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Title: Book Notes: Honest Engine
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Subtitle: Associate Professor of Literature Kyle Dargan publishes new collection of poems.
Abstract: Associate Professor of Literature Kyle Dargan publishes new collection of poems.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 03/24/2015
Content:

This month, the University of Georgia Press will publish Honest Engine, the fourth collection of poetry by Associate Professor of Literature Kyle Dargan.

 

Honest Engine

Kyle Dargan examines the mechanics of the heart and mind as they are weathered by loss. Following a spate of deaths among family and friends, Dargan chooses to present not color-negative elegies but self-portraits that capture what of these departed figures remains within him. Amid this processing of mortality, it becomes clear that he has arrived at a turning point as a writer and a man.

 

As the title suggests, Dargan aspires toward an unflinching honesty. These poems do not purport to possess life’s answers or seek to employ language to mask what they do not know. Dargan confesses as a means of reaching out to the nomadic human soul and inviting it to accompany him on a walk toward the unknown.

 

Praise 

"This Honest Engine is unafraid. It asks questions that men rarely ask: Is there a cure for patriarchy? 'Must I also think like a fist?' Will grief and loss swamp us? Sometimes, true, with the poet we wrestle despair, 'tumbling from an apex of grace.' But memory can restore, can 'make enough flames bloom.' Indeed, Kyle Dargan’s stunning, hurting poems bring us finally to a wary hopefulness that we might begin, at last, to reach across our divisions, racial and otherwise."

—Sarah Browning, executive director of Split This Rock and author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden

 

"Honest Engine reveals Kyle Dargan to be a poet fully in command. He marshals the resources of sound and line and syntax into lucid and quietly insistent poems that soldier through loss and wonder to a kind of peace. And yet Dargan’s command, urgent as it is, comes with a beautiful humility. I am awed by this book’s wisdom and calm clarity and moved by its faith. I will read it again and again."

—Keith D. Leonard, author of Fettered Genius: The African American Bardic Poet from Slavery to Civil Rights

 

Previous Work

Dargan’s poetry collections include Logorrhea Dementia: A Self-Diagnosis (Georgia); Bouquet of Hungers (Georgia), which received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; and The Listening (Georgia), which was a winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. He is the former managing editor of Callaloo and the founder and current editor of POST NO ILLS magazine. 

 

For More Information

Visit the website of the University of Georgia Press.

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Title: Princeton Review Ranks American University's New Game Design Program in Top 25
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Abstract: “For a program that is less than one year old, this is a major recognition and an affirmation of what we are doing here,” says Game Lab director Lindsay Grace.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 03/24/2015
Content:

American University is one of the top schools to study video game design for 2015, according to new international rankings from The Princeton Review.

In its first year of existence, AU’s game design master’s program is ranked 21st in the world. AU’s program is offered through a partnership between the AU School of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“For a program that is less than one year old, this is a major recognition and an affirmation of what we are doing here,” says Game Lab director Lindsay Grace. It’s justified by the accomplishments of AU Game Lab faculty and students.

Some of these include:

  • Central participation in the White House Educational Game Jam; USA Today featured AU’s game.

  • Launch of JoLT initiative in game design and disruptive media leadership, through a $250,000 Knight Foundation philanthropic grant.

  • Collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a pop-up arcade event attracting more than 4,000 visitors in a single day.

  • Partnered and sponsored events with the Games for Change Festival and the Global Game Jam.

  • Professor Grace gave two talks, and two Game Lab students presented at the Game Developer's Conference (GDC) this March, which drew over 24,000 people.

  • Faculty and students published more than 15 articles, showed creative work more than 20 times, and participated in more than 25 talks and panels around the world.    

  • American University has invested significant resources in the development of the Game Lab as part of a university-wide commitment to multidisciplinary, team-based, high-impact research.

The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s best known educational services companies, partnered with PC Gamer magazine to produce the “Best Schools for Gaming 2015.” The sixth-annual list is published in the May issue of PC Gamer.

“For students aspiring to work in the burgeoning field of game design, these are truly the ‘cream of the crop’ institutions from which to launch a career,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's Senior VP-Publisher. To make its selections, The Princeton Review weighed more than 60 data points. Criteria focused on four areas: curriculum, facilities, technology, and career services.

