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Getting to Know Them

By Gregg Sangillo

Professor and Chemistry Department chair Shouzhong Zou.

Professor and Chemistry Department chair Shouzhong Zou.

American University is welcoming 19 new tenured and tenure-track professors for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Mary Clark, senior vice provost and dean of academic affairs, explains the university's criteria for the new tenure-track hires. "We're looking for a sense of dynamism. These are individuals who are ambitious and excited about the questions that they are studying and grappling with," she says.

For incoming tenured professors, Provost Scott Bass and Clark sought out "spark plugs," i.e., people who could mentor faculty, while exploring funding and partnership opportunities.

In addition, the new professors are quite personable, Clark says. "They're individuals whom their colleagues will enjoy working with. So it's really been a pleasure to be able to meet the future of the university."

College of Arts and Sciences

After growing up in China, Shouzhong Zou has been living in the United States since the early 1990s. And he's noticed some stark differences between the two countries. "In the U.S., they tell you that learning science is fun. It is fun, but you need to do a lot of hard work to enjoy that fun," he says. "In China, it's the other way around. You emphasize a lot of hard work, but not much fun. But now it's changing. The whole Chinese society is moving more towards capitalism. And the education system is becoming more like the U.S. system."

Zou still has a lot of family in China, and he tries to return every year to visit his elderly parents. But he's built his own life and family here, and it doesn't seem like he's straddling two worlds. It's really one world that's getting a little bit smaller, and the language of science is universal.

Zou earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University and did a postdoc at California Institute of Technology. He was most recently an associate professor at Miami University in Ohio. The D.C. address helped lure him to American University, with close proximity to the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Naval Research Laboratory. He's now a professor and Chemistry Department chair in the AU College of Arts and Sciences.

His primary research challenge is to develop new nano-materials to catalyze fuel cell reactions. That fuel cell technology would hopefully be used as an alternative energy source for auto manufacturers and portable electronic devices.

Hydrogen fuel cells produce zero pollutants, so there are obvious environmental benefits to this type of research. But the technology has been costly, mostly because converting the energy in hydrogen and oxygen into electricity is not efficient enough, he says. "About half of the cost of the fuel cell is that catalyst. But if we can reduce that, then the fuel cell will be much more viable economically," Zou explains.

Environmental research—particularly anything related to combatting climate change—can get entangled in national politics. Yet Zou says if academics know that their work is scientifically sound, the value of that research will be evident. "There is also the intellectual challenge here that we enjoy," he says. "From my perspective, I like to focus on the problem and see it through."

Other New College of Arts and Sciences Faculty:

Whether homeless or undocumented, some people are sadly confined to the margins of society. Yet Ernesto Castañeda wants to bring those people out of the shadows and amplify their voices. As a new assistant professor in the Sociology Department at American University, Castañeda will continue studying vulnerable populations.

New sociology professor Ernesto Castaneda

He's talked with students about how to establish a rapport with interview subjects. "If students wonder how to interview a man who's been sleeping on the streets for 20 years, I remind them that he is still a person like us," Castañeda says. And since homeless people are often cut off from family, they crave human interaction. "They appreciate that somebody is listening to their plight. Unfortunately, an interview won't get them off of the streets. But it reminds them that they're part of a human collective," he adds.

Castañeda was raised in Mexico City. The atmosphere was intellectually invigorating, as his high school was located on a college campus and he had American expats teaching classes. "This high school was bilingual and bicultural," he remembers. "I even took classes on the Harlem Renaissance in a high school in Mexico."

He came to the United States to earn his undergraduate degree at University of California, Berkeley. Castañeda intended to study genetics, but he was disillusioned by the paucity of provable science in that field. He shifted his attention to interdisciplinary studies, and one of those subjects would become his academic bailiwick. "That's actually how I fell in love with sociology. The liberal arts tradition was a great gift for me, and it doesn't exist in Mexico. If you're going to be a lawyer, you take law classes. So I like how the American system has this freedom and exposes you to other disciplines."

Despite being an immigrant, he didn't intend to study those issues in the U.S. But he had a knack for understanding migrant populations. "Starting in graduate school, it was very easy for me as a Mexican person to talk to Mexican immigrants and gain their trust," says Castañeda, who earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University.

As part of Castañeda's research (which he's turning into a book), he's found considerable differences between how migrants are integrated in Paris and New York City. Algerians in France are supported economically, but they often feel culturally alienated. That's because everyone there must be considered "French," and people aren't allowed to celebrate multiple identities, he says.

Yet New York City allows Mexican migrants to maintain ties to their native country. Those immigrants then become more comfortable, and paradoxically, more American. "People who have lived for two years in the Bronx undocumented—they may feel like New Yorkers very fast. They know their neighbors, because they play soccer together. So they interact with everybody."

