newsId: 10DB1C2E-5056-AF26-BEFF929320054F9A
Title: College of Arts and Sciences Honors Retiring Faculty
Abstract: Seven distinguished faculty members retire after long careers at AU.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 05/18/2015

This spring seven College of Arts and Sciences faculty members retired after long and distinguished careers at American University. Together these professors contributed more than 250 years of teaching and scholarship, touching the lives of thousands of AU students:

  • Richard Breitman, professor of history
  • David Culver, professor of environmental science
  • Robert Lerman, professor of economics
  • Jonathan Loesberg, professor of literature
  • Peter Mehlert, assistant professor, health promotion
  • Jeffrey Reiman, professor of philosophy
  • Carol Weissbrod, professor of psychology  

The professors were honored at a College faculty retirement ceremony on April 13, 2015. Read on for excerpts from Dean Peter Starr’s remarks at the ceremony. 


Richard Breitman 

“During his four decades of service at American University, Professor Richard Breitman has embodied our ideal of the scholar-teacher. His extraordinary scholarship and excellent teaching have earned him the title of distinguished professor, the university’s highest academic rank.  

“Richard’s ten books and many scholarly articles range across the fields of German, American, and Holocaust history, consistently drawing new insights from primary historical texts. His work has explored the fate of Weimer democracy in Germany, the development of the Nazi’s “final solution,” and President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the persecution and mass murder of Jews in Europe. He has told the story of how reliable news of the Holocaust first reached the West. He has uncovered and analyzed indispensable documents on the operations of Allied intelligence during the Nazi era and examined the life of James G. MacDonald, refugee advocate and America’s first ambassador to Israel. His most recent book, FDR and the Jews, co-authored with Allan Lichtman, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, won the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish History, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History.

“As a teacher, Richard made American University a premier venue for graduate study in German and Holocaust history, as witnessed by his many students now making their academic marks in those fields.”  


David Culver 

“Professor Dave Culver earned his PhD in biology from Yale in 1970, with a dissertation entitled Analysis of Simple Cave Communities. He began his career at Northwestern University, where he rose to become a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. He moved to AU in 1987 as a professor of biology, and led the formation of the Department of Environmental Science in 2008.

“Dave has conducted cutting edge research on cave life and, with Harvard University Press, published the definitive book on the topic. He is the author of some 100 journal articles, more than 30 book chapters, and 12 books, and is one of only two AU faculty who can claim to be a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

“Dave’s service to AU has been extensive. He has been the chair of biology, associate dean for academic affairs, and associate dean for science. In this last role, he was instrumental in focusing attention on AU’s need for advanced science facilities—a task that brought us to the happy juncture of having two science buildings now in the pipeline.”  


Robert Lerman 

“Professor Bob Lerman earned his PhD from MIT and came to AU almost 20 years later as a highly regarded scholar in the field of welfare and labor economics, with a specific emphasis on income inequality. He served as department chair during his first six years here, during which time the Department of Economics flourished. 

“Bob has served in government and in think tanks, most notably as director and fellow of the Labor and Social Policy Center at the Urban Institute. He has published in the top journals in his field, and his policy pieces have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and many other flagship publications. He has testified before Congress half a dozen times.

“Bob’s impact on colleagues and students at American University will be long lasting. Well before most economists, he recognized the critical importance of the financial sector and pressed for a new master’s program in financial economics. For that effort, the university honored him with its award for Outstanding Contributions to Academic Development in 1994.

“Bob’s most recent professional contribution, however, may have the greatest impact on the American economy. As the creator of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, he has brought national attention to the need to expand apprenticeships.”


Jonathan Loesberg 

“In his 37 years at AU, Professor Jonathan Loesberg has made major contributions to scholarly development in the fields of aesthetics, Kantian philosophy, and the Victorian novel.  

“Jonathan has written three books and translated a fourth. His latest work is a 1,300-page translation into English of Eugène Sue’s Les mystères de Paris, co-translated with Carolyn Betensky.

“Princeton University Press has just announced that it is reprinting Jonathan’s Deconstruction and Aestheticism, a very rare event for a work of literary criticism. In addition to his highly regarded books, Jonathan has published more than 30 articles, many in the most prestigious journals in his field. 

“His scholarship has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Rutgers Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture.  

“Jonathan’s service to American University has been long and distinguished. He has worked as chair and vice chair of the Faculty Senate, faculty trustee, department chair for literature, and director of the University Honors Program.”  


Peter Mehlert 

“As a successful soccer player in his own right, Pete Mehlert holds the signal distinction of having taken one of AU’s teams—men’s soccer—to the Final Four of the NCAAs. His career as a coach and teacher has brought great distinction to the university and enormous pride to his players and students. 

“During his 43 years at AU, he has been named NCAA Regional Coach of the Year three times (in 1979, 1984, and 1985) and named NCAA Division 1 National Coach of the Year in 1985. He coached the Eagles for 19 years, building up our program to participate in four NCAA tournaments, including two Elite Eights, and a Final Two. He was also first coach of the women's team, which debuted in 1990 with an impressive 13-5-2 record, the program's best to date. 

“In the School of Education, Teaching and Health as well as in the Department of Athletics, he has been a mentor to the faculty and a strong proponent for the work of our campus’s student-athletes. He has patiently guided students as they develop as learners and citizens of the world. He also served the DC community, serving as a volunteer for local soccer teams and as coach to local high school teams.” 


