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Title: Meet New Anthropology Professor Annie Claus
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Abstract: A Q&A with new anthropology professor Annie Claus.
Topic: Social Sciences
Publication Date: 08/22/2014
Content:

Annie Claus is a new assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. 

Degrees
PhD and MPhil anthropology and environmental studies, Yale University
MA environmental anthropology and certificate urban and regional planning, University of Hawai’i

BA anthropology and Japanese studies, University of Iowa

 

Areas of research
Conservation and development, ocean studies, political ecology, Okinawa and Japan  


What initially sparked your interest in anthropology?
“My English teacher slipped a Zora Neale Hurston book on American folklore into my hands when I was in high school, and I’ve been jotting my observations down in a notebook I keep in my pocket ever since.” 


What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
“I worked in a conservation organization for a couple of years, and became curious about what was happening on the other side of projects we implemented. Being an anthropologist allowed me to investigate how people made conservation a meaningful part of their lives.”  


What brought you to AU?
“The strong presence of policy, activist, and research communities make DC a vibrant place to live and work. At AU there are so many opportunities for students to learn experientially, through internships and study abroad, which in turn creates a rich learning environment in the classroom.”  


What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
“At AU, I hope to become a resource for the community both as a scholar of Japan and environmental anthropology.”

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Title: Meet New Biology Professor John Bracht
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Abstract: A Q&A with new biology professor John Bracht.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 08/22/2014
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John Bracht is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology.  


Degrees
PhD biology, University of California, San Diego
BS biology, New Mexico Tech



Areas of Research

Genomics, cell biology, microbiology, epigenetics 


What initially sparked your interest in biology?

“I spent my teenage years in the mountains of Northern New Mexico (at over 8,000 feet elevation), and many hours in the summer wading in local ponds outdoors catching frogs and salamanders. At some point I became obsessed with cataloging the different species of protozoa (single-celled organisms) from local ponds and streams. I was intrigued by the way living things are able to strive towards their goals, and wondered (and still wonder!) about the molecular basis for this phenomenon.”  


What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?

“As a postdoc, I worked on some of those same protozoa I’d examined as a teenager in New Mexico, and I discovered that they chemically modify their DNA. These DNA modifications, occurring on the DNA molecule, but not altering its sequence, are known as epigenetic modifications. In humans and plants, epigenetic modifications alter gene activity, but the pond-water organisms I study use the same epigenetic marks for a totally different process. Not only does this expand what we know of epigenetic modifications, but also it gives us a new way to search for drugs that might alter these epigenetic processes. This is important because epigenetic mistakes have been increasingly recognized as central to many cancers, so learning more about how epigenetics works, and how to fix the errors that occur, has great potential for chemotherapy or cancer prevention.”  


What brought you to AU?

“It was clear the moment I first began investigating AU that this is a place where really exciting research is happening, and that the Biology Department has a very wide range of research projects underway. I found a fantastic, collaborative, fun research environment, and I wanted to be a part of that. I found that my research interests echo and strengthen what others are doing, and vice versa. And the AU students are highly engaged with the learning process—the teaching environment is excellent.”  


What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?

“My postdoctoral work, uncovering the epigenetic modifications of DNA in protozoa, answered one question but also revealed several new puzzles. For example, the protozoa I study don’t have the standard gene set that makes epigenetic modifications on DNA, so something fundamentally different, and unknown, must be involved. While at AU I’d like to find the answer to that mystery. I also want to work on cancer drug discovery using single-celled organisms. And I also want to spend significant time teaching and mentoring, training the next generation of thinkers who are destined to be future leaders. This is yet another reason why working in Washington, DC, and AU in particular, is exciting.”

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Title: A Home Away From Home
Author: Gregg Sangillo
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Abstract: First-year students flock to living-learning programs.
Topic: Student Life
Publication Date: 08/20/2014
Content:

A Growing Trend

They're moving to a new city. They're living on their own. They're entering a world of academic rigor. In a nutshell, each student is embarking on a brand new life. As incoming freshmen gear up for the college experience, it's hard to overstate the life changes in store for them.

Yet American University has fostered special environments where like-minded, high-achieving students can live and learn together. An increasing number of AU students are enrolling in living-learning communities, such as the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Program (FDDS), the newly revamped AU Honors Program, and the Three-Year Scholars bachelor's degree programs.