Juliana Martinez is an assistant professor of world languages and cultures. She's examined how violence in Latin America is represented through film and literature.

Kendra Salois is a new assistant professor of performing arts. Her research interests include music and diplomacy.

Isaiah Wooden is an acting assistant professor of performing arts. He recently earned his Ph.D. in theater and performance studies from Stanford University.

Kogod School of Business

By his own account, Serge da Motta Veiga is an eclectic person with varied interests. And whether it's research or outside pursuits, he'd rather not sit idle. "I have very high levels of energy, so I have to keep myself busy all of the time," he says. It's clear that he brings this earnestness with him to work every day.

Kogod professor Serge Da Motta Veiga

He is excited to be at American University, working as an assistant professor of management at the Kogod School of Business. In fact, his academic research delves into the area of motivation, particularly when people are searching for employment.

"I'm really fascinated by how job seekers go about finding a job," da Motta Veiga says. "A lot of people figure, 'If you apply to 100 jobs, you might get a job.' But that's not how it works. So, how can you learn to be a better job seeker?"

In addition, da Motta Veiga has analyzed how employers attract and retain the best job applicants. One issue he's explored is the role of humor in recruitment. "You go into an interview, and the person in front of you is stiff and serious. And you think, 'I'm not comfortable here, I'm not having fun,'" he says, suggesting that it's advantageous for the recruiter to be amiable and light-hearted. "Humor drives your positive outlook. That's going to make people want to come to your company."

Da Motta Veiga is from a Portuguese family, and he grew up in Brussels, Belgium. After getting his bachelor's degree, he worked in banking, consulting, and recruiting in London, Paris, and Brussels. But he started to yearn for a major career change.

"I realized that I wanted to answer broader questions rather than answering specific customer questions. I wanted to help others, and I wanted to do that through questions that were also interesting to me," he says.

This led him to academia, and he earned his Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Missouri. During that time, he continued with one of his lifelong passions: field hockey. It's a sport he's been playing since he was six, and he was a coach for the university's club team. Da Motta Veiga is also a die-hard Mizzou Tigers college football fan.

Most recently, he was a professor at Lehigh University. Drawing on both his work experience and academic research on employment searching, he's advised students about the realities of the corporate world. "I think they need to get a better grasp of finding a job that really motivates them. You have to have a reason to wake up every morning," he says. Right now, da Motta Veiga has found that for himself.

Other New Kogod School of Business Faculty:

Jay Simon is a new assistant professor in the Department of Information Technology. He was previously an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

School of Communication

Aram Sinnreich, a new associate professor in the School of Communication, has tackled expansive research questions related to culture, law, and technology. In the Communication Studies division, he'll delve into fair use and copyright law within creative communities. And he'll continue with an ongoing project about "remix culture" and emerging cultural forms.

What is remix culture? Sinnreich examined some of these issues in his 2010 book, Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture. "We have all of these new cultural forms that are based in the services of technologies like the laptop and the Internet. And they make it possible for us to relate to one another and to express ourselves in ways that we could not even have imagined before these amazing new platforms," he explains.

Our capitalist society is rooted in the assumption that production and consumption are separate, he says. But "as these distinctions become blurrier and blurrier, how do we reorganize ourselves as a society? And, furthermore, how do we develop new kinds of ethical standards that can accommodate differentiating between valid and invalid, or useful and wasteful?"

As an example of remix culture and its impact, he talks about the recent Planned Parenthood videos that were filmed and disseminated by an anti-abortion-rights group. "Those are remixed videos where footage has been selected and arranged in order to present a version of reality that is very different than the version that somebody else, editing the same set of videos, might present," he says.

Sinnreich grew up in New York City, and his parents gave him the freedom to explore its rich culture. He went to see Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, jazz performances, and punk shows at places like CBGB.

He started studying jazz bass. "I wrote a thousand bad songs before I finally wrote some good ones," he says. A fellow musician—and eventually his wife—hired Sinnreich to join her band, Agent 99. They still play and produce music together, with their bands Dubistry (reggae, soul, punk fusion) and Brave New Girl (jazz and R&B fusion). They also became music partners and close friends with the late Ari Up, singer of the seminal punk band the Slits.

While working at a dot.com consultancy in New York in the 1990s, he became a prolific voice about music on the Internet. He later earned his Ph.D. in communication from University of Southern California. "I wanted to ask questions about how these new technologies were changing everybody's lives, and what that would mean for freedom of speech and privacy and changing identities," he says. "And that's basically what I've been researching ever since."

Other New School of Communication Faculty:

Kathy Fitzpatrick is a professor and senior associate dean for academic affairs at SOC.

Ericka Menchen-Trevino is an assistant professor, with a focus on political communication and new media. She was previously an assistant professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Filippo Trevisan is an assistant professor in public communication. His research areas include political organizing and activism through new media technologies.