AU’s program is atypical in several ways. First, it is underpinned by a focus on persuasive play, which aims to employ the power of play to create socially responsible games that enrich people’s lives.

Students who pursue the master’s degree at AU develop skills beyond traditional game design and development by learning to tailor play design to meet specific goals in player impact. During the second year of the degree program, students intern at the AU Game Lab Studio and build a professional portfolio by working on real world projects for external clients.

AU’s location in the nation’s capital allows for unique partnerships and collaborations with cultural institutions and governmental agencies that have national impact.

The demographic makeup of the student cohort is also unique.  Compared to an industry that is 89 percent male, the AU cohort includes five female and seven male students. Students come from across the United States, and Africa and South America. In October 2014, AU hosted nearly 100 participants at its second annual Game Diversity summit to promote wider accessibility and participation in game making.

The Studio is part of the AU Game Lab, which serves as a hub for professional education, persuasive play research, and practice. The Studio provides contract work for external clients in need of game development that will engage and influence around a campaign, a concept, or a brand.

The MA in Game Design was developed under AU’s Persuasive Play initiative, which aims to employ the power of play to create socially responsible games that enrich people’s lives. In persuasive play, game design is created in a way meant to transform players’ interests, activities, or opinions into meaningful action. For example, in the field of K-12 education, persuasive play games are helping educators find more effective ways to engage with broader and more diverse students. AU’s Persuasive Play Initiative is led by game designer and researcher Lindsay Grace who is also the director of the AU Game Lab.

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Title: Former US Ambassador to Israel to Deliver Perlmutter Lecture
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Abstract: Martin S. Indyk will deliver the Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, April 1.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 03/23/2015
Content:

Martin S. Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, will deliver the Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, April 1. Ambassador Indyk currently serves as executive vice president of the Brookings Institution and was founding director of the Saban Center for Middle Eastern Policy. From 2013-2014, he served as the Obama Administration’s US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Both the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian Authority president supported his appointment.

Indyk’s lecture topic is “Order from Chaos: The Challenges of Restoring Order in the Middle East.” He detailed his first-hand account of Middle East peacemaking efforts during the Clinton administration in his book Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peacemaking Diplomacy in the Middle East. Indyk has dedicated much of his professional career to this effort, noting in his book that the “journey has been a difficult and humbling one.” He has written often of the relationships among the broader disputes in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This annual lecture is in memory of beloved American University School of Public Affairs Professor Amos Perlmutter, who taught at the University for nearly thirty years, until his death in 2001. Born in Poland, Perlmutter grew up in Palestine, fighting in the 1948, ’56, and ’73 wars for Israel. Later, he would cite that experience as foundational in shaping his character. He idolized Clark Gable as a child, but his role model in adulthood would be Ben-Gurion. He was a true public servant, scholar and public intellectual. The School of Public Affairs and the Center for Israel Studies are thrilled we can honor Professor Perlmutter’s contributions and memory through this lecture.

This public lecture will be hosted by the School of Public Affairs and the Center for Israel Studies. It begins at 7 PM in American University’s Butler Boardroom. Refreshments will be provided. The lecture is free. Please RSVP here.

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Title: Unique Gift from Susan Carmel Lehrman to AU
Author: Helen Dodson
Subtitle: Establishes the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History
Abstract: Establishes the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History.
Topic: International
Publication Date: 03/23/2015
Content:

The American University (AU) College of Arts and Sciences announced today that international philanthropist and businesswoman Susan Carmel Lehrman has established the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History, within the AU College of Arts and Sciences.

Ms. Lehrman will endow and elevate the former Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) to fund the existing operations of the IRC in perpetuity to enhance and expand its already robust programming in cultural diplomacy. Since its inception, the IRC has promoted greater understanding of Russian culture's versatility and richness among all students in the Washington area's Consortium of Universities. Its work continues to build lasting connections between Russians and Americans. More than 14,000 students and guests in the Washington Metro region have participated in IRC film screenings, panel discussions, and cultural experiences.

President of American University hosts a reception and dinner in honor of Susan Carmel Lehman's generous gift
The president of American University hosts a reception and dinner in honor of Susan Carmel Lehrman's generous gift.

The institute will build upon this foundation by offering new classes, additional study abroad opportunities, and more robust academic symposia.

