Success Stories

Enrique Benavides, SIS/BA ’15

Enrique Benavides’s journey to AU began when he was 14, an undocumented El Savadoran traveling to the United States to reunite with his mother. With a goal of earning a college degree, he was determined to learn English and earn top grades. He obtained permanent residency and completed two years at a community college before transferring to AU, whose DC location was the perfect fit for his interest in US foreign policy. After getting here, he says, “I realized there are so many well-prepared faculty, with many different perspectives and field work, who can inspire students to dream bigger.” At AU, he was a teaching assistant, held an internship at the Embassy of El Salvador, and volunteered at the Latino Student Fund. AU’s office of Financial Aid helped him obtain a need-based scholarship to complete his senior year. By mid-2015, Benavides had completed his bachelor’s in international studies and landed a part-time position with the World Bank Group. “The AU culture of promoting networking was very helpful for me to become confident when meeting people I did not know,” he says. He also landed an internship with the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank focused on Latin American policy. “No matter what your passions are, American University is represented by a very diverse community. Even if your passion is not well-represented at AU, then you have the greatest opportunity to make it known.”

BECCA PEIXOTTO, CAS/MA ’13

Becca Peixotto and her colleagues on the Rising Star Expedition made worldwide headlines when they excavated the newly discovered fossil of an early human ancestor: Homo naledi, whose existence could change the way scientists view human evolution. In 2013, Peixotto and five other scientists were chosen to excavate fossil fragments from a cave in South Africa. “The Rising Star Expedition was very exciting: the cave is amazing, it was a privilege to work with such a skilled and motivated team of scientists (who all happen to be women), and the senior scientists were excellent and supportive mentors,” Peixotto says.

Explaining why she chose AU for graduate study in 2011, Peixotto says, “I was drawn by the public anthropology focus of the department—the commitment to doing research with the aim of affecting positive change and engaging with the public in a myriad of ways throughout the research project.” Subsequently, she has benefited from strong faculty mentors, particularly Professors Daniel Sayers and Richard Dent. “Sayers supported my efforts to host an XRF [x-ray fluorescence spectrometry] workshop at AU and to gain use of a portable XRF device for several weeks, and Dent brought me on as a field assistant for an excavation, which led to an internship with the Maryland Historic Trust.”

Peixotto was a laboratory assistant supervisor for Sayers’s Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study, an ongoing study of African American and indigenous American communities that lived in the swamp before the Civil War. Now an adjunct instructor at AU, she is completing her dissertation on resistance landscapes in the Great Dismal Swamp between 1660 and 1860. 

“I use LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] data to identify potential islands in the Swamp, hike through the Swamp to see them in person, and conduct archaeological survey on the islands,” she says. “The information and artifacts will help us better understand the landscape of the maroons and how they made their lives in a seemingly inhospitable area.”

Loren Miller, CAS/MA ’10, CAS/PHD ’15

When Loren Miller was choosing a graduate school, she had several reasons to select AU. With its public history program among the country’s best, she knew she would receive both excellent education and hands-on experience. AU’s Washington, DC, location also meant opportunities to intern at a variety of cultural institutions. Finally, AU’s history professors clinched her decision: “When I visited the school, I was impressed with the faculty and how warm and welcoming they were. They truly made me feel wanted at the school.”

Miller knew she wanted to work in a large government museum like the Smithsonian. Today, she apprentices at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where her work includes research, acquisitions, inventory, and writing. She is also a part-time history contractor at the National Library of Medicine, collaborating on numerous projects and serving as head curator for a public exhibition about physician assistants. “I believe the connections AU provided me with through opportunities for practical work experience were very important to helping me land my two current positions,” Miller says. “There were constantly opportunities to expand my professional skills through internships, fellowships, and volunteer work, and I tried to say yes to as many of them as possible.”

Miller has held internships at the National Park Service and National Building Museum; volunteered with the Women in Military Service for America Foundation; and held contract positions with the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, US Securities Exchange Commission Historical Society, and the Initiative for Public Art–Reston. As a doctoral student, she received research grants from the College of Arts and Sciences, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and Duke University and two fellowships in women’s and gender history. In 2015, Miller was named a Presidential Management Fellowship finalist. “The things I love most about public history are what I see as its core values. Public history is built on the belief that history and knowledge should be made accessible to everyone and presented in a way everyone can understand.”

