newsId: EDC84A46-5056-AF26-BEA6A4687C317F9C
Title: AU 2030: Catherine Stoodley
Author: Gregg Sangillo
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Abstract: Psychology professor explores the cerebellum’s role in cognitive development.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/21/2015
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The cerebellum is located at the bottom of the brain. And for many years, it was generally confined to the outskirts of academic discourse on cognitive neuroscience. But through her research, American University assistant professor Catherine Stoodley has discovered that the cerebellum should be front and center in understanding how the brain works.

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

Developmental Disorders

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

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

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

Research Hurdles and New Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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

A Career Launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Title: Professor Wins Department of Defense Grant
Author: Helen Dodson
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Abstract: Michael Robinson receives nearly $1.5 million to study topological methods for analyzing data in defense department grants.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 07/13/2015
Content:

AU’s math and statistics department has won a large share of nearly $1.5 million in defense department grants to study topological methods for analyzing data—a field that visualizes and examines the geometric structure and shape of data.

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

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

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

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

 

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newsId: 57D1D00A-5056-AF26-BE17BE30E06DDDFC
Title: The Role of Religion in Environmentalism
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: American University professor's book examines religious roots of the modern environmental movement.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 07/13/2015
Content:

Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change marked an historic event, but as American University Philosophy and Religion Associate Prof. Evan Berry points out, Christianity's ties with ecology are far from new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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newsId: E1D03A09-5056-AF26-BEC698A50C546F48
Title: Boardwalk Bound
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: AU alum Haely Jardas wins Miss DC and prepares for Miss America.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 07/01/2015
Content:

American University alum Haely Jardas had competed several times in the Miss District of Columbia pageant. And after entering this year's competition, she didn't know if she'd ever wear the crown. Yet with her "postmodern jukebox jazz" rendition of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space," Jardas won the talent award. And during the final moments, she gleaned from the judges' mannerisms that 2015 would be different. "They announced the first runner-up, and I looked over in the audience, and all of the judges were just grinning at me. And I was like, 'Oh gosh!'"

As Miss DC, Jardas will compete in the Miss America competition at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in September. Naturally, she's excited and honored to appear on the big stage.

Prolific Performer

Growing up in Fort Myers, Florida, Jardas was a tomboy and beauty pageants weren't on her radar. "Maybe halfway through high school, I remember I was doing a show. And our teacher said, 'Your costume has heels. You have to wear high heels.' And I said, 'What?' So, you start figuring it out," she recalls.

Yet stage performance runs in the family. Her father is a comedian, and he's also worked on the technical side of live theatre. Jardas started doing drama and show choir before attending an arts magnet high school.

At AU, Jardas was a prolific performer, involved in everything from Romeo and Juliet to Guys and DollsCara Gabriel, an assistant professor in the Department of Performing Arts, describes a hilarious, kind, down-to-earth person.

Gabriel directed her in the play Ubu Roi, and she observed how Jardas interacted with other students in an ensemble cast. "She was a very active participant, always contributing ideas. And people listened to her and people liked her. And, of course, she has great ideas because she's so funny and so bright."

At the suggestion of Linda Allison—a musician in residence and eventually her voice teacher—Jardas started competing in Miss DC in 2010. In 2013, she earned undergraduate degrees from AU in theatre and journalism (broadcast).

Advocacy Mission

Each contestant chooses a personal platform, and Jardas's cause is mental health. She's hoping to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, and she's already working with some Washington contacts on this initiative. For Jardas, this is a deeply personal issue.

During her undergraduate years, she started suffering from extreme anxiety. She'd get panic attacks and had difficulty finishing her classes. At one point, Jardas did what many Americans do: She looked up her symptoms on WebMD and became overwhelmed with sheer terror. "I had convinced myself that I had a brain tumor," she says.

Jardas then talked with a classmate who had suffered from a similar condition. "I asked her about it, and she started describing what it was. And I just started crying, because I knew that's exactly what was going on," she remembers. Her classmate set her at ease, and encouraged Jardas to make a doctor's appointment.

