newsId: 6AAE335F-BB31-617B-F4FA7D60D82085D5
Title: Charting AU's Carbon Neutrality Progress
Abstract: SOC film students document carbon neutrality research trip to Costa Rica.
Topic: Environment
Publication Date: 04/18/2014

American University’s plan for carbon neutrality is among the most ambitious in the country. According to Chris O’Brien, director of the Office of Sustainability, AU will achieve the green goal by 2020.

Released May 14, 2010, AU’s plan came two years after President Neil Kerwin signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The initiative began in 2006 when 12 presidents gathered at Arizona State University to commit to carbon neutrality and research around climate change.

Graduate students from AU's School of Communication, School of International Service, Kogod School of Business, and School of Public Affairs, recently participated in a team research project addressing AU's commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.

MORE: Earth Month Schedule of Events at AU

In an attempt to mitigate carbon emissions from students’ study abroad travel and faculty/staff commuting to campus, AU has invested in the Costa Rican government’s “Payment for Environmental Services” program, which pays landholders to protect rainforests in biodiversity hotspots and vulnerable watersheds.

Led by O'Brien, Dr. Ken Conca (SIS), and Professor Larry Engel (SOC), the team traveled to Costa Rica to assess the program’s environmental and social impacts, along with the overall effectiveness of AU's payments for these ecosystem services.

SOC Film and Media Arts master’s students Jazmin Garcia and Nick Zachar, also joined the group in Cost Rica. The two aspiring filmmakers documented the students as they interviewed government officials, local organizations, and landowners.

The interdisciplinary research project will work to provide AU with a recommendation on whether to continue the current project in Costa Rica or to look for alternatives going forward.

“As an institution of higher education in the nation’s capital, it’s incumbent upon us to lead climate change mitigation strategies,” O’Brien said. “We’re training the next generation of leaders, and it’s critical our students understand the problems and be a part of the solution.”

Tags: School of Communication,Global Environmental Politics,Environment,South America,Study Abroad
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Title: Bridging Wikipedia's ‘GLAM’ Gap
Author: Rick Horowitz
Abstract: Professor Andrew Lih's students spread public knowledge, dodge social-media pitfalls.
Topic: Journalism
Publication Date: 04/15/2014

Professor Andrew Lih presented at SOC’s Faculty Forum Wednesday, April 16, discussing the growing interaction between social media and traditional forms of knowledge sharing. View the full presentation: “Is K the New J? Wikipedia's Role in Knowledge for the Public Interest."

Wikipedia: It’s the scourge of teachers in classrooms everywhere; professors prohibit so much as a passing mention in a footnote.

Wikipedia: It’s the nightmare that haunts academics, professional researchers and other highly credentialed experts; they want absolutely nothing to do with it.

True? Or does somebody need to edit those sentences? Update them? Perhaps they’d be more accurate in the past tense.

And if that’s the case, a large share of the credit goes to Andrew Lih.

Professor Lih, Associate Professor of Journalism now completing his first year at American University School of Communication, studies the intersection of new media, journalism and technology. He’s one of a handful of the country’s go-to experts on Wikipedia—the online encyclopedia entirely written by volunteers.

The focus of Lih’s research: the impact of social media on the spread of “public knowledge.” But he does more than just study the subject; with the help of several dozen AU students this semester and last, he’s building some of the first bridges between two very different, and often highly contentious, knowledge communities.

On one side of the divide: the cogitate, curate, take-your-time, expertise-matters-above-all forces of traditional scholarship.

And on the other: the hurry-up, put-it-up, everyone-gets-a-shot, we’re-all-equals-here forces of a more “democratic,” more collaborative tomorrow.

Two groups, with two ways of looking at the world, and at the way information flows. But, it turns out, two groups with a growing number of interests in common. Which is how Lih’s students regularly find themselves working with some of Washington’s most important “GLAM” institutions (“Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums”), helping them share their vast stores of knowledge with broader audiences than they’d ever thought possible. Audiences that these institutions have come to realize they want to—and need to—reach.

Among the notable participants in this cross-pollination of tradition and tech: the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum, Museum of the American Indian; the National Archives; and the Library of Congress.

Making a Change

The chance to make that cross-pollination happen was a large part of what lured Lih to the nation’s capital, and to SOC.

“I don’t think I could do this in any other city in the world,” he explains. “Maybe London. Every other week you can visit a top-notch cultural institution.”

In Washington, he says, visitors to the National Mall can ask themselves, “‘What do I want to see today? Whales? Spaceships? Asian art? Matisse? Or I can do all four!’”

WikipediaRevolutionIn previous postings, the one-time engineer at the famed Bell Labs (and founder of one of the country’s first dot-coms, back in 1994) created the new-media program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and then helped launch the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre—this, at a moment when Asia’s Internet growth was just starting to take off.

He also spent time in Beijing (where his wife was working for The Wall Street Journal), getting a good look at what happens when a government tries to censor the Internet. It was in Beijing, too, that Lih started to write The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. That 2009 book recounted Wikipedia’s modest origins and explosive growth, and speculated on what the expanding social-media landscape might mean for the future direction of public knowledge.

Then it was back to the States, to USC. And then, in the fall of 2013, the move to Washington.

But it was London, interestingly, that may have provided something of a role model for this current phase of his work; it was there in 2010 that the venerable British Museum first created the position of “Wikipedian in Residence”, thus recognizing the growing influence of social media in general, and of the world’s largest collaborative online encyclopedia in particular.

Warming up to Wikipedia

Attitudes toward Wikipedia among museum administrators “turned a corner” at that moment, Lih recalls. “‘We shouldn’t be fighting it,’ they’d say. Furthering its mission furthers our mission.’”

Museum curators, he says, were “really fascinated. ‘We know what should be in the articles, but we don’t understand the norms of how to do it’ on Wikipedia.’”

Enter the “edit-a-thon.”

Museum folks knew their collections. Students—Lih’s and others—had a better grasp on some of those Wikipedia norms. Their assignment, every Tuesday afternoon: to digest the facts about the various exhibits, the various holdings—whether those facts came to them in neatly organized folders, or by following their own sparks of personal interest right into the galleries—and then figure out the most effective ways to convey that information to the hundreds of millions of Wikipedia visitors.

In some cases, it might simply mean an expansion of an existing Wikipedia entry; in others, starting an entirely new entry from scratch. In some cases, the words are all that matters; in others, why not a photograph of that sculpture? Of that mask? Or instead of just describing it, why not a video clip showing people actually using sign language?

“I don’t think I could do this in any other city in the world,” Lih explains. “Every other week you can visit a top-notch cultural institution.” 

Internet culture—and Wikipedia is hardly an exception—can often be quirky, fiercely independent, borderline crotchety. Newbies aren’t always welcomed. Women aren’t always welcomed. It’s a place where one’s identity is often created in opposition to traditional scholarship and its ivy-covered, peer-reviewed value system. A place, Lih concedes, where “the tenured professor has been treated much more shabbily than the 13-year-old.”

So Lih also schools his students on how to navigate the sometimes- intimidating processes and personalities of Wiki culture. Occasionally it even takes a phone call from Lih to one of Wikipedia’s editors, asking for a bit more patience as a student new to that culture fleshes out the bare outlines of an entry; after all, a quick slapdown is no way to encourage the next generation of contributors.

Filling the Gap

According to Lih, Wikipedia fills a critical need. Beyond the scholar/volunteer divide he’s committed to bridging, there’s a second divide that has long attracted Lih’s attention, too: the one between the speed (but also the ephemeral, disposable nature) of daily journalism, and the depth (but also the sluggishness, the caution) of the academic and museum worlds.

For most of two decades, he explains, “My big question was: “How does the Internet change all that? How do we fill in the gap between the news that’s happening now, and what gets saved and remembered about it later?

“We see news happening, and then there’s the archives. There was no one place for-until Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia, says Andrew Lih, provides something that’s never been possible before: “A storehouse of knowledge that works at the speed of human achievement. A continuous working draft of history.”

