoming to feminist research papers. The Feminist Art History Conference provides an invigorating and scholarly atmosphere, but also one of camaraderie, support, and opportunities for academic networking, and has drawn numerous participants to come back multiple times.


How does feminist art history fit into the curriculum or mission of the Art History Program?

Feminist theory is central to the curriculum of the Art History Program. When you look at the course catalog, there are very few courses focused specifically on "women artists." Rather, all of our courses include women's professional achievements and feminist feminist scholarship as an inherent component of the curriculum.


What might you say to young scholars interested in joining this field?

There are many kinds of scholarship possible within the realm of art historical research and writing, and the varied kinds of papers given at this conference serve as a great illustration that there is no one way to do art history.

For more information about the Feminist Art History Conference, visit the conference website.

For more information about AU’s Art History Program, visit the program website.

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Title: Inspiring Pathways to Education Policy
Author: Jamie McCrary
Subtitle:
Abstract: SETH professor Jennifer Steele is an education policy researcher.
Topic: Education
Publication Date: 11/10/2014
Content:

A passionate educator and policy researcher, Jennifer Steele believes that good education policy decisions come from good data analysis.

“In education, we strive to do what we think is best for students, but we don’t always know what that is,” she says. “Careful evaluation of data and existing research can point us in the direction of what works.” 

Steele spent the last six years as a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving policy through research and analysis. This fall, she joined AU as an associate professor in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health (SETH), where she is teaching a graduate course in research methods. “I’m very excited to teach students how to make the best use of the data they find and how to accurately communicate their findings,” Steele says. “I want to help [them] become well equipped education policy leaders.” 

Steele’s interest in education policy evolved from her own experience working as a teacher. After earning her master’s in education at Stanford University, she taught English in an urban high school in San Diego. 

During her tenure there, the school district underwent structural reforms intended to improve student learning. But Steele says those policy changes felt “top down” to many educators, including herself, and some of the changes did not seem to take context into account. “I became very interested in how the policy decisions were made and how data and research were used to inform these policies.” 

About her new position at AU, Steele is most excited about having working teachers in her classroom; through them, she says, she can have the most direct impact in the training of current and future educators. 

She says, too, that SETH’s commitment to community makes it an ideal place for her to translate her research into practice. Through SETH, AU actively partners with DC public schools and teacher-service organizations, like the New Teacher Project and Teach for America, enabling student teachers to take their skills and knowledge out into the real world. 

“One reason I was really attracted to AU was because of its connection to the DC area. The university works to have an impact on the quality of instruction students are receiving in the District of Columbia,” Steele says. “Bringing my research to AU and being able to work with students who have a direct connection to the community is a dream opportunity.” 

More than anything, Steele hopes that by working with AU students, she will help create informed and passionate educators and education policy leaders. “Students may become teacher-leaders, school administrators, or state or federal leaders,” says Steele. “Whatever path [they] take, knowing that I’ve helped prepare the policy leaders of tomorrow is the most exciting impact I can imagine having in my career.”

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newsId: 0C07D042-9464-167E-C0138B598AAB514B
Title: Creative Writing Professor Publishes New Novel
Author: Patty Housman
Subtitle:
Abstract: Rachel Louise Snyder’s What We’ve Lost Is Nothing receives enthusiastic reviews.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 11/10/2014
Content:

Rachel Louise Snyder—creative writing professor, investigative journalist, public radio commentator—can now add another line to her re?sume?: novelist. Her first novel, What We’ve Lost Is Nothing (Scribner, 2014), chronicles the 24 hours following a series of burglaries in a Chicago suburb.  

The book received glowing reviews. Booklist described it as “a muscular and fearless debut novel that boldly tackles the heady themes of prejudice, self-preservation, poverty, and privilege.” The Washington Post said it has “the stamp of authenticity.” Vogue.com named it one of the 10 best suspense novels in spring 2014.

Snyder had been living and working as a journalist in Cambodia for six years when she decided to write a novel. She was interested in exploring the dual sides of a tragedy. “My mother died when I was very young, and I learned the importance of making one’s life count,” she explains. “Experiences like this shape how you see the world. I gravitate towards the dark and how people manage to pull light out of those moments.” 

Snyder set her novel in the Oak Park neighborhood of Chicago, known for its racial diversity and progressive housing policies. After graduate school, Snyder worked in Oak Park as a resident manager of an apartment building, which gave her insights into the community and its residents. It also provided the perfect setting for tackling issues of race and socio-economics through fiction.

“I’ve always been interested in social justice,” she says. Her career as a journalist reflects that passion. Snyder has traveled to more than 50 countries, writing about women’s rights in Afghanistan, the Dalai Lama’s exile in India, the tsunami in Indonesia, and genocide in Cambodia. 

In her first book, Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade (W. W. Norton, 2007), she maps the global garment industry, beginning in a New York showroom and tracking backwards to a denim maker in Italy, a factory in Cambodia, and a cotton picker in Azerbaijan. 

Snyder also has written about a wide range of subjects closer to home, from missing soldiers to rock stars to domestic violence. Her 2013 article for the New Yorker, “A Raised Hand,” identified a new approach for preventing domestic violence from escalating into domestic homicide, and she currently is writing a story for the New York Times Magazine about familicide. She has written for Slate, Salon, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, New Republic, Travel and Leisure, and Glamour, among others. She hosted the nationally syndicated global affairs series Latitudes on public radio, and her stories have aired on This American Life and All Things Considered

Snyder currently teaches literary journalism and other related courses in the College’s creative writing MFA program. She says she’s been lucky to see a lot of students get published in top-notch venues. “I’ve seen graduate students come in showing just an inkling of promise; then suddenly their writing explodes,” she says. “They come into themselves as writers. It’s an extraordinary process.” 

