Meet Our Changemakers

Hannah Nisonson

MS in Environmental ScienceHannah Nisonson

Hannah Nisonson’s passion for environmental justice has led her to pursue an MS in environmental science at American University and a prestigious fellowship at DC’s Global Environment and Technology Foundation, where she is building research databases for blue carbon sequestration methods. Her goal is to find alternative ways to reduce blue carbon in and around the ocean, potentially by carbon sequestration and oceanic carbon credits.

Hannah says she hopes environmental justice will always be at the forefront of her life. At AU, she is a merit scholarship recipient and teaches an environmental science lab to undergraduate students. “I love a space where I can share my passion and knowledge for environmental science,” she says.

Hannah is also looking forward to working with Associate Professor of Environmental Science Sauleh Siddiqui, the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded food waste grant—the largest-ever grant in AU history. She hopes to help with the data analysis and visualization for the project.

It’s a perfect fit for Hannah, who came from a technical undergraduate engineering background and plans on pursuing a doctorate in environmental science and a career as a professor at a scientific research institution.

“After my passion for environmental issues grew, so did my understanding of the importance of political influence,” she says. “I figured American University would nicely combine a STEM related degree with international studies…and I was right! My professors are passionate about teaching, which has made it easier for me to learn from them. AU is constantly giving me the tools I need for real life applications within my field.”

Tate Altman

MS, Mathematics of Information & SecurityTate Altman

Tate Altman, a first-year MS candidate in Mathematics of Information and Security, is already analyzing data with real-life national security implications.
The data is part of a project for DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, described by the Economist as the organization “that shaped the modern world.” DARPA has played a role in the development of everything from the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, to GPS, weather satellites, stealth technology, voice interfaces, and even the internet.

Tate’s academic advisor, Professor Michael Robinson, is working on DARPA’s Safe Documents (SafeDocs) program, developing new cyber tools to help prevent vulnerabilities in electronic files that can lead to cyberattacks. He shared one of his datasets with Tate, who is using it in a Bayesian statistics class to identify which features are most informative for detecting malicious files.

Tate will be working on an independent study with Professor Robinson next semester, focusing on DARPA SafeDocs. The project is a perfect fit for Tate’s goals. After graduation, she wants to work in the defense/intelligence sector doing cyber security and data analysis.

She says that the AU program is preparing her well. “I’ve had incredible professors who have helped me understand real world applications of my studies. I am very excited about the DARPA project. I am hoping it will lead to more research in the defense field during my time at AU and carry on into my professional career. Dr. Robinson has generously shared his research with me, Dr. Casey has been nothing but encouraging during my studies, and my fellow classmates are always willing to lend a helping hand, both in and out of the classroom.”

Lesley Chapman

MS, StatisticsLesley Chapman

MS in Statistics candidate Lesley Chapman is putting her statistical expertise to work for a worthy cause. As a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute, she is researching the genetic risk associated with pediatric cancer by using epidemiologic and statistical strategies.

Lesley says she received her first introduction to American University after attending an orientation session where she received a warm welcome and an impressive overview of the Masters in Statistics program. “Effective teaching approaches are something I appreciate as a part of any training experience, and American University offers just that. At AU, I have learned a number of foundational statistical concepts that I can directly apply to my research.”

Lesley was recently selected as an American Society of Human Genetics Human Genetics Scholar. Her long-term goal is to become an independent research investigator and conduct research to identify genetic risk associated with diseases such as cancer. She says that her mathematics and statistics coursework has been a key part of her training.

“I am developing machine learning-based methods to identify risk variants in patients with rare disease. My classes, such as Mathematical Statistics and Advanced Machine Learning, have helped inform statistical based approaches to study patient populations. The faculty here have also been a tremendous support in providing explanations on the ways in which concepts discussed in courses can be applied to address questions in other fields of research.”

Gabe Bullard

MA, Literature, Culture, and TechnologyGabe Bullard

Gabe Bullard, the deputy news director for audio at NPR affiliate WAMU, has been studying journalism and working as a journalist for half his life. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, managed WFPL in Louisville, worked as deputy director for digital news at National Geographic, and was among the founding producers of the NPR program 1A.