Tags: School of Communication,Journalism (SOC),Arts Management,Education,Research,Washington DC
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newsId: 68E337DC-CF3A-F0CC-81F073B62308A1EE
Title: AU Alumni and Friends Meet Up for Fun, Games, and Scholarship
Abstract: Library friends and donors enhanced our Game Design & Persuasive Play collection at our recent Gaming with a Purpose fundraising event. This new collection will support the new MA in Game Design & Persuasive Play’s program in the School of Communication.
Topic: On Campus
Publication Date: 04/02/2014

Donors, alumni, faculty, and students all came together to support the new Master of Arts in Game Design at Gaming with a Purpose, a fundraising event hosted by the Library on March 18. This event featured game materials that donors could choose as a gift to the Library in support of this new initiative. All of the event proceeds from the event will be used to support development of this collection.

American University's Master of Arts in Game Design in the School of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences is a unique, multi-disciplinary program focused on game design, play theory, and game engagement strategies intended to influence non-game contexts and challenges. The program is designed to develop the intellectual capacity of students as designers, developers, consumers, and games administrators. This is the only degree in persuasive play in the United States. Students who graduate from the program will be prepared to for a wide variety of jobs utilizing next-generation media engagement to change people’s interests, activities, and opinions.

Lindsay Grace, Director of the Persuasive Play Initiative, is a game designer and researcher. His game designs have received awards from Games for Change Festival, Meaningful Play, Advances in Computer Entertainment, and Gamescape. He has published more than 25 papers, articles, and book chapters on games since 2009. Grace describes AU's concept of gaming with a purpose as "games that go beyond entertainment—pursuing how games can change people’s behavior and how to produce socially responsible games.”

To support this initiative, the Library needs to build a collection of materials relevant to the field. To that end, we have been purchasing scholarly books in this field and speaking with faculty members about their instructional needs. They requested a substantial number of games—and we are pleased to fulfill this request.

The games that we acquired through the generosity of our donors include classic games, which can be used to teach the fundamentals of game development; vintage games, which can be used to increase our understanding of a specific era; war games, which simulate the complexity and strategy of combat situations; games based on real-world scenarios, such as a pandemic outbreak, which illustrate the theories of persuasive play; and others. The materials that we have acquired to support this program aid faculty to create a framework for discussion in their classrooms. Adding games to the curriculum is an ideal way to give students a hands-on understanding of the theory and mechanisms of game design and persuasive play.

Tags: Library,Library Events and Outreach Programming,Library Services,New at the Library,School of Communication,School of International Service,University Library,College of Arts and Sciences
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Title: Couric Named Commencement Speaker
Abstract: News legend Katie Couric will speak at the 2014 School of Communication commencement ceremony.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 04/01/2014

Award-winning journalist and TV personality, Katie Couric, will speak at the 2014 School of Communication commencement ceremony Saturday, May 10, at American University. Ceremonies begin at 9:00 a.m. in AU’s Bender Arena. Couric will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Couric’s expansive career provides much to draw from in her address. In November 2013, Couric joined Yahoo as global anchor, where she will help develop Yahoo News’ coverage, report on live events, and anchor groundbreaking interviews with major newsmakers. Couric is also host of Katie, a daily syndicated daytime talk show that premiered in September 2012, and special correspondent for ABC News.

Couric, a well-known cancer advocate and New York Times best-selling author of The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives, is also executive producer and narrator of Fed Up, a documentary about the alarming spread of childhood obesity, to be released in spring 2014.

In September 2006, Couric joined CBS News and became the first female solo anchor of an evening news broadcast after a 15-year run as co-anchor of NBC’s TODAY show.

“She’s a giant in her field, an experienced journalist, storyteller, well-connected to the issues and the concerns of today,” said Dean Jeff Rutenbeck.

A Washington Metropolitan Area native, Couric was inspired to go into journalism largely because of her father, John Couric, who was a reporter throughout the South and Washington during the 1940s and 1950s. He received his master’s degree in communication from AU in 1968 and went on to serve as an adjunct professor of journalism and public relations in SOC’s graduate program for many years.

“Katie Couric’s depth of experience, professional success, and triumph over personal tragedy are all a testament to the values and mission of the School of Communication,” said Rutenbeck. “Our students are thrilled to have her as the 2014 commencement speaker.”

Families and friends who cannot make the ceremony will be able to watch a live stream on the American University website. Students, alumni, friends, and family are also encouraged to follow AU’s Commencement on Facebook, and tweet during commencement using the hashtag #2014AUGrad.

Tags: School of Communication,Journalism (SOC),Office of the Dean (SOC),Journalism,Washington DC
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Title: Cheney Visits AU
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Abstract: The former vice president sits down for a wide-ranging discussion in Bender Arena.
Topic: Government & Politics
Publication Date: 03/28/2014

Few people have amassed as much high-level government experience as Dick Cheney. Before serving as President George W. Bush’s vice president and trusted adviser, Cheney was White House chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, a member of Congress representing Wyoming, and secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush. So the battle-tested Cheney had plenty of knowledge to impart to students at a Kennedy Political Union (KPU) event on Thursday, March 27th at American University.

Controversy surrounding the Iraq War and post-9/11 counterterrorism policy has made Cheney a lightning rod for criticism, and there were protests both inside and outside Bender Arena on Thursday night. But Cheney is also revered by many conservatives, and a hospitable AU crowd of approximately 750 attentively listened to his remarks on Russia, Iran, gay rights, and other issues.

Welcoming Cheney

Though KPU has hosted politicians who would later become vice presidents—Joe Biden while he was still in the Senate, for example—Cheney’s visit marks the first time a former vice president has appeared at one of the political union’s events.

“Vice President Cheney has a long and thorough résumé when it comes to Washington. From his time as House minority whip to serving under several presidents, he has seen it all,” said KPU Director Chandler Thornton. “While one may not agree with everything he has done, he has been extremely influential in shaping the policy of the United States domestically and abroad for decades.”

Founded in 1968, KPU is the non-partisan, student-run lecture series on campus. The Cheney event was cosponsored by the American University College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation.

Conservative students were clearly excited to have Cheney at AU. Lucy Lohrmann was just seven years old at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She’s originally from Hasbrouck Heights in Bergen County, New Jersey, only about 15 minutes away from New York City and Ground Zero.

“I was a young girl feeling unsafe in this country that I have grown to love,” she said. “I feel—not just as a Republican, but also as an American—that the Bush administration kept us safe during such a horrible, scary, uncertain time.”

Fast forward to 2014, and Lohrmann is an AU sophomore and president of the College Republicans. She still appreciates how Cheney handled the terrorist threat, and she was enthusiastic about him coming to campus.

In response to some anti-Cheney sentiment, Lohrmann discusses the value of diverse viewpoints.

“I think [AU] strives to bring about diversity, not just in a racial sense or an ethnic sense, but also a diversity of thought, diversity of political affiliation. Obviously, college campuses just by their nature are more liberal, and that’s totally fine. But I think it’s very important to also have that diversity, and to bring somebody like Dick Cheney here,” she said.

In His Own Words

In his introductory statement, Cheney wasted no time confronting the contentious issue of NSA surveillance.

“There are all these allegations and charges that the NSA is deeply involved in intercepting and violating people’s civil rights. That’s not true,” said Cheney. He said he worries that current political considerations could dismantle vital NSA work. If the NSA surveillance program had been in place before 9/11, he opined that “we might well have been able to intercept the hijackers.”

The event was moderated by Richard Benedetto, a former White House correspondent for USA Today and now an adjunct professor in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Communication. Benedetto read questions that students submitted online.

Early on, Benedetto asked about Cheney’s health. The former vice president reflected on a long struggle that included his first heart attack at age 37 and his heart transplant two years ago. He mentioned how scientific advances have significantly reduced the incidents of death from heart disease. “It’s a great story. It’s not my story. It’s a story of technology and the remarkable progress that’s been made with modern medicine.”

To some laughter, Benedetto said the students have an impression of Cheney as a “rather dark personality.”