Though Jardas says she'll never eradicate her problems completely, she's learned to manage them. "From what I've found with my experience with anxiety—and all of the stressors and the triggers and the panic attacks that I've experienced—is that I am now a pro at handling stress. I would challenge you to try to freak me out about something," she says.

What it Takes

AU alum Jen Corey won Miss DC in 2009 and subsequently made it into the top 10 at Miss America. In 2010, the year that Corey relinquished her title, she met Jardas. "I told her that night that she could be Miss DC. I saw something in her; she had the personality and the talent," Corey recalls. Corey and Sonya Gavankar, another AU alumna and former Miss DC, have served as mentors to Jardas.

Corey is now a board member of the Miss DC pageant. She says that the criteria for Miss DC and Miss America are slightly different. "For what we look for in DC, we want a really intelligent person. A girl who can hold her own doing appearances in Washington, D.C. with former presidents and ambassadors and members of Congress," she says.

In the current Miss America scoring system, the "beauty" portion—lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit) and evening gown—actually counts for less than talent and the onstage question. That onstage question this year is worth a whopping 20 percent. "What that says to us is that Miss America is looking for someone who can think on her feet, and who can speak clearly in 30 seconds," Jardas says. "These questions are all over the place. They might ask you about Deflategate or Caitlyn Jenner."

Opening Doors

These pageants create myriad career and educational opportunities for contestants. Corey earned $20,000 in scholarship money, which helped pay for her MBA at University of Maryland. She adds, "Every job I've had since I graduated college, I got from someone I met while I was Miss DC." Corey currently works in business development for the McChrystal Group, an Alexandria-based firm co-founded by retired four-star military general Stanley McChrystal.

Jardas is now statehood initiatives agency program manager for the D.C. government. She met her boss, D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (also an AU alum), when he spoke to Miss DC contestants about statehood. She's considering using her Miss DC scholarship money on a master's degree in communications.

"We'll see where I am at the end of this year. I always think it's funny when I look back at previous plans I've had," she says. "There are just so many people I'm going to meet, and so many doors that are going to be opened." Her career—like her life—may be better off left unplanned.

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Title: Who Claims The Past?
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle:
Abstract: New Book Raises Questions about Stolen French-Jewish Archives
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 06/29/2015
Content:

The Hollywood blockbuster film "The Monuments Men" tells the story of heroes who retrieve stolen art masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II. Yet, Hollywood renderings aside, many heroes who rescue artifacts in the chaos of war are complex figures. 

American University History Professor Lisa Leff's new nonfiction book "The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust" tells the story of one such interesting, complicated character, Jewish historian Zosa Szajkowski (Shy-KOV-ski). 

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Szajkowski gathered up tens of thousands of documents from Nazi buildings in Berlin, and later, public archives and private synagogues in France, and brought them all, illicitly, to New York. 

Szajkowski intrigued Leff. Why did he steal? Was this an unethical act or a desperate bid to save Jewish culture from wholesale destruction in the Holocaust? 

From humble beginnings to refugee scholar

Szajkowski's contributions to Jewish scholarship, based in part on documents he stole from France, allowed for new ways of thinking about Jewish emancipation, economic and social modernization, and the rise of modern anti-Semitism. His story unfolds as the balance of power in the Jewish world shifted from Europe to America and Israel.

Born into poverty in Russian Poland in 1911, Szajkowski was a self-made man who became an intellectual and journalist in 1930s Paris, and then a scholar. In 1941, when Szajkowski made a harrowing escape from war-ravaged France, he brought the stolen documents to New York.  

"The rumors about Szajkowski that circulate in the archives today tend to cast his story as either a heroic tale of rescue or a sordid tale of theft," Leff said. "His story is a little bit of both, and one can't ignore the motivations of the scholars, librarians and others surrounding Szajkowski at the time."

At the end of the war, Judaica librarians in America had come to think of their libraries as saviors and preservers of a European Jewish patrimony that had barely escaped total destruction, Leff explains. Seeing their own work within the framework of rescue led them to perceive Szajkowski as a rescuer as well. 

