newsId: 095F7702-5056-AF26-BE008A788ECDB710
Title: Learning the Ins and Outs of Digital Distribution
Author: Sarah Liebman
Subtitle:
Abstract: Dean's Intern Sarah Liebman has been having a blast at her internship at Discovery Communications, read more about the highlights of her time there!
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/16/2017
Content:

Below is a first person account from Dean's Intern Sarah Liebman on her internship at Discovery Communications. This was originally published in March on the Dean's Internship Blog

Working in the Digital Distributions & Partnerships department has been an incredibly exciting experience. I have always been interested in understanding how media companies succeed in getting eyes on their content, both through linear and digital modes of distribution. Working in this department has shed so much light on the topic. My biggest take-away has been: digital distribution is a vital element to the success of content creators and it is crucial to stay ahead of the trends. While there is still so much value in linear television, the trends indicate that the digital distribution market is the direction many demographics are heading.

Working in the Digital Distributions department has also motivated me to not only keep up with the trends in cord-cutters, cord-shavers, and cord-nevers, but also develop my own opinions, observations, and strategies for a media company in this environment. This experience has greatly increased my breadth of knowledge I have in this field allowing me to think critically as a member of the media industry. One of the elements I love the most about coming into the office is the trust the team places in me. I do not feel like “just an intern,” instead I am asked to observe and participate in meetings and brainstorms. I am highly encouraged to find my own projects and run with them. And most of all, I am able to ask as many questions as I need and absorb as much information about the industry as possible.

Below is a list of the top highlights of my internship so far:

  • Curating a playlist of Polar Bear videos for a youtube social media campaign for National Polar Bear Day
  • Creating a presentation with my supervisor regarding Universal Search and Consumer metadata 
  • Attending brainstorms with my department 
  • The opportunity to meet and learn from a variety of different people in the building through the intern lunches and workshops 
  • Brainstorming creative episodic and season based sales for various platforms 
  • Last but not least: Puppy Bowl Day! Discovery brings in the adoptable puppies from local shelters

The Dean's Internship program pairs SOC's top students with selected partner organizations for semester-long, for-credit internships. The competitive program provides extraordinary opportunities for undergraduates and graduates to have their work featured with named credits and bylines under national brands. 

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Title: Pulitzer Fellows Head to Chile and Laos for Media Projects
Author:
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Abstract: The 2017 recipients of the AU Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium International Reporting Student Fellowship have been announced.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/16/2017
Content:

American University (AU) graduate journalism student Natalie Hutchison and film major Erin McGoff (SOC/BA '17) have been named 2017 recipients of the AU Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium International Reporting Student Fellowship. Hutchison's reporting will examine environmental turmoil in Chile. McGoff's work will explore the longstanding complications resulting from America's nine year covert war in Laos, which has largely been kept off the public's radar for decades.

The students were chosen based on a project proposal involving an underreported systemic issue. Each student fellow will be awarded $2,500 to help pay for their reporting project. Pulitzer Center staff and journalists act as mentors for students throughout the fellowship, and final projects will be featured on the Pulitzer Center website. Fellows also work with the Pulitzer Center in efforts to further disseminate the work through media partners.

The fellowships, open to all AU students, are one of the benefits of SOC's membership in the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Campus Consortium. The Campus Consortium initiative is a core component of the Pulitzer Center's effort to create awareness campaigns around the global systemic issues that affect us all.

AU's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLAS) is a contributing partner to this initiative and its Luce Foundation-funded work on religion and Latin American affairs will be supported by Hutchison's work in Chile.

2016 Fellows Kent Wagner (MFA '16) and Camila DeChalus (SOC '16) completed compelling work in Borneo and Columbia, and 2015 fellow Julia Boccagno will be speaking at Pulitzer's Gender Lens conference on her work on the marginalization of the transgender community in Thailand.

> Jeff Rutenbeck, Erin McGoff, Natalie Hutchison, Eric Hershberg

(R to L) AU School of Communication Dean Jeff Rutenbeck, Erin McGoff, Natalie Hutchison, CLALS Director Eric Hershberg

Meet the Fellows:

Natalie Hutchison is a graduate student in Journalism and Public Affairs at AU, with a focus on international affairs.

She recently spent time working at Discovery and TLC channel. Natalie's keen awareness and work in her backpack documentary course prepared her to be in different environments and cultures unlike her own. Her project is the intersection of climate change and religion. In Chile, the natives are witnessing the changes first hand and it is having an impact on their traditions, economy and daily life. See her work.

Erin McGoff is a filmmaker and producer concentrating on forgotten history.

She has spent time studying at Drexel University and Edinburgh University in Scotland before coming to American University. She holds a BA in Film and Media Arts from AU. Erin is currently working on This Little Land of Mines, a documentary that focuses on post-war issues particularly in Laos, where she has traveled. This encounter ultimately ignited the idea for her documentary about the country, which has been bombed more than any other due to a covert, nine year war wages by the U.S. She hopes to debut the full-length film, This Little Land of Mines, early in 2018. See her work.

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Title: Loving v. Virginia: 50 Years Later
Author: Caty Borum Chattoo
Subtitle:
Abstract: Exploring biracial identity and reality in America 50 years after a landmark civil rights milestone.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/12/2017
Content:

Fifty years ago, on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of the most important civil rights decisions in American history, Loving v. Virginia. The landmark case ended the last of the country's state laws banning interracial marriage - prohibitions described in the case's oral arguments as "the most odious of the segregation laws and the slavery laws."

This wasn't simply the dramatic end to longstanding policy justified with biblical assertions about the separation of the races. In the most intimate human terms, the court's decision marked the end of a difficult journey for Mildred and Richard Loving, the interracial couple at the heart of the case. In the years leading up to the Supreme Court decision, for the crime of being married as a woman of color and a white man, the Lovings faced harassment, a police invasion of their home and even jail time.

The Loving decision has both political and personal meaning to me, the mother of two biracial children and a documentary filmmaker and scholar whose work is grounded in social justice.

Social change happens over time

Social change in U.S. civil rights often has been rooted in an act of the court system, evident in the related Supreme Court decisions Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which declared "separate but equal" public schools for black and white children as unconstitutional, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which affirmed the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. And yet, as history shows, societal change ripples out slowly in the decades that follow such decisions, embodied in social norms and the generational shifts in our cultural perspectives. Social change, in other words, happens through daily life and our understanding of one another, and through what we pass along.

For me, a white woman married to a man of color, raising two biracial children, the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia represents a recognition of progress and social change - but it also spotlights work still to be done. When I became a mother, I was unprepared for how much more I would intimately feel, see and understand about race - and race relations - in the U.S.

I realized quickly how much I don't know - but also how much others don't know, either, about the cultural and psychological realities for biracial people. Attempting to tell the story through film, then, might contribute to the cultural understanding that helps foster positive social change. After all, biracial people have been officially counted by the U.S. Census only since 2000. In some ways, this is a new chapter in the very old legacy of miscegenation in America.

Two moms embark on a journey

Leena Jayaswal and Caty Borum Chattoo on the road in 2016. Photo credits: Caty Borum Chattoo

And so it was, against the backdrop of the waning days of the Obama presidency, that Leena Jayaswal and I decided to produce a documentary film, entitled "Mixed," to examine America's deep cultural ambivalence about its rapidly changing mixed-race reality. Jayaswal, a fellow documentary filmmaker and professor, is a woman of color raising a biracial son with her white husband.