About one-third of all undergraduate applicants showed interest in these three programs, and many students submitted between eight to 14 essays as part of the process. While students have historically been invited to join the Honors Program, the number of applicants now dwarfs the number of available spaces. Some 2,400 students applied for FDDS, tripling the number from last year.

The university subsequently launched two new programs: AU Scholars and the Community-Based Research Scholars (CRBS). Now almost 70 percent of AU's class of 2018 will have the chance to participate in a living-learning program.

Opportunities Abound

Shyheim Snead is an incoming freshman in FDDS. Just before Welcome Week, he explained the appeal of this prestigious program: "One thing that stood out to me was the success rate of the students." The program has enabled scholars to visit with a number of dignitaries, such as Colin Powell. "You meet all types of people, icons in the country, to help you connect with your goals," Snead says. AU covers full tuition, room, board, fees, and books for FDDS students, as long as they maintain a minimum 3.2 grade point average.

AU Scholars is a program for first-year students. Scholars will take an Honors seminar and intellectually engaging supplementary modules. Those modules encourage scholars to collaborate with each other while pursuing controversial, historical, and societal questions. "These courses are based on what you are interested in, and that's why this was compelling to me," says new AU Scholar Luke Theuma.

The nascent Community-Based Research Scholars program is aimed at first-year students committed to forging partnerships with community agencies and organizations, in order to make research-informed contributions. Students in this program took part in this year's Freshman Service Experience (FSE).

A Range of Emotions

First-year AU students appear eager and enthusiastic about starting anew. "I feel like there are just so many new opportunities that I'll be able to have," says Meenal Goyal, who is in the Community-Based Research Scholars program. "I'm almost pressing the reset button on my life and getting to start all over."

But there is a process of acclimation and a fear of the unknown. Students describe a range of emotions as they descend on the nation's capital. "I think I can speak for a lot of students when I say that we are all nervous and excited, and we're simultaneously terrified and thrilled," says Theuma.

Yet many AU programs, such as living-leaning communities, help ease the transition for apprehensive students. "I think just coming into American as a Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar, you have that kind of community feeling and you're automatically entering a family," says Snead.

"I'm really excited to have roommates who have similar interests," says KT Buckler, part of Community-Based Research Scholars. "We can have really intellectual conversations about what we're learning, and get other people's perspectives," adds incoming AU Scholar Abi VanPelt.

Unique Backstories

While living-learning programs can be cohesive, they also draw from a diverse talent pool. Students obviously possess their own unique backstories. And even at a young age, many of them have already demonstrated a commitment to public service.

Theuma was born on the island nation of Malta, lived in places like New Orleans and Minneapolis, and eventually settled in Des Moines, Iowa. His international experience has had an impact on his college plans: He's hoping to major in international studies, with potential minors in either Russian or Mandarin Chinese languages.

Buckler is from Marin County, California, and she was immersed in community service in high school. She got involved in an organization that raised money for a girls' boarding school in Afghanistan. "I have a huge passion for girls' education and human rights in general," says Buckler, who will major in international studies.

Goyal, a psychology major, comes from Hudson, New Hampshire. While in high school, she volunteered at a nursing home and played card games with some of the residents.

Snead was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The FDDS mission—supporting students dedicated to assisting underserved communities—is one Snead has fully embraced. In high school, he worked with the anti-poverty organization buildOn. He's tutored young students and helped out at food pantries and community gardens.

Both of VanPelt's parents served in the Coast Guard, and her father was involved in the cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. She's an international studies major now, and she's contemplating a future of service in either the Coast Guard Reserve or the Peace Corps.

Incoming AU Scholar Zoey Salsbury took a trip with her Girl Scouts troop to Costa Rica last summer. During their stay, they lived on a sustainable ranch and repainted a local school. Salsbury, who hails from Seattle, will major in political science.

Home at AU

Even before the beginning of classes, some living-learning students have made meaningful connections here. This summer, VanPelt started helping out as a manager for the AU wrestling team. Theuma already got to know plenty of students through orientation and a Facebook group for the incoming AU freshman class. "The people, honestly, are what made the school worth it for me," says Theuma. "They were the kinds of people I could see myself spending a significant portion of the next four years with. So, ultimately, that's why I chose AU."

Beyond the living-learning programs, AU continues to be a popular destination. One-third of this year's freshman class is comprised of students admitted early decision.