Opportunities and second chances for young people are very much on Snyder’s mind these days as she begins work on a memoir. “My story is about a life of movement,” she says. “I was kicked out of my house when I was 16, and I dropped out of high school and lived in my car for months. But eventually I found my way to college and then to grad school. I was offered not only one huge second chance — but chances again and again from so many different people and places.” 

Perhaps the biggest thing that makes good writers stand out both inside and outside the classroom, she says, is their determination. “I have written about everything from Canadian geese to suburban youth soccer. I never said no to a writing project. I’ve always just wanted to write.”

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newsId: 0F9D7C64-06C5-28C1-7DED36C7504B2D3B
Title: Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks at AU
Author: Patty Housman
Subtitle:
Abstract: Discusses "The Case for Reparations" cover story from The Atlantic magazine.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 11/10/2014
Content:

Award-winning Atlantic magazine senior editor and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates visited American University last week and spoke to a sold-out audience about race and reparations.  

Nearly 300 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the College Dean's Office as part of the McCabe Lecture Series

Coates discussed “The Case for Reparations,” his 16,000-word cover story for The Atlantic magazine. His talk was followed by a moderated discussion, led by AU literature professor Kyle Dargan, and questions from the audience.  


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates is one of the most well known journalists writing about race today. Novelist Walter Mosley called him “the young James Joyce of the hip hop generation.” 

He was just named one of the POLITICO 50, a list of "the thinkers, doers, and dreamers changing American politics." The Root recently selected him as the top honoree of the Root 100—its list of the 100 most influential African American leaders, innovators, and culture shapers. And his Atlantic blog was chosen as one of the “25 Best in the World” by TIME magazine.  

 

The Case for Reparations

The “Case for Reparations” cover story, which broke Atlantic website traffic records and sold out at bookstores across the country last summer, is one of the most talked-about works of recent nonfiction. In it, Coates traces the legacy of racial oppression in the United States: 250 years of enslavement, followed by 150 years of what Coates describes as systematic racism and the plunder of African Americans. 

“Slavery is not a bump on the road. It is the road,” he said. “It was such a powerful social force, such a powerful social institution, that today I can only compare it to home ownership…Even if your ancestors didn’t own slaves, they aspired to owning slaves.”  

 

Reframing the Discussion 

In the article and in his talk at AU, Coates’ goal is to reframe the discussion about race in America. As a nation, he said, we need to confront the past and the institutional racism that continues today.  

“It’s not about what’s wrong with black people; rather, it’s what’s wrong with American history and society,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with black people in this country that the immediate cessation of white people wouldn’t immediately fix. American society needs to do some stuff—black people are just fine.”  

 

Reparations 

Coates made a powerful argument for reparations to African Americans, not only for slavery, but also for subsequent generations of discrimination. “The end of the Civil War was not the end of pushing black people out of American society,” he said. He pointed to lynchings, school and church burnings, redlining, education segregation, and the incarceration of African American men. He identified government programs that excluded African Americans as they helped white Americans amass wealth, including the New Deal, Social Security, and the G.I. Bill.  

The idea behind reparations, said Coates, is to reconcile the damage inflicted upon generations of African Americans. It’s to acknowledge the reasons behind the income gap between black and white Americans, and to publicly recognize that much of the wealth in the United States was built on the backs of African Americans. 

“As black taxpayers we are given less than. We were paying taxes for a library we can’t use, a pool we can’t swim in, and education and university system that bars us from attending,” he said. This is plunder, and it’s why reparations are such a powerful way of looking at history,” he said. “We have to pay [reparations] because society did something in our name.” 

 

This Generation 

When a student asked Coates how to talk about reparations to her peers, he replied, “I think this generation is all right. This generation has access to more information than any other generations. You are more informed than any other in American history. You elected the first black President,” he said.  

“But your task remains the same as it has always been. It’s frustrating. It’s hard work.”  

Coates said he does not expect to see reparations in his lifetime—or in his son’s lifetime. “The amount of work that needs to be done, I think, is the work of generations. This is a long, long fight.”

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newsId: 79AD04BF-E6B0-3D37-42620014133494E9
Title: Alumni Board Member Uses Family Business Experience to Assist Others
Author: Patricia Rabb
Subtitle:
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
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Abstract: AU alumnus is Producing Artistic Director of The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 09/09/2014
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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newsId: CD6E4DA2-DCB6-68C6-7A58566F30E408CB
Title: Family Values Worth Cherishing
Author: Mike Rowan
Subtitle: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Abstract: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Topic: Education & Teaching
Publication Date: 03/25/2014
Content:

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

***********

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Title: SIRIUSXM Executive Gives Back as Mentor to Current Students
Author: Megan Olson
Subtitle:
Abstract: Steve Leeds, CAS/BA ’72, began a career in music while a student at AU.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2014
Content:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences,School of Communication
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newsId: 528D56DD-EB88-65D2-CC4833E8E6916E04
Title: Nicole Zangara, CAS/BA ’06, Has New Book Analyzing Female Friendships
Author: Patricia Rabb
Subtitle:
Abstract: The book is an analysis of how to find and keep female friendships in the age of new technology and social media.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 07/17/2013
Content:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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
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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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