We set out to answer questions like: What is it like to be a biracial person in today's America? How does biracial identity develop, and what should the rest of us understand in order to not inadvertently trivialize, fetishize or discriminate against biracial people? What does the country think of our kids and families, and how are they reflected in the culture, a half-century after Loving v. Virginia

From our journey through North Carolina and California and New York and Ohio and Texas and beyond, what have we learned? Here are a few highlights.

Images of biracial people in American culture

Despite our cultural tendency to fetishize biracial people and celebrities as exotic and beautiful, racism is a reality. In 2013, when a Cheerios TV commercial included a biracial family, the racist response made headlines around the country. Two years later, a similar ad in Houstonia magazine elicited letters expressing disgust about the featured biracial family. In 2016, Old Navy was the target of online ire aimed at an online ad's interracial family.

We explored these reactions with psychology scholar Allison Skinner, who learned in a recent study that a group of white respondents experienced feelings of disgust when they saw images of black and white people together as a couple - a significantly different response than seeing two people of color together, or two white people. Skinner concluded that this is a learned perspective, and, as she wrote, "we are not born with these biases." It's dangerous to assume, then, that focusing on "the beauty" of biracial people is evidence of understanding their full personhood - or that such surface-level aesthetic judgment is proof that implicit bias and racism isn't an issue. Talking about race and racial identity is important, particularly when children are learning to navigate the world around them. We can undo this societal damage.

Normalizing reflections of biracial people and families in American entertainment could be helpful. Despite the fact that interracial romance can be found across the TV landscape today ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal"), biracial individuals and families are scarce in entertainment programming without a sexualized portrayal, which may contribute to our tendency to festishize biracial people.

Some media research tells us that our interaction with media characters can feel similar to our real-world interactions with people, and thus, can reduce prejudice against others different from us. In other words, when we see and like characters in entertainment who are different from us, it makes a difference in how we feel about people in the real world.

Seeing biracial people as their full selves

"What are you?" is a question many biracial people hear consistently. Or, they're placed into one category or another - too much of one thing, not enough of another. Both ends of the spectrum can give a message: You don't belong. As parents and a culture, when we force mixed-race people to choose one or the other, we can harm their emotional well-being and self-esteem.

According to psychology scholar Sarah Gaither, multiracial people experience tension when they have to conform or select only one of their groups, "whether due to social context or societal pressures to conform to a monoracial category." But Gaither's work also points to the resilience and unique experience of biracial people: They have a connection to more than one racial identity and perspective, which makes them more fluid and flexible in their behavior when interacting with diverse others. And, they show less racial bias in how they perceive others from different racial backgrounds. It's not up to us - monoracial parents and the culture - to force biracial individuals into one racial category or identity. Similarly, it's up to biracial people themselves to choose their own cultural labels - whether "mixed," "biracial," "swirls" - or to make the choice to culturally identify as monoracial, as did former President Barack Obama.

In another 50 years, this inquiry hopefully will be a time-capsule relic, as the population grows more diverse. But today, in 2017, how we understand and open the door to talking and thinking about race will help shape the equity of that future. We can look in the rear-view mirror at 1967 and Loving v. Virginia, and we can clearly see progress. But the future is ours to shape, through every conversation we embrace or perspective we choose to teach.

Fifty years ago, on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of the most important civil rights decisions in American history, Loving v. Virginia. The landmark case ended the last of the country's state laws banning interracial marriage - prohibitions described in the case's oral arguments as "the most odious of the segregation laws and the slavery laws."

This wasn't simply the dramatic end to longstanding policy justified with biblical assertions about the separation of the races. In the most intimate human terms, the court's decision marked the end of a difficult journey for Mildred and Richard Loving, the interracial couple at the heart of the case. In the years leading up to the Supreme Court decision, for the crime of being married as a woman of color and a white man, the Lovings faced harassment, a police invasion of their home and even jail time.

The Loving decision has both political and personal meaning to me, the mother of two biracial children and a documentary filmmaker and scholar whose work is grounded in social justice.

Read more from SOC faculty on the Conversation.

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Title: Strategic Communication Students Help MPD Grow Its Ranks
Author: Jessica Harris
Subtitle:
Abstract: Police Chief Peter Newsham and other MPD officials were impressed by strategic communication plans presented by students.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/08/2017
Content:

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) headquarters may not be a top destination for most graduating seniors, but for students in professor Jason Werden's Strategic Communication Portfolio capstone course, the visit was an honor, and proof that they could perform at a professional level. They were there to present their proposals as to how MPD could improve recruitment efforts to top officials, including Police Chief Peter Newsham; even more impressive is that some of their recommendations have been implemented.

The portfolio course is designed to take elements students have learned from strategic communication courses to date and pull them together in a real-world context. Students are assigned a real client, selected by professors, that charge the students with solving a communication challenge.

In prior years, faculty in the course have partnered with museums, non-profits or corporations like Marriott. Werden went in a new direction by engaging a high-profile institution in the public sector, the MPD. Werden is an adjunct professor for the School of Communication and Vice President at FleishmanHillard, a global public relations agency.

Much of the work the students were doing for the course mirrored what Werden does on a day to day basis, he said.

From January to April students pulled together fully integrated campaigns that were then presented to MPD representatives at AU. Later, two of the groups, Nexus Digital and MCK2, were asked to present in front of MPD officials at headquarters.

In recent years, the relationship with the public and law enforcement has become one of tension and mistrust. Werden saw this project as not just an opportunity for students to gain experience but for a law enforcement agency to hear from those they serve and start a dialogue.

"This has been an ongoing conversation even on AU campus," Werden said.

The class had several officers to come in and speak about what they were hoping to achieve in their efforts.

Students were tasked with conducting research on their own, along with surveys, focus groups, conducting different interviews with stakeholders, audiences and students and Werden even participated in ride-alongs with officers throughout the seven districts.

One of the biggest challenges was the time commitment required of both MPD and the students. Many of them worked with officers who were on duty at all hours of the day.

MPD was impressed by the students' deliverables. "They were blown away by the concepts put together," Werden said.

Rhianna Kern, from Nexus Digital, and a recent graduate of the public relations and strategic communications program, had this to say:

"MPD was a great client, different from any of the nonprofit and corporate clients before. This presented a challenge to us as we had to look beyond what we'd learned at AU," Kern said.

Kern and her colleagues wanted to provide strategies they could implement right away.

"Based on the data we collected it showed that being more veteran/military friendly would help with the longevity of recruitment and help [veterans] get acclimated with civilian life," Kern said.

Katlyn Hirokawa, a recent SOC graduate, was in the group MCK2, which took a different approach.

"We targeted college students within the DC, Maryland Virginia area. Soon these students will make up a large amount of those entering the workforce," Hirokawa shared.

Given the several universities in the surrounding area, MCK2 launched a survey that received over one hundred responses. They were able to identify four key things that millennials were seeking from an employer. MCK2 then used this to highlight the culture, diversity within the organization and suggested in their presentation that this would be a key element in appealing to job-seeking millennials.

"They really expressed that they wanted a mission that they could identify with and a culture that they felt welcomed in," Hirokawa said.

MCK2 also faced challenges.

"We had to educate people that there is more than just a physical element to law enforcement, that officers take on several roles like priest, psychologist or nurturers. We highlighted this to break some of those barriers," Hirokawa explained.