"The buyers shared a desire to save these precious remnants of the European Jewish past, left behind on a continent where six million Jews had just been killed by the Nazis," Leff says. "The scholars who read Szajkowski's studies, based largely on the documents he had stolen, saw the treasures as offering an unparalleled window into the history that led to that catastrophe."  

'Act of salvage'

Although Szajkowski was gainfully employed as an archivist, he continued to steal beyond the post-war period. He was first denounced as an archive thief in Strasbourg, France, in 1961, after he was caught stealing from that city's archives. In 1978 he was found dead. 

"The week before, the police had caught Szajkowski stealing rare pamphlets from the New York Public Library," Leff said. "Facing not only criminal prosecution, but also the certain end of his career as a historian and an archivist, Szajkowski took his own life by drowning."

Still, the view of Szajkowski as a savior of French-Jewish history remains. 

"As awareness of 'The Archive Thief' grows, many are responding to Szajkowski's story with deep empathy and even a degree of admiration," Leff says. "Yet it's clear that the story remains unresolved. Librarians in France, the United States, and Israel are now thinking about what should be done with the papers Szajkowski removed from France." 

Through Szajkowski's story, Leff turns on its head the idea that archives are monuments to state power. On the contrary, Leff says, the picture is messier, as some archives are assembled by the weak in an act of salvage, or in desperate scrambles of preservation.

Debate over whether the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archives (currently in U.S. possession since 2003) should go to Iraq or to Israel, where a large community of Iraqi Jews are now exiled, shows the struggle over Jewish archives held in places where Jews no longer live, and the deep need that refugee groups feel to preserve the remnants of the past they left behind.

"Had Szajkowski not done what he did, where would we be today?" Leff says. "It's entirely possible that scholars would not have been able to reconstruct French Jewish history without access to the sources he brought to light."

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Title: Science Winning Streak Continues at AU
Author: Patty Housman
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Abstract: Students win prestigious grants for scientific research.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 06/29/2015
Content:

It was another banner spring awards season for College of Arts and Sciences students, who won many of our nation’s most prestigious science scholarships and fellowships: the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, Fulbright and National Science Foundation grants, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Scholarship, Boren and Killam Fellowships, Udall Scholarships, and a Gilman International Scholarship.  

“The caliber of this year's recipients is exceptional, and so is the breadth of their interests,” said Paula Warrick, director of the office of merit awards. She pointed out that AU students this year have won awards in areas ranging from volcanology to materials science to mangrove swamp conservation. 

“This speaks volumes to the intellectual curiosity of our students, as well as the range of topics that they are able to explore through their courses and faculty-supervised research here at American University,” she said.  

 

Tara Shreve (BS mathematics ’16)
Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

Shreve received a Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Shreve plans to use the scholarship to help her pursue a PhD in geophysics, with the goal of conducting international research in remote sensing techniques and teaching at the university level. 

"Tara Shreve is a highly effective undergraduate researcher, who is both competent in her subject knowledge and comfortable extending beyond,” said Michael Robinson, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics. “She is extremely motivated, and makes extremely good use of scientific opportunities that are available to her."  

At AU Shreve has been an active member of the Honors Program, Women in Science group, and the Catalyst magazine editing staff. She served as a teaching assistant in the Mathematics and Statistics Department and as a research assistant in the Physics Department. She also interned in the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and spent the spring 2015 semester in an intensive language program in France and the summer in Germany with the the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).  

 

Starr Brainard (BS environmental science ’14)
Fulbright US Student Scholar

Brainard was awarded a Fulbright scholarship, designed to promote mutual understanding between United States citizens and people of other nations. She will use the scholarship to conduct research comparing the productivity of permaculture agricultural systems to conventional agriculture systems in Alberta, Canada.  

“Academically, Starr is one of the top students I've taught at American University,” said Karen Knee, assistant professor of environmental science. “What sets her apart is her sincere love of learning for its own sake, her passion for environmental issues, and her willingness to take intellectual and personal risks. Her commitment to doing high quality work without being too much of a perfectionist is an unusually mature attitude that will serve her well next year, as well as in her planned career as a landscape architect or environmental researcher.”  