Jeffrey Reiman 

“Professor Jeff Reiman joined the American University faculty in 1970. In 1990, he was named the William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy and Social Policy. His scholarly works in philosophy and criminology are part of the major literature” in those fields. Each year, his works are read and discussed by thousands of students and their professors in hundreds of college and university classes around the US (as well as in Canada and the UK). In recognition of this scholarship, he received the American University Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholarship, Research, and Other Professional Contributions in 1989.  

“Writing in the introduction to the 10th edition of his The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, he notes that “For almost 35 years now, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison has been raising the issue of economic inequality and asking why aren’t the tools of the criminal justice system being used to protect Americans from predatory business practices and to punish those well-off people who cause widespread harm?” 

“Jeff is equally respected as an educator, consistently receiving excellent teaching evaluations in his rigorous courses. In 1995-96, the College of Arts and Sciences recognized his embodiment of the scholar-teacher model by naming him the CAS Scholar/Teacher of the Year.” 


Carol Weissbrod 

“Professor Carol Weissbrod joined the AU psychology faculty in 1973, shortly after earning her doctorate in clinical psychology from Northwestern University. In the 42 years since, she’s been in the vanguard of her field, publishing important research at the intersection of child development, clinical psychology and sex role socialization, in such prestigious journals as the Harvard Educational Review, Child Development, and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In recent years, her work has expanded to the study of gender and ethnicity in relation to sports psychology, as well as of the psychology of parenting. 

“She has taught both undergraduate and graduate students, developing a course on the Psychology of Sex Similarities and Differences that was way ahead of its time. Outside the classroom, Carol has chaired 31 completed doctoral dissertations, helping to create a community of scholars and clinicians highly sensitive to developmental and gender issues.  

“Carol’s service contributions to the university have been extensive. She has consulted with the Child Development Center on campus, chaired the Senate Graduate Studies Committee, and served on the Institutional Review Board and the Committee on Faculty Relations. Most notably, she chaired the Department of Psychology for 10 years and served as director of the Clinical Psychology doctoral program from 2000 to 2015, helping to maintain the program’s full accreditation and enhance its national reputation.”

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Psychology,Psychology Dept,History Dept,History,Environmental Science,Economics Dept,Literature Dept,Literature,Health Promotion,School of Education, Teaching and Health,Philosophy and Religion Dept
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newsId: 42D5D4D1-5056-AF26-BEF2A2DED954361C
Title: Finance Research Leads Two Students to Pursue PHDs
Author: Sam Kauffmann
Abstract: Kogod research projects lead two AU alumni to doctoral programs.
Topic: Business
Publication Date: 05/14/2015

For as far back as she can remember, Casey Petroff, BS/CAS '13, has always loved the research aspect of being a student.

This fall Petroff will continue her passion for research while pursuing a doctorate in political economy and government at Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

She started out at American University in the School of International Service, then, while taking an economics class, she realized the science played a key role in understanding a number of different disciplines, and changed her course of study to math and economics.

With the guidance of Kogod Associate Professor Michel Robe, she started research on her honors capstone examining crude oil markets—a topic she became interested in through a summer internship in the federal regulatory industry—which would become the first of many economic research papers to come.

Petroff isn't the only interdisciplinary AU student beginning a PhD program in the fall. But for Jonathan Wallen, BS/CAS '14, the path to a doctorate has been more of a discovery process.

During his time as an undergraduate studying math and economics, Wallen interned at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy, where he discovered his interest in the connection between economics and finance. He worked as a research assistant, learning about crude oil markets, how money moves in the world and how that affects the economy.

He also completed a summer program at the London School of Economics, where he saw the university method for research at the industry level.

"I found I enjoyed doing research the most at the university setting," he said. "You have much more intellectual freedom in terms of pursuing research questions."

Wallen has been accepted to Stanford's Graduate School of Business for a doctorate in finance beginning in the fall of 2015.

Kogod Connection

While Wallen and Petroff had different backgrounds and reasons for pursuing research, they both agree that getting interdisciplinary experience is invaluable.

One of the deciding factors for Wallen in choosing AU was the opportunity to have an interdisciplinary experience.

"AU is smaller, so there are greater opportunities to explore interests in different departments,” he said.

While Wallen pursued a minor in finance he worked with Robe and fellow Kogod Associate Professor Valentina Bruno, who encouraged him to challenge himself and continue his research interests.

"They are outstanding professors, not just in terms of in the classroom, but also serving as mentors and really passing on the knowledge and training they have onto other students," Wallen said.

For Petroff, the academic freedom to research in other departments was "a fantastic experience that people who are considering a career in research by nature need to have."

She believes furthering your research knowledge cannot happen by staying in one department forever.

"There's a whole lot people can learn from experts in other fields you may not have met otherwise," said Petroff.

Forward Thinking

For other students interested in pursuing academia, both Petroff and Wallen agree that gaining research experience is the necessary first step.

Going from undergraduate classes to a PhD program is a giant leap that many students may not be prepared for right after college.

Both Wallen and Petroff advise students to get as much research experience as early as possible by taking advantage of internships, or completing a research intermediary program after graduation.

"By taking that opportunity you can make a much more informed decision, after you learn more about what it means to be a researcher," Wallen said.

Looking to the future, Wallen remembers the advice of Robe who challenged him to "change how the river flows" and make a contribution that not only creates new knowledge, but also changes how we understand knowledge.