Alexis Dobbs, CAS/BS ’14

Alexis Dobbs earned distinction at AU as captain of the women’s basketball team, a three-time Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year, President’s Award recipient, and Dean’s List student, among many other honors. She also spent four years on the Academic All-Patriot League Team and in the top 10 percent of AU’s student athletes, and she received postgraduate scholarships from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and AU Athletics. Now, Dobbs is using her degree in public health (with a biology minor) to pursue her master’s degree in health science and professional certification as a physician assistant from Cuyahoga Community College/Cleveland State University. “Being a physician assistant student is a tough but rewarding task,” says Dobbs, whose goal is to help patients achieve and maintain their desired quality of living. She credits her academic and athletic endeavors at AU with providing both career preparation and a solid background in hard work: “Time management, teamwork, dedication, and passion are among the many qualities that being a student-athlete has taught me over my four years. Those qualities relate directly to being an aspiring physician assistant and working my way through a very time-demanding and challenging postgraduate and master’s program. Learning how to work hard and enjoy the process is something that I’ve taken away from my time at AU.”

CHRISTINA KOCH, SOC/BA ’14

Christina Koch became the professional relations manager for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) one week after graduation. With a public communication major and a psychology minor, she knew she wanted a job in which she could help others. As an advocate for school psychologists, Koch supports NASP's public policy agenda by speaking to people on Capitol Hill, monitoring state and federal legislation, and planning the annual George Washington University/NASP Public Policy Institute. Koch credits her successful post-college transition, in part, to SOC faculty. “The professors have impressive backgrounds and are tremendously caring about their students' success,” she says. Importantly, they also provided course work with real-world relevance. Internships at the U.S. Department of Education and National Geographic Channel encouraged Koch's love of digital communication and her passion for education policy and mental health issues. She was also inspired by her peers at AU, whose hard work paid off with post-graduation success: “Without seeing this first-hand, I don't know if I would have been as motivated to make the most of the amazing internship opportunities that AU has to offer.” Koch took advantage of those opportunities and more. For example, her summer in Italy “helped me realize what I am capable of when I am thrown out of my comfort zone.” Today, she is reaping the dividends of her own hard work at NASP: “The fact that our organization helps children across the nation to thrive in school makes it a pretty great thing to be a part of.”

DEON JONES, SPA/BA ’14

At 23, Deon Jones has already become a name to know. He was the youngest elected official in Washington, DC, history as a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. He was the first African-American from AU to receive the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, and he started a development program for formerly incarcerated teenage boys that sent many of them to four-year universities. Today, he is special project assistant to the president at Be The Change, Inc., a social entrepreneurial organization that creates national issue-based campaigns. Previously, he was the national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, dedicated to ending youth incarceration in the adult criminal justice system. Jones was recently appointed to the National Council of Youth Leaders and has been invited to many speaking engagements, including the CitiBank Foundation and the United Nations. While at AU, Jones honed his professional development with internships in the U.S. Congress, White House, and Teach for America.

Sara Rubinstein, CAS/BS ’14

Before completing her statistics degree, Sara Rubinstein held an internship with the National Association of Community Health Centers, joined the national co-ed honors fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, and studied in Australia her junior year. Each experience played a role in her development, she says. The internship taught her professional project management skills, Phi Sigma Pi connected her to learning opportunities and increased her confidence, and venturing to Australia developed her courage to try new experiences. Today, Rubinstein is a research assistant at market research firm Greenwald & Associates. She coordinates focus groups, quality-checks surveys and reports, and analyzes statistical significance. “I enjoy my role because I get to dip my toes into many different projects,” she says. “It’s a great learning experience, especially with all the different clients we serve.” Rubinstein points to the support of her faculty advisor, who encouraged her to explore a variety of opportunities, and to AU’s emphasis on career development. “You couldn’t go anywhere [on campus] without seeing information about career fairs or internship opportunities,” she says, recalling a sign on an AU shuttle about how many AU grads find jobs within six months. “I pushed myself because I wanted to be part of that statistic.” Rubinstein landed her position with help from AU’s Career Center: “I knew I wanted to stay in this area, and AU is one of the reasons why.”