“Especially after 9/11, I had to spend a lot of time on highly classified material and programs. That was the nature of my job and my responsibility. So there wasn’t anything I could say about what I was doing, anyway,” Cheney explained in response. “I think for all of those reasons I developed this image—part of which was true. I was tough and hard-nosed…I wasn’t running for anything. I was trying to do the job the president had given me.”

Students submitted a number of questions about foreign policy. Cheney warned that if Iran goes nuclear, other nations in the Middle East will follow suit. Regarding the Crimean crisis involving Russia and Ukraine, he argued that the U.S. could take military measures that do not include putting troops on the ground.

There were some lighter moments, and Cheney even fielded a question about trout fishing. His all-time largest catch? A 20-plus pound Steelhead.

At the end of the evening, he addressed the AU students directly and encouraged them to consider public service. “I came to town as an intern to work on Capitol Hill,” he recalled. “And it worked out to be a pretty good deal for me. And I want to encourage those of you who are here tonight at American University. It’s enormously important that we get good people involved, whatever your beliefs are or your political faith.”

Student Reactions

“I thought the questions that they asked were good,” said freshman Sophie Yager. “And for the most part, I think he was truthful in how he answered.”

Freshman Alex Falco also appreciated Cheney’s candor. “He was very frank. And he did make a few very bold statements, like saying the current level of NSA surveillance could have stopped 9/11. That’s just a very bold statement. But overall it was wonderful to hear him speak. Everything was very well put together. And I obviously have very differing opinions from him, but I always enjoy hearing different views.”

Tags: College Republicans,Featured News,Kennedy Political Union,Media Relations,Office of Campus Life,School of Communication,School of Public Affairs,Politics
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Title: Dean's Picks: Students, Faculty and Alum Find Success
Abstract: In this issue of Dean's Picks, students collaborate on SOC Water Project,  DeNardis appointed to key committee, and alum's "Astronaut' screens in orbit.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 03/25/2014

Latest Stories

Olivia Water Project

Water Project Catalyzes Communication Students

Experiential cross-disciplinary initiative pairs students with water advocates and scientists for professional projects. Read more.


Laura DeNardis

State Department Taps DeNardis for Key Committee

Professor Laura DeNardis will serve on the Advisory Committee for International Communications and Information Policy. Read more. Join DeNardis for her book talk April 1 in SOC's Media Innovation Lab.


David Ruck

Alum's 'Astronaut' on International Space Station

Film by David J. Ruck, (SOC/MFA ’13) to screen in orbit for a very select audience. Read more.


In the News

Warming Up to the Culture of Wikipedia

Communication professor Andrew Lih discussed with New York Times the surge of Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thons’ including his course, “Wikipedia and Public Knowledge,” which focuses on ‘edit-a-thons’ and requires students to create and improve entries. Read more.

Poll: People Still Seek Meaty News on Media Buffet
Journalism professor Jane Hall spoke to Associated Press about a poll revealing leading newspapers and network evening news no longer set the national news agenda as Americans are increasingly relying on a wider variety of media sources—including social media—to stay informed. Read more.

U.S. to Cede Its Oversight of Addresses on Internet
Communication professor Laura DeNardis spoke to New York Times about the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to not renew the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) contract. DeNardis explained the benefit, which will take into account the global interests of multiple stakeholders. DeNardis also spoke to TIME and The Economist.

Who Was Carl Sagan?
Communication professor Declan Fahy spoke to National Geographic about the impact and legacy of astronomer Carl Sagan. Read more.

Upcoming Events

DC Environmental Film Festival
March 18- 30, View full list of SOC sponsored events.

Dean's Intern Recruitment Reception & Panel
March 26 – 3:30 p.m., McKinley Media Innovation Lab Learn more

SOC Week 2014
March 31 - April 4 – American University
View the full list of SOC Week events and follow #SOCWeek for updates.

"Last Call at the Oasis" Screening/Q&A with filmmaker Jessica Yu
April 3 – 5:30 p.m, Forman Theater Learn more


FOLLOW SOC Facebook Twitter YouTube

Please send your suggestions for Dean's Picks to Dani Rizzo.

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Title: Superheroine Struggles Focus of Alumna’s New Web Series
Abstract: 36F peeks behind the curtain at everyday life of a super hero.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 03/25/2014

We sat down with Annie Coburn, (SOC/MFA ’11) to talk about her pursuing her passion for fiction filmmaking and preparing to shoot a new web series while working with Emmy Award-winning Diva Communications.

Coburn, who received her MFA in Film and Electronic Media, has directed several plays and written, produced, or directed several short films, including her thesis film, Pretty All the Time, (Cleveland International Film Festival 2012, Frederick Film Festival 2012, winner of Script DC 2009), and Five Points, (Southern Colorado Film Festival 2013, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2013). In 2014, she will direct 36F, a web series about a superheroine trying to navigate everyday life. In 2013, she cast and helped produce Shenanigans, directed by Colin Foster and Peter Kimball (Los Angeles International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, and DC Shorts, among others). Coburn resides in New York City with her husband and 3-month-old daughter.

Q: Tell us about your new web series and why you’ve chosen web as a format?

AC: 36F tells the story of two superheroines—Harriet and Lobsterclawgirl—trying to live in the everyday world, dealing with things like bras, insurance, and how to pee while wearing super-suits. It was inspired by a few different things: I was pregnant, and couldn’t move very well, so I would endlessly surf Twitter, following the sci-fi fantasy community as it was having a long-overdue melt-down over the role of women and people of color in the genre.

At the same time, I needed new bras to accommodate my growth as the pregnancy progressed. As many women will tell you, having large breasts is a huge pain, emotionally, logistically, and financially—but so many superheroines are very well—almost anti-gravitationally—endowed, and it never seems to get in their way! And it made me think about what other logistical problems of being a superheroine might be. From there, it progressed into a story about two new superheroines trying to figure out how to be a superhero—and what being a superhero actually means.

I chose a web format for a lot of different reasons—there’s a very low bar for distribution via Youtube or Vimeo, there’s a (low) possibility of monetization, and 36F feels native to the online community. I also see the possibility of it having a broader audience online than through the festival circuit, which is important to me. But I’d love to sell the series to an online distributor like Netflix or Hulu.

Q: What courses influenced your current creative work?

AC: Gary Griffin’s Dramatic Production and Claudia Myers’ Screenplay courses still influence my work. Gary has an exercise that connects a personal story with other classmates’ stories and together, the combination of those stories creates a new work. I use this technique all the time in my own work, taking the nugget of something that has affected me strongly and exploding it, often incorporating fantastic elements and mythic or genre aspects into the finished product. Claudia’s emphasis on structure helps to keep this impressionistic process moving forward narratively; holding onto the spine of the story allows me to either fold in or reject new ideas.

You can see this combination with my film Five Points and my upcoming web series 36F. Five Points is a comedy about the revenge of the roadkill, but the core of it is actually a personal tragedy: my uncle was killed by a car while riding his bike, and the driver suffered very few legal consequences. While the end product bears no resemblance to this story, the kernel is very dark.

I also had an independent study with Brigid Maher where I was able to plan and extensively storyboard an earlier version of Five Points, which was enormously helpful during production.

Q: What course helped prepare you to make a living through following your passion?

AC: Randall Blair’s producing class has been incredibly helpful, both in terms of organizing my own projects to attract funding and to make a living as a filmmaker.

Q: What advice do you have for current students at SOC?

AC: Look around at your classmates and colleagues; see who you communicate with best, because you will continue to be champions of each other’s work over the years. Do your best to be kind, helpful, and efficient, because people have long memories and no one really wants to be around mean people after twelve hours on set. Learn the fundamentals of fundraising and practice your networking skills. For the majority, making a living in the film industry and making your own films are not always one in the same, at least not at the beginning of your career, so get really good at a hard skill like editing, camera or being a first AD.

Q: Why did you choose SOC?

AC: I was drawn to SOC’s film program because of the focus on documentary as well as by the FAMU-Prague program, as I’ve always felt a strong pull towards social justice issues as well as an encompassing love of fiction film. I didn’t feel that I would get that kind of combination at any other film school, and I quickly found a group of friends and colleagues who had the same kind of bone-deep drive to make things that I did.