MPD Your Next Step was the winning campaign Nexus Media Communications presented to The Metropolitan Police Department. Many of their suggestions have been directly implemented into MPD recruitment.

MCK2 also developed materials to show MPD employees how to push content, update LinkedIn profiles, etc. so that they can better engage with their audience; not just using it as a social media platform but to reach out to job seekers as well.

Both groups are pleased with the outcomes and the opportunity to work with MPD.

"Overall I am really proud. Our campaign aligned law enforcement values with military and this resonated with the client. Taking that extra step worked for them and [MPD] voiced it was something they were seeing in their office day to day," Kern said.

Werden feels good about the work the students produced, and the value of the class.

"It allowed them to have opportunity to bridge gap from classroom to client. Many of them are going directly into the workforce. It was very rewarding to see the work they put in and the impact they made."

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Title: Defending Science
Author: Mirchaye Woldeleoul
Subtitle:
Abstract: Graduate students, alumni and professors documented the March for Science in Washington, DC.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/07/2017
Content:

In the current political climate, with funding cuts to research and science looming and open refutation of verifiable facts in the media on a regular basis, many believe nothing can be taken for granted - not even the preservation of fact-based science. On April 22nd, a March for Science took place to push back against this tide on the Mall in Washington, DC. and in other cities across the country.

Under the direction of film professor Larry Kirkman, more than 20 graduate students, alumni and professors documented the March for Science in Washington, DC. SOC video crews were embedded with AAAS, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, The Planetary Society and National Center for Science Education. "We followed the scientists and their organizations who came out to protest for the first time. When do we have enough scientific knowledge to determine public policy? That question was raised emphatically at the March for Science under the banner Science, Not Silence," Kirkman said.

"We found an intensity, an urgency about matters of life and death and a fear of irreversible consequences, that marks a new era in science communication," continued Kirkman, ""The scientists and their organizations are responding to reversals of policies based on scientific evidence and the Trump administration's plans to defund research across federal agencies."

MFA student Tony Brunner captures the scene at the March for Science. Photo by Larry Kirkman.

SOC Professor and Center for Environmental Filmmaking Director Chris Palmer also helped coordinate volunteers, and the Centre supported the effort with funding, gear and outreach.

There were ultimately three film crews sent out to cover the March for Science on April 22. The crews produced a mix of videos and photos of the march.

"The Center was honored to work with, and support, professor Kirkman on the March for Science Video Bank," Palmer said.

The video has been deposited in a cooperative March for Science Video Bank in the Center for Environmental Filmmaking to help make films on science and public policy. Already in the works are projects that will "portray the challenges of science communication through the stories of scientists and science advocates on the front lines of the public debate," Kirkman said.

Chandler Green, a graduate student at SOC, was one of the volunteers that took part in documenting the march, including a blog post. Green, who holds an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and a science enthusiast herself, said that this experience meant a lot to her because she was able to witness the growing gap between the scientific community and society.

"It was thrilling to document such a historic day in which hundreds of thousands of scientists directly addressed that barrier in a celebratory, non-partisan manner," Green said, " it was a worthwhile experience to see so many in the STEM community, who typically stay out of political affairs, step out as advocates for their important research."

Green and film partner, Emily Crawford, were able to document the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) throughout the day and also coordinated two interviews with female scientists.

The video bank will not only provide a resource for AU members, but also to the organizations and individuals that were documented at the march. "NCSE told us that they would definitely use the footage we shot for their website and other purposes," Green said.

Crew members and other participants who contributed:

  • MFA students Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath and Ashley Holmes with the Defenders of Wildlife
  • MFA alumna Shannon Lawrence and MFA students Matt Morris and Michael Kuba with AAAS
  • Former professor Sandy Cannon-Brown and MFA student Crystal Solberg with Chesapeake Bay groups
  • MFA student Emily Crawford and MA Strategic Communication student Chandler Green with National Center for Science Education
  • Journalism graduate student Taylor Hartz, FMA Professor Kim Llerena and MFA student Seba Alluqmani with The Planetary Society
  • Professor Larry Kirkman, MFA alumna Kate Schuler, MFA students Tony Brunner and Julia Morales with The Nature Conservancy and in the Main Stage Media Tent
  • Professor Larry Engel worked with the crews and SOC tech staff to set the highest standards for field production.
  • MA Producing for Film and Television student Kennan Cooley helped with outreach and research.
  • MFA student Michael Kuba served as production coordinator.
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Title: Film Student Pairs Physical Labor and Media Skills for Real Impact
Author: Juliana Yellin
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Abstract: An American University student recently returned from a social impact trip in Costa Rica where he built a skate park for an underprivileged community.
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 06/01/2017
Content:

Many American University (AU) students gain almost as much experience and knowledge by seizing extracurricular opportunities available to them as they do from the courses they take.

Andrew Lalwani, a student studying film and media arts in the AU School of Communication, recently returned from a social impact trip in Costa Rica where he built a skate park for an underprivileged community, and documented the experience. The trip was developed and co-sponsored by Red Bull and We Journey.

SOC: How did you get involved with this project and what was the experience like?

Lalwani: I was very surprised to get chosen. I know over 50 students applied. [Red Bull Student Brand Manager and Communications Studies major] Kenna Sloan approached me and told me I should consider making a video. She said that I would have a great chance since I am so involved in the AU community and this would be a great opportunity to do social change work that is more than surface level.

The trip was refreshing. Sometimes I get overwhelmed, because I'm always doing so much and I can't always soak it in. This trip allowed me to step back and realize how lucky I am to go to school and be a part of something like this. Not everyone gets this opportunity.

SOC: Did you feel like you connected with the community in Costa Rica?

Lalwani: We researched the community and built a skate park. Not just for the sake of building a skate park but because the community really desired and needed that for their underprivileged youth.

There was a man [in the community] named Luzzo who was killed in a gang fight. We built the skate park to honor him and to give the kids in the community a space to call their own, where they can relax and feel comfortable.

Since we left, the community has been sending us lots of pictures and updates about how many kids have been there every day and how the skate park has made a positive impact. Before we were there, the space wasn't purposed, it was just a slab of concrete. So, we built the ramps and the local community got together with us to help.

It was great to actually engage with a community instead of just learning about it in school. I could understand where they are coming from and how a project like this affects them as opposed to just visiting a country, touring it and leaving. We got to leave something for the community and then explore the community even further.

SOC: How has this experience impacted the path of your career?

Lalwani: I make videos online and I work with brands and businesses to connect them and help promote them. I'm always a storyteller. I create content and show people how to get involved by sharing videos, being personable and getting out there and doing something as opposed to just sitting behind a keyboard.

We Journey partnered with Red Bull on this big social impact trip to help get a bigger audience reach, and this cause is able to be extended even more because of the Internet.

Watch the video of them building the skatepark here:

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Title: Making the Leap from Science Research to Communication
Author: Juliana Yellin
Subtitle:
Abstract: Jessie Smith joined the Strategic Communication MA program at AU with a goal to jump from scientific research to health communication.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 06/01/2017
Content:

Jessie Smith joined the Strategic Communication MA program at American University (AU) with a goal to made a jump from a successful career in scientific research to health communication. At AU's School of Communication (SOC) she found a mentor who helped her build the network she needed to do it.