 

Susan Vulpas (MS environmental science ’15)
Fulbright US Student Scholar

Vulpas won both a Fulbright scholarship and a Boren fellowship this year, and accepted the Fulbright. She will focus her work on mangrove deforestation in Java, Indonesia, where deforestation reported rates vary widely. Vulpas will work with local groups to conduct forest surveys and identify conservation hotspots. She hopes that her study will provide a scientific basis for future policy measures to conserve the coastal ecosystem.  

“I am awed by Susie. She is an intellectual sponge and is wildly curious about everything,” said Kim. “She is as energetic as anyone I have known and is always up for a challenge. And when you add the fact that she is a polyglot, it’s not surprising that she was selected for these awards.” 

Last spring, Vulpas interned with the US Department of State in the Bureau of Energy Resources. She was a formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali.  

 

Caroline Vill (BS biology ’17)
NOAA Earnest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship
Killam Fellowship

Vill received a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings scholarship, as well as a Killam Fellowship this year. She accepted the Hollings scholarship, which is designed to increase training in oceanic and atmospheric science, research, technology, and education. The scholarship includes an internship in the summer of 2016, where Vill will work in a NOAA lab.  

Vill has also interned at Environment America and tutored for the Mathematics and Statistics Department. She is currently conducting research on sea grasses under the guidance of Kim. “I am really proud of Caroline. She has worked really hard in her school work as well as her research in my lab,” he says. “She is passionate about the environment, and with the NOAA-Hollings Scholarship, she will be able to explore the intersection between her two interests—biology and mathematics—and help develop new tools to better manage our marine resources.” 

In addition, Vill will complete a Killam Fellowship in Canada at the University of Ottawa next spring. She plans use her time at the University of Ottawa to build additional research experience and deepen her coursework in biostatistics and marine biology. 

 

Anthony Torres (BS environmental science and political science ’16)
Udall Scholarship

The US Congress established the Udall Foundation as an independent executive branch agency in 1992 to honor Morris K. Udall's 30 years of service in the US House of Representatives. The scholarships are awarded annually to students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care.  

This year, Torres was one of two AU students who received an Udall Scholarship. He and Dyani Brown (BA public communication ’17) were among 50 students across the country who received the award. 

At AU, Torres has held a number of leadership roles related to environmental justice. He was active in organizing the Fossil Free AU Divestment Campaign, and he worked on environmental justice projects in the SPA Leadership Program. He was recently selected to be a member of the SustainUS youth delegation to the UN Climate Change Treaty Negotiations in Paris and an inaugural participant for the US Contemporary Institute of German Studies (at Johns Hopkins University) Transatlantic Exchange Program.  

"Anthony's record of involvement and leadership on environmental issues displays a clear sense of commitment and purpose,” said Joan Echols, associate director of the AU Office of Merit Awards. “He is informed and articulate on climate change and energy issues and how these intersect with environmental justice.”  

 

James Schwabacher (BS chemistry ’15)
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. 

While at AU Schwabacher took on multiple research projects, working in campus labs and National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Germany and Louisiana. This research built his resume as a scholar of nano-scale objects. 

“James is already developing his profile as a scholar in a way that is mature and forward thinking,” said Matthew Hartings, assistant professor of chemistry. “By the time he wrote is NSF proposal, he had a very coherent vision for how to best continue his training as a graduate student. More than anything, I think that the NSF award panel recognized James's foresight and vision for his scientific future.”  

 

Science Award Winners and Runner-Ups 

Jessica Balerna (BS environmental science ’17), Udall Scholarship Honorable Mention 

Meaghan Cuddy (BS environmental science ’15), Fulbright US Scholar Finalist 

Natalie Konerth (BS applied mathematics ’17), Goldwater Honorable Mention 

Chenoa Lee (BA international studies and environmental science ’15), Congressional Bundestag, Congressional Black Caucus Scholarship, Gilman Scholarship 

Valerie Rennoll (BS audio technology and physics ’16), Goldwater Honorable Mention 

Jennifer Verniero (BS mathematics and physics ’14), National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program 

Eric Vignola (BS computer science ’17), Killam Fellowship 

Susie Vulpas (MS environmental science ’15), Fulbright US Scholar, Boren Fellowship, Critical Language Scholarship