Tags: AU Scholars,College of Arts and Sciences,Community-Based Research Scholars,Frederick Douglass Scholars Program,Media Relations,School of International Service,School of Public Affairs,Undergraduate Students,University Honors Program,Featured News
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Title: Come Celebrate the Arts at AU
Author: Patty Housman
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Abstract: Fall for the Arts takes place on September 20 in Katzen Arts Center.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 08/15/2014
Content:

Have you ever wanted to join a band, perform in a Shakespeare play, or become a landscape photographer for a day? If so, you’ll have your chance at the College of Arts and Sciences’ annual Fall for the Arts celebration, held this year on September 20 at the Katzen Arts Center.  

Each year, Fall for the Arts brings together neighbors, students, faculty, and friends through a day devoted to the arts. The event features nearly 20 workshops and sessions on acting, music, writing, and visual art, as well as a behind-the-scene tour of the museum and surprise performances throughout the day.  

This year’s workshops include Drawing in the Italian Renaissance, No-Fear Shakespeare, Fundamentals of Color, Writing the 4-Chord Song, and many more. Participants will learn how to age creatively, use acting methods to improve public speaking, and unlock their inner playwright. Children can build their very own cabinets of curiosity, learn how to interpret musical recipes, and experience the 13 movements of Schumann’s Scenes from a Childhood.  

Reception and Auction

The day concludes with an early evening reception in the Katzen Arts Center and an art auction featuring 34 items from the estate of prominent art collector Marc Moyens. Auction works include paintings, sculptures, and mixed media pieces from artists including James Bumgardner, Alan Stone, Maureen McCabe, and Carlos Gomez Bal, among many others.  

When H. Marc Moyens founded Gallery Marc in 1969, he quickly became a central figure in the Washington, DC, arts world. Gallery Marc was part of the District's first "gallery row" on P Street Northwest, establishing Moyens as a serious arts collector and one of the first major gallery owners in the city. He later opened Gallery K with his partner Komei Wachi in 1975, which bucked current trends by focusing on photorealism and surrealism at a time when the Washington Color School was favored. Upon his death in April 2003, Moyens' collection contained nearly 2,500 pieces, encompassing art from New York, California, and all around the world. 

Paul Richard, in his Washington Post review of the H. Marc Moyens Collection at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1969, hit the nail on the head when he described the works as "realistic spooky things that have the originality of nightmares." Richard went on to note that "Moyens' taste is at its best when it is at its weirdest."  

Details and Ticket Information 

Fall for the Arts is a fundraiser for the arts at American University. All proceeds benefit the arts at AU. It is open to the public, local residents, patrons of the arts, parents of AU students, and the entire AU community. Tickets are $25 and $10 for students and those under 18. For workshop schedules, online tickets, and auction information, visit the Fall for the Arts website.

Tags: Art Dept,Art History,Arts Management,Arts Management Pgm,Arts, Fine,Arts, Performing,College of Arts and Sciences,Dance,Museums,Music,Theatre and Music Theatre,Performing Arts Dept
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Title: 2014 Writer as Witness Colloquium
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Abstract: The featured book is The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 08/15/2014
Content:

Brooke Gladstone, author of The Influencing Machine, will discuss her work with AU students on September 3 as part of the 17th annual Writer as Witness Colloquium in Bender Arena. 

Sponsored by the Department of Literature and the College Writing Program, this event gives students the opportunity to discuss a common text and meet with its author.  

Classmates will discuss The Influencing Machine and write about the book in College Writing courses. The College Writing Program and the Campus Store are sponsoring an essay contest to honor the best writing inspired by the community text. Essays must be submitted by Tuesday, November 11 and the top prize receives $200. 

 

About Brooke Gladstone's The Influencing Machine 

In The Influencing Machine, Gladstone's incisive analysis of the media—its history, its controversies, and its technological transformation—is presented largely through illustration by alternative cartoonist Josh Neufeld whose visual rhetoric conveys the complexities of Gladstone's critique. But if this is a sort of comic book, it's one with "zest and brains—and it just might help a reader understand the brave new world" (The New Yorker). Gladstone's research is comprehensive, but her analysis leaves room for readers to consider the nature of bias and power. Finally, The Influencing Machine invites us to reflect on our own responsibility to shape our world(s). 

Co-host of NPR's On the Media and senior editor of All Things Considered, Brooke Gladstone is also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, a National Press Club Award, and an Overseas Press Club Award. Among her other accomplishments, she was an NPR Moscow-based reporter, its first media reporter, and the senior editor of Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.  