Gabe is also an MA candidate in American University’s new Literature, Culture, and Technology program.

He says his graduate classes at AU have made his thinking and writing stronger and clearer. And one class in particular, “Emotions, Texts, and Subtext,” taught by program co-director Arielle Bernstein, inspired him to try a new type of writing and hone his critical voice. The result is a full collection of essays on how we evaluate movies, TV, and music in the streaming era. It is Gabe’s capstone, and he is also working on getting the essays published.

Gabe says he especially appreciates the mix of theory and application in his classes. “Literature, culture, and technology covers a wide swath of topics, and the program has changed how I think about everything from novels to the electronic devices I use every day.”  

Gabe’s goals include publishing more essays, and eventually a book. In the meantime, he says, he wants to keep applying what he’s learned in classes to his daily work. “I love journalism, but reporting and editing news is so different from the type of writing I’m doing for my classes at AU. The program has made me better at my job, while also presenting an avenue for how I might do more writing about culture.”

Austin T. Farrow

MA, Arts Management and Legal Studies
Austin Farrow

Austin T. Farrow is an arts leader determined to impact the entertainment industry through Pan-African and LGBTQ+ stories, narratives, and conversations.

My dreams are uniquely big, and that is why I am putting in all the groundwork and effort to actualize them. I plan on impacting the world on a global scale—beginning through art and ending only God knows where!

He holds a BFA in Theatre with a concentration in Acting from Howard University and acting certificates from the British American Drama Academy in London. At American University, where he is working towards an MA in Arts Management and Legal Studies, Austin is a graduate arts ambassador, focusing on conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has also received a highly competitive Kennedy Center fellowship, where he works in the Social Impact Department.

Austin’s goal is to create his own art collaborative, merging the four artistic disciplines of theatre, dance, fine arts, and music. “I want to successfully start up and run a nonprofit in every facet and phase,” he says. “AU is equipping me with the necessary tools and network to make it happen. I am just beginning my second year, and I have gained so much clarity and understanding in nonprofit organization and operation.”

Austin’s dreams don’t end there. He thinks about owning his own television and radio network and film studio, engaging in philanthropic work, and even creating fashion and product lines.

Darian Weaver

PhD, Clinical Psychology
Darian Weaver

This summer, AU Clinical Psychology PhD student Darian Weaver joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help research a very timely issue: how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted alcohol use.

Darian has already held several research positions. She’s worked as a research assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Most recently, she was a research coordinator at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she focused on substance use disorders.

At the NIH, Darian worked in the laboratory of Senior Investigator Vijay Ramchandani, analyzing a survey on the pandemic and alcohol use. It revealed that approximately equal proportions of survey participants had increased and decreased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Those who increased their drinking reported an increase in negative life events, and those who decreased their drinking reported a decrease in negative life events. Darian hopes that the study will help researchers predict future substance use behaviors.

This fall, Darian is back to her studies at AU, focused on her future. “My goals are to continue conducting research and become a professor one day,” she says. “American University is helping me achieve my goals by allowing me to learn from many amazing professors and peers.”

Esther Rodríguez Cámara

MA, Art History
Esther Rodriguez Camara

While living in Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic, Esther Rodríguez Cámara has been finalizing her capstone project for her MA in Art History at American University. Though she’s far away from campus, Esther says that her studies have transitioned smoothly, thanks to her dedicated professors.

Esther specializes in modern European art from a feminist and transatlantic perspective. She received the 2021 Broude and Garrard Prize in Feminist Art History for her capstone, “Maruja Mallo’s Heads of Women: A Pictorial Response to Racial Inequalities in Latin America.”

Esther arrived at AU with a strong museum background, having done internships at the Museum of the Americas in Madrid (Spain), the Museum of the National Library of Spain, and the Museum of Photography in Reykjavík (Iceland). But she says that her approach to her capstone would have been impossible without her time at AU, where she revised her preconceptions about art history.