According to Ms. Lehrman, "I am especially excited about the creation of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History because it will establish all of our programs in perpetuity and add to these a growing network of student and professorial exchanges with Russian universities. With the further endowment of the Institute, our educational outreach will widen. This is important because I believe that there is no better way to get to know people than to live among them and listen to their opinions about themselves, about the world, and about one's own country."

AU President Neil Kerwin reflects on the first named institute in American University history.
AU President Neil Kerwin reflects on the first named institute in American University's history.

"American University is very grateful to Ms. Lehrman for her leadership, philanthropy, and investment in American University, the Washington Consortium, and her efforts to further cultural understanding," said American University President Neil Kerwin. "The Carmel Institute dovetails with the university's educational mission, while capitalizing on many of the wonderful cultural, global, intellectual, and social opportunities that abound in Washington, DC. This opportunity will provide transformative experiences for AU students, faculty, and others throughout the world."

The institute will be a hub for symposia and cultural events held at AU to advance the study and appreciation of Russian culture, in the broader academic community, and in the general public, and will promote and sustain cultural dialogue and exchanges among Russian and American students.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the US Sergey I. Kislyak speaks of the importance of culture in Russian-American relations.
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States Sergey I. Kislyak speaks of the importance of culture in Russian-American relations.

"The Carmel Institute will be unique in North America in using Russian culture as a way to understand this complex society's past and present," said Institute Director Anton Fedyashin.

The Carmel Institute draws on the particular strengths of American University's educational mission, while capitalizing on the cultural, global, political, and intellectual nature of Washington, DC.

AU College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr was instrumental in seeing Ms. Lehrman's gift to fruition. "I am grateful to Ms. Lehrman for her exceptional vision and commitment to a project that truly has no peer in the realm of university-based cultural initiatives," said Dean Starr.

Carmel Institute Advisory Committee members Symington and Collins chat with Librarian of Congress James Billington.
Carmel Institute Advisory Committee members (left to right) Librarian of Congress James Billington, former Representative James Symington, former US Ambassador to Russia James Collins.

From 12:15 to 4:00 p.m. on April 11, in the Abramson Family Recital Hall of the Katzen Arts Center, the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History will hold its 4th Annual Symposium entitled, "The Strength of Cooperation: Lessons from the Grand Alliance, 1941–1945," and also celebrate the new institute's establishment. Reporters are invited to attend and cover this event, which is also open to members of the public who register.

View a video about the mission and history of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History, and learn more about the Initiative for Russian Culture.

Susan Carmel Lehrman has established the only Institute in North America dedicated to studying Russia through its culture.
Susan Carmel Lehrman's gift will endow a unique institute dedicated to studying Russia through its culture.

 

Additional Photo Identification

Second photo from top. Left to Right: Provost Scott Bass; Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Thomas Minar; Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States Sergey I. Kislyak; Susan Carmel Lehrman; President Neil Kerwin; Carmel Institute Director Anton Fedyashin; Susan Carmel Lehrman Chair of Russian History and Culture Eric Lohr; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Peter Starr.

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Title: Inspire and Give Back
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: The Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program is training the next generation of leaders.
Topic: Student Life
Publication Date: 03/16/2015
Content:

Abolitionist. Author and orator. Supporter of women's suffrage. Frederick Douglass was a remarkable individual, someone deeply immersed in the issues of his day and committed to a brighter future for his country.

A group of outstanding American University students draws inspiration from Douglass's momentous, far-reaching legacy. Envisioned by AU Provost Scott Bass, the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars (FDDS) program covers full tuition, fees, books, room and board for students dedicated to helping struggling communities. FDDS Director Larry Thomas sees the program training the next generation of leaders. "It's really about preparing them for a lifetime of giving back to underserved and under-resourced populations around the world," he says.

FDDS is enjoying its fifth anniversary this year. It was recently recognized as the 2015 recipient of the Voice of Inclusion award from the ACPA-College Student Educators International. The Voice of Inclusion medallion recognizes university-based programs that help make their campus communities a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Finding Top-Tier Talent

In selecting new scholars for the FDDS program, Thomas says special attention is given to geographic diversity, first generation college students, and individuals who aim to strengthen communities of color. Thomas says the program looks for "students with the ability to inspire and motivate other people and themselves." A community of faculty and AU leaders provides academic oversight of the FDDS program. Department of Literature professor Keith Leonard currently chairs the committee. Under faculty guidance, the program developed significant bridge courses, one of which will take the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars to Cuba this summer.