Q: Tell us about your current professional work.

AC: I’m currently fundraising for a documentary company called Diva Communications, which focuses on documentaries about the religious experience. I just finished a grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a new documentary about historic and current ghettoes called In the Ghetto of the Garden. As a freelancer, I’ve worked as a production assistant for commercials, a pilot for Nickelodeon, a feature film, and as an associate producer for various documentary work.

My new year’s resolutions are to make 36F, at least one music video, have lunch with five producers I don’t know very well, and shadow a TV director.


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Title: Water Project Catalyzes Communication Students
Abstract: Experiential cross-disciplinary initiative pairs students with water advocates and scientists for professional projects.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 03/21/2014

In news, policy, politics and entertainment, water is a hot topic. Safe drinking water. Water scarcity. Pollution and toxic contamination. Conservation and resources management. Hygiene and sanitation.

American University students are mapping the treatment of these issues in their professional fields and producing new reporting, strategic communication campaigns, media productions and communication research through the Water Project, an innovative, experiential cross-disciplinary initiative launched by the School of Communication.

Spearheaded by former SOC Dean Larry Kirkman, the Water Project demonstrates the value of sharing work across academic divisions. “The goal of the Water Project is to engage faculty and students in communicating water problems and solutions - local to global in scope, with scientific, economic, political, legal, and ethical dimensions - and in collaboration with partner organizations, which provide resources and outlets for student work,” says Kirkman.

25 SOC faculty members have embraced the project, which launched in the fall of 2013, agreeing to incorporate water issues into course assignments over the next two academic years. In its first semester, the Water Project has yielded high caliber work for public television, national advocacy organizations and municipal initiatives.

Chesapeake Bay
Building on SOC’s long track record of work around issues related to the Chesapeake Bay, students in journalism, film and public relations courses found new questions to ask, and answer.

A video profile of 15-year old Jamie, from Edgewater, Md., by Gillian Ray, a student in Bill Gentile’s backpack journalism course, tells the story of Jamie’s commitment to preserving the Bay through oyster gardening. Gillian found Jaimie with the help of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which was responsible for connecting several students to local watershed initiatives that serve as case studies, clients for strategic campaigns and media production, and sources/stories for journalists and documentary makers.

Gillian Ray films Jamie for her documentary short/>
Gillian Ray films Jamie

Graduate journalism student Mary Bowerman investigated the conflict between farmers and environmentalists regarding the regulation of phosphorous in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for Angie Chuang’s Reporting of Public Affairs course, which focuses on analyzing and making accessible the real-world impact of federal policy. Bowerman's multimedia timeline tracks the path of regulatory efforts to bring back the Chesapeake Bay beginning with the first recognition of decline in the 1960's to the present struggle to implement environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. Her article and audio podcasts bring to life the passionate debate and deep divisions that the evolving policies have inspired.

Raise the River
Six students received priceless exposure when their PSAs were selected by the Raise the River campaign to be showcased along with the students’ bios throughout the month of February. Several film and media arts classes worked with the Redford Center, part of the Sundance group of organizations, to produce PSAs for RTR, a unique partnership of six well-known U.S. and Mexican non-governmental organizations committed to restoring the Colorado River Delta. Social media promotion by RTR and partner organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy extended the reach of the PSAs to another 650,000 people.

Fish animation
Still from Raise the River PSA created by Brian Kelly

The Redford Center donated all the elements of its Watershed documentary, Executive Produced and Narrated by Robert Redford and Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Mark Decena, with split audio tracks and including outtakes, for use by the students in their productions. Brigid Maher’s class Techniques/Aesthetics of Editing used the footage to produce short webisodes; two pieces from Terence Johnson, Olivia and Ted, and one from Daniela Pérez Frías were among those selected by RTR. Maher says, “Working with the Redford Center on the Raise the River campaign was a remarkable opportunity for students to explore a vital and critical environmental issue and at the same time gain professional experience. This is a great example of the kind of experiences available to students at SOC.” Work from Pedro Carvalho, Brian Kelly, Jason Kurtis, and Wynette Yao was also showcased.

Framing the Debate
Professor Dotty Lynch’s class on strategic communication research methods dove into over a decade’s worth of research commissioned by the Nature Conservancy from top pollsters to identify effective ways to communicate water issues to the public, particularly young people. Lynch reports that “The Conservancy and the pollsters have been over-the-top helpful in sharing the data and analyses, which show how powerful water is for conservation messaging.”

Since 2004, Democratic pollster Dave Metz and Republican pollster Lori Weigel have conducted three national polls, analyzed regional and state polls, and produced recommendations in a summary memo on the “Language of Conservation.”

Metz Skyped with the class to present the findings, explain how they lead to a strategy for communicating conservation, and answer questions. The students produced secondary analyses based on the Conservancy’s data, and conducted focus groups and an online survey, to craft strategy memos on engaging young people. These informed projects in other courses and Lynch’s students acted as consultants for specific film projects.

Last Call at the Oasis

A Call to Action
A touchstone for many classes throughout the project is Academy Award winner Jessica Yu’s documentary Last Call at the Oasis. Chris Palmer, director of SOC’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, said the film inspired his students. “The students in my weekend MA class were stunned by the film. The clarity of its message and the dramatic unfolding of the story gripped their attention.”

Participant Media produced Last Call at the Oasis to establish the global water crisis as the central issue facing our world this century, show communities already struggling with its ill-effects and highlight individuals championing revolutionary solutions. Participant facilitated access to the film for students engaged in the project.

Yu will be a Center for Media and Social Impact visiting artist to SOC April 3 when she will teach a master class for SOC MFA students and later hold a public screening of Last Call with Q&A in SOC’s new Forman Theater and reception to follow. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, with support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and in association with the SOC Water Project.

Gaining Momentum
Now in its second semester, the project is attracting even more partners and faculty who want to work with them. Pilar McKay’s public communication students are partnering with the Alice Ferguson Foundation to produce PSAs for the Trash Free Potomac River Watershed Initiative. Investigative reporting students in Professor Chuck Lewis’ course will also be taking on a water issue this semester. A motion graphics class, taught by Kristian Perry, will develop animations and infographics for Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) that tell a revolutionary story: a re-envisioning of the water cycle as we know it. “The assignments give the students a chance to not only work in a client-vendor relationship with the organization, but to take the extra creative step of articulating important ideas persuasively and concisely.” says Perry, whose students worked with RTR in the fall. He looks forward to continuing his work with the Water Project. “It's gratifying to me that some of the students that put the most effort into the project have a chance to have their work presented beyond the classroom. It can become part of a genuine advocacy campaign.”

Tags: Alumni,DC Community,Faculty,Media,Staff,Students,Nonprofit Organization,School,School of Communication,Academics,Achievements,Communication,Environment,Film,Film Production,Global,Nonprofit,Public Relations
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Title: On- and Off-Screen Connections for SOC and DC Environmental Film Festival
Abstract: Films by alumni and faculty to show in SOC's new theater as part of festival.
Topic: Television & Film
Publication Date: 03/20/2014

The School of Communication at American University is a proud supporter of the annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital. This year, two films by SOC alumni and two from SOC faculty members will screen at the festival, and through a partnership led by the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, SOC will host several events in its new 144-seat Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater in the McKinley Building on AU's main campus.

Our Cities, Our Planet, the 2014 festival theme, seeks to examine the challenges posed by Earth’s urban environments and the efforts of the world’s cities to balance environmental and economic needs.

See schedule of SOC-related screenings below.


Journey to the South Pacific (A 3D IMAX Film)

The lush tropical islands of remote West Papua, where life flourishes above and below the sea, are the setting for this adventure, narrated by award-winning actress Cate Blanchett. Join Jawi, a young island boy, as he takes us on a journey of discovery to this magical place where we encounter whale sharks, sea turtles, manta rays and other iconic creatures of the sea. Home to more than 2,000 species of sea life, this exotic locale features the most diverse marine ecosystem on earth. An uplifting story of hope and celebration, Journey to the South Pacific highlights the importance of living in balance with the ocean planet we all call home.