Smith had always wanted to go to medical school and although she found the communication field interesting, she found comfort in the concrete career path of the sciences. After graduating from Tulane with all her pre-med credits, she embarked on her medical journey and got a job researching the effect of stress during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of babies. The research was interesting to Smith, but she wasn't satisfied. She wanted to "be part of the next step… I wanted to get the opportunity to form the messaging because I knew [the patients]. I wanted to be involved beyond the research and the data."

In the fall of 2015, the Ebola outbreak was a huge issue on the news. Smith became very angry at the way the disease was being communicated to the public. "I thought the entire continent of Africa was being stigmatized, as usual, for an outbreak that was very northwestern. There was that never-ending rhetoric of 'the other', like 'we are the west and we are safe, smart, trustworthy and intelligent, and they are the other and therefore we can't trust them'. This rhetoric came from a number of media outlets and it was so sensationalized." So she decided to apply to graduate school, so she could contribute to the broader conversation in a positive way.

Through her relationship with her mentor, Diane Weiser, head of corporate communications and investor relations at Cytokinetics, a biopharmaceutical company in San Francisco, Smith says she was supported and reassured every step of the way during her time at AU.

"She was so approachable from the very beginning. I was so impressed with her. She is so humble and told me that anyone who works hard can do what she was able to do. She told me that she has had a lot of great mentors in her life," she said.

"The SOC Alumni Mentor Program connects students with successful alumni who are able to expose students to the realities, challenges, and rewards of working in the field of communication. I have seen this program build student confidence and their self-esteem in a way that inspires their academic work and professional ambitions," said Jeff Rutenbeck, AU SOC dean.

Weiser helped Smith with her resume and cover letter, optimizing it for the field of communication, rather than medicine. Then Weiser connected her with companies in the health communications field. "She selflessly emailed four or five VPs and CEOs and she attached my resume and told them about me. She made me sound great and asked them to take the time to set up exploratory interviews with me about summer opportunities." Shortly thereafter, Smith would receive emails from these firms' HR departments.

Smith is grateful for Weiser's assistance, knowing how competitive internships are and how important it is to have a respected person advocate for her. "That's just the luck that fell into my lap[…]. She got me calls with Spectrum, Ketchum, W2O. I've been in touch with these firms in a positive way. When I sent applications to other firms, she tried to find people she knows there. It's been wonderful."

Weiser was the first person Smith contacted after receiving her first of many internship offers, even before her friends, family or boyfriend. "Before I even opened the email, I contacted her. She was so excited for me. That's just the relationship we have. She has been an integral part in helping me in the student and professional space. I am indebted to her forever and she is happy for our relationship to continue past this mentorship program. I just feel like someone is in my corner. She has been so unbelievably helpful and kind. I don't forget for a second that I have these opportunities because of her."

Smith started a summer fellowship at Ketchum in June.

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Title: Pulitzer Nominee Finds New Challenges at American University
Author: Jessica Harris
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Abstract: Pulitzer Nominee was assigned to the FRONTLINE and NPR project as part of a fellowship with AU School of Communication’s Investigative Reporting Workshop
Topic: Communications
Publication Date: 05/31/2017
Content:

Working on an in-depth investigation into the crisis in affordable housing was an 'incredible experience' says American University graduate journalism student Jerrel Floyd. He was assigned to the FRONTLINE and NPR project as part of a fellowship with AU School of Communication's Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW).

The program, "Poverty, Politics and Profit: The Housing Crisis," aired nationwide in May on PBS stations.

No newcomer to investigative work, before working with Frontline and IRW, Floyd worked as an investigative intern with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was a part of team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its report on doctors and sexual misconduct across America. The investigation pulled together and examined thousands of cases of sexual misconduct by physicians in the United States since 1999; highlighting the prevalence of these incidents and lack of legal ramifications for the doctors involved.

Floyd was also a student investigative reporter with the Georgia News Lab.

However, the FRONTLINE project was indeed a learning experience that took Floyd out of his comfort zone, he said. "Much of the work I did involved me working with [Frontline] Associate Producer Emma Schwartz, who is a complete genius, with the data analysis that was going to coincide with the production," he said.

"It was a lot of looking at housing funds and trying to analyze the trends over time with those funds. Prior to this I had some experience working with data, but never with affordable housing in the United States. There were a lot moments [when I was] just trying to grasp different terminology because affordable housing is its own universe," he shared.

Throughout the process, Floyd maintained his commitment to the project. He spent his spring break as a production assistant during some of the filming with housing experts.

"Just to see the amount of work [FRONTLINE] put into the small details to make sure a shot was perfect was astonishing. They really are incredible filmmakers and at the same time fantastic reporters," he said.

He encourages those who want to pursue similar work to be as observant as possible.

"You will be amazed at what you can learn from just simply being around incredible reporters like those at IRW and Frontline," he said.

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Title: Tatooine Forever: SOC Prof on How Star Wars Changed Movies
Author: Gregg Sangillo
Subtitle:
Abstract: Kyle Brannon is a Star Wars fan with insights on the franchise’s legacy.
Topic: Television & Film
Publication Date: 05/22/2017
Content:

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope, the original movie that launched a franchise phenomenon. Episode eight, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, will be released this December, and it will almost certainly be another blockbuster. Even a trailer for a new Star Wars movie is a major event, guaranteed to light up the Internet. Our story is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but Star Wars has never been more relevant than it is right now.

Other classic 1977 movies-such as Saturday Night Fever or Annie Hall-didn't give birth to 40-year film franchises, and they've had nothing approaching the impact of Star Wars. The force is strong with this one.

To probe how Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo's galactic adventure revolutionized movie-making, we turned to American University School of Communication Assistant Professor Kyle Brannon. He's a Star Wars aficionado-there are undoubtedly others on campus-with some insights on the franchise's legacy.

"At this point, I think Star Wars is history and connection and culture," he says. "It's not a novelty."

Never Tell Me the Odds

Historically, Brannon notes, genre movies like Star Wars weren't considered serious films. That started to change around the time of George Lucas' space epic, helping to remake the Hollywood landscape.

"People who grew up on B movie, sci fi, horror, fantasy stuff were coming of age to where they wanted to create something," he says. That included Lucas and other directors in the mid-to-late 1970s. "Jaws, Halloween, Alien, Superman. These all took themselves seriously, and rewarded those fans who had been handed cheese before that."

The film technology was also advancing, he adds, making it easier for audiences to suspend disbelief. Even without Lucas' tinkering in recent years, Star Wars' special effects-somewhat miraculously-still hold up today.

"Star Wars just blew everyone away with the effects," Brannon says. "You believe those spaceships flew around, and that the lightsabers worked. It didn't look imposed into the reality. It looked like it could be real."

Brannon exalts Lucas more for his producing than his directing, and he notes his cross-marketing innovations through toys and memorabilia. Lucas also had quality people around him, such as screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) before coming back to co-write Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

The writing helps drive the best Star Wars movies, Brannon says. "Some films exist in a space of memory that people connect on, and it transcends everything that happened in the film. It gives it this new life. I usually identify this with films that are eminently quotable," he explains. "If I said, 'Never tell me the odds,' there's no reason that should be connected to Star Wars, right? But if I said it in a group of five people, I'll bet you three of them will say, 'Han Solo.'"