Larry Thomas (center, right) and Keith Leonard (center, left) accept the ACPA award on behalf of FDDS.

"In almost all of these cases, we are fortunate that these students don't pick the Ivies, because their GPAs are all in the stratosphere," says School of Communication professor Russell Williams, a former chair of the FDDS committee. "They're here because they're the best of the best. And American was generally their first choice, mainly because of our reputation of service."

Five years after the FDDS inaugural launch, Thomas is continually excited about the talent. "You're looking at someone now as a freshman or a sophomore and thinking, '10, 20 years from now, this person could be on television or on The New York Times Best Seller list,'" he says.

The Student Experience

Stephanie Vela is a junior sociology major. She comes from a working class, mostly Hispanic immigrant community in Coachella Valley, California. She's first generation in her family to attend college and first generation born in the U.S.

When she first considered applying for FDDS, the scholarship money and one-on-one mentoring were major selling points. And the program has exceeded her expectations. "It's been the center of my college experience," Vela says. "The program has opened up all of these avenues of success that I can have."

Vela is interning at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, housed at the Department of Education. She's previously interned with Voto Latino and in the office of her hometown congressman, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. She's hoping to work in education policy, and she eventually plans to assist people in Coachella Valley. "I was brought up there. So it's my responsibility, in a sense, to help."

Isobel Araujo is a freshman, planning to double major in environmental studies and film and media arts. "I've already been able to do so many things that I never would have been able to do otherwise," she says. Before school even started, she took part in the FDDS summer bridge trip to study in Rome.

A Chicago native, Araujo's long-term goal is to attend graduate school for urban planning. "I feel particularly passionate about this because I grew up in an urban area. My neighborhood is rapidly becoming gentrified, and a lot of community dialogue needs to happen," she says. Araujo is focused on the intersection of urban planning and sustainability. "A lot of environmental problems, like air pollution, happen in marginalized communities."

Some recent FDDS alums are already building successful careers. For instance, Falon Dominguez is now working for Google in Silicon Valley.

Recent grad Alan Arturo Day García will start a San Francisco-based job in investment banking this July. As a high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he already showed a commitment to service and tutored some Hispanic students struggling with English. And he donated money to several foundations during his FDDS years. When he relocates, he'd like to support Bay Area Hispanics. "If I can maybe help people with their immigration status, or keep families together, that would be of interest to me," he says.

Access to Power

Through FDDS, students get plugged into the D.C. networking pipeline. They also have the opportunity to speak with national leaders and other accomplished professionals. In recent years, students have met everyone from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to cast members of Scandal and Orange is the New Black.

A highlight for Stephanie Vela was meeting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor this year. "It shows me that, 'Ok, these are people who look like me, who've gone through similar situations, and they're in these places of power.' It's a validating experience."

Alan Arturo Day García was impressed with then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. "He was probably one of the most powerful people in the world," he recalls, "but he was also a very grounded person."

Thriving Together

Students have to prove their mettle, they are part of the rigorous AU Honors Program and need to maintain a 3.2 GPA to keep the scholarship. In a living-learning community—freshmen and sophomores live together in Hughes Hall—this gives students in FDDS and AU Honors a shared mission. "They can simply take the elevator or walk downstairs to a reading room, which provides a safe space for them to be high-achieving scholars," Thomas says. "They're in the two most difficult programs on campus, so they have to survive together. And they're not just surviving, they're thriving."

"We really go to each other for advice, or if we're feeling overwhelmed," Vela says. Araujo adds, "They're basically my family."

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Title: Nobel Prize Winner Speaking at AU
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Abstract: Dr. William D. Phillips Will Appear at Physics Colloquium on Wednesday, March 18, at noon.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 03/16/2015
Content:

On March 18 at noon, join Dr. William D. Phillips, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, as he speaks at the AU Physics Department colloquium. Phillips will discuss Quantum Information: a Scientific and Technological Revolution for the 21st Century.