Introduced by co-executive producer and SOC Professor and Center for Environmental Filmmaking Director Chris Palmer. Palmer will also moderate a discussion after the screening with Helen Fox, Director, Marine Science, World Wildlife Fund and Mike Henley, Animal Keeper and Dive Officer, National Zoological Park.



Spat! Bringing Oysters Back to the Chesapeake Bay

After centuries of over-harvesting, and recurring bouts of devastating diseases, oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay plummeted along with the profits of the industry and the health of the Bay. Now in some areas of the Bay, native oysters are more abundant and fewer are dying from disease. In 2013, more than a billion hatchery-raised baby oysters were added to the Bay and new breeds of disease-resistant, meatier, faster-growing oysters are thriving in commercial aquaculture. What will it take to bring back one of the Bay’s most ecologically important organisms? Culture and ecology clash in this captivating story about one of the Bay’s most important critters. Directed and produced by Sandy Cannon-Brown, Center for Environmental Filmmaking Associate Director and SOC adjunct professor. This film was developed as part of the Water Project at SOC.


TUESDAY, MARCH 25 at 7 PM (Reception at 6:30 PM)*

An Evening with Chris Palmer: Can Comedy Encourage Conservation?

In this entertaining presentation, illustrated with a wide selection of amusing clips, Professor Chris Palmer makes the case that not only can comedy be an effective way to get viewers’ attention, but, paradoxically, laughter can also inspire people to take conservation and environmental issues more seriously.

Chris will also screen the winners of this year’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition sponsored by the AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and the Sierra Club.


Student Short Environmental Film Festival

A number of short student films will be shown followed by a discussion with the filmmakers on the opportunities and challenges in environmental filmmaking. The panel will be moderated by Center for Environmental Filmmaking Associate Director Sandy Cannon-Brown, and include student filmmakers Chuyin Tian, Jazmin Garcia, Ross Godwin, Gillian Ray, and Jake Cirksena.



The Bonobo Connection (Congo / USA, 2012, 32 min.)

Along with the chimpanzee, the bonobo ape is the closest human relative. This rare and intelligent species, which can only be found in one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa, could be the first of the great apes to go extinct, threatened by deforestation, predation for bush meat and war. To understand this powerful yet peaceloving species is to reflect on our own origin and gain insight into how we communicate with one another. Narrated by Ashley Judd. Directed and produced by SOC alumna Irene Magafan. Edited by SOC's Tom Fish.

Kathryn Pasternak


“Ok, I've Watched the Film, Now What?"

Film clips and panel discussion hosted and moderated by SOC's Chris Palmer, featuring Kathryn Pasternak, filmmaker, formerly with National Geographic Television; Peter Stonier, Senior Director of Visual Storytelling, Conservation International; and Melissa Thompson, Senior Video Producer, Greenpeace USA. How do we produce films that make a difference? This panel explores ways we can turn films into action at both the policy and personal levels. Our panelists consider the challenges of producing films that have a tangible and measurable impact on their audiences and society.

FRIDAY, MARCH 28 at 6:45 PM | Reception, 6:00 PM*

Presented with the Embassy of Spain

Stop! Rodando El Cambio (Spain, 2014, 70 min.) U.S. Premiere

A road trip takes us along the Spanish countryside, and into Portugal and France, making stops along the way to meet individuals and collectives that have chosen to live a simpler life. Today, limited natural resources in conjunction with unsustainable economic growth are straining the land’s productivity. Hear from experts who discuss the need for an alternative way of living that benefits everyone. Introduced by Guillermo Corral, Cultural Counselor, Embassy of Spain.

Roaming Wild


Roaming Wild (USA, 2014, 65 min.) Washington, D.C. Premiere

This modern-day Western tells the story of an invisible battle being waged across the American West over natural resources, water and even freedom. Wild horses find themselves at the epicenter of an age-defining controversy in which the demands of modern development collide with the needs of the wild. Marlow Dahl runs a family cattle ranch in rural Nevada and grazes his cows on public lands. Jill Starr started Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue to save wild horses from going to slaughter. Dan Elkins turns to technology to invent new solutions for managing wild horse populations. The public lands they call home are lands of limited resources and increasing demands and competition for those resources. Will family ranching in the West still be viable in the future so Marlow’s children can inherit that way of life? Directed by Sylvia Johnson. Produced by Sylvia Johnson and Angelica Das. Discussion with filmmakers Sylvia Johnson and Angelica Das follows screening.


Shooting in the Wild


Shooting in the Wild (USA, 2013, 27 min.)

Nature films have become hugely popular, with viewers flocking to see jaw-dropping footage from the wild. But this success has a dark side, as veteran wildlife film producer Chris Palmer reveals in his authoritative and engrossing book on the wildlife film business, “Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom,” on which this film is based.

Shooting in the Wild is produced by American University School of Communication, and made possible by generous grants from the Park Foundation, the Shared Earth Foundation, and the Norcross Foundation. The film aired on public television stations nationwide, and was directed and produced by Ed Beimfohr, and produced and edited by Frank Fitzmaurice. Introduction and post-screening discussion.

SATURDAY, MARCH 29 at 7 PM (Reception at 5:00 pm)*

Farming For the Future: Enduring Traditions - Innovative Practices

This session will illustrate how farmers are expanding their farming traditions and practices to meet the demand for sustainable, locally grown food while ensuring that farming remains a profitable career. Panel discussion follows screening of five short films, including Farming for the Future by filmmaker Aditi Desai.

Host and moderator: Chris Palmer, Director, Center for Environmental Filmmaking, American University. Panelists: Aditi Desai, Director, Farming for the Future; Bill Howard, Executive Director, The Downstream Project; Chris Miller, President, Piedmont Environmental Council; Kristin Pauly, Managing Director, Prince Charitable Trusts; and Michael Peterson, Founder, Heritage Hollow Farms.


*Forman Theater, 201 McKinley Building, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016 | Directions | Metro: Tenleytown/AU, shuttle service to AU

Tags: School of Communication,Center for Environmental Filmmaking,Environment,Film,Film Festival,Television and Film,Washington DC
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newsId: 8BA5782B-A4E2-2C4C-34701439B2D6A94E
Title: State Department Taps DeNardis for Key Committee
Abstract: Professor Laura DeNardis will serve on the Advisory Committee for International Communications and Information Policy.
Topic: Professional News
Publication Date: 03/19/2014

American University communication professor Laura DeNardis has been appointed by the U.S. Department of State to its Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy (ACICIP) for a two-year term. The Advisory Committee provides advice on foreign affairs issues related to information and communication technology policy.

As described by the State Department, the advisors are “senior-level officers of a broad range of companies and institutions that represent the communications and information technology industries.” Other prominent committee members include Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton Cerf and vice presidents of global policy for AT&T, Cisco, Facebook, Oracle, and Verizon.

DeNardis’s appointment comes on the heels of the publication of her new book, The Global War for Internet Governance (Yale University Press 2014). Oxford University Professor William Dutton has said “There is no better book to prepare students and policy makers alike for the global debates arising over Internet governance.” DeNardis is currently in the midst of a book tour and series of invited talks that has recently included stops at Yale Law School, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, the Newseum in Washington, DC, the Carnegie Council in New York City, among many others.

With a prominent background in information engineering and a doctorate in Science and Technology Studies (STS), her research expertise on the geopolitics of Internet architecture and governance has made her a sought after strategist advising think tanks, corporations, and governments. She has been quoted as an Internet governance expert in prominent media outlets such as The New York Times, Time Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and

DeNardis will be giving a book talk on April 1 at AU in the Media Innovation Lab in the McKinley building, School of Communication's new home.

DeNardis also serves as a Senior Fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and holds an international appointment as the Director of Research for the Global Commission on Internet Governance, an international commission launched by two independent think tanks – CIGI and Chatham House – to provide concrete recommendations for the future of global Internet governance.