Tags: Alumni,College of Arts and Sciences,Kogod School of Business
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Title: AU Honors College of Arts and Sciences Faculty
Author: Patty Housman
Abstract: Three professors win American University Faculty Awards.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 05/13/2015

Each year the American University Faculty Awards honor outstanding faculty who have made significant contributions in the areas of teaching, research, and service. This year, three College of Arts and Sciences professors received awards:  

  • Kathleen Gunthert, Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment
  • Terry Davidson, Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, or Other Professional Contributions
  • Elizabeth Malloy, Morton Bender Prize 

“We are proud of the work and dedication of these three colleagues, who so greatly deserve this recognition,” said Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Their outstanding achievements as teachers, scholars, and mentors epitomize the College’s tradition of excellence.” 


Kathleen Gunthert 

Kathleen Gunthert, professor of psychology, won the 2015 American University Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment Award.  

"Kate joined the Department of Psychology in 2002 and immediately made her mark as an exceptional classroom teacher," said David Haaga, department chair. "Both inside and outside the classroom, she combines incisive, critical analysis with a constructive tone, enabling students and colleagues to ‘hear’ and benefit from her input. She is an outstanding teacher in every setting and in every sense of the word."  

Gunthert teaches a wide range of courses including intro classes, a graduate assessment practicum course for clinical psychology doctoral students, seminars on stress and coping at undergraduate and graduate levels, a survey course in psychopathology, and an honors seminar.  

She also served as editor-in-chief of the Behavior Therapist journal, leads the department’s biweekly journal club on emotion regulation research, and serves as a mentor to students in the clinical psychology doctoral program. She chaired the Dean’s Advisory Committee in 2012-13 and is currently serving as director of undergraduate studies in psychology. Her research focuses on the influence of everyday stress and coping on depression, anxiety, and psychotherapy outcomes. 


Terry Davidson 

Terry Davidson, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, won the Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, or Other Professional Contributions.  

Davidson joined the faculty of the Department of Psychology at American University in 2012, when he founded the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. His research, which focuses on the relevance of learning and memory mechanisms for understanding food intake and body weight regulation, is published regularly in prestigious journals. He serves as a member of an NIH working group, speaks at national and international conferences, and was recently elected as president of the Eastern Psychological Association.  

“Terry is a first-rate scientist, with a prolific record of publications and grant funding,” said Haaga. “At the same time, he has dedicated himself to extensive and highly effective efforts to shape the research agenda of the field, to disseminate science for the benefit of public health, and to facilitate an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to science at American University.”  


Elizabeth (Betty) Malloy 

Elizabeth (Betty) Malloy, professor of mathematics and statistics, won the Morton Bender Prize. 

“Since Betty was granted tenure two and a half years ago, she has been extraordinarily active in research, teaching, and service, developing an excellent record in each, and often taking on leadership roles,” said Jeffrey Adler, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. 

Malloy is known for lending her statistical expertise to many arenas, from health in DC public schools to nicotine addiction to workplace injuries. She develops new statistical methodologies for flexible modeling of exposure-response relationships, and for judging whether a given model is appropriate. One external reviewer said, “Her work will contribute to setting or changing government standards for occupational and environmental exposures, which has the potential to change the course and quality of many lives.” 

"Receiving the award was a lovely (and humbling) surprise," said Malloy. "I feel so fortunate for all of my wonderful colleagues, and this really is a reflection of their efforts and all of the opportunities available here."

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Psychology Dept,Psychology,Mathematics and Statistics Dept,Mathematics,Mathematics and Statistics
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newsId: D2020CE8-5056-AF26-BEA28E549F117867
Title: Researchers Reverse Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics
Author: Rebecca Basu
Abstract: American University professor contributes to antibiotics research to help doctors deal with resistant bacteria in a clinical setting.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 05/07/2015

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing problem in the United States and the world. New findings by researchers in evolutionary biology and mathematics could help doctors better address the problem in a clinical setting. 

Biologist Miriam Barlow of the University of California, Merced, and mathematician Kristina Crona of American University tested and found a way to return bacteria to a pre-resistant state. In research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, they show how to rewind the evolution of bacteria and verify treatment options for a family of 15 antibiotics used to fight common infections, including penicillin. 

Their work could have major implications for doctors attempting to keep patient infections at bay using "antibiotic cycling," in which a handful of different antibiotics are used on a rotating basis. 

"Doctors don't take an ordered approach when they rotate antibiotics," Barlow said. "The doctors would benefit from a system of rotation that is proven. Our goal was to find a precise, ordered schedule of antibiotics that doctors could rely on and know that in the end, resistance will be reversed, and an antibiotic will work." 

Dangers of Antibiotic Resistance 

When bacteria grow powerful enough that antibiotics no longer work, it can be a matter of life and death. Recently, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, two people died and seven were injured when a medical scope used in patient procedures harbored drug-resistant bacteria. In the U.S. annually, more than 2 million people get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Resistance to antibiotics is a natural part of the evolution of bacteria, and unavoidable given the many types of bacteria and the susceptibility of the human host. To compensate for bacterial evolution, a doctor fighting infections in an intensive care unit may reduce, rotate or discontinue different antibiotics to get them to be effective in the short term. 

The researchers —from UC Merced, AU and UC Berkeley —have been leading the way to uncover how to reverse resistance in the drug environment. They've done so by combining lab work with mathematics and computer technology. 

"We have learned so much about the human genome as well as the sequencing of bacteria," Crona said "Scientists now have lots and lots of data, but they need to make sense of it. Mathematics helps one to draw interpretations, find patterns and give insight into medical applications." 