I applied to AU because I was searching for a place that would provide me with new approaches to art history that are not common in Spanish academia yet. I have had the chance to have some of the best scholars within the Art History field as my mentors. AU faculty trusted me from the beginning and gave me the opportunity to enrich my career by being a research assistant and a social media assistant, which I think are experiences that will be valued by future employees.

Lisa Joseph

MS, Health Promotion Management
Lisa Joseph

Not only is Lisa Joseph on track to earn her MS in Health Promotion Management in 2022, but she has already landed her dream job.

This month, Lisa began work as the Program Coordinator of Education at the prestigious American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). At ASCO, she helps organize educational courses conducted by volunteer/partnered doctors for the pharmaceutical industries. The goal is to help patients better understand current research and new drug developments.

At American University, Lisa has worked as a graduate assistant in the Department of Health Studies, doing program development, data collection, and data analysis. She helped produce a “Faithfully Fit Toolkit” for ministries to implement into their own programs, as well as a report on how to balance food store profits with customers’ needs for fresh, healthy food. Finally, as a COVID Case Coordinator at the university, she worked on contact tracing and as a source of information for individuals who were potentially infected with the virus.

Lisa credits AU faculty for helping her to obtain her dream job at ASCO.

Each of my professors have played a key role in my success at AU. From my very first conversations with Dr. Snelling, I immediately felt supported when weighing my financial options. Since attending AU, I have had professors consistently provide wisdom and career advice, send job postings, and serve as references, supporting both my professional development and job applications.

Vasudeva Ramaswamy

PhD, Economics
Picture of Vasudeva Ramaswamy

Economics PhD candidate Vasudeva Ramaswamy credits American University with helping him zero in on his area of research interest and for equipping him with the tools to explore and contribute to his field. 

During his time at AU, Vasu spent two summers working with the World Bank, studying the impact of agricultural aggregators in East Africa — specifically, how they provided income and security to farmer communities. 

Vasu’s dissertation considers the effects of the Federal Reserve Bank’s actions on household inequality. Who gains and who loses when the Fed increases (or decreases) interest rates? And how do these effects propagate through the economy? Because business income and profits play a key role in household inequality, Vasu looks at how businesses respond to the actions of the Fed. 

After he earns his PhD, Vasu says he would love to be able to continue researching the importance of economic heterogeneity in monetary policy transmission. “I am particularly grateful for AU’s faculty, who are leading experts in their field and approachable and encouraging as mentors,” he adds. “I am equally grateful for the rest of my PhD cohort, who are a brilliant and motivated group. I am learning from them continually.”

Julie Williams-Reyes

MA, Philosophy
Julie Williams-Reyes.

Julie Williams-Reyes (they/them) has spent their time at American University studying, writing, grassroot organizing, and advocating for populations who need help most.

Last fall, while working towards an MA in Philosophy and Social Policy, Julie interned for DC’s Public Defender Service Mental Health Division. They are also a member of the abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, where they lead political education workshops, campaigns, and mutual aid projects, including Write Them All, letters to every person currently incarcerated in Oregon. Julie’s latest writing project is titled: "Abolition Feminism: Practical Sketches for Disrupting the Spacetime of Domination.”

After earning their MA, Julie is planning on pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. “Meanwhile, and for the many lifetimes to pass, I will work toward the liberation of all peoples, spending my time grassroots organizing. Study, love, struggle,” Julie says.

The Philosophy Department has been indispensable to my growth at AU. The professors and staff care a great deal about their students and the world they come from and the world as it is constantly being made and remade. I am grateful to Ellen Feder, Andrea Tschemplik, Amy Oliver, Jin Y. Park, Anika Simpson, Ian Rhoad, Asia Ferrin, Perry Zurn, and Rebecca Carr. And of course, my love for philosophy, the dimensions it challenges and dreams, would not have been possible without Martina Ferrari.

Alex Lutz

MS, Chemistry
Headshot of Alex Lutz

Alex Lutz has loved chemistry since eighth grade. Now he is an MS in Chemistry candidate at American University, and he’s received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to pursue exciting research on the next generation of antibiotics. 