She has previously served as the Executive Director of the Yale Information Society Project, a prominent think tank at Yale Law School studying the implications of the Internet and new information technologies for democracy and civil liberties.

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newsId: 3831F1B2-EEBA-1613-3AF966FAECEFF341
Title: Building Upon a Family History
Author: Mike Rowan
Abstract: After her valuable AU experience—and now her daughter’s—Mary McCarthy Hayford and her family are helping lay the groundwork for the university’s next generation.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 03/27/2014

Stroll along the west side of the quad, passing Frisbees floating across the grass and cheerful student organizations camped outside of Mary Graydon, and at either end of campus you will find a building that has been transformed within the last five years. Across the street from the Katzen Arts Center, the Kogod School of Business opened a 20,000-square-foot expansion in 2008. A few hundred yards down, next to Bender Library, stands the newly reopened McKinley building, the state-of-the-art new home of the School of Communication. Though housing separate schools, and situated on opposite ends of campus, there’s a strong thread connecting the two of them—the Hayford family.

Mary McCarthy Hayford, Kogod/MBA ’78, did her graduate work at AU’s business school, but when she attended, it did not yet bear the Kogod name. It was simply called the School of Business Administration. Classes were housed in the Ward Circle Building, and offices were in the cozy quarters of the Hamilton Building (known then as Hamilton Hall).

“I remember picking AU based on my perception that the administrators and faculty were more accessible,” McCarthy Hayford shares as she recalls her AU experience. “I look back not only on the great full-time professors in subjects which appeal to me, but also on several adjunct professors who imparted real world experiences. For me, that exposure to professionals working in industry was essential to seeing how the theoretical was applied in the real world, and to envisioning the type of career I would want to pursue.”

When the Kogod School of Business announced plans for its expansion campaign, Mary and her husband, Warren, signed on to help by making a major contribution to the building. Their generosity is marked by a plaque adorning one of the new classrooms inside, which displays their names.

Then, three years later, when the effort to renovate McKinley began, the Hayfords were there again, eager to give back once more, naming the facility’s new audio editing suite.

Why jump in to support another major project, especially when the family had so significantly dedicated themselves to an effort close to their hearts just a few years earlier? One reason is that their daughter, Margaret, SOC/BA ’13, just finished a very positive undergraduate career in the School of Communication.

“We feel strongly that SOC and AU provided Margaret with the experience she needs to pursue her career goals,” McCarthy Hayford articulates. “AU was one of few schools where she could study film and graphic design while still broadening her education in history, science and social science. She capped off her SOC experience with a semester in the film school in Prague where she worked with a small group to create a professional-quality film.”

In addition to Margaret, the Hayfords are parents to Amanda, a 2006 alumna of Oberlin College, and Warren, who graduated from George Washington University in 2012. Ms. McCarthy Hayford’s husband, Warren John Hayford, is the president and managing director of the software company RatioServices, and is a director of the Warren J. and Marylou Hayford Family Foundation, which his parents founded. The foundation has been instrumental in the Hayfords’ gifts to American University.

Though she has graduated—as have her children—McCarthy Hayford remains an avid learner. While embarking on a path toward starting a new career, she has been steadily auditing courses at the university. “Wherever that takes me, I hope to keep close ties to AU.”

Tags: Donor,Giving,Kogod School of Business,School of Communication
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Title: Alumnus Michael O'Brien's Book Details Symbolic Civil Rights Movement
Author: Ann Royse
Abstract: Alumnus Michael O'Brien writes an enthralling and historic account of the famous sit-in protest at Woolworth's in Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the civil rights era.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 02/17/2014

If, during this Black History month, you find yourself searching for a new and enriching story of the civil rights era, look no further than a book by AU alumnus and successful author, Michael (M.J.) O’Brien, SOC/BA ’84. He is the writer of a new and highly popular book titled We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired, a story accounting the infamous and nonviolent protest in Jackson, Mississippi, during the turbulent American civil rights era. The book has received multiple accolades, and, according to Julian Bond, distinguished adjunct professor at AU and former NAACP Chairman, “Michael O’Brien has written a detailed history and fascinating study of one of the iconic moments of the modern civil rights movement and the powerful effect it had.”

The spark that ignited the passion and growth of this book begins with a single photograph found in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. While Michael was visiting the center, he came upon the photograph, which features three young people conducting a “sit-in” protest at the counter of Woolworth’s, surrounded by a violent and angry mob of Mississippi citizens. Shockingly, one of the iconic faces staring back at him was that of an old and very dear friend named Joan (Trumpauer) Mulholland. Joan had humbly omitted ever mentioning her historic involvement with the civil rights movement in Jackson to Michael.

With this new knowledge, he set out on a mission to uncover and tell the story behind the faces in this photograph and the grassroots civil rights movement surrounding the iconic protest. In essence, he used this image as the central organizing feature to tell a much larger story regarding one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

When discussing his book, Michael is quick to recognize American University as a major contributor to his success in writing. He specifically attributes his own growth in confidence to the education he received at AU in the School of Communication, saying it was “the best training I’ve ever had.” Michael fondly recalls former faculty member Joe Tinkelman as a primary guide and mentor during his time at AU. Professor Tinkelman encouraged and nurtured Michael’s passion for writing and telling stories about social change and justice, a passion he continues to embrace today.

Michael first met Joan while he was a working as a camp counselor with Joan’s five boys, and the friendship grew from there. Then, on the day he discovered her photograph, he decided to dedicate his work to telling her story and the larger social movement of that time. Indeed, Michael O’Brien’s life and career took an unexpected yet valuable turn after befriending Joan. In fact, AU students should heed this insightful advice of Michael: “Keep your eyes open. You never know who will have a significant impact on your life.” Whether it is a confidant and inspiring professor or a lifelong friend and civil rights activist you meet in the park, Michael says it is clear that certain people and events have the ability to change the course of one’s life and career.

Currently, Michael lives in Virginia with his wife and three adopted children and looks forward to continuing a career of writing about his various passions. He reflects fondly on time at AU, saying, “my education [there] essentially launched my career.”

Tags: Alumni Author,Alumni Update,Civil Rights,School of Communication
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Title: AU Alumnus Prepares to Release Film in 2014
Author: Penelope Buchter
Abstract: Brian Levin SOC/MA '04 is writer/producer for Flock of Dudes
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 11/13/2013

"I've learned a lot in a short amount of time. I've been lost in the realities of film," Brian Levin, SOC/MA '04, says of his first film, Flock of Dudes, which is set to release in early 2014. This is his first feature-length film, and he says that the process has been an opportunity to put everything he has learned into one work. It has also taken more time than any past project. From the initial idea to make this film until now, Brian reveals that over five years have passed.

The inspiration for the film came from a lot of personal experiences, and Brian thinks they are experiences to which many people will be able to relate. He says, "There's something about the experiences people go through in that time of life; it's a funny and emotional time."  

Now that the film is in post-production, Brian is looking forward to his next projects, some of which he hopes to bring to Washington, D.C. Having grown up in Maryland, Brian has spent a lot of time around the area; he says that there is a special look and feel to D.C. that he hopes to capture on camera. To add to the effect, he hopes to find a cast from around Washington for his next project, which he reveals will be a throwback comedy in the vein of films like The Naked Gun. He expounds, "I'm excited to be making these movies and bringing them back to the area."

However, Brian wasn't always sure that he wanted to go into film. He entered college at Towson University as a mass communications and advertising major interested in commercials. He always loved movies, but film had been merely a hobby for him until he got to college, when he realized that film was where he wanted to make a career.  

There are many aspects of filming, but Brian explains, "I felt pulled more and more toward screen writing as a specialization, then toward producing." To current students, he gives the advice that to succeed you need "persistence, seeing it through to advance in whatever you're doing." And, as it relates to film, he says, "try to be creative every day."