Beyond Generation X

1977 was also the year Brannon was born. In the run up to The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope was re-released in the theater and Brannon's parents took him to the movie. He was probably three years old, doesn't remember the experience, and can't vouch for his own behavior in the theater. But his parents recognized that this movie was important. "I was crazy about Star Wars as a little kid. And it lasts with me to this day," he says.

This year at the Visions, a Film and Media Arts awards ceremony, he filmed SOC profs Russell Williams and Chris Palmer in a fun parody of The Force Awakens.

Professor Chris Palmer with a

SOC professor Chris Palmer in Brannon's parody of The Force Awakens.

Professor Russell Williams over a desert-looking planet background as he asks

SOC professor Russell Williams in Brannon's parody of The Force Awakens.

Star Wars was practically a rite of passage for Generation X kids like Brannon. Yet with its massive popularity in 2017, it's extended far beyond that. We're in a second wave, he says, with Gen Xers passing on the Star Wars traditions to their children. And with the Internet and social media, there's even more minutia to discuss and discover. You could spend hours dissecting this trailer for The Last Jedi.

"Right now, if you're a child and you find this thing, there's so much to explore and go with," he says.

While growing up, Brannon devoured Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn trilogy" novels, which are sometimes credited with rekindling interest in the series in the 1990s. The Expanded Universe (EU) of books, comic books, and video games bolstered the Star Wars story and energized its fan base. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, the old EU was scrapped and replaced with a new Star Wars Legends universe. With theme park attractions and TV shows such as Star Wars Rebels, creative outlets for the franchise will keep proliferating.

Franchise Mania

Star Wars is also the modern template for the many film franchises dominating Hollywood. "That is the one thing I believe you could say that Star Wars really gave us," he says. The fact that The Empire Strikes Back ended on a cliffhanger was a game changer, he argues. "Star Wars showed, for good or bad-because there is good and bad about this-the summer blockbuster can have a franchise that expands out beyond one film to multiple films."

It seems every year we get a new X-Men, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or Fast and the Furious movie. Marvel's The Avengers, a kind of ultra-franchise, stands above the sub-franchises of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Brannon says Disney's goal is somewhat similar to what's being done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Tell the overarching Skywalkers' tale and fill in gaps with affiliate movies, such as Rogue One and the upcoming young Han Solo film.

A cynic might say this is all about maximizing profits with ready-made characters and built-in audiences. Money will always be a factor, but Brannon says that truly talented directors will aim for artistic achievement.

That's why studio executives tapped J.J. Abrams-who also helped revive the Star Trek series-to direct The Force Awakens. That critically-acclaimed movie was also beloved by fans, which was vital for the franchise after the polarizing Star Wars prequel films.

"I really don't think J.J. Abrams would have done the film if he didn't want to do it right," he says. "Getting it right is the reward. Because you know when you get it wrong, you get Fantastic Four or X-Men [The Last Stand] or The Phantom Menace."

Myths and Legends

Regardless of the shiny new X-wings or droids devised for upcoming flicks, Star Wars films tell the same human stories we've been telling since time immemorial.

"The original three, in particular, were just really rich, really human, and really fun. And it plays into your fantasies, and it also just plays into traditional mythology of good versus evil," Brannon says.

He calls Star Wars' allusions a "cultural stew," incorporating Westerns and Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies. Theologians have written books about the religious overtones in Star Wars, and observers have found Jesus traits in both Luke and Anakin Skywalker.

"But there's also the hero's journey, something that reaches back to the Ancient Greeks. I feel like this says less about Star Wars and more about these other stories," Brannon adds. "You look at Luke as being every kid's dream. That they're not just destined to be this simple kid, and that's what you identify with in the story."

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Title: Game Sets Sights on Fake News
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Abstract: At a time when the reading public daily grapples with the question of fake news, the American University Game Lab/Jolt has created an accessible, easy-to-play game that helps you sort fake news from real.
Topic: Achievements
Publication Date: 05/22/2017
Content:

Real or fake? At a time when the reading public daily grapples with the question of fake news, the American University Game Lab/Jolt has created an accessible, easy-to-play game that helps you sort fake news from real.

The brainchild of former AU Jolt Fellow Maggie Farley and designed by AU game professor Bob Hone, Factitious is a quick game that can be played on any platform. AU Game Lab director Lindsay Grace oversaw the project.

“Factitious is a playful way of exploring the fake news conundrum,” Grace said. “This game is a good way to remind players about what they know and don’t know about news.”

Farley pitched the concept more than a year ago, before the 2016 presidential campaign brought the challenges of fake news to the spotlight. For purposes of the game, “fake news” is defined as stories fabricated for fun, influence or profit, as well as satire, opinion and spin.

“Fake news is impossible to stop, so we wanted to playfully teach people how to recognize it,” said Farley. "But the game is fun to play in itself.”

Factitious screen shot

Developed under a Knight Foundation grant, the game engine in the next phase should also be available to newsrooms, schools, or groups that want to adapt a version for their own use. Grace said the game “also demonstrates playful ways for newsrooms to gather data about how players perceive their content.”

Factitious comes during a time of increased attention to the issue. Universities are developing new ways to teach media literacy; Facebook has suggested guidelines for spotting fake news, Google has started tagging dubious search results, and CBS 60 Minutes recently tackled the algorithms behind fake news development.

In addition to Grace, Farley and Hone, the Factitious team included Cherisse Datu and Kelli Dunlap on the design team; Joyce Rice on art and illustrations; and Chas Brown, as game developer.

“Facebook and Twitter have created a wild, wild west in online media,” Hone said. “Factitious brings a desperately needed dose of civility to online news.”

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newsId: 20E56AF5-5056-AF26-BEA77647713FF6B3
Title: AU Launches Crowdfunding Platform
Author: Joanna Platt
Subtitle:
Abstract: UFUND is a platform the AU community can use to directly fund projects and initiatives.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 12/15/2016
Content:

American University's Office of Development and Alumni Relations recently launched UFUND, a crowdfunding platform just for the AU community. This is a new way for alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of the university to directly fund the projects and initiatives they care about most.

AU faculty, staff, and students are planning ventures to shape the future of the community, nation, and world. By making a gift, donors support the development and success of these projects.

Currently, UFUND features five initiatives – The Eagle Innovation Fund, the DC-Area High School Ethics Bowl, an Alternative Break in Cuba, the Skills for Success Career Seminar, and production of the documentary In The Executioner's Shadow.

Members of the AU community are invited to submit new projects to be featured on UFUND.


 

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Title: Non-stop News and A Heart for Helping
Author: Penelope Buchter, SIS/BA '16
Subtitle:
Abstract: Janell Lewis, SOC/MA ’06, has a passion for information and a desire to see others succeed.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 02/10/2016
Content:

Janell Lewis, SOC/MA ‘06, is an alumna whose passion and drive are evidenced by her impressive honors. Her energy and ambition have earned her the titles “Top 5 Under 40 Citizen,” and “Young Professional on the Move” as well as winning an award for dedication and service to the community from the local Courier Eco-Latino newspaper in her former home, Columbus, GA. She has even been nominated for an Emmy. She is currently in Lawton, OK, assisting in the KSWO Channel 7 News transition into a Raycom Media company.

Janell’s work in the news and media industry stems from an unquenchable desire to be informed on issues and know what is going on around her first. But more than just wanting information for herself, Janell wants to be part of informing others about what is going on in their community and their world. It is that get-up-and-go attitude which has yielded her such great success in her field.