BRIEANNA SAMPLES-WRIGHT, CAS/MAT ’12

Now in her fourth year at DC Scholars Stanton Elementary School, Brieanna Samples-Wright is a kindergarten teacher and grade-level lead who is passionate about innovative education. As a CityBridge Foundation 2014 Education Innovation Fellow, Samples-Wright has the opportunity to visit schools in California and Detroit that are exploring new models of blended, personalized learning, work with leaders in the field, and develop her own pilot programs. She is also an instructor for the Developing Young Writers program through the DC Area Writing Project. While earning her master’s degree at AU, Samples-Wright says her work with adjunct instructor Katie Keier was especially influential: “She really pushed me as an educator to develop in my use of technology to teach and share my teaching experiences.”

HANNAH HANKINS, SOC/BA ’11

In her four years at the White House, Hannah Hankins has steadily moved up the ranks, currently serving as the communications director for the Domestic Policy Council. Previously, she spent three and a half years as a White House press assistant. As a liaison between the White House Press Office and the media, she wrangled the White House press corps aboard Air Force One and around the world. She credits her quick rise to the range of experiences she gained as an undergrad at AU. Hankins had six internships in political press offices before graduating. Since then, she has worked for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and held several positions in the White House Press Office. Her internships, together with coursework in public communications and international relations, set her up to hit the ground running in the fast-paced world of politics.

Joseph Vess, SIS/MA ’10

For Joseph Vess, MA ’10, a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution from AU’s School of International Service was a natural complement to his career in gender-based violence prevention. While pursuing his degree, Vess worked as a staff assistant at the War Crimes Research Office, a community organizer at the DC Rape Crisis Center, and director of training and technical assistance at Men Can Stop Rape. Since earning his MA in 2010, Vess has joined Promundo, an international organization where he coordinates programs with men and boys in conflict and post-conflict areas to ensure sustainable, gender-equitable peace. As senior program officer, Vess works with local partners to help strengthen, develop, evaluate, and scale up their interventions.

GABRIELLE KUEY, KSB/BSBA ’10

Gabrielle Kuey, BSBA ’10, has parlayed her studies at AU’s Kogod School of Business—including study abroad in China—into positions with major international marketing/branding firms, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade Saturday, and now the bohemian and lifestyle brand Free People. Based in New York City, Kuey is an international marketing associate. Her responsibilities range from international business development to ensuring the international social media front rolls out smoothly. At Kate Spade Saturday, Kuey managed brand consistency for the Japan and Singapore partnerships. She also had the opportunity to work on creative endeavors such as interactive window displays and an Ebay partnership that brought pop-up shops to five city storefronts. From DC to New York to Asia, Kuey’s path demonstrates the global reach and the innovations that characterize many of our Kogod grads.

AHMAD TOURÉ, KSB/BA ’09

When Ahmad Touré was a senior in AU’s Kogod School of Business, he set a goal of putting his marketing education to work in a socially responsible organization. That, plus his lifelong interest in nature, made the U.S. National Park Service a perfect fit—especially since he interned there as an undergrad. Today, Touré is a ranger at Great Falls Park in Virginia. He leads tours to educate visitors about the park’s history, maintains visitor safety, and coordinates a volunteer trail crew. He views his duties as a special kind of marketing that connects people to the park and inspires stewardship for its natural resources.

DANIEL MAREE, SOC-CAS/BA ’08

Daniel Maree’s leadership and initiative were evident as an undergrad, and he shows the same drive today as a filmmaker, social entrepreneur, and communications strategist. As a student, Maree founded the AU Chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive policy nonprofit. After graduation, he continued his commitment to citizen engagement by founding the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, a national nonprofit working to protect and empower young people of color. For this work, Maree was named a 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree for Social Entrepreneurship and the Grand Prize Winner of the 2013 Do Something Award. He is also completing a documentary about his father, a U.S. track Olympian and a national South African hero, and consulting on an HBO documentary about “Stand Your Ground” laws. Maree also leads a strategic communications consultancy, M-PWRD.