Brian encourages students, saying "take advantage of the fact that you have all this time and these resources." He adds, "AU was a great place for me, to have the tools, teachers, and flexibility to discover what I wanted to do professionally."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,College of Arts and Sciences,School of Communication
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Title: A Profile in Compatibility
Author: Rick Horowitz
Abstract: So many devices, so little time! Alumni couple simplifies cross-platform file transfers, untangles cloud computing.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 07/31/2013

You have a document on your iPad you need to edit on your Android phone. Or a video on your flash drive you need to send to someone else’s PC. Or a music file over here that absolutely has to be over there.

Welcome to Tech World. And consider the story of two American University grads who continue to bring some much-needed order to this digital jungle while inspiring other young entrepreneurs.

For Donald and Claire Hykes Leka, their four AU degrees—two apiece—are a source of pride. You could also say they’re a source of Glide.

Glide: TransMedia’s computer operating system that seeks to tame the multi-platform, multi-format world of file sharing—moving documents, pictures, videos and music seamlessly across technical borders. And Glide: the subject of a new book the Lekas have co-written to recount the birth and growth and increasing impact of an entrepreneurial techie’s vision, rendered with a storyteller’s eye for detail.

Say the word “Glide” and you think “smooth.” You think “hassle-free.” However, that wasn’t the state of tech world when Donald Leka first started looking at it as an AU grad and Kogod-trained MBA in the late 1990s.

It was quite a different time.

“There was no Dropbox, no SkyDrive, no Google Drive,” Donald Leka recalls. “Ninety-five percent of people had their files on a PC. There was a lot less to connect.”

And now, when seemingly everyone has an assortment of devices and when gigabytes of data reside instantly available in “the cloud”—how does all the data and information move around? And how can you deal with it when it gets where it’s going?

Glide OS is how. When “everything is everywhere,” in Donald’s words, Glide lets “everywhere” talk to, send to, and receive from “everywhere else.” Donald refers to it as “cross-platform compatibility.”

You might apply that same phrase to the Lekas.

Donald, the founder, chairman, and CEO of TransMedia Corporation, had a wide-ranging curiosity and interest in technology from a young age. He recalls learning about the world by watching Walter Cronkite.

Claire meanwhile was several years younger; her own inspiration came from watching Cronkite’s successor, Dan Rather.

That’s what “planted the seeds,” she recalls—the first stirrings of a journalist’s career. When the time came to apply to college, she visited AU and “fell in love with it.” The size of the place—“not too big”—was an attraction. So were the School of Communication’s well-known, well-respected programs in communication and journalism. She could hardly have picked a more eventful time to learn her craft at SOC.

LiveShot 'En Serio'

“A lot of major world events were happening my sophomore year at AU, in 1989— including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Those events really influenced me and inspired me to seek the truth and report it.”

There was experience to be gained closer to home, too.

“Since AU is based in the ‘Journalism Capital of the World,’” she recalls, “I was able to attend Capitol Hill hearings, Supreme Court arguments, events at The National Press Club…”

She graduated with a major in communication, but soon returned to SOC for a Master’s in broadcast journalism. Her first job was as a part-timer in Hagerstown, Md., covering Rotary Club meetings and house fires. Other jobs soon followed—as a business reporter, business anchor, and correspondent—for Reuters and CNN, NBC News, and CBS News—covering everything from the stock market crash and the Great Recession to the Virginia Tech massacre to the 2012 presidential race. In that time Claire has remained an active member of the SOC Alumni Mentoring Program, building on the impact of her SOC degrees.

Donald’s AU degree, in international relations, also had an impact—as did his Albanian roots. Albania was, in 1990, just emerging from decades as a closed society when Donald was invited by the Ministry of Health to help supply the beleaguered nation with Hepatitis B vaccine, and then a computer and phone system for the ministry. These were among the first commercial transactions between the two long-estranged countries. With the end of the Cold War, Donald co-founded a foundation, funded in part by George Soros and by the U.S. Agency for International Development, to bring additional technical assistance to Albania and other Eastern European nations.

Meanwhile, his appetite for all things tech was growing. And, he says, he “really started to understand format and bit rate issues…really started to understand issues of compatibility.” In this still largely dialup world, getting information from one device to another was “a real headache.”

Donald thought, “If we could build an engine that could just do it…”

Paul Barrett 'CloudComputing'

Now, more than a decade and several updates later Glide has garnered more than 3,000,000 users around the world.

The timing is right for a big step forward, Donald believes—so many different kinds of files, so many different kinds of devices. Most people, he says “don’t care” which platforms they’re on at any given time. They simply want them to work together.

“We’re at a real ‘pain point’ for most users. Before, we were solving a mostly theoretical problem. Now, it solves a real ‘pain point’ for most people. It’s the difference between ‘This is interesting’ and ‘I need this!’”

And with public concern increasing over the secret collection of personal data—by the government, or even by online companies—Donald sees people wanting greater control of their own data, all their own data, with “one login, one search box, one system to manage all your devices and services.” He thinks Glide is positioned just far enough ahead of the demand curve, and ready to ride the wave.

If he’s right, Claire will have had a key role, too. She signed on with TransMedia in 2010 to guide the company’s public-relations efforts and its expanding presence on social media. And the couple has collaborated on a book, Cloud Computing: The Glide OS Story, targeted to other young entrepreneurs, and to anyone interested in cross-platform and cloud computing.

Teaming two strong-willed people on a complicated writing project took work, they both concede: some deep breathing, some counting from one to 10—even, says Claire, that old kindergarten standby, “Take your turn.” Donald sees the contrasting styles—he the techie, she the humanizer, the storyteller—as a definite plus: “There’s good resistance there.”

Or, you could say, compatibility.


Tags: Alumni,Faculty,Students,School,School of Communication,Communication,Communication Technology,Information Technology
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newsId: 497D2FA6-03C5-429A-0EF284473D7DFBE0
Title: AU Alumnus Sees Success at SXSW Film Festival
Author: Tyne Darke, SOC/BA ’13
Abstract: Producer Chris Leggett, SOC/BA ’08, wins the SXSW Film Festival’s Audience Award for The Short Game.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 07/12/2013

You could say things have been going pretty well for AU alumnus Chris Leggett, SOC/BA ’08. In March, he won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival as a producer for The Short Game, a documentary following eight seven-year-old golfers vying for the top spot at the World Championships of the Junior Golf tournament in North Carolina. The film received a second Audience Award at the Maui Film Festival this June.

But before he was an award-winning producer, Chris was a student in visual media at American University. Chris was attracted to AU for many reasons including the inviting community, the experienced professors, and the connection he developed with the university’s swim team.

Chris acknowledges the influence his time as a competitive swimmer at AU has had on his career, specifically his work ethic. He says, “I may not be the best producer yet, but I definitely work the hardest. It’s all about pushing yourself to the limit, and that’s what you do in athletics. The word ‘no’ should not be in your vocabulary; it should be ‘how.’”

That work ethic shows itself not just in the recent success of The Short Game, but also in the other projects with which Chris keeps himself busy. He covered the 2010 and 2012 Olympics and produced a Webby Award-winning music video for the song “Fjögur píanó” by Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Even though juggling multiple projects often means scheduling “too many meetings, overlapping meetings,” Chris says this makes being a producer “probably the most exciting job in the world.”

For those who are looking to get into the field, Chris’s advice is to “make your own rules” and constantly learn. “The film industry is evolving every day but you’re never doing the same thing twice. Just embrace that,” he says.

The Short Game will be in theaters at the end of the summer. Watch the trailer and learn more about the film.

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newsId: E695C3AB-0B4C-33C8-BCF5FE3ECB42B0DA
Title: From AU to Cannes: Alumna Sonya Dunn Thrives Behind the Camera
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Abstract: Sonya Dunn produced The Bedroom while at AU. It is the first AU student film to screen at Cannes.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 07/05/2013

Sonya Dunn, SOC/MA ’13, just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where her short film, The Bedroom, was screened. It is the first AU student film to be screened at the prestigious event.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I learned so much from the experience, and I was able to network with other production companies and discuss possible collaborations,” she says.

The Bedroom chronicles a marital relationship and how couples struggle to stay connected. “It’s a tragic drama about everlasting love and overcoming obstacles and tragedy. Everybody’s in love and miserable at the same time.”