 

 

 

Event Details

Day: Wednesday, March 18

Time: Noon to 1pm (A reception in the lobby at 11:30am precedes the talk. All are welcome.)

Place: The Forman Theatre on the second floor of the McKinley Building. 

The event is free, and all students are welcome.

 

Colloquium Information

Two of the great scientific and technical revolutions of the 20th century were the discovery of the quantum nature of the submicroscopic world, and the advent of information science and engineering. Both of these have had a profound effect not only on our daily lives, but on our world view.  

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we see a marriage of quantum mechanics and information science in a new revolution: quantum information.  

Quantum computation and quantum communication are two aspects of this revolution. The first is highly speculative: a new paradigm more different from today’s digital computers than those computers are from the ancient abacus. The second is already a reality, providing information transmission whose security is guaranteed by the laws of physics. The JQI/NIST Laser Cooling and Trapping Group is studying the use of single, ultracold atoms as quantum bits, or qubits, for quantum information processing.

 

About Dr. Phillips

Phillips is a NIST fellow and distinguished professor at the Joint Quantum Institute of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Maryland. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for research on using laser light to cool, trap, and control atoms. His discoveries contributed to the creation, a few years later, of Bose-Einstein condensates, a new form of quantum matter predicted over a 100 years ago by Albert Einstein. More recently Phillips’s research includes efforts to use ultracold atoms to create a revolutionary new technology called a quantum computer.

 

For More Information

Contact Phil Johnson at pjohnson@american.edu.

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Title: Book Notes: Daydreamers
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Abstract: Alumnus Jonathan Harper publishes new collection of short stories.
Topic: Literature
Publication Date: 03/16/2015
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This month, Lethe Press will publish Daydreamers: Stories, a collection of short stories by Jonathan Harper (MFA creative writing ’10). 

 

Daydreamers
Downtrodden workers at a towing company compete to repossess an elusive Mercedes; two men clash over their participation in a body modification ritual; a group of Dungeons & Dragons players find themselves unwelcome in an upscale resort; the discovery of a drowned corpse haunts two would-be lovers in a beach town. Ne'er-do-wells, prodigal sons and young men without a clue await to be met in these nine stories that speak to a new generation of hopefuls not usually found in contemporary queer fiction.

Advance Praise
"Tenants who destroy your rental apartment, corpses that wash ashore, old men in strip bars, bullies, failed fathers, estranged lovers, and very lost young men negotiating relationships with older ones—welcome to the world of Jonathan Harper's Daydreamers, whose assured prose style is turned with deadly accuracy on the crummy, sinister, banality of life in contemporary America. Harper's collection brings to mind a movie of an Anne Tyler novel, if it were directed by David Lynch. There is some original sin at the center of these lost lives. But what is it exactly? Whatever the answer, Harper's stories get better as they accumulate, until they take on the weight of an original artist's vision."
- Andrew Holleran, author of Dancer from the Dance and Grief

"A catalog of suburbia's petty desolations and meditations on lost chances; Harper makes for a keen archivist of his characters' flawed, unfinished manifestos."
- Genevieve Valentine, Author of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and Mechanique

"These stories—by turns wry, haunting, and melancholy—examine the ubiquity of loneliness, the painful gaps between yearning and fulfillment, and the myriad difficulties of truly connecting with lovers, family, and friends. Harper's tales have long deserved to be collected under one cover."
- Jeff Mann, author of Cub and Salvation

 

For More Information

Visit the Lethe Press website.

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Title: New Partnership Reinforces Focus on Student Wellness
Author: Patrick Bradley
Subtitle:
Abstract: AU commits to increasing healthy eats, physical activity, and programming.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 03/12/2015
Content:

Eat by Color

Jo-Ann Jolly spends a lot of time observing student eating habits in AU’s Terrace Dining Room, and she likes what she sees.

“When you look at everyone’s plates in TDR, they have multiple colors on it, which means they’re eating different fruits, vegetables, foods,” she explained. “When I go to other campus dining halls, you look at people’s plates and it’s all one color—brown. Or pizza-colored.”

As AU’s Aramark dietitian, Jolly sits at about eye-level with students’ plates as they pass by her desk in TDR. The colorful food options she sees haven’t happened by accident. AU’s dining has consistently received national attention for their vegetarian- and vegan-friendly offerings. A new commitment with the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America—an arm of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign—is only further cementing that campus-wide focus on wellness.