Biographical information from www.onthemedia.org.

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Title: Art Auction in the AU Museum
Author: Jamie McCrary
Subtitle:
Abstract: Fall for the Arts auction features artwork from the Estate of H. Marc Moyens.
Topic: Arts
Publication Date: 08/15/2014
Content:

When H. Marc Moyens founded Gallery Marc in 1969, he quickly became a central figure in the Washington, DC, arts world. Gallery Marc was part of the District's first "gallery row" on P Street Northwest, establishing Moyens as a serious arts collector and one of the first major gallery owners in the city. He later opened Gallery K with his partner Komei Wachi in 1975, which bucked current trends by focusing on photorealism and surrealism at a time when the Washington Color School was favored. Upon his death in April 2003, Moyens' collection contained nearly 2,500 pieces, encompassing art from New York, California, and all around the world.

Paul Richard, in his Washington Post review of the H. Marc Moyens Collection at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1969, hit the nail on the head when he described the works as "realistic spooky things that have the originality of nightmares." Richard went on to note that "Moyens' taste is at its best when it is at its weirdest." 

This year, American University's Fall for the Arts auction will feature 34 items from Moyens' estate, featuring works by artists James Bumgardner, Alan Stone, Maureen McCabe, and Carlos Gomez Bal, among many others. Auction works include paintings, sculptures, and mixed media pieces from the mid to late 21st century. 

The auction will take place in the AU Museum on Saturday, September 20 at 7:30 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting the arts at AU. 

The auction marks the end of a jam-packed afternoon of arts exploration at the Katzen Arts Center. An annual AU event, Fall for the Arts features arts courses and workshops, offering sessions in Drawing in the Italian Renaissance, Fundamentals of Color, and Behind the Scenes of the Auction, among others. The event is open to the public. 

Though arts enthusiasts can wait to place their bids at the live auction on September 20, they can also place bids early at the AU Museum in the Katzen Arts Center. Works from Moyens' collection will be on view and available for pre-auction bidding from September 6 through September 20 at the AU Museum. Bidders may also e-mail their offer to museum@american.edu. 

In order to place a bid, all participants must register for Fall for the Arts. Once registered, bidders may participate in the silent auction before the event, or place their bids at the live auction on September 20. 

Whether you are an avid art collector or someone who simply appreciates a beautiful painting or sculpture, this year's arts auction is not to be missed. Be sure to mark September 20 on your calendar as a day of experiencing the arts, and for the life and legacy of Marc Moyens. 

For more information about the auction and about Fall for the Arts, please visit the Fall for the Arts website.

 

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Title: Meet New SETH Professor Kathleen Holton
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Abstract: A Q&A with new SETH professor Kathleen Holton.
Topic: Education
Publication Date: 08/08/2014
Content:

Kathleen Holton is a new assistant professor in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health.


Degrees
PhD nutrition, MPH epidemiology, and BS marketing, University of Arizona 



Areas of Research

Nutritional neuroscience, excitotoxins, fibromyalgia, ADHD, cognitive function, epidemiology


What initially sparked your interest in neurobiology?
"I initially became interested in education while teaching about health in the fitness industry in high school and college. During graduate school, I taught undergraduate nutrition courses which I absolutely loved. I knew then that I definitely wanted to work in education."


What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
"During graduate school I became very interested in nutritional neuroscience, and more specifically, the role of dietary glutamate in neurological symptoms. My interest was sparked by anecdotal reports of people with a wide range of neurological symptoms which improved when the people removed certain additives from their diet. I began researching these food additives in depth and created a diet which limited the consumption of the additives. I have tested the diet in individuals with fibromyalgia and ADHD, with very promising results. Optimizing diet may have profound effects on the ability to learn, and may be especially crucial in those with disorders like ADHD and autism."

 

What brought you to AU?
"American University offers a unique blend of opportunities, including the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, connections to DC area schools, and a location which facilitates communication with important groups like the NIH."

 

What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
"I am hoping to expand upon my research to identify what makes certain groups more susceptible to food additives, and the extent to which underlying nutrient content of the diet affects this risk. I am also hoping to expand my research to assess how optimizing diet affects learning."

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Title: Meet New Biology Professor Mark Laubach
Author:
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Abstract: A Q&A with neuroscience researcher and new biology professor Mark Laubach.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 08/08/2014
Content:

Mark Laubach is a new associate professor in the Department of Biology. 