Tags: Biology,Biology Dept,Chemistry,Chemistry Dept,College of Arts and Sciences,Computer Science Dept,Environmental Science,Environmental Studies,Mathematics,Mathematics and Statistics,Mathematics and Statistics Dept,Physics,Science,Students
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Title: Books for Pleasure
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: CAS professors provide suggestions for summer reading.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 06/22/2015
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With the intensity of life from September through the end of May, you probably have little time to read for pleasure. But summer has arrived, and you may finally be able to crack open a new book. You can explore new intellectual terrain, or simply devour a fun beach read. For general-interest book recommendations, we've turned to professors in the College of Arts and Sciences at American University. In edited sections below, they make their pitches for worthwhile additions to your physical or electronic bookshelf.

Nathan Harshman

Professor and Department Chair, Physics

Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

By Siobhan Roberts (2015)

Genius at Play book cover.

John Horton Conway is one of the most famous living mathematicians, and he is renowned for classifying symmetries, discovering new types of infinities, and inventing and studying games, including the enormously influential Game of Life. He is almost as famous for his barefoot, slovenly, eccentric shenanigans. This book, Siobhan Roberts' second biography of a famous geometer, aims at making a general audience understand the beauty of mathematics. Unlike so much popular math and science writing, it doesn't seek to justify Conway's impact by describing applications of his work to solving the world's problems or relating it to new faddish names for old ideas. It lets the drama and art of true mathematical genius speak for itself. If you liked A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, check this out.

 

Stef Woods

Instructor, American Studies Program

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More

By Janet Mock (2014)

Redefining Realness book cover.

For summer reads, I like a book that I pick up and don't put down until the last click of my Kindle. I regard it as a bonus if a lighter summer read is well-written and thought-provoking. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock not only is a great summer read, but it also contains powerful messages that I'll be thinking about well into the fall.

I had first heard about Janet Mock's award-winning and bestselling memoir when she came to speak on campus this spring. Mock is a writer by trade, so her words are eloquent and relatable. What I find far more impressive, though, is the courage that she exhibits in sharing her experiences as a trans woman of color. Mock discusses the many barriers that she has faced, while also recognizing her privileges. She is an inspiring role model and activist, yet reminds readers that her story is hers alone. Mock doesn't speak for the millions of people who are marginalized and subjected to violence because of their gender identity. I appreciated that Mock poses the same questions to her readers that she answered for herself. Specifically, she asks, "Who am I, really? How does that answer contribute to the world?" Redefining Realness encourages us to be our most authentic and compassionate selves.

 

Sarah Irvine Belson

Dean, School of Education, Teaching, and Health

The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho (1988)

The Alchemist book cover.

If you've not read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, I highly recommend picking it up. On the surface, it's the story of a journey—great for any summertime trip. But on a deeper level, it is a story of searching for meaning in the simplest of things. As the main character evolves over the course of his travels, we see the deeper understandings of what things in life truly hold value and how many things we can leave behind. There is a little magic in the book as well, but there are many ways to understand what actually happens. Every time I've read this book I've been on an airplane, about to take on something that I didn't think I was ready for. This book makes me feel brave. What I also love about The Alchemist is that it is completely up to interpretation. There is no one way to react to the text, and my own experiences with the book have changed every time I've read it.

 

Matthew Hartings

Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Proof: The Science of Booze

By Adam Rogers (2014)

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

By Amy Stewart (2013)

Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail

By Dave Arnold (2014)

Summer is that rare season when friends and family stay late into the night and we don't worry about getting the kids to bed on time. There are fireflies to be caught and marshmallows to be roasted, of course. A night at our house is always framed by the food and drink that we prepare. This year, I've decided that I want to learn how to craft a really good cocktail. And, I plan on using our dinner guests as willing guinea pigs.

Because I am a chemist (and because I am utterly captivated by the chemistry that goes on in the kitchen), I tend to turn to "science of cooking" books whenever I want to hone a new skill. There are three books that I have been absolutely delighted with during my cocktail research sessions.

Proof book cover.