Through its Healthier Campus Initiative, PHA invites universities to meet 23 guidelines developed by national experts around nutrition, physical activity, and student-centered wellness programming.

When Jolly first heard about the criteria, she knew AU already was a match. “AU does that, AU does that. If dining doesn’t do that, I’ll make it happen,” she said of first reading the requirements, which range from healthy meal options to having an accessible fitness area and marked walking trails on campus.

“I was just getting really excited,” Jolly recalled. “We might as well get credit for things we are already doing.”

Healthy Affirmation

As part of the commitment to PHA, Jolly attended the organization’s recent summit and new partner announcement in downtown Washington, D.C.

Director of the AU Wellness Center Tessa Telly and vice president of Campus Life Dr. Gail Hanson joined her, mingling with representatives from other universities and health organizations before enjoying a keynote address from the First Lady.

With her department overseeing wellness programming for the entire campus, Telly echoes Jolly’s sentiments on the new deal, while also noting the guidance it provides. “It just confirms that AU cares about student health,” she said. “For those objectives in there that are aspirational, it gives us a roadmap of what more we can do.”

Dr. Gail Hanson receives recognition on stage at the PHA summit;

For all that AU does and plans to do better, PHA recognizes these moves as crucial to a healthier future for the nation.

“Colleges and universities like AU are in a unique position to help shape tomorrow’s leaders, whether they are teachers, coaches, policymakers, CEOs, moms or dads,” said PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler. “By creating healthier food and physical activity environments today, campuses and universities are encouraging healthier habits that will carry over into tomorrow.”

Attention, Attention

The connection with PHA comes at a time of increased attention to issues of wellness on campus. Both Jolly and Telly sit on the newly formed Wellness Committee, which also brings together members from Recreational Sports and Fitness, the Library, and the Counseling Center for cross-campus collaborations.

Similarly, the university’s Stress Management Group is looking for ways to decrease stress and anxiety among students often swamped with studies, work, and internships.

“There’s focus and momentum. It’s a good time right now,” Telly explained. “We want to be able to say that, when students leave here, we were able to provide them with the skills and information to live happy, healthy lives beyond AU.”

Toward that skill building, Jolly leads tours through TDR and holds one-on-one nutritional counseling with students. Though not in her job description, high student demand has her teaching both healthy eating and cooking workshops in the residence halls.

For such an emphasis on health and wellness, AU stands out nationally as one of just several dozen higher ed institutions partnered with PHA.

“It’s cool to be a part of it, to be a part of this select group of people who are really changing things for the better,” Jolly said.

For her, AU particularly shines when considering the many pizza-covered plates she’s seen at other university dining halls. She looks forward to TDR’s summer renovations that will create a cafeteria even more focused on green, fresh options and increasingly more colorful student meals.

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Title: News Coverage of Fukushima Disaster Found Lacking
Author: Rebecca Basu
Subtitle: American University sociologist’s new research finds few reports identified health risks to public
Abstract: A new analysis by American University sociology professor Celine Marie Pascale finds that U.S. news media coverage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan largely minimized health risks to the public.
Topic: Research
Publication Date: 03/10/2015
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Four years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the disaster no longer dominates U.S. news headlines, though the disabled plant continues to pour three hundred tons of radioactive water into the ocean each day. Homes, schools and businesses in the Japanese prefecture are uninhabitable, and will likely be so forever. Yet the U.S. media has dropped the story while public risks remain.

A new analysis by American University sociology professor Celine Marie Pascale finds that U.S. news media coverage of the disaster largely minimized health risks to the general population. Pascale analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets following the disaster's occurrence March 11, 2011 through the second anniversary on March 11, 2013. Only 6 percent of the coverage—129 articles—focused on health risks to the public in Japan or elsewhere. Human risks were framed, instead, in terms of workers in the disabled nuclear plant.

Disproportionate access

"It's shocking to see how few articles discussed risk to the general population, and when they did, they typically characterized risk as low," said Pascale, who studies the social construction of risk and meanings of risk in the 21st century. "We see articles in prestigious news outlets claiming that radioactivity from cosmic rays and rocks is more dangerous than the radiation emanating from the collapsing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant."