In Associate Professor of Chemistry Monika Konaklieva’s lab, Alex is synthesizing and purifying novel antibiotic compounds to test their effectiveness against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some of the compounds have also demonstrated effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s and other viral diseases.

Alex says he first became interested in American University because of its post-baccalaureate program. While he was studying in that program, he took a class on organic chemistry, which rekindled his love for chemistry and narrowed it down more to organic synthesis. He is planning on applying to PhD programs to continue his education in chemistry and hopes to focus on organic synthesis. He is also hoping to directly use the skills and techniques that he uses in the lab now in his future research.

“I would like to recognize and thank Dr. Monika Konaklieva for her constant support and guidance during my time as a graduate student,” Alex says. “Her constant patience and support during my research have been invaluable to me. Her guidance not only helped my selection of work, but has been vital in keeping me on track.”

Mia Owens

MA, Public History
Mia Owens, Public History.

MA in Public History candidate Mia Owens is the inaugural fellow for a two-year Public History Graduate Fellowship in the History of Slavery and Its Legacies in Washington, DC.

During the first year of the fellowship, Mia is working at the White House Historical Association (WHHA) to conduct research for its Slavery in the President's Neighborhood initiative. During the second year, she will be working with AU's Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC) on The Influence of Slavery at American University.

Mia says she is gaining valuable experience in conducting research and creating content to engage and inform the public.

I am grateful for the mentorship and support of the historians and my fellow History Fellows at WHHA. Their guidance has been invaluable in helping me learn and grow as a public historian. At AU, I am happy to be a part of a wonderful and supportive Public History Program. I am thankful for our director, Dr. Malgorzata Rymsza-Pawlowska, for her dedication to helping me and other students secure public history opportunities throughout Washington, DC. I am also grateful for the wisdom and guidance of AU's history department. Through my time at AU, I have had the opportunity to develop a variety of skills that will help me in the field of public history.

Laura Rice

PhD, Behavior, Cognition, and NeuroscienceLaura Rice

Since arriving at American University in 2017, Laura Rice (PhD candidate, Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience) has been hard at work in the classroom and the laboratory, investigating the role of the cerebellum in autism.

Laura is using a combination of neuroimaging and neuromodulation methods in her research, which suggest that the cerebellum supports features of autism through its role in modulating neural circuits and behaviors. She uses a transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a noninvasive form of neuromodulation, to electrically alter the cerebellum and tune neural circuits and behaviors in adults with and without autism. Her preliminary findings suggest that cerebellar tDCS alters neural circuits that underlie social behaviors in autism.

At American University, I have developed immensely as a scientist through plentiful opportunities to present my research findings, pursue collaborations, earn funding, and attend symposia, conferences, and workshops with the field's leading experts. My mentor, Dr. Catherine Stoodley, has been instrumental to my growth and development as a scientist. She strikes the perfect balance between providing guidance and fostering independence, and she has not only helped me to grow as a scientist, but as a student, teacher, mentor, and human. Her leadership and mentorship have helped me to build resilience and confidence as a woman in STEM.

David Greenburg

MA, Audio Technology; BA, Audio Production
David Greenburg

Enrolled in AU’s combined BA/MA program, David Greenburg will receive his BA in Audio Production (music track) with an Applied Physics minor this spring. At the same time, he is working towards an MA in Audio Technology.

As if that’s not enough, David has a dream internship at the Brookings Institution, where he is working hard at editing, mixing, and producing engaging podcasts, webinars, and other audio content on current issues and public policy—skills he will use to bolster his future career goals.

Along with strengthening my audio production skills across new media formats, software, and content, I’m diversifying my portfolio by learning about and engaging in current news and public policy. Mike Harvey, the director of AU’s Audio Technology program, along with AU faculty, and American University’s location in Washington, DC, have all been invaluable in helping me secure multiple internships.