Challenging Work Yields Important Results 

After creating bacteria in a lab, the researchers exposed them to 15 different antibiotics and measured their growth rates. From there, they computed the probability of mutations to return the bacteria to its harmless state using the aptly named "Time Machine" software.

Managing resistance in any drug environment is extremely difficult, because bacteria evolve so quickly, becoming highly resistant after many mutations. To find optimal cycling strategies, the researchers tested up to six drugs in rotation at a time and found optimal plans for reversing the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. 

"This shows antibiotics cycling works. As a medical application, physicians can take a more strategic approach," Crona said. "Uncovering optimal plans in antibiotics cycling presents a mathematical challenge. Mathematicians will need to create algorithms that can deliver optimal plans for a greater amount of antibiotics and bacteria." 

The researchers hope to next test the treatment paths in a clinical setting, working with doctors to rotate antibiotics to maximize their efficacy. 

"This work shows that there is still hope for antibiotics if we use them intelligently," Barlow said. "More research in this area and more research funding would make it possible to explore the options more comprehensively."

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newsId: 3917B4BA-5056-AF26-BE5674D135563391
Title: Five Historical Tidbits About AU Commencement
Author: Patrick Bradley
Abstract: The lowdown on AU graduation ceremonies back a century.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 05/06/2015

1. Because Bagpipes — What’s the deal with AU’s commencement bagpipers? Well, the tradition goes back to 1980, when the university president at the time decided to surprise students by replacing the tune “Pomp and Circumstance” with a procession of the Scottish instruments. He believed the typical graduation song was too reminiscent of high school. The bagpipes stuck, now extending to freshman convocation ceremonies in order to bookend the AU student experience.

AU class of 1927;

2. Location, Location — Over the past century (that’s right, AU’s been graduating students for about a century), commencement has hopped around various venues throughout Washington, D.C. In addition to ceremonies taking place outdoors in front of Hurst Hall or on the now-athletic fields, AU hosted graduation at the DAR Constitution Hall and the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

It wasn’t until 1988 and the opening of Bender Arena that graduation ceremonies finally settled in the spacious sports complex where they continue today.

President Dwight Eisenhower at the podium;

3. Star Power — With a student body so politically active, commencement at AU is bound to attract some high caliber speakers. Since graduating the first class of undergraduates in 1927, commencement has seen the podium occupied by the likes of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton; Thurgood Marshall and other Supreme Court justices; former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin; and numerous other political heavy hitters.

Not to be outdone, the School of Communication has hosted broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, Hollywood producer Barry Levinson, and—just last year—TV personality Katie Couric, to name a few. Check out this year’s list of speakers.

Barry Levison at the podium in 1999;

4. All Together — AU now holds separate commencement ceremonies for each of its schools and colleges. This year, five will take place in Bender Arena over the course of two days, and seating inside will likely be at max capacity for each. The Washington College of Law will hold its ceremony separately a week later. Until 1969, however, all of AU graduated together, in one large event. In 1969, there were seven ceremonies in total—including those for the now-defunct School of Nursing and College of Continuing Education—and all of them took place on one day, from the campus amphitheater, fields, and Kay Spiritual Life Center to the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church across the street.

5. Brace Yourselves, Winter Commencement — For the first time in more than a decade, AU will host winter commencement on December 16, 2015 for August and December graduates. The move comes as the university community grows rapidly while also welcoming more nontraditional students and those who might graduate on different timelines. So, if you're finishing your degree soon, don’t worry; AU’s got you covered this winter.

Tags: Campus Life,Campus News,College of Arts and Sciences,Featured News,Kogod School of Business,Office of Campus Life,School of Communication,School of International Service,School of Public Affairs
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newsId: A4E589EE-5056-AF26-BE151E0ACD4AE1E5
Title: Dean Peter Starr Delivers Annual Address
Author: Patty Housman
Abstract: Sixth annual address to College of Arts and Sciences faculty
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 05/06/2015

In his sixth annual address to faculty and staff, Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, reviewed the highlights of the past year, discussed upcoming challenges and opportunities, and shared his vision for the future of the College. 

“It was a very, very good year for the College,” said Starr, pointing to new tenure-line faculty hires, innovative new curricula, and growth in student enrollment. College of Arts and Science faculty continued to win recognition for their work: they published critically acclaimed books, served as presidents of national scholarly organizations, and won millions of dollars in grants from prestigious organizations including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. 

Starr shared other good news: the cutting-edge Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building is scheduled to open in fall 2016, and plans are in the works for a new 75,000-square-foot life sciences building. Fundraising numbers are at their highest in a decade, and the College was ranked sixth in the nation for a major in the social sciences, according to USA Today.  


New Faculty Awards and Recognition 

“We’ve had several years in a row of hiring extraordinary faculty,” said Starr. In the fall, four new tenure-track faculty will join the College: Ernesto Castaneda (sociology), Juliana Martinez (WLC), Kendra Salois (performing arts), and Isaiah Wooden (performing arts). In addition, Shouzhong Zou (chemistry) will join the College as a tenured professor.  

Starr also highlighted the accomplishments of current College faculty. Over the past 18 months, six faculty members were named or served as presidents of major scholarly organizations: 

  • Michael Brenner (Israeli studies), Leo Baeck Institute 
  • Terry Davidson (psychology), Eastern Psychology Association 
  • Dolores Koenig (anthropology), Society for Economic Anthropology
  • Alan Kraut (history), Organization of American Historians
  • Robert Lerman (economics), President of the Society of Government Economists
  • Martha Starr (economics), Association for Social Economics

At the same time, American University honored three College faculty members for their outstanding scholarship and teaching. Terry Davidson (psychology) won an Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, and Other Professional Contributions Award. Kate Gunthert (psychology), received the Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment Award, and Betty Malloy (mathematics and statistics) won the university’s Morton Bender Prize. 