Pascale studied news articles, editorials, and letters from two newspapers, The Washington Postand The New York Times, and two nationally prominent online news sites, Politico and The Huffington Post. These four media outlets are not only among the most prominent in the United States, they are also among the most cited by television news and talk shows, by other newspapers and blogs and are often taken up in social media, Pascale said. In this sense, she added, understanding how risk is constructed in media gives insight into how national concerns and conversations get framed.  

Pascale's analysis identified three primary ways in which the news outlets minimized the risk posed by radioactive contamination to the general population. Articles made comparisons to mundane, low-level forms of radiation;defined the risks as unknowable, given the lack of long-term studies; and largely excluded concerns expressed by experts and residents who challenged the dominant narrative.

The research shows that corporations and government agencies had disproportionate access to framing the event in the media, Pascale says. Even years after the disaster, government and corporate spokespersons constituted the majority of voices published. News accounts about local impact—for example, parents organizing to protect their children from radiation in school lunches—were also scarce.  

Globalization of risk 

Pascale says her findings show the need for the public to be critical consumers of news; expert knowledge can be used to create misinformation and uncertainty—especially in the information vacuums that arise during disasters.  

"The mainstream media—in print and online—did little to report on health risks to the general population or to challenge the narratives of public officials and their experts," Pascale said. "Discourses of the risks surrounding disasters are political struggles to control the presence and meaning of events and their consequences. How knowledge about disasters is reported can have more to do with relations of power than it does with the material consequences to people's lives."

While it is clear that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown was a consequence of an earthquake and tsunami, like all disasters, it was also the result of political, economic and social choices that created or exacerbated broad-scale risks. In the 21st century, there's an increasing "globalization of risk," Pascale argues. Major disasters have potentially large-scale and long-term consequences for people, environments, and economies. 

"People's understanding of disasters will continue to be constructed by media. How media members frame the presence of risk and the nature of disaster matters," she said.

 

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Center for Health, Risk, and Society,Media Relations,Sociology,Sociology Dept,Featured News
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newsId: 0872FAF5-5056-AF26-BEAEB9A49F16DB74
Title: The Science behind the Dress
Author: Bei Xiao
Subtitle:
Abstract: Assistant Computer Science Professor Bei Xiao analyzes the dress.
Topic: Science
Publication Date: 03/09/2015
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The goal of our visual system is to infer the physical properties of objects. But last week's famous dress photo revealed that we can reach dramatically different conclusions about this seemingly straightforward task.

The heated debate over whether the famous dress is black/blue or gold/white is simmering down, but the deeper questions remain: Why do we see different colors? Why is it so difficult to switch from one percept to another? Does our brain have fundamentally different mechanisms to process lights and objects? If so, do all of the previous theoretical and empirical results regarding human color perception still hold? Why does this particular image allow such radical interoperation?

Scientists all over the world have been offering hypothesis. Over a course of a few days, several illustrative demos have emerged.

 

 

Color Constancy

So far, the consensus is that this phenomenon is related to color constancy, a feature of the human color perception system that allows us to perceive stable object color under varying illumination conditions. For example, you roughly perceive your car as having the same color when it is lit by the sunlight, incandescent light, or at different times of the day. In order to achieve constancy, one has to discount the effect of the color of the light and recover the color of the surface. In most scenes, there are enough visual cues to figure out the illumination, such as a nearby white object, relative reflectance of other objects, specular highlights on the surface, cast shadow, etc. But when the scene context is significantly reduced, color constancy can become quite poor.

In the photo of the dress, the illumination is very ambiguous. The photo lacks a reference white object (such as skin) and clear indication of the lighting direction. When the visual system faces ambiguity, observer has to "guess" the illumination color and such guesses strongly depend on their prior beliefs. For example, some people tend to see the dress in the shadow and shadows usually have a bluish hue. Hence, the dress under the shadow might look white and gold after discounting the illumination color.

 

 

Assumption About Illumination Color

The dress 1

It is possible that people make different guesses about the color of the ambient light in the photo. Neuroscientist Rosa Lafer-Sousa created a famous demo inspired by fellow neuroscientist Beau Lotto, and showed that if people assume a yellowish color of the overall light, they tend to overcompensate to see the dress being blue and black, whereas if people assume a bluish color of the overall light, they tend to see the dress as white and gold. However, some people still report seeing the dresses in the two images as having the same color.