Degrees
PhD neuroscience, Wake Forest University
MA biology, Bryn Mawr College
AB biology and chemistry, Lafayette College 


Areas of research

Role of the frontal cortex and basal ganglia in value-based decision making, food-seeking behavior, and the cognitive control of action

 

What initially sparked your interest in neurobiology?
"I grew up during the computer revolution. Many people used to think that brain function can be explained using principles from computer science. I have never been convinced of that and spent my career trying to understand how our brains allow us to act flexibly in face of unexpected outcomes, something that computers are not very good at doing."

 

What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
"I started graduate school when it became possible to record the activity of many brain cells at the same time. My PhD advisor developed one of the first multi-electrode recording systems. A major challenge for using these systems was what to do with all of the data. I learned multivariate statistics so I could analyze what is now called "Big Data" and tried to understand how populations of neurons control behavior and change with learning. This approach has stuck with me for the rest of my career."


What brought you to AU?
"Several reasons. First, I was drawn to the chance to work with Terry Davidson and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Terry is an amazing researcher and wonderful person. There are many parallels in our work and I look forward to collaborating with Terry in the near future. Second, I have been at a medical school for the past 13 years and had limited interactions with undergraduate students. I am very much looking forward to teaching courses for the new neuroscience major and hosting students for research in my lab. I never had the chance to do this as much as I had hoped when I first started my lab back in 2001. Third, I have always had a wonderful impression of AU based on a friend who attended the university back in the 1980s. Since I have arrived on campus, everything has matched my expectations. People are uniformly nice and happy. A very cordial and supportive environment. Deans Starr and Sofia have developed a strong science community on campus. They and their staffs have done an outstanding job supporting me during my transition to AU. I believe that this is going to be a wonderful experience for me and I can not wait to get started!"


What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
"I am looking forward to taking part in the development of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and helping bring international recognition to the Center throughout the neuroscience community. I am also looking forward to helping launch the new neuroscience major and seeing the first majors graduate in a few years and go on to productive careers in science and medicine. Finally, I very much looking forward to new directions in my research, such as the large-scale deployment of optogenetic methods to study neural circuits that underlie decision making, that have only been possible with the support that I have received from AU."

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Title: Targeting the Brain to Treat Obesity
Author: Rebecca Basu
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Abstract: AU researchers say therapies should focus on areas of memory and learning.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 07/31/2014
Content:

Unlocking the secrets to better treating the pernicious disorders of obesity and dementia reside in the brain, according to a paper from American University's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. In the paper, researchers make the case for treating obesity with therapies aimed at areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Furthermore, treatments that focus on the hippocampus could play a role in reducing certain dementias.

Terry Davidson in lab with sweets

"In the struggle to treat these diseases, therapies and preventive measures often fall short. This is a new way for providers who treat people with weight problems and for researchers who study dementias to think about obesity and cognitive decline," said Terry Davidson, center director, lead study author, and a professor with AU's Department of Psychology.

In the paper, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, Davidson and colleague Ashley A. Martin review research findings linking obesity with cognitive decline, including the center's findings about the "vicious cycle" model, which explains how weight-challenged individuals who suffer from particular kinds of cognitive impairment are more susceptible to overeating.

Obesity, Memory Deficits and Lasting Effects

It is widely accepted that over consumption of dietary fats, sugar and sweeteners can cause obesity. These types of dietary factors are also linked to cognitive dysfunction. Foods that are risk factors for cognitive impairment (i.e., foods high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates that make up the modern Western diet) are so widespread and readily available in today's food environment, their consumption is all but encouraged, Davidson said.

Across age groups, evidence reveals links between excess food intake, body weight and cognitive dysfunction. Childhood obesity and consumption of the Western diet can have lasting effects, as seen through the normal aging process, cognitive deficits and brain pathologies. Several analyses of cases of mild cognitive impairment progressing to full-blown cases of Alzheimer's disease show that the first signs of brain disease can occur at least 50 years prior to the emergence of serious cognitive dysfunction. These signs originate in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memory, learning, decision making, behavior control and other cognitive functions come into play.

Still, most research on the role of the brain in obesity focuses on areas thought to be involved with hunger motivation (e.g., hypothalamus), taste (e.g., brain stem), reinforcement (e.g., striatum) and reward (e.g., nucleus accumbens) or with hormonal or metabolic disorders. This research has not yet been successful in generating therapies that are effective in treating or preventing obesity, Davidson says.