New Curricula, Expanding Enrollment 

In the last year, the College launched a series of new curricula, said Starr, including a new BS in neuroscience, the CAS Leadership and Ethical Development program, an MA in game design with the School of Communication, and online master’s degrees in economics, nutrition education, and teaching English as a foreign language. 

In addition, the College graduate program enrollment has risen by nearly 2,000 credits in just one year. Master’s degree applications have also grown appreciably. 


External Funding 

College faculty built on their strong record of winning—and spending—prestigious research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

This year, Starr focused on grant spending, a key metric for evaluating how researchers are using large multi-year grants. In the past year, major research funding was spent by Mark Laubach (biology), Kim Blankenship (sociology), Jon Tubman (psychology), Paul Winters (economics), Colin Saldanha (biology), Terry Davidson (psychology), and Martha Starr (economics), among many others. 

Starr noted that pre-tenure faculty won a large number of significant grants, particularly in the sciences. “Junior scientists thrive here at American University in a way that is heartening, both for ourselves and for their future careers,” he said. Grantees include John Bracht (biology), Naden Krogan (biology), Michael Robinson (mathematics and statistics), and Catherine Stoodley (psychology). 


Departments Brought Together, New Science Facilities 

Starr announced that work is ongoing to house historically fragmented departments in a single building in upcoming years, an effort that will increase collaboration among departmental colleagues. 

He also discussed progress made on the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building on the new East Campus. “This is going to be the home of physics, mathematics and statistics, computer science, and the gaming program: two floors, two buildings, state-of-the-art structural spaces. And all through the building you are going to see science in action: you will see the visual life of science.” 

Starr presented a mock-up of a new life sciences building, which has a proposed 2019 opening. Its 75,000 square feet will house biology, environmental science, chemistry, and neuroscience. Faculty will be clustered in functional groups, rather than by department, based on access to specific equipment and technology. 


What’s Next: Ecology of Innovation and Learning Through Making 

In the future, said Starr, the College will continue to build on its historic strengths: 

  • Liberal education, which fosters flexibility, confidence, and an innovative spirit;
  • A commitment to service; and
  • A philosophy of learning by doing, exemplified by the hands-on learning in science labs across campus and the wide range of internships undertaken by AU students each year.

“At the same time, we are increasingly striving to exemplify an ecology of innovation,” said Starr. One example is CAPRI, the new Collaborative for Applied Perceptual Research and Innovation, which brings together faculty from across the university to investigate how new technology can revolutionize our understanding of perception in science, culture, and daily life. “CAPRI represents precisely the kind of intriguing, interdisciplinary cutting-edge work that we want to foster at the College,” said Starr. 

Other examples of the College’s work to build an ecology of innovation are collaboration spaces featuring virtual tutoring; state-of-the-art online degrees; partnerships with corporations in the education and gaming fields; and a Mellon Foundation-funded project to develop new ways to support student success across the University. 

The College is also working on new ways to teach students how to “learn through making” – from developing interactive social interaction games in the Game Lab, to using the proposed Humanities truck to document the stories of local communities, to embedding geocaches filled with historical materials, stories, and art. The goal of these curricular innovations, said Starr, is to break down barriers between disciplines and provide students with interactive opportunities to learn about the world.

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Title: Inspiring Graduate Stories: Ta Lynn Mitchell
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: CAS sociology grad overcame adversity and helped other students along the way.
Topic: Social Sciences
Publication Date: 05/04/2015

These days, Ta Lynn Mitchell is enjoying some hard-earned success. She's about to get her bachelor's degree in sociology, with a minor in public administration and policy and a certificate in advanced leadership studies. She also just won a student research award for Best Oral Presentation in the Social Sciences by a Junior or Senior. But life has been anything but easy for Mitchell. Her story is one of perseverance and resilience.

A Voice for Herself

Mitchell was born in Fresno, California, but she mostly grew up in Oakland. From a close-knit family, her great-grandparents sometimes took care of her while her mom was working. "My mom always advocated for me. So I think I learned to have a voice for myself from her," she says.

During Mitchell's junior year of high school, her parents got divorced. Unable to afford the same living arrangement, Ta Lynn and her mother were forced to move abruptly. A friend took them in, with mom and daughter living in one room and sharing a bunk bed.

At this time, Mitchell was taking lengthy commutes with one of her teachers to an all-girls school in San Francisco. "I had to change the location of where I was supposed to meet my teacher for the carpool, and I never told her why. I just said, 'You know, we moved.' So, I was going through all of this stuff at home, but I didn't tell anyone," she recalls.

As a child of divorce dealing with financial hardship, Mitchell tried to sort through her personal feelings. "I love helping people and taking care of people. So my first instinct was to take care of my mom," she says. "But not only that, I had to support myself, too. And I had to kind of figure that out."

Finding Happiness

Mitchell got accepted to American University and entered the next phase of her life. But during her freshman year, money problems back home were taking a toll. Mitchell's mom became guardian to a recently deceased cousin's two grandchildren, causing additional financial strains on the family. "Honestly, at the time, I didn't know if I was going to return to AU," she says now.