Despite all of her success in news, Janell says that she is most proud of her work as a mentor, especially with young people. She started a local non-profit chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in Georgia and has worked with several other organizations, including the NAACP and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Through these organizations, she has had the chance to talk to students in elementary school through college and had the opportunity “to inspire, empower, and encourage, to give people someone to look up to and to show them that they can be successful.” With the NABJ she has been able to mentor students through college and sometimes even into their first journalism jobs. She says that getting into journalism, especially in places like DC can be incredibly difficult, but Janell loves to encourage people and see them succeed in getting these tough positions.

When Janell came to AU, she says that she maintained good relationships with her professors, made sure they knew her career aspirations, and allowed them to help her achieve those goals. This is the same advice she has for students hoping to pursue a media career, “have good relationships with your professors and do internships.” She says that “The best way to figure out what you want to do is to do it.”

It’s easy to see that Janell has been running full speed ahead, and she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Right now, Janell is looking into starting her own business for event planning, and hopes to do media consulting.

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Title: SOC Alumna Gets a Running Start
Author: Megan Olson and Nicole Mularz ’14
Subtitle:
Abstract: Anne Mahlum, SOC/MA ’03, shares her passion for entrepreneurism, fitness, and strengthening communities.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 11/18/2015
Content:

Whether it is going for a mid-day run or teaching a class at Solidcore, working up a sweat has led to success for Anne Mahlum, SOC/MA '03. As founder of Solidcore boutique fitness studios, Back on My Feet, a national nonprofit serving the homeless community, as well as noted motivational speaker, Anne is nothing if not entrepreneurial.

A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, Anne was drawn to graduate school in Washington, DC for its politics, and to American University for its reputation. As a student in AU's one year Master of Public Communication program, Anne was very diligent and took advantage of all of the opportunities available to her on and off campus. While taking a full course load, she balanced work as an intern at Widmeyer Communications and as a server at a local restaurant. 

In November 2013, Anne followed her passion for health, fitness, and its community to launch Solidcore. Today, she serves as the company's founder and chief motivational officer, empowering a community of more than 10,000 members. Just a few miles from American University's campus, Solidcore offers rigorous classes that encourage participants to push themselves to be their best physically. Anne says, "Solidcore is not just a workout. We are on a serious mission to help you create the strongest version of yourself inside and out."

As Anne continues to push others to be their best selves, her own success seems to have only just begun. Anne plans to make Solidcore a national brand with hopes of inspiring individuals across the country. In addition to Washington, DC, Solidcore has locations in Virginia, Maryland, and Minneapolis.

Prior to opening Solidcore in 2007 at 26 years old, Anne's commitment to service led her to start a non-profit, Back on My Feet. With a mission of serving those facing homelessness, her vision was to help as many people as possible and empower them to redefine themselves so they could redefine their lives. Anne found that by using running as a tool, participants could gain the endurance to meet and exceed their goals as well as promote a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. Under Anne's leadership, Back on My Feet has enabled 1,942 members to obtain employment and 1,350 to obtain housing. 

For American University students looking to get a running start like Anne, she encourages them to take big risks, ask themselves what the worst thing that can happen is, and to not be afraid to try something different.

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Title: SOC Alumna Kelsey Marsh Experiences Success at Cannes Film Festival
Author: Melissa Bevins ’02
Subtitle:
Abstract: SOC Alumna Kelsey Marsh experienced success at the Cannes Film Festival with her film, NonCritical.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 09/04/2015
Content:

When she was in the Kingdom of Lesotho serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, Kelsey Marsh, SOC/MFA '15, knew that her next career move would be to head to graduate school and study documentary filmmaking. Kelsey spent her days working as a community health and economic development volunteer and a primary resource teacher, but she had her sights set on American University and was thrilled to learn of her acceptance while still in Lesotho. 

As a student at AU, Kelsey says she was constantly busy. She made it a point during her tenure to avoid saying no to opportunities. In fact, she held three different jobs one semester (as a fellow at Center for Media and Social Impact, intern at Voice of America, and student worker at the Academic Support and Access Center), all in addition to being a full-time graduate student. 

As a result of her reputation for working hard and getting the job done, Kelsey had the opportunity to work with Professor Brigid Maher on a film she was producing and directing, The Mama Sherpas. Kelsey credits this opportunity to AU's culture of blending theory with practicality and encouraging students to work in the field. In the case of The Mama Sherpas, Kelsey's involvement and responsibilities continued to grow, and she earned credit as an associate producer on the film. 

Kelsey made every effort to emulate the experience she had working with Professor Maher as she produced and edited her own thesis film, NonCritical. The film, a short documentary about America's ambivalence toward finding missing black adults, earned Kelsey an invitation to the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase, where she won the Jury Choice Award. As Kelsey said, "The majority of filmmakers participating were from USC's famed film school, and my success proved to me that AU students are on the same level and do belong in international filmmaking competitions."

Kelsey now works full-time at Maryland Public Television as an associate producer. She loves the excitement of the position and the fact that every day is a little different. Currently, Kelsey serves on the arts and culture team and works on two half hour shows, Chesapeake Collectibles and Artworks

Kelsey also continues to freelance on many projects. She is currently producing a film called Women with Balls, about the D.C. Divas professional female, full-contact football team. The Divas had an undefeated season this year and just won their league's championship. Since the final game was played in Los Angeles, Kelsey was able to engage with three other American University alumni to help her with shooting the championship game.

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Title: AU Alumna Recalls Powerful Katrina Experience
Author: Ann Royse, SIS/MA '14
Subtitle:
Abstract: This month, AU is honoring the anniversary by remembering and sharing the firsthand experiences of alumna Rebecca Callahan, SOC/MA ’91, an American Red Cross public affairs liaison.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 08/11/2015
Content:

The news today is filled with images of treacherous weather patterns all across the country—from raging wildfires in the west to blizzards, floods, and storms in the east. Ten years ago, however, it was a single, violent storm covering the news outlets, a storm now infamously referred to as Hurricane Katrina. Whether you watched the horror unfold on television, responded to the national call for help, or actually lived amidst the chaos, the devastation Katrina caused will forever remain etched within the nation’s memory. This month, AU is honoring the anniversary by remembering and sharing the firsthand experiences of alumna Rebecca Callahan, SOC/MA ’91, an American Red Cross public affairs liaison.

As a communications student in both her undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and graduate studies at AU, Rebecca’s venture at the Red Cross began with a simple volunteer role updating the organization’s database. However, due to her strong communications background, she found herself at a disaster relief call center the week of August 23, 2005, warning anxious Gulf Coast residents to immediately head inland. As the date of the hurricane’s landfall drew closer so did the intensity of calls and questions from residents frantically wondering where to go, what to do, and how to leave—even as many said, their instinct was to remain in their own homes.

While Rebecca worked with a range of people on the ground—from parents to children to soldiers and reporters—her skills were truly put to the test. However, she soon found herself particularly concerned with the psychological trauma and effects on the younger children, specifically the six- to 12-year-olds.