Ralvell Rogers

MFA, Creative Writing
Ralvell Rogers

MFA Creative Writing candidate Ralvell Rogers is making his mark on the literary world. He is the author of The Kansas City Boys Choir: Providing Hope for Tomorrow, which has been endorsed by luminaries Kevin Powell, G.S. Griffin, and Congressman Emanual Cleaver II. Ralvell has also established his own publishing company, Ambitious Stories, LLC, out of Kansas City, MO. He founded it earlier this year to focus on "often unheard, yet riveting and inspiring stories from the heart."

My time at AU has been brilliant in the fact that I've already learned much about what it means to be a Writer with a capital "W" and more importantly, a literary scholar. Though there is an obvious focus on our course work, it's been made clear to me that our work isn't exactly all that matters in the classroom. We are continuously connecting our work in class to the lives that we live on a daily basis and the world that we all live in, and I think that is very important for writers and entrepreneurs in the publishing sector because we are essentially the historians of our respective generations.

Rempee Kalia

MS, Computer Science
Rempee Lahiri

While Rempee Kalia is working towards her Masters of Science in Computer Science (with a Concentration in Data Science) at American University, she’s already using her knowledge and expertise to support international human rights.

At her internship at HURIDOCS, a Swiss-based NGO that helps human rights groups to gather, organize, and use information to create positive change in the world, Kalia is working with colleagues around the world, from Spain to Uruguay. Her responsibilities include researching ways to better incorporate technical documentation instruction, assisting with website development, and improving technical documentation for the flagship tool Uwazi, which organizes human rights information.

AU's Career Center has supported me with a largely diverse pool of career resources, and they looked over my resume and cover letter. It helped me land an internship in the human rights and government field, which is where I want to work after graduation. The importance of these internships is to take a sneak peak of what I want to do after graduation. I am beyond grateful to receive this type of opportunity, and I couldn't have done it without the support of my professors and advisors. Their mentorship has brought me this far!

Delande Justinvil

PhD, AnthropologyDelande Jusinvil, AU Anthropology

Anthropology PhD candidate Delande Justinvil is on a mission to protect Black burial grounds.

As a biocultural anthropologist, Delande researches the grounds and their history, analyzes remains from at-risk burials, and he advocates for their protection at both local and federal levels. During his time at AU, he helped curate the museum’s 2019 exhibition Plans to Prosper You, collaborated with the Society of Black Archaeologists, and conducted dissertation research on recently discovered Black burials in Georgetown. 

What Delande finds most special about AU is the graduate student community. “Even with respect to my doctoral research, it was my friend Shannon Clark who in my first semester here really listened to what I wanted to do and connected me to the dedicated members of DC’s Historic Preservation Office. My colleagues and I show up for each other in ways that reflect how centering care and compassion as an ethical practice can be equally, if not more, rigorous than our respective — and brilliant — scholarly pursuits.”

Delande also praises Dr. Malini Ranganathan and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC):

They have produced regular thought-provoking programming that deeply engages antiracist, feminist, and decolonial conversations both within and beyond the walls of the academy in ways that help me rethink and revise the critical approaches in my own work. In my eyes, the ARPC has really become somewhat of an intellectual anchor and integral component of the AU community.

Emma Vetter

MA, Sociology Research and PracticeEmma Vetter, AU sociology.

Emma Vetter has made the most of her time at American University. While earning her MA in Sociology Research and Practice, she’s worked as research assistant for three professors, learning new skills along the way.

It’s all prepared her for the next big step in her academic career: Emma is in the process of applying to three PhD programs, and she’s already been accepted to one.

As a research assistant, Emma’s work has ranged greatly. Working with Professor Nicole Angotti, she executed independent, in-person observations and interviews to pilot research methods. She also composed field notes and created observation protocol instructions. Working in Professor Ernesto Castañeda’s Immigration Lab, Emma researched social determinants of health and worked as the third author on a peer-reviewed journal article about health disparities (Journal of Migration and Health). For Professor Gay Young, Emma is examining the role of collective emotions in the 2020 presidential election.

My combined research experiences with the Department of Sociology have allowed me to better understand how research moves from ideas to theory, research questions, and hypotheses. These opportunities have shown me how sociological methods can capture the lived experiences of overlooked communities. I am very grateful for my time at AU and with the sociology department for helping me grow academically.