Yet through grant money and various jobs on campus, Mitchell was able to remain in school. And through all of this, she's found ways to help other students as well. She's finishing up her stint as an RA in Anderson Hall, and before that, she was an RA in a social justice living-learning community.

"Ta Lynn has this beautiful heart, and has used it to serve the university well," says Margaret Marr, director of the SPA Leadership Program that included Mitchell. "She's faced significant challenges all the way around," she adds. "I'm just enormously proud of her."

Mitchell studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Remember that United Nations-sponsored report naming Denmark the happiest country in the world? Well, that's what inspired Mitchell to go there. Can you blame her?

The experience, she says, was amazing. She was part of a program that studied tolerance, with a focus on Muslim immigrants. In addition to traveling extensively throughout Europe, she lived with a host family in Denmark. "They were so loving, so supportive. And we just had great conversations. They showed me a different side of life. In the States, to bond [people] sit down and watch TV," she explains. "But there, you sit down and you have some tea, and you talk."

Race, Justice, and Mentoring

After Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri made international news, she discussed race relations with her host family. "They were understanding and wanted to hear my perspective. I felt like there I was viewed more as American, before I was African-American. And here, I view myself as African-American first," she says.

Mitchell talks candidly about the difficulties of being a minority. "I think as black women we have to prove ourselves and prove that we're worthy. And being able to know that I'm okay just how I am."

She's been a passionate advocate for racial equality, and she's studied the "school-to-prison" pipeline affecting African-American and Latino students. "This is a zero tolerance policy, which for minor infractions like your shirt being the wrong color, you can literally go to juvenile hall. That starts the cycle. And once you're there, it's no going back," she says.

Instead, she's supported less punitive measures, such as mentoring and education. While at AU, she created a seminar series and mentoring program that connected young girls from Oakland with professional women of color. Her capstone was titled, "Elements of Mentor Programing That Add and Detract from the Development of African-American Girls."

Present and Future

During her final semester at AU, Mitchell interned on Capitol Hill for Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif. Following graduation, Mitchell will teach elementary school in New Orleans as part of Teach for America.

Though still quite a distance from Oakland, she can still return for her large family reunions every year. And her bond with her mother remains strong. Just as Mitchell is earning her degree from AU, her mom is finishing up her master's degree in leadership, concentration social justice, from Saint Mary's College of California.

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Title: Inspiring Graduate Stories: Joelle Appenrodt
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: This SPA grad isn’t ready to leave the classroom.
Topic: Government & Politics
Publication Date: 05/04/2015

Love of Learning

Graduating from college is a time to reflect on everything you've learned. But one thing you've probably realized is that there's so much more knowledge to obtain. Joelle Appenrodt possesses that kind of curiosity, and she enjoyed being an undergraduate at American University. Now, she's decided to stay here a little longer. "I am not ready to leave the classroom. I really do love learning," she says.

Appenrodt is finishing up her bachelor's degree in political science and CLEG from AU's School of Public Affairs. She'll remain at SPA to earn her master's degree in public administration. While attending graduate school, she'll continue in her current job at the Justice Department.

"I think that AU and SPA have been incubators for my commitment to public service. I think I knew about that [interest] coming in, but this has really just strengthened my commitment," she explains. She's also earning a certificate in women, policy, and political leadership, and another certificate in advanced leadership studies.

Maximizing Her Potential

Appenrodt has been an award-winning student leader on campus. Yet without some encouragement years ago, she might never have attended college at all. During her junior year of high school, students filled out a survey about future plans, and she didn't check the "college" box. Appenrodt vividly recalls what happened next: "The assistant principal at my high school called me into her office, and she had the piece of paper on her desk. And she said, 'Joelle, you are going to college!'"

She heeded her advice, eventually choosing AU and becoming the first person in her family to attend college. "I was fortunate enough to have a number of high school mentors, who were able to pass all sorts of opportunities my way and make sure that I was maximizing my potential," she says.

Appenrodt was shaped by her environment and upbringing. She grew up in Marin County, California, an area with vast economic wealth disparities. She was a minority white student in a majority Latino high school in San Rafael. "I think that when you come to school, and you know that there were immigration raids in some of your classmates' communities last night, that is just an entirely different ballgame. And it made me so grateful for my education," she says.

She's also faced her own obstacles over the years. When she was 13, another student leapt onto her back and caused fractured vertebrae. She's still coping with chronic back pain. "I'll reach a point in my life when I really do need to deal with it," she says. "But it's just part of my lifestyle, and I've learned to live with the pain."

Embracing Leadership

Appenrodt has been part of the SPA Leadership Program, which she calls her defining experience at AU. She served as a teaching assistant and eventually co-student director for the program.

SPA Leadership Program Director Margaret Marr offers high praise for Appenrodt. "Joelle is just an extraordinary human being. I think she's the most organized person I've ever met," she says. Marr explains how other students have trusted and confided in Appenrodt. "She's helped a number of students through trying circumstances."

During her first year, she took part in the SPA Undergraduate Research Symposium. She won the excellence in research award for a study on campus climate, as part of a group surveying nearly 400 AU students and delving into the matter of sexual assault.

Appenrodt embraced a leadership role on this issue. She co-founded and became president of Stand Up AU, a student-run organization aimed at combatting sexual assault. When the university reconvened the Sexual Assault Working Group, she sat on the committee as a student representative.