Adam Rogers, an editor at Wired, has written a book that details some general science behind how different kinds of booze are produced. Proof is an exploration of the science (and history) of how various kinds of alcoholic drinks came to be. It is a great first step for me into the craft of the cocktail. The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart takes a long sip from the gardens and fields of the world to discuss how certain plants bring character to the drinks that we love. And, finally, Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold goes into great detail on the art of crafting a good cocktail. This book, which effortlessly brings up chemistry and physics and statistics in ways that I (a chemical educator) am envious of, is a delight to read from start to finish. Whether you want to make the perfect Manhattan, work on washing your liquor with milk, or try your hand at using a centrifuge, this book captures the playful and intellectual nature of making the perfect drink.

 

Despina Kakoudaki

Associate Professor, Literature; Director, Humanities Lab

The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)

The Wind Up Girl book cover.

The Windup Girl is an expansive novel, full of action and insight and set in a future that is both distant and easily recognizable. In this 23rd century world, genetically modified foods have replaced traditional crops, and this has resulted in worldwide political upheavals. Corporations fight over heirloom seed banks and countries struggle to keep their people safe from new food-related diseases. Conventional fruits and vegetables are all extinct, fossil fuels are over, machines are operated by wind and the muscle power of people and animals, especially elephants and other mega-beasts. The novel's vibrant descriptions of this world will make you so happy to bite into a summer peach or tomato again. But it will also make you aware of how we use our energy sources now, as if we have infinite time and infinite resources. What remains easily recognizable, despite these differences, is the function of political intrigue, war, and injustice, as refugees, migrants, and artificial people fight to survive in this world.

The "windup girl" of the title is an artificial woman named Emiko, abandoned by her owner and now scraping by as an illegal resident in Thailand. She's always endangered and yet always recognizably human in her desire to live. Paolo Bacigalupi's writing is eloquent about the present and hauntingly prescient about the future. His short stories about water shortages in Pump Six, and his latest novel, The Water Knife, strike a new painful chord given the current droughts in California and deluges in other parts of the world.

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Title: 2015 Israel Writing Award
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Abstract: Martha Cramer '15 is the winner of the Israel Writing Award
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 06/19/2015
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Congratulations to Martha Cramer, BA international studies and history, winner of the 2015 Center for Israel Studies Israel Writing Award.

Cramer’s paper, “Identity in Question: The Development of the Hybridized Identities of Second and Third Generation Beta Israel,” examined the multiple identities of contemporary Ethiopian Israelis, called Beta Israel, who now number 135,000 and comprise about 2% of the Jewish population. 

“As an African American I wanted to explore how second and third generation Beta Israel, a minority population, have integrated into wider Jewish society,” Cramer explained. The Beta Israel, judged by some Israeli rabbis to have descended from the biblical tribe of Dan, were brought to Israel in several waves beginning in the late 1970s, including two airlifts, Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.

Cramer first heard about and became interested in this population as a student in professor Michael Brenner’s History of Israel class. “I was fascinated by the history of the country. So often, we only read and hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is so much more to the story, and I am glad that I had the privilege to learn about many of the different parts that make up Israel.” 

Cramer’s winning paper was written for an independent study for professor Pamela Nadell, director of the Jewish Studies Program.

According to Cramer’s research, the second and third generations of the Beta Israel consider themselves to have an identity primarily comprised of three parts. In some order, they consider themselves to be Jewish, Ethiopian, and Israeli. Additionally, some young Ethiopian Israelis consider blackness a part of their identities, while others prefer to focus on their Jewishness or membership in Israeli society.

Cramer graduated magna cum laude and was recently inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. While attending AU she was an intern for the U.S. House of Representatives, where she has accepted a permanent position. She has always been passionate about social justice and her long term plan includes law school and using the law to protect vulnerable populations. 

 

Israel Writing Award

The annual writing award was created in 2008 by literature Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew, in honor of Benjamin and Eva Wolpe Reinkel and in memory of Harry Rinkel. Submissions range from poetry and personal essays to lengthy research papers, and are judged through a blind review process. Said Michael Brenner, Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and director of the AU Center for Israel Studies, “we are always impressed by the variety of submissions which reveal the complexity of Israel: its people, its place in the larger world, its history, and its future.”