School of International Service

It's fitting that Jordanna Matlon has joined American University's School of International Service. With her academic outlook and life experiences, she's almost the personification of globalization. Matlon has lived in 11 different countries, and on every continent except Antarctica.

Jordanna Matlon is a new School of International Service faculty member.

"What attracted me to coming here were the global and real-world dimensions of the school," says Matlon, a new SIS assistant professor. She earned her Ph.D. in sociology from University of California, Berkeley, and she recently did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France.

Since her father is an economist who worked in development, she spent some of her formative years in the West African nation of Côte d'Ivoire.

Years later, she was shocked to see a picture in Time magazine of French troops evacuating students in her old elementary school. That would inspire her to eventually do her fieldwork in Côte d'Ivoire.

Her time in West Africa piqued her interests in race and identity, and she was forced to confront how these issues affected her personally. Though she identifies as African American, people in West Africa usually viewed her as white. "After conducting several months of fieldwork, I would mention to friends, 'Oh yeah, my mother is African American.' And they looked at me like I was crazy," she recounts. "So I was trying to understand what historical context made that so, and what kinds of power dynamics were happening."

Her research focuses on how underemployed men in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire assert their masculine identities. In West Africa, colonialism introduced the idea of wage labor, and men were greatly defined by their jobs. But with these economies reeling since the 1980s, many men never got the civil service jobs they anticipated as part of the post-colonial state's social contract. Instead, Matlon found men identifying through hobbies like music, asserting themselves via their shared blackness with iconic African-American men.

"There was still this traditional African idea of 'adult masculinity,' that you have to be married to be a man. But in order to be married now, you were supposed to have a job," she explains. "So the consequences of this are completely societal: Without access to jobs, people just aren't marrying." Matlon is building on this research to develop a theory of racial capitalism and black masculinity throughout the world.

Along the way, Matlon picked up some intriguing pastimes, including some performances with her Côte d'Ivoire assistants' hip hop group. She's also experienced in capoeira, a form of Brazilian marital arts. No mere diversion, she taught capoeira to Abidjan locals and it helped with her work.

"I think that was actually a way that I was able to get access to these communities. They looked at me as not just this white American researcher, but they accepted me as kind of a legitimate artist in my own right."

Other New School of International Service Faculty:

Lauren Carruth is an assistant professor in global health. A medical anthropologist, she's specialized in matters related to humanitarian assistance, food security, and refugees.

Erin Collins is an acting assistant professor in global urban studies. Among other interests, she's explored the cultural politics of urban transformation in Southeast Asian cities.

Claire Brunel is a new assistant professor dealing with international trade and environmental economics.

Jennifer Poole is an assistant professor whose research topics include Brazil and labor economics. She was formerly a senior international economist at the White House's Council of Economic Advisers.

School of Public Affairs

There's a popular refrain in counterterrorism circles: While the U.S. intelligence community's failures are publicized, the successes go unnoticed. If U.S. officials took credit for stopping an attack, they might reveal too much information about their methods.

Tricia Bacon can't divulge the totality of her work at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Bureau of Counterterrorism. But her government experience still enhances her research at the School of Public Affairs, where she's an assistant professor in the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology.

"It definitely informs the questions that I ask. My research on terrorist group alliance behavior very much came out of my work in the intelligence community," she says. "During the time I was there, we were focused on when groups would affiliate with Al-Qaeda. And now we're facing the next generation of that with the Islamic State."

Through her terrorism research, she's hoping to find the sweet spot between government counterterrorism—with analysis that's sometimes in the weeds—and the much broader, long-term studies by some academics. "The two aren't necessarily speaking to each other very well. So I'm hoping that my research starts to fill some of those gaps," she says.

Bacon hails from the Cleveland, Ohio area, and she headed south for warmer weather at Stetson University in Florida. She majored in sociology and played on the volleyball team. While finishing her master's degree in political science from University of Florida, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the country and the world. "I'm watching on TV as the towers fell. And I was among those Americans who thought, 'who would do this and why?' It was a very basic life-changing moment." For Bacon, it was also a call to action.

As a Presidential Management Fellow, she joined the State Department in 2002. She began her career in diplomatic security before moving into counterterrorism and intelligence. During her years of government service, the State Department helped her pay for graduate school at Georgetown University. She earned her Ph.D. in international relations there in 2013.

Bacon spent the past two years at SPA as a term faculty, but she now has a tenure-track position. She just completed a manuscript for her forthcoming book, Mergers, Acquisitions, and Mayhem: Why Terrorist Groups Ally.

Other New School of Public Affairs Faculty:

Dave Marcotte is a professor who has focused on issues related to STEM and K-12 education.

Khaldoun AbouAssi is an assistant professor of public administration & policy. He was previously an assistant professor of nonprofit management at Texas A&M University.