In addition, she was formerly chapter president of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Among other honors, she's been recognized with an American University Eagle Involvement award and the AU Fraternity and Sorority Life outstanding senior award. In late April, she won the SPA outstanding service award for undergraduates.

Classrooms and Workplaces Collide

As if all of that wasn't enough, Appenrodt got solid work experience. She interned in the district office of Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. and worked with the National Organization for Women (NOW). She parlayed a Justice Department internship into her current job as a paralegal specialist in DOJ's Civil Division, Appellate Staff.

She mentions one AU highlight that epitomizes experiential learning. In the fall of 2014, her Law and the Political System class was studying a Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, which was about presidential power to make recess appointments. The next day, as part of her DOJ responsibilities, she was at the National Archives and Records Administration photographing evidence on the exact same case. "The learning in the classroom and the learning in D.C. were just colliding in the most perfect way possible," she remembers. "You always hear that D.C. is your learning laboratory. And in that moment, it absolutely was."

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newsId: 9FF602FF-5056-AF26-BE2BC53E8C69ED9D
Title: Well Awarded Wonks
Author: Patrick Bradley
Abstract: Meet this year’s University Student Award recipients!
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 05/01/2015

Commencement season at AU also signals awards season on campus, as a host of graduating students gain official recognition for accomplishments that range from classroom triumphs to making AU a better community for all.

Read on to meet this year’s recipients! University leadership will present these awards to the recipients on May 8 at a President’s Awards Program and Reception.

Outstanding Service

AU recognized SPA student and former Student Government president Patrick Kelly with the Outstanding Service to the University Community Award. Under his leadership, the university created a new LGBT studies minor and restructured the Student Activities Fee.

Fellow Outstanding Service Award recipient Lorraine Magee established a She’s the First chapter on campus and raised more than $36,000 to support educational equality for girls.

For Kelly, the award is more about the institution than about his many successes.

Patrick Kelly;

“It’s really a reflection of all the incredible opportunities and experiences I was able to have as a student at American University,” Kelly explained. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that AU was more than a school—it was a home.”

Outstanding Academics

For her research around human trafficking, School of International Service Ph.D. student and adjunct professor Davina Durgana received Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award.

“It’s an honor,” Durgana said, “and it represents the appreciation American University has for the diversity of accomplishments that are possible here. It shows there’s not just one way to achieve an award. I’m grateful for the recognition.”

Also recognized with this graduate level award is Brendan Tunstall, a Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience Ph.D. student in the College of Arts & Sciences who has focused his extensive research on addiction.

Academic award winners;

CAS swept undergraduate academic recognition, as students Monika Gasiorek and Jonathan Wallen drew scholarship awards for the respective research of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and derivatives markets.


Campus Life’s Student Achievement Awards spotlight those students most actively involved in improving the university—just like the former students, staff, and faculty members whose names designate the 10 awards.

Organist and arts management student Alex Gilbert-Schrag received the Evelyn Swarthout Hayes Award, named for a former music professor who championed inter-disciplinary music education at AU.

“I transferred in two years ago. For me to have been able to complete as much as I have in the last two years, it’s nice to be recognized for it with this award,” Gilbert-Schrag said. “Especially with her legacy as a person, it’s amazing thing to be able to follow in her footsteps.”

Cambodian student Essarayoss Mean earned the Carlton Savage Award by bridging cultural groups on campus. He hopes his success inspires future students to further his cause.

“I’m very honored,” he said. “It motivates you to do more hard work and encourages the new generation of students to integrate with international students and provide cultural understanding between communities at AU.”

Cj Murphy’s strides in the School of Public Affairs Leadership Program, as the 2015 Class Council president, and as co-captain of the Cheer Team garnered her the Stafford H. Cassell Award. While the School of Communication’s Adam Garret landed the Kinsman-Hurst Award for his support of student rights and responsibilities as director of the Student Advocacy Center.

Achievement winners group;

Community service advocate Diana Williams will accept the Bruce Hughes Award in recognition of her leadership rallying hundreds of students, staff, and faculty to participate in the Freshman Service Experience and MLK Day of Service.

Williams credits her late grandmother for her own generous spirit.

“She really contributed greatly to who I’ve become as a person in giving back to the community and leadership skills. I’m happy to receive this in her honor and to continue going in the direction that she was,” she said.

Her friend Chante Harris claimed the Harold Johnson Award for volunteer work with the child literacy programs JumpStart and D.C. Reads, as well as her involvement in promoting gender and racial equality.

Kogod School of Business student Nicholas Eng co-founded the nonprofit Unfused, which connects youth with college-age tutors via the web. For his efforts, he’s gained the Fletcher Scholar Award. He hopes the award will inspire others—particularly his staff of tutors.

“It’s good for the team that we have behind us to see that working hard does lead to being recognized,” he said. “It sends a good message to them.”

 Candace Evilsizor;

SIS’s Candace Evilsizor nabbed double honors for her work with refugee communities across the globe, earning herself the President’s Award and also receiving the Fletcher Scholar Award with Eng.

Meanwhile, Charles W. Van Way Award recipient Rachel Ternes impressed the selection committee with her steadfast leadership around religion and social justice.

Accounting major Heidi Friedrich will take home the Charles C. Glover Award for promoting business education and financial literacy among AU students.

“I came into Kogod, and I never saw the potential that my professors would put me up for this award,” she said. “It’s just an honor to represent the Kogod community.”

As Kennedy Political Union director, SPA student Chandler Thornton brought a diverse set of speakers to campus, from Vice President Dick Cheney to activist Lilly Ledbetter.