Filmmaking has been a lifelong fascination for Sonya. “Ever since I was little, I’ve always had the desire to be either in front of the camera or behind the camera. In college [at the University of Central Oklahoma], I learned about production and post-production. I fell in love with being behind the camera and have been there ever since,” she says.

Sonya spent a number of years in the film industry and even started her own production company, JEMH Productions, before pursuing her master’s degree in producing for film and video.

She chose AU because, she says, “I wanted to take my career to the next level. I felt American University was a good fit for me to advance my education in the field of media production. I’d always been on the creative side, and I hadn’t delved into the business side. [Going to AU] allowed me to attend school and continue working on projects. … [AU has] a gold mine of instructors in our field who give us knowledge to expand on our experiences.”

Professor Russell Williams – a two-time Oscar winner – was instrumental, Sonya says, in her education and helped with the post-production of The Bedroom. “With him, I was able to take my [post-production] skills to another level and understand the true collaboration of editing and sound in film. That alone was a priceless lesson for me to learn.”

“Being at AU has been a godsend. I’ve learned so much about the business side of producing. As a filmmaker, we sometimes get caught up in making the film and don’t pay much attention to the strategy of marketing the film once it’s done. … American University has taught me about the whole collaboration from pre-production to distribution and everything in between,” Sonya says.

The Bedroom has an accompanying book that will be released in September, shortly before the film is released. Although Sonya can’t talk about her current and future projects in detail, it’s clear from her success thus far, she is well on her way to becoming a media mogul.

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,School of Communication
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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
Abstract: AU students and graduates make up the ranks at entertainment marketing firm Allied-THA, creating a community that encourages creative thinking and research.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 06/14/2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: College of Arts and Sciences,Film,Film and Media Arts,School of Communication,School of International Service,Career Center,Career Development
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newsId: F37A2650-C05D-EE24-A7D70875E682A89F
Title: How One Alum Turned a Social Spotlight on “The Invisible War”
Author: Liz Preuss
Abstract: SOC alum Megan Ackerman played a key role in the documentary The Invisible War, which received a Oscar nomination.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 04/12/2013

When Megan Ackerman (SOC/BA '11), graduated from American University, she left knowing that working for something she believed in was essential.  Her job as Digital Media Strategist at FitzGibbon Media allowed her to bring national attention to the documentary The Invisible War and the issue of sexual assault in the military.  By playing a key role in building the film's impressively high profile for a documentary, she likely played a role in helping it receive an Oscar nomination. Ackerman was happy to have been able to work on the campaign – it's a cause she supports, and it is the kind of film she aspires to make one day – hard hitting and eye opening.

SOC Sat down with Ackerman to talk about her work with the film.

SOC: What does a digital media strategist do? What was your role in the The Invisible War project?

Ackerman: As a digital media strategist for [FitzGibbon Media], I was creating social media strategy plans for our clients and their campaigns. This involved posting articles on Facebook, tweeting relevant information and more. The Invisible War was also on Instagram, so I was taking pictures of survivors and supporters and posting them.

SOC: How did you get involved with FitzGibbon Media and the film?

Ackerman: The movie came before the company, and it all goes back to American. At AU, I met one of my best friends, Rachel. She ended up hired by FitzGibbon. The company got involved with the film, and they were looking for somebody with social media skills. Rachel knew I had them as well as a background in entertainment, and recommended me. I was then hired to work for the company.

SOC: Did you think that this documentary would be Oscar-worthy?

Ackerman: When I first saw it, I knew it needed to be nominated. I was hesitant to think it would happen because it's a heavy subject. While it's disappointing that it didn't win, the nomination gave a lot of attention to the issue that it wouldn't have otherwise gotten. It was a huge accomplishment.

SOC: What was your previous knowledge of sexual assault in the military?

Ackerman: I had a hint of the problem of military sexual assault, but I didn't realize how big it was. I didn't realize the cover-up involved, nor that men were raped as well. I personally have no attachment to military, but I know people who do.

SOC: Why is it important to expose this problem and what impact did the film have?

Ackerman: Regardless of your opinions, I feel like you should always support your fellow Americans. You have volunteers devoting their lives to fighting for our country, but these are also people that are being raped. It's deemed an occupational hazard by the Military's judicial system, and it's awful. You need to get the message out to civilians. They can stand up and say something. Congressmen need to be held accountable for making change happen.

Now there are so many members of Congress speaking out. More survivors than ever are coming out and talking about it – to their families, friends and news media. I had people contact me and say they were bringing family with them to see film because they didn't know how else to tell relatives.

Tags: Achievements,Alumni,Communication,Faculty,Film,Media,School of Communication,Staff,Students,War,Women's Issues
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newsId: F31C7FD8-A07E-6D8B-DDD10CC26DEFE70C
Title: Meet the AU Alumni Behind Ke$ha's Upcoming MTV Series
Author: Ania Skinner
Abstract: When Lagan Sebert began to document his sister Ke$ha’s rise to fame in 2010, he had no idea it would become a series on MTV.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 04/12/2013

When American University alumnus (SOC/MA ’08) Lagan Sebert began to document his sister Ke$ha’s rise to fame in 2010, he had no idea that his inside look at his sister’s career and life would become a highly anticipated series on MTV.

“Every day you struggle to come up with a new story. I came to the realization that the best story I was aware of was happening right in front of me in my family,” says Sebert, who was working as a video journalist for the Financial Times when he started the project.

With just an idea and a video camera, Sebert began to film his sister and her life on and off the stage. He also enlisted some old friends to help with the filming process, including Ted Roach, another successful SOC alumnus. With the additional help of Steven Greenstreet and Sebert’s wife, Sandra Sampayo, the small crew began single-handedly dealing with filming, sound and technical skills, as well as determining what to do with the finished product. Both Sebert and Roach strongly agree that without the skills they developed through SOC, their current projects would not have been possible.

“I use the skills that I developed at AU every day, from camera, sound and technical skills to documentary theory and story structure,” says Roach. “I compare the work that I did before coming to AU to the work I've produced since, and I feel the SOC professors, curriculum and course work are the biggest reasons that I have developed to the point I'm at today.”

Sebert agrees.

“One of the greatest things about the SOC program is that there are so many opportunities outside of the classroom –cameras whenever I wanted and access to facilities for post-production,”Sebert says. “I wanted to come to AU because of its partnership of journalism and film. I really wanted to tell stories visually through documentary with journalistic integrity,” he adds.

With the Ke$ha project, Sebert realized that documenting his sister gave him a new journalistic insight, one that would create a unique experience for the viewer unlike what any other producer could do.

“When you are documenting someone, your goal is to be an objective viewer and not interfere with reality,” explains Sebert. “But when you are documenting your sister, that unique barrier between the audience and camera is totally broken.”

Over 1,000 hours of film will be broken down into six, 30-minute episodes that will premiere on MTV on April 23 under the title “My Crazy Beautiful Life.” Sebert and his team capture Ke$ha behind the scenes of her concert tour, but also the moments that only a brother would be a part of, which range from serious to borderline ridiculous.

As with every star that exposes their personal life for public audiences, the question of a motive for publicity is always raised. However Ted Roach explains that there is much more to this series than a PR boost.

“I believe that one key factor in Ke$ha agreeing to let us film the series was that she wanted her brother to be around during this critical point in her career. People around you change when you become a star, and if I was in her shoes, I would look back to the people I knew before to keep me grounded. So I've always felt one big incentive was having Lagan there to support her, and he really is a great guy to have around,” Roach says.

After over two years of working on documenting his sister’s journey through fame, Sebert still considers his sister to be one of the biggest stories of his career.

“To me, it is a simple story: a story about a girl who realizes her dream to write and sing her songs to people all over the world and then struggles to hold onto her dream," he says. “The story is so good it shouldn't matter if she is famous or not."”


Tags: Alumni,DC Community,Faculty,Film,Film and Media Arts,Film Production,Staff,Students,Television and Film,Journalism (SOC)
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