Vicious Cycle

Experiments in rats by Davidson and colleagues show that overconsumption of the Western diet can damage or change the blood-brain barrier, the tight network of blood vessels protecting the brain and substrates for cognition. Certain kinds of dementias are known to arise from the breakdown in these brain substrates.

"Breakdown in the blood-brain barrier is more rationale for treating obesity as a learning and memory disorder," Davidson said. "Treating obesity successfully may also reduce the incidence of dementias, because the deterioration in the brain is often produced by the same diets that promote obesity."

The "vicious cycle" model AU researchers put forth says eating a Western diet high in saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates produces pathologies in brain structures and circuits, ultimately changing brain pathways and disrupting cognitive abilities.

It works like this: People become less able to resist temptation when they encounter environmental cues (e.g., food itself or the sight of McDonald's Golden Arches) that remind them of the pleasures of consumption. They then eat more of the same type of foods that produce the pathological changes in the brain, leading to progressive deterioration in those areas and impairments in cognitive processes important for providing control over one's thoughts and behaviors. These cognitive impairments can weaken a person's ability to resist thinking about food, making them more easily distracted by food cues in the environment and more susceptible to overeating and weight gain.

"People have known at least since the time of Hippocrates that one key to a healthy life is to eat in moderation. Yet many of us are unable to follow that good advice," Davidson said. "Our work suggests that new therapeutic interventions that target brain regions involved with learning and memory may lead to success in controlling both the urge to eat, as well as the undesirable consequences produced by overeating."

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Title: 2014 Israel Writing Award
Author:
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Abstract: Phoebe Bradford won the 2014 Center for Israel Studies Israel Writing Award.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 07/31/2014
Content:

Congratulations to Phoebe Bradford, SOC '14, winner of the 2014 Center for Israel Studies Israel Writing Award. Bradford’s paper, “Meduzot’s Magical Multiplicity,” examined the contemporary female experience in Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret’s 2007 Camera D’Or winning film, Meduzot ("Jellyfish”). A cum laude graduate in film and media arts, she said she was attracted to the agency given the film’s three female protagonists, who “didn’t need to have a romantic conclusion to feel success in the end.” Utilizing Tel Aviv as a foundation and the image of jellyfish in the sea floating and randomly bumping into each other, “Geffen and Keret put faces to the collective experience of globalization’s effects on contemporary female Israeli identity,” wrote Bradford in her award-winning essay.

Bradford was a student in the spring 2014 Israeli Identities in Film class, taught by visiting Schusterman Professor Dan Chyutin. In a conversation with the award’s creator, literature Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew, Bradford said she had never learned about a culture through film before, and that the use of film made it a little easier to unravel complex identity issues. She realized that her previous assumptions about Israeli identity had been simplistic, and is now interested in visiting Israel after learning more about its varied landscapes and multi-ethnic society.

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 run the full gamut 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.”

An aspiring cinematographer, Bradford is currently a photographer and videographer for Maker’s Row in Brooklyn, NY, and also holds the position of creative director for a DC-based production company called Boundary Stone Films. She won a 2014 School of Communications Vision Award for her screenplay Parallel, which is a final selection for the DC Shorts Film Festival. Submissions for the 2015 Israel Writing Award will be accepted in spring 2015.

Tags: Center for Israel Studies,College of Arts and Sciences,School of Communication
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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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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: C0ADB7D3-ABF4-3582-C2DEC7E2634B4247
Title: Sara Nieves-Grafals: Psychologist, World Traveler, Alumni Board Member
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
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Abstract: Three-time AU alumna Sara Nieves-Grafals , who is coauthor of a cookbook, recently joined the AU Alumni Board.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 04/11/2013
Content:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni Board,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,Psychology,Psychology Dept,Clinical Psychology,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: 9DB90A93-AA13-E425-634F22C41698F2DC
Title: AU Student Gives Back Through Federal Work Study
Author: Roxana Hadadi
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Abstract: Mayra Rivera, CAS/BS '13, has taken advantage of FWS opportunities to promote healthy living.
Topic: Student
Publication Date: 12/17/2012
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When Mayra Rivera, CAS/BS ’13, was a senior at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., she was No. 2 in her class of 173 students. But as the daughter of El Salvadorian immigrants and with her mother a small business owner, Rivera wasn’t sure if she was going to apply to college.  