 

Assumption About Illumination Geometry  

The dress 2

Others suggest people assume different geometry of the lighting condition. The demo by Yukiyaso Kamitani, neuroscientist from ART lab in Japan, shows that if you assume the dress is in shadow (as the woman on the right), you tend to compensate the illumination and think it is white and gold, whereas if you assume the dress is lit from the front (as the woman on the left), you tend to compensate and view it as blue and black.
Photo by Yukiyasu Kamitani  

 

Assumption About Reflectance Properties  

Different perceptions of the material properties of the dress can also contribute to illumination estimation. Even though the shoulder part of the dress appears to be glossy, it is difficult to estimate the material composition of the dress from the photo. Some people might see the whitish spot on the dress being the reflection of the illumination, hence they conclude the dress is blue and black. Others might perceive the bluish part of the scene as shadow and conclude that the dress is white and gold.  

 

Why Do People Have Different Assumptions?  

Why do people make different assumptions of the illumination? The image that enters our retina is the same (assuming the same device and viewing angle), but the transformation from the retina image to a color representation can be different for everyone. A New York Times article initially suggests that it could be due to the fact that people have different distributions of long, medium, and short wavelength sensitive cone photoreceptors in their retinas. But previous results from David Williams, professor of medical optics at the University of Rochester, have shown that this has little effect on color perception.  

In my opinion, the illusion happened primarily cortically. The individual difference can originate from different scene parsing strategy (whether the dress was lit with the same light source as the backdrop) and different visual cue recruitment strategy (e.g. does the specular highlights on the shoulder, inter-reflections on the concave part of the dress provide consistent cues about the illumination). 

In addition, it is known that people are better at discounting the color of the illumination in the scene when they don't happen along the blue-yellow axis, which is the axis of the daylight spectrum (work by Anya Hulbert from the University of Newcastle in UK and Karl Gegenfurtner from Giessen University in Germany). This uncertainty might contribute to the ambiguity in estimating the illumination in the dress photo. However, it seems that flipping the color 180 degrees (see the image below) resulted in an image that has much less individual difference in the color of the dress. So the reason why this particular image causes so much individual difference might also depends on the particular luminance values of the dress in the original photo.

The dress 3

In forming high-level opinions, we are not surprised that prior belief will influence our opinions of a current event (e.g. Is global warming a thing?). However, most previous results in perception have been obtained from averaged data across observers. The individual difference diminished into various sized error bars. Perceptual priors, assumption of the illumination for example, can differ significantly among individuals. This dress illusion provides proof that we are not designed to see the physical world in the same way.  

What experiments can help us to resolve this deep mystery? I believe we need to reconsider many basic experiments to explore individual difference in hue discrimination, scene segmentation, color constancy of different material properties, and color memory. There is no doubt the discussion of the dress will prompt immediate scientific endeavor to dig deep into individual differences in perception, its computational mechanisms, and its neural origin.
Photo by Karl Gegenfurner

 

Want to Learn More? 

The Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting takes place in Florida May 15-20. My colleagues and I will present a demo at the conference—called the Blue Dress Pavilion—to show how different lighting conditions affect color perception.

 

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newsId: 94AD979B-5056-AF26-BE4FE6B4B62B2F3B
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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newsId: 6C04E0D9-DABA-87E8-31492CF8D9E60F06
Title: "Braven" The Odds
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Marshall Thompson, CAS/BA ’03, opens Braven Brewing Company in New York City
Abstract: Marshall Thompson, CAS/BA ’03, opens Braven Brewing Company in New York City
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/12/2014
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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newsId: 92A036D3-D3B8-7ED8-1D1FF5C18BA9706B
Title: Brett Smock, CAS/BA ’92: From Dancer to Producing Artistic Director
Author: Patricia C. Rabb
Subtitle:
Abstract: AU alumnus is Producing Artistic Director of The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 09/09/2014
Content:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole also maintains a blog.

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

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Author,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences
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newsId: A26FABE8-9FE8-486F-05097B28A77CFD3E
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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