One young girl’s struggle to process the unfolding events inspired Rebecca to communicate and connect. Rebecca provided the girl with a job, instructing the 10-year-old to stand at one of the Baton Rouge River Center's entrances with a large bottle of medical grade sanitizer, ensuring that everyone entering or exiting was thoroughly disinfected. The job soon became too large for one person so, under Rebecca’s direction, the young girl led a team of purpose-seeking children to help guard and sanitize multiple entrances of the Center. As Rebecca explained, “People need that sense of empowerment…if you have all of your control taken away, one of the most therapeutic things is to give them a sense of control over something, even if it’s in the smallest, most unexpected ways. For kids, that was easy. For everyone else, that was hard.”

This story is only a sampling of the profound experiences Rebecca endured during her time volunteering with the Red Cross in New Orleans. From assisting in the search for family members, to counseling children, to being thrust in front of the cameras on behalf of the Red Cross, it is apparent how vital Rebecca’s communications skills were to her survival and success in such treacherous environments.

Today, Rebecca continues her passion for public and strategic communications as a public affairs strategist at Booz Allen Hamilton. She also continues work with the Red Cross as a public affairs liaison for the National Capital and Greater New York regions. Her time at AU prepared her for a much greater purpose, and she says that purpose lives on in the memory of those she aided during one of the most tumultuous disasters in recent American history.

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Title: Alumni Board Member Shares Passion for Giving Back
Author: Patricia Rabb
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Abstract: Amy Lampert is an AU Alumni Board member and active volunteer
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 05/19/2015
Content:

 "I fell in love with the campus when I visited. What an exciting place to live and study," says Amy Lampert, SOC/BA '94, about her first visit to AU during her senior year of high school. "As soon as I saw the campus, I knew that I wanted to be there. There's nothing quite like Washington, DC," she adds. 

After arriving on campus, Amy was involved with the American University Resident Hall Association (serving as vice president during her junior year), worked at the Anderson/Centennial Hall front desk for three years and participated in many leadership development opportunities on campus. She also worked on the yearbook and The Eagle newspaper and was active with "AU Students for Choice."  

Her most memorable AU experience occurred during her junior year when President Bill Clinton came to campus. "I was able to sit in the second row and shake his hand," says Amy. Not long before that, she stood along the inaugural parade route while the Clintons walked past. "That's not something you get to do anywhere else in the world. It has to be one of the coolest things I've ever done," she adds.

During her time at AU, Amy secured internships at locations as varied as the House Majority Leader's office, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, US Weekly magazine in New York City, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "My internships gave me invaluable work experience that I know contributed to being able to get a job right out of college," Amy adds. 

Amy's first job was in the development office at Sidwell Friends School where she worked on publications. "I was able to immediately put my journalism degree to work," reports Amy. "My ability to write and edit as well as multi-task have been essential in everything I've done since graduation whether it's been professionally or in graduate school," says Amy. 

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Amy earned two masters of arts degrees since leaving AU. One degree is in writing and publishing from Emerson College and the other is a business management degree from Webster University. Amy is currently vice president at Time Square, Inc., a family business where she works in real estate and investment management. She manages investments as well as a wide-ranging portfolio of residential and commercial properties. Amy is pleased this position provides her with the flexibility to spend time with her 10-year-old son, describing herself as "a very hands-on mother." She continues to reside with her family in St. Louis and also spends time at a second home in Florida.

An active volunteer, Amy is enthusiastic about giving her time to AU as well as to her local community. She can be found volunteering at her temple, at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and in many other activities in her region. As an alumna, she enjoys giving back as a member of the AU Alumni Board and as an Alumni Admissions Volunteer. As an AAV member, Amy enjoys welcoming incoming freshmen and their families to the AU community by hosting summer send-off events at her homes in both Missouri and Florida. "I've really enjoyed meeting prospective students and their families over the years and sharing my passion for such an exciting place with people who are as excited about AU as I still am," she adds.

Amy observes that much has changed at AU since she attended in the 1990s. She finds herself wishing she could go back to AU and take advantage of all it has to offer. "As beautiful as I thought AU was back in the 1990s, it's even more beautiful now," she adds. She also remarks upon what she sees as an evolution of the student body. "Everyone was active and passionate when I was there, but today the students are more impressive than ever. They all are so driven, ambitious, devoted, and passionate about everything in life. They have lofty goals that I know they will achieve," she says.

Although she is undoubtedly busy with both work and family, it is clear that Amy is passionate about volunteering in both her hometown as well as for the alma mater with which she fell in love 25 years ago. "I want to do whatever I can to help AU continue to grow and thrive," she exclaims.

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Title: Ron Nessen, Press Secretary for President Ford, Gives Back to AU
Author: Megan Patterson, SIS/BA '11
Subtitle: Ron Nessen reflects on his career in politics and broadcasting, and still loves to come back to his alma mater.
Abstract: Ron Nessen, Press Secretary for President Ford, reflects on his career in politics and broadcasting, and still loves to come back to his alma mater.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 04/09/2015
Content:

"I love American University. I wanted to stay and get my degree. No matter what I was doing, I always arranged it so I would have time to go to AU." 

Even from the way Ronald H. Nessen, CAS/BA '59, speaks as we sit in an alcove of SOC's McKinley Building, it is evident that he loves his alma mater. Ron has had a distinguished career in broadcasting and journalism –going from a radio journalist in Arlington, Va. to television news correspondent in Vietnam, to Press Secretary for President Gerald Ford. 

Ron put himself through American University by working part time and going to school in the evenings. He knew more than anything that he wanted to get a degree from AU. He graduated in 1959 with a bachelor's in history.

After a several years of news, writing, and reporting, Ron became a television news correspondent for NBC News. He served as the White House correspondent from 1962 to 1965, and then spent time as foreign news correspondent, including five tours covering the Vietnam War. "In war," he says, "you see terrible things that you will never forget." 

After getting seriously wounded by a grenade in July 1966, Ron recuperated and chose to go back to Vietnam and finish his assignment. In 1974, White House Press Secretary Jerald terHorst resigned after President Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon a presidential pardon. President Ford asked Ron to join the administration as Press Secretary. Ron served as White House Press Secretary until the end of the Ford Administration in 1977. He went on to be a writer, lecturer, and public affairs specialist in Washington. His book, It Sure Looks Different on the Inside, speaks of his time in the White House. 

Reflecting on his career path, Ron says, "Nobody really knows where they are going to go in life. Things have unfolded in a way that I never expected." In one of many interesting twists in his career, Ron was Larry King's boss at Mutual Radio Broadcasting Network, where ran the news department for many years. 

Throughout his career, Ron always had a special place in his heart for AU. He currently gives back as a volunteer for the SOC Mentoring Program, and he enjoys seeing his old stomping grounds. His favorite memory of his time in college, though, is uniquely AU: "When Willard [Scott, NBC News's "Today" weather-person], Eddie [Walker, radio personality and first blind student at American University] and I worked at WAMU. We all wanted to go into broadcasting, and we all ended up in broadcasting."

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Title: SOC Alumna Reports Breaking News for ABC
Author: Nicole Mularz, SPA/BA ’14, and Megan Olson
Subtitle:
Abstract: Cecilia Vega, SOC/BA ’99, discusses her career in journalism and shares advice with students.
Topic: Alumni Profile
Publication Date: 04/09/2015
Content:

As anchor of "World News Tonight" Saturday and senior national correspondent for ABC News, Cecilia Vega's, SOC/BA '99, office is wherever the news takes her. Although she spends much of her time traveling back and forth from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area to New York, Cecilia says her time in Washington, DC and at American University gave her a start in the journalism field and provided the foundation for her success.