“I never heard of American University, even though I live here in Washington, D.C.,” Rivera says. “But during my junior and senior year, we had a representative from AU come over and give us a presentation, and I started thinking about it.”

Rivera applied to AU, and, thanks to a competitive financial package, she accepted. Four years later, with multiple federal work study (FWS) positions under her belt and a passion for working with children, Rivera is taking advantage of an assortment of student employment and volunteer opportunities both on and off the campus. As a first-generation student, Rivera is changing her family’s expectations about a college education and blazing a trail for her younger relatives while still finding ways to give back to her community.

Rivera has plans to use her degree in health promotion to educate children about the power they have over their bodies and choices. The adaptability and individuality of the subject appealed to Rivera.

“You have the power to change your health—to eat healthier, to exercise—and I feel like the reason why a lot of people don’t stick to diets or don’t go and work out is because they don’t know, they lack the education,” Rivera said. “So with health promotion, I’m learning how to implement programs and ways to approach how to make changes today.”

Sharing those lessons with children has been the main thrust of Rivera’s FWS positions with DC Reads and Kid Power. Introduced to the organizations through the Career Center’s Student Employment Coordinator, Tasha Daniels, Rivera worked with DC Reads for a year and then transitioned to Kid Power, where she has been for the last two years.

Students looking for FWS positions or part-time jobs on campus should regularly check the AU Student Jobs website, www.american.edu/studentjobs, keep an eye on list-serv or department emails that may advertise positions, and should be persistent, Daniels says. Look often, both before and during the semester, to see what kind of opportunities are out there, she suggests.

“Finding any job is a process,” Daniels says. “Keep applying until [you] land a position. … Submit professional application materials—resume and tailored cover letter—to increase [the] likelihood of landing a position.”

With both of her FWS opportunities, Rivera has been able to stay local and focused on her educational goals. During her time at DC Reads, Rivera worked with students one-on-one at CentroNía, a bilingual charter school in Columbia Heights—a five-minute walk from her home. At Kid Power, where Rivera both works as a FWS employee and is conducting an internship, Rivera is applying her knowledge about physical health and nutrition while leading whole classes.

“I was able to give back to my community,” Rivera says, and her impact is still felt years later. “The mom of the girl who I tutored at DC Reads works at Target and I also work at Target, and we always talk, and I always ask her questions about her daughter—I just saw them, and she’s grown up. And it’s nice to see they remember me.”

Rivera ensures the students remember her lessons about health, too. Thanks to encouragement from her Kid Power supervisor Shaden Dowiatt, Rivera is involved in the program Veggie Time, teaching students about gardening and nutrition.

“She’s fantastic; the kids really, really love her,” says Dowiatt, SIS/MA ’10, LAMB Site Director for Kid Power. “I think she relates really well to the students; she’s always very positive, smiles a lot, is pretty easygoing. Her passion and her focus is obviously on health education. This year she’s been doing an internship with me—she’s helped develop some of the lessons about nutrition and I’ve encouraged her to share those lessons with the students.”

And Rivera isn’t the only AU student at Kid Power. The organization employed both university alumni and 44 FWS students in fall 2012—about five to six AU volunteers are located at each of Kid Power’s 10 sites, Dowaitt says—and that atmosphere creates an undeniable sense of camaraderie.

“This past summer, we had this close connection,” Rivera says of her AU peers who also worked with Kid Power at their summer camp. “We all hung out at night, we had dinner and stuff together—we created this little AU family.”

And as for Rivera’s own family, they’ve been affected by her college choice, too. Although her mother was initially skeptical of her decision to apply to AU and hoped Rivera would help her with her small business, she’s grown to appreciate that Rivera “wants to do more”—“she’s always encouraging me, and now she brags about me going to college,” Rivera says. And Rivera’s younger sister has followed in her footsteps, and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

With graduation coming up in May, Rivera hopes to volunteer with other health- or children-focused nonprofit organizations and eventually gain employment at one; graduate school isn’t out of the question, either. But for now, she’s staying with Kid Power, hoping to introduce students to healthy recipes and eating habits. Without these FWS opportunities, Rivera says she’s not sure how she would have been able to so effectively prepare for her career.

“I never heard of Kid Power or DC Reads before federal work study, but it’s my interest to work with kids and to help them,” Rivera says. “If it weren’t for [FWS], I don’t know how I would get this experience.”

Tags: Career Center,College of Arts and Sciences,Federal Work Study
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