“I am proud of what we were able to accomplish for the student body by creating lasting memories,” Thornton said. “I am honored in particular to receive the Catheryn Seckler-Hudson award, named after one of AU’s most influential pioneers and early campus leaders who contributed to much of what we know today as American University.”

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Title: No Borders to Human Compassion
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: Candace Evilsizor wins the 2015 President’s Award.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 04/28/2015

With no shortage of talented students graduating in May, how do you select the President's Award winner? Spend a little time with Candace Evilsizor, and you'll see why she was chosen. The fact that she has a 3.99 GPA doesn't even scratch the surface. She exudes an abundance of warmth and compassion, informed by her work on migration issues in the U.S. and abroad. "The stories of suffering and of human strength that I've heard and encountered have been unbelievable," she says.

Evilsizor has clearly been moved by these experiences. And she places great emphasis on human relationships, both empathizing with people and learning from them.

The President's Award is the highest honor for undergraduate students at American University, and it's given to a truly exceptional graduating senior. It comes with a $1,000 contribution, which Evilsizor will use to continue her Arabic language studies.

Supporting the Southwest

Evilsizor was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Her parents instilled in her a strong sense of social justice, and she broadened her horizons by traveling overseas. Though Evilsizor is Caucasian, she went to a predominantly Hispanic high school, and many of her classmates were undocumented immigrants. This led to her focus on immigration issues and helping refugees. As she was preparing for college, she regretted that some of her high school friends didn't have the same opportunities.

Yet through AU, Evilsizor had a built-in way to give back to her community and assist immigrants and refugees abroad. She was accepted into the prestigious Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program, where full scholarship money comes with an expectation to help underserved and under-resourced communities. "It's great because there's an accountability to stick to this," she says. "It feels like a vote of confidence from the university."

She's already active in this regard. Through her internship with the National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project, she devised a training program for high school counselors to help undocumented immigrant victims of crime. She's presented her training program to seven Phoenix-area high schools and more than 100 counselors statewide.

The World of Academia

Evilsizor says she's benefited from the wisdom of AU faculty. Early on, she was captivated by a class co-taught by physics professor Nathan Harshman and literature professor Richard Sha. "We would study the human brain and then read Frankenstein," she recalls. "That was my freshman year, and I was like, 'The world of academia awaits!'" Professor Christine Chin in the School of International Service is her primary mentor, helping her unpack the dynamics of transnational migration.

She was heavily involved with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. This gave her the chance to mentor AU classmates, including international students. "You watch them deal with the curveballs that life throws at them, because problems don't stop at American borders," she says.

Evilsizor studied abroad in both France and Morocco. In Paris, she frequented a market with mostly North and Sub-Saharan African vendors, and she pondered how immigrants affect their host societies through food. This formed the basis of her senior Honors capstone, in which she compared the prevalence of immigrant restaurants in Paris and Los Angeles. "I found very clearly that immigrant food has a much stronger presence in Los Angeles than in Paris," she says.

In May, she is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in international studies and a minor in French.

Cake, Coffee, and Soccer

Picture this scene. Evilsizor was in Lebanon spending time with an American friend. At 1:00 A.M., her friend got a call from a Syrian Kurdish family living down the street. Evilsizor and her friend were invited over to watch the U.S.-Ghana World Cup soccer game. Upon arrival, they found two entire families living in a one-room apartment. "There was also an old man sleeping in the corner, and I asked them, 'Is that your grandpa?' And they said, 'No, we don't know who he is, but he pays rent, so we let him stay here,'" Evilsizor recalls with a laugh. After 2:00 A.M., the family was still bringing the two Americans coffee and cake.

What did Evilsizor glean from all of this? Well, people love soccer pretty much everywhere. And it typifies the poverty and exorbitant rental rates spurred by the Syrian refugee crisis. But Evilsizor mentions something else: "The hospitality of the Arab world, and of refugees, is incredible. They put us to shame."

In the Middle East, Evilsizor has provided psychosocial support for women and children refugees. She describes this work as creating safe spaces for people to talk. "It's not like I was doing therapy, but I was helping facilitate an environment where stories could be shared." She's hoping to return to the region after graduation.

A Penchant to Explore

Evilsizor sometimes gets emotional while reflecting on her experiences, but she also maintains a healthy sense of humor. When not confronting seismic challenges like international migration and human rights, she has a few outlets. She seeks out obscure monuments and landmarks around Washington. And she's pushed herself physically, running a half marathon and riding her bike from campus to Mount Vernon.

It's a penchant for exploration. But Evilsizor also doesn't feel the need to map out her entire future. "The way that I've lived life, I've done what's in front of me to do," she says. "I'll do whatever comes next, and I try to do it well."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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newsId: 59CDADC4-5056-AF26-BEF34466B4C19301
Title: Emerging as a Young Leader in the Arts
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as SVA Theatre's Director.
Abstract: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as the Director of the SVA Theatre.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 01/15/2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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newsId: 6C04E0D9-DABA-87E8-31492CF8D9E60F06
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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newsId: CD6E4DA2-DCB6-68C6-7A58566F30E408CB
Title: Family Values Worth Cherishing
Author: Mike Rowan
Subtitle: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Abstract: To keep Larissa Gerstel’s legacy alive, her relatives are inspiring future generations at AU to follow in her footsteps.
Topic: Education & Teaching
Publication Date: 03/25/2014

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Film,Film and Media Arts,School of Communication,School of International Service,Career Center,Career Development
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