For Cecilia, there is no routine day in the office. Breaking news takes her all over the world. She could start her day in one city and be on her way to another continent by evening. Cecilia has reported from the bottom of the Arctic in a submarine and in London's Olympic Village. She has also covered midterm elections, interviewed Heads of State, and more recently reported on cases of Ebola in the United States. Regardless of where an assignment leads her, Cecilia says that her work gives her a sense of fulfillment as she shares information with the public to ensure they make better decisions as citizens.

After growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cecilia moved to the nation's capital to attend American University's School of Communication, where she earned a degree in French and print journalism. Her busy schedule today is reflective of her experience as a student. Cecilia remembers balancing studying, working, and interning during her time on campus. Though all of these commitments were hectic at times, Cecilia says that her hard work at AU paid off.

Cecilia's job in broadcast journalism came as a total accident. She started her career as a newspaper reporter and worked for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle. When the opportunity to move from print to broadcast at KGO-TV ABC7 in San Francisco presented itself, Cecilia jumped at the chance. Though she had no formal broadcast journalism training, she quickly learned the ropes. Six years later, Cecilia is an Emmy-winning broadcaster and has appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," "Nightline," and "20/20."

Reminiscing about her time at American University, Cecilia shared advice for students today saying, "Utilize what you have at your disposal. Being in Washington, DC, you have so much at your fingertips. Your professors are in the newsroom in the morning and teaching classes at night –it is an invaluable education. The ability to capitalize on these opportunities separates AU students from other students."

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Update,Communication,Journalism,School of Communication
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newsId: 9C01123E-5056-AF26-BEAE8F937DBCFB96
Title: Producer-Director Adam Friedman Discusses Documentary Featuring Meryl Streep
Author: Traci Crockett
Subtitle:
Abstract: Friedman is wrapping up work on a film called “Shout Gladi Gladi,” which Streep narrates.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 03/12/2015
Content:

"I like to say it was like painting the Mona Lisa without the smile." That's how producer-director Adam Friedman, SOC/BA '79, describes his latest film –before Meryl Streep signed on. "For four months, I had a movie I couldn't proceed on too much because I didn't have my narrator in place," Friedman says. 

In February, Friedman says, he got very lucky when his sister, a New York newscaster, somehow got a rough cut of the movie in front of Streep. "I got an email from Meryl's assistant saying 'hey, Meryl would love to do your movie. She thinks it's great,'" he says. And, the rest, as they say, is history.  

Friedman, owner of production company Vertical Ascent, is wrapping up work on the documentary called "Shout Gladi Gladi." It's a film about one woman's drive to help save African mothers suffering from fistula. That woman, Scottish philanthropist Ann Gloag, a former nurse turned businesswoman, now runs medical facilities in three African countries.

"We recorded her at nine o'clock in the morning on Saturday, the day before the Oscars," Friedman says of Streep. "That's how cool she was." Having booked a studio for six hours to do the voiceover, Friedman says, "she was in and out of there in 56 minutes…She was amazing." 

Not everything went so quickly, of course. The project began with a visit to Scotland to discuss it with Gloag. Then came trips to Malawi, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, where Friedman and his crews filmed what he calls an "immense" amount of footage. Friedman says they visited some "horrific" slums during their time in Sierra Leone, and he believes his was the last crew filming in the country before the Ebola outbreak. 

A lot of time was spent working on the film before the first cut was finished in September. Still, one key piece was missing. Enter Meryl Streep. "Obviously she changes the movie completely because of the way she reads. We were all just blown away," Friedman says. "Before we had a movie about fistula…a subject that most people will turn away from." But, he says, with Streep on board, he thinks the movie will reach "an incredibly large and wide swath of humanity." 

Friedman says he wouldn't be where he is today without AU. "I'm in this business because of AU and particularly because of my mentor, Larry Kirkman…I think differently than most producer-directors, and it's all because of what I learned at AU," he says.

Friedman tells a story about "lying his way into ABC" during his time as a student and working on an Emmy-nominated documentary. "But I didn't want to do documentaries then," he says. "There was a new thing happening at the time called music videos." Music video interested Friedman, so he wrote one for Darryl Hall and John Oates. They liked it and hired him to do more. He continued working in the industry, producing videos for the Rolling Stones and other musical acts. 

Since then, Friedman has gone on to do lots of different kinds of work, including a recent television show about the CIA for National Geographic. "AU gave me a lot of opportunities to play with a lot of toys, and you need that," he says. 

Friedman remains involved with AU, serving as a mentor for the School of Communication and as a volunteer leader with the Entertainment and Media Alumni Alliance. "What AU taught me was a really strong notion that there's nothing you can't do if you really want to," he says. "I met the best people in the world there." 

Friedman says he thinks what's happening with film online is going to change everything about his business so that's where he will turn his focus next. 

And, he says, "Obviously we're aiming for the Oscars next year."

Tags: Alumni,Alumni Newsletter,Alumni Relations,Alumni Update,Film,Film and Media Arts,Film Production,School of Communication
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newsId: 4D9FB6D6-5056-AF26-BECD1B3F2095E040
Title: Nate Beeler Draws The News
Author: Rebecca Vander Linde
Subtitle:
Abstract: Alumnus Nate Beeler is an award-winning editorial cartoonist.
Topic: Alumni
Publication Date: 12/11/2014
Content:

“There is something primal about a hand-drawn image that goes back to people painting on caves. We’ve always had cartoons, and editorial cartooning has a very rich history in the United States. It’s a powerful way to have a voice in the national conversation,” says Nate Beeler, SOC/BA ’02, an award-winning editorial cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch.

By now, Beeler’s cartoons are certainly part of the national dialogue. His depiction of the Statue of Liberty and Lady Justice embracing following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) won the 2014 John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition.

When the news of DOMA broke, Nate says he struggled for inspiration at first, but once he knew what he wanted to portray: the joy of same-sex couples as well as the scope and historical significance of the ruling, he says, “It seemed a natural fit to put Lady Justice and Lady Liberty together because this decision affirmed freedom and also righted an injustice.”

Nate draws five editorial cartoons each week for the Columbus Dispatch and his cartoons are also syndicated internationally to more than 800 other publications. “When you’re an editorial cartoonist, your work is basically a visual column, and you fall into the natural rhythm of the news,” he says.

Nate uses the newspaper and Twitter to track the national news conversation and search for topics that will resonate with his audience. Once he chooses a topic, he does extensive reading to determine how he feels about the topic, which guides his editorial approach.

His first foray into creating a cartoon tied to a national news story was for the edition of The Eagle published after September 11, 2001. Nate drew an image of the Twin Towers with angel wings, and the original drawing still hangs in The Eagle offices today. In fact, the The Eagle was Nate’s first stop when he arrived on campus, and he still stays in touch with his former Eagle colleagues and fellow alumni, including Brett Zongker, Scott Rosenberg, and Andrew Noyes.

American University’s strong journalism program and location in Washington, D.C. motivated Nate, a Columbus native, to attend AU. During his time in college, he was an editorial cartoonist for The Eagle and created two comic strips: Undergrad and Lawn Darts from God. His work with The Eagle earned him the prestigious Charles M. Schulz Award for best college cartoonist as well as the John Locher Award.

Since then, he has won more recognition, including the 2009 Thomas Nast Award from the Overseas Press Club and the 2008 Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation.

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