Joseph Vidulich, SPA/BA ’08

As a student in AU’s School of Public Affairs, Joseph Vidulich, BA ’08, served as Student Government president, a resident assistant, and founder of the AU Blue Crew, a spirit squad for student athletes. Those experiences, combined with a Congressional internship and his political science degree, led to a series of positions with progressive responsibility. Vidulich’s experience includes working as a paralegal, as manager of public policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and most recently as vice president of government relations for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, he continues to provide service to the AU community as a member of the AU Alumni Board and the AU Business Practices Social Responsibility and Service Committee.

Fanta Aw, KSB/BSBA ’90, SPA/MPA ’94, CAS/PhD ’11

As the Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer in AU’s School of International Service, Aw brings both personal experience and professional expertise to her teaching. A “global nomad” who grew up in several countries, Aw is a well-regarded expert in international education. She has provided training to the U.S. Department of State, Institute of International Education, and American Councils for International Education, among others, and she is the president and board chair of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a 10,000-member organization. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from AU, she returned to her alma mater for a doctorate in sociology with concentrations in transnational migration, international education, and social stratification. Aw is also AU’s assistant vice president of campus life and the 2013 recipient of the University Award for Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Position.

NICK REKSTEN, SIS/BA '07, CAS/PhD '15

Nick Reksten had such a positive undergrad experience at AU that when it came time to choose a PhD program, his alma mater quickly rose to the top of the list. Reksten, who earned a bachelor’s in international studies and economics, praises AU’s faculty as “open-minded, engaged, and a joy to work with.” As an undergrad, he was a University Honors Program member and a Presidential Scholarship recipient, and he held internships in Washington, DC, and London. As a doctoral student, Reksten served as a Graduate Advising Fellow in AU’s Office of Merit Awards, an adjunct instructor, and a teaching assistant. He has won several honors, including the Weaver Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student, a Department of Economics Dissertation Fellowship, a Graduate Fellowship, and a CAS Mellon Travel Grant. Reksten served as a consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank before becoming a guest professor on the economics faculty at Sarah Lawrence College.

Erin Moriarty Harrelson, MA/CAS ’13

When Erin Moriarty Harrelson, MA/CAS ’13, won a Fulbright–National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship in 2014, she was one of five fellows chosen from more than 850 applicants. Harrelson, who is pursuing her PhD in anthropology, worked with professors Dolores Koenig, William Leap, and Audrey Cooper and with Chris Swanson, assistant director of AU’s Office of Merit Awards, to prepare her application for this new and prestigious program.

“I would not have this incredible opportunity without the support of American University,” Moriarty Harrelson says. “I am proud to be affiliated with AU because of the unwavering support I have received from fellow students and the faculty in the Department of Anthropology. This department’s scholarship epitomizes social justice and community activism.”

Harrelson began conducting fieldwork in Cambodia in 2009. As a fellow, she spent 10 months in Cambodia exploring all aspects of its emerging deaf culture, developing relationships with deaf garment workers, deaf teachers, interpreters, professionals who work with deaf individuals, funders, and nongovernment organization administrators. Harrelson, who is deaf herself, is using video, text, photos, maps, and drawings to document the lives of deaf Cambodians, including the emergence of Cambodian Sign Language.

“My goal for my Fulbright-National Geographic project was to tell the stories of deaf people in Cambodia to spotlight the structural inequalities that deaf people face, especially for government policymakers and deaf educators in Cambodia,” she says. Harrelson chose AU for her doctoral studies because of its emphasis on public anthropology. “Public anthropology encourages anthropologists to address social issues with the explicit goal of fostering social change and social justice,” she says. “I believe that we have a responsibility, as scholars and citizens, to meaningfully contribute to the communities we live and work in.”

After completing her dissertation, Harrelson plans to continue her work in Cambodia.