Submissions for the 2016 Israel Writing Award will be accepted in spring 2016.

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Title: Renaissance and Revolutions
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Abstract: Students in the Renaissance and Revolutions course completed assignments at the National Gallery of Art.
Topic: Humanities
Publication Date: 06/15/2015
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Professor April Shelford’s Renaissance and Revolutions class visited the National Gallery of Art (NGA) for two gallery assignments this spring.

Renaissance and Revolutions is a course in the university’s General Education curriculum; it introduces students to European history from the Italian Renaissance to the French Revolution. In spring 2015, Shelford created new gallery assignments tailored to her lecture course that focus on the NGA’s permanent collections in Italian Renaissance and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French art. As part of each assignment, students took photos at the museum.

Seeing works of art from the periods students are studying makes history immediate and concrete in unforgettable ways.

For example, students read the letters and journal of two Florentine merchant families to learn about the Italian Renaissance. After class discussion, the students went to the NGA for a museum scavenger hunt. They located ceramics and small sculptures that the people they’ve read about could purchase for their own homes, found the kind of portraits they could commission of themselves and their loved ones, and saw the sculpture they might encounter in their parish churches or the city’s cathedral. For the period leading up to the French Revolution, students located a bronze figurine of Louis XIV depicted as a Roman emperor; portraits of the hated mistress of Louis XV, the comtesse du Barry, and the equally controversial queen of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette; exquisite furnishings that graced the salons of aristocratic and wealthy bourgeois families; and genre paintings of the much humbler people who served them.

Shelford encourages students not just to appreciate the beauty and craft of what they see, but to consider the paintings, sculpture, objets d’art, and furniture as social documents: What do they reveal about the values of people in the past? What image of him- or herself did the sitter for a portrait hope to project? What do these objects reveal about status, gender hierarchy, political power, religious piety? How can the historian use them as sources of information? Equally important, what do these visuals sources not reveal, because every source of information about the past encountered in the course—from journals to religious tracts, letters to plays—has its limitations.

In-class discussion of these assignments generated great enthusiasm and Shelford plans to include the gallery assignments whenever she teaches Renaissance and Revolutions in the future. She’s delighted that her students learn so much about history from these assignments, and is even more pleased when a student that visited the museum for the first time tells her how much he or she enjoyed the experience—and plans to return.

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

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

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

Thus, Peeled Snacks was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Title: CAS Alumna Returns to AU for Alumni in the KNOW: Women in Leadership
Author: Nina Cooperman, SPA/MPA '15
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Abstract: Virginia Louloudes, CAS/MA ’84, reflects on an AU experience that set the stage for her success.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 03/12/2015
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Virginia Louloudes, CAS/MA '84, received her degree at AU when the arts management program was just beginning. Since then, she has gone on to become a prominent leader in the arts management world, serving as the executive director at Alliance of Resident Theatres in New York (A.R.T./New York). Louloudes was a panelist at this month's Alumni in the KNOW: Women in Leadership event, where she shared her thoughts on the career landscape for women in the arts and gave advice to current students. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Title: Emerging as a Young Leader in the Arts
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as SVA Theatre's Director.
Abstract: Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, leveraged his interdisciplinary studies at AU to become an emerging player in the arts as the Director of the SVA Theatre.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 01/15/2015
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As the director of the School of Visual Arts' SVA Theatre in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, Adam Natale, CAS/BA '03, has had some incredible opportunities – from hosting events featuring Oprah and Beyonce in 2013, to moderating a Q&A with actor David Duchovny in 2014, and finishing the year with a special 25th anniversary screening of Batman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Title: Alumni Board Member Uses Family Business Experience to Assist Others
Author: Patricia Rabb
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Abstract: Lee Tannenbaum actively supports family-owned business
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/12/2014
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"I guess you can say that I came to AU in 1976 and never left," says Lee Tannenbaum, CAS/BA '80, about his ties to AU. "A college counselor told me how beautiful the campus was and felt that I would be at home there since I had grown up in the suburbs," he adds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

***********

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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