It’s been a busy year at American University with and despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few of the findings, events, and achievements at AU in 2020:


The School of Public Affairs is the home of the Women and Politics Institute.

SOE announces that it will provide an independent analysis of DC Public School’s IMPACT teacher performance evaluation system as part of the school’s commitment to the DC community and excellence and equity in education. A study by SPA’s Women and Politics Institute finds that women of all ages and political affiliations—particularly millennials and women of color—have become more politically engaged since 2016. Steve Munson is named AU’s new vice president and chief information officer.


Sa’eed Nelson becomes the all-time leading scorer in AU basketball history.

Sa’eed Nelson scores 30 points on February 26 to become the all-time leading scorer in American men’s basketball history with 2,085 career points. President Sylvia Burwell announces Joseph Riquelme as vice provost and chief online officer—the first person to hold this position—to coordinate all aspects of the university’s online and digital education offerings. Twenty-four students visit New Hampshire and 19 visit South Carolina to cover their primary elections as part of Presidential Primaries, a course SOC and SPA offers every four years.


NASPA designates AU a First-gen Forward institution.

NASPA designates AU a First-gen Forward institution, allowing select faculty and staff to engage with peer and aspirational institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. About 7 percent of AU’s full-time undergraduates are first-generation. U.S. News and World Report ranks SPA among the country’s top public affairs institutions at no. 13 for 2021; the school has 7 specialty programs ranked in the Top 15. WCL has five law specialty programs ranked in the Top 10.


The Symphonic Band and Orchestra perform AU’s Alma Mater for the first time in decades.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, AU announces complete divestment of public fossil fuel investments from its endowment. The AU Museum launches AU Museum at Home to engage the museum community and its patrons after the museum closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Literature professor Rachel Louise Snyder is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her book, No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us receives widespread international praise. AU’s Symphonic Band and Orchestra virtually performs AU’s Alma Mater—a composition that had been lost for decades. Mitchell Lenneville, SPA/BA ’20, is AU’s 16th Truman Scholar since 2000.


Cheldina Jean, CAS/BA ’20, is the 2020 President Award winner for her academic achievement, leadership, and passion for service. AU’s 139th Commencement is its first held virtually with Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and host of Finding Your Roots, encouraging 3,000 graduates to find resilience during this challenging time. The DC Area Survey shows how race influences DC-area residents’ daily lives and experiences, revealing a stark racial divide in perceptions among Latino, Black, White and Asian residents within their neighborhoods. The Office of Graduate and Professional Studies begins new digital badge programs for lifelong learners at any stage of their careers. In the series of professor-led, hybrid modality, four-week training courses, students earn valuable skills that can be used immediately in their workplaces.

President’s Award winner Cheldina Jean, CAS/BA ’20, is passionate about the environment.


Eleven high-achieving students from DC’s public and public charter high schools are selected for the inaugural class of AU District Scholars for the 2020–2021 academic year. AU dedicated $3 million for the award as part of its commitment to enhancing access to high quality education and supporting the DC community. A report from the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies and the Kogod School of Business in partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce finds that DC-area Latino-owned businesses are being affected dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights what they need to weather the crisis.

The first 11 AU District Scholars join the Class of 2024.


The Black Swing Voter Project finds that Black men and women under 30, compared to their elders, have far less trust in elected officials and far less enthusiasm for voting, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the Democratic Party. AU joins 58 institutions of higher education in an amicus brief backing Harvard University’s lawsuit challenging the federal government’s new rules restricting access and opportunities for international students. American University’s Center for Innovation holds its first Startup and Standout event with 225 budding entrepreneurs. Capri Cafaro, SPA executive in residence and professorial lecturer who spent 10 years in the Ohio senate and was known for her bipartisanship, publishes United We Eat: 50 Great American Dishes to Bring Us All Together.

SPA’s Capri Cafaro brings the US together through her new cookbook.


A member of the WCL community volunteers for public service.

SIS professor Amitav Acharya, 2020 Scholar-Teacher of the Year, calls on the Class of 2024 to “make our world safer for diversity” as one of several AU dignitaries to speak remotely in a convocation video that welcomes first-year students to AU. More than 130 members of the WCL community—including incoming 1Ls—participate in a virtual and remote In My Backyard week-long service event, many cleaning up local parks, collecting canned goods for a local shelter, or volunteering online with an organization in need. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the US, SIS dean Christine BN Chin, five faculty members, and an ambassador discuss the impact of women’s representation and participation in activism and policy making in the context of global women’s rights movements.


Chinese New Year, Chinatown, 1993 by Eglon Daley is part of the Katzen’s Contested Spaces online exhibit.

The Antiracist Research and Policy Center and the White House Historical Association announces that Mia Owens, a public history master’s student, will be the inaugural recipient of their Graduate Fellowship in the History of Slavery and Its Legacies in Washington. The AU Museum virtually presents Contested Space, a series of exhibitions that address the most heavily contested issues ahead of the presidential election. The University Library holds Request a Ballot Week, where students request information about the presidential election through online chat, receive information about voter registration, verify they are registered to vote, and request mail-in ballots.


The Hall of Science is a symbol of the commitment to a renaissance in the sciences at AU.

The new state-of-the-art Hall of Science is completed. With classrooms, teaching labs, and the Gary and Pennie Abramson Discovery Hall, it houses biology, environmental science, chemistry, and neuroscience. Over 30 alumni volunteer for the Complex Problems program for first-year students including Daniel Leon-Davis, SIS/BA ’13, who speaks of his journey from undocumented immigrant to successful creative strategist in the Immigrant America seminar. The National Council on Teacher Quality rates SOE’s elementary teacher preparation program an “A” for strong clinical practice. SOC professor Sherri Williams’s students students publish stories in the Nation as part of the Vision 2020 Election Stories from the Next Generation project.


Two students in emergency housing pick up their hot meals on Thanksgiving Day.

Five AU alumni are reelected to their seats in the United States Congress, another eight are elected or reelected to state legislatures, and many more to local government posts. The Sine Institute of Policy and Politics welcomes US and global experts in national security, social justice, business, and the media as its third class of spring fellows to the forum for the study and discussion of the urgent challenges of the 21st century. The institute celebrated its second anniversary in September. About a hundred students and staff receive hot meals on Thanksgiving Day from volunteers and workers coordinated by the Office of Campus Life, AU Alumni Association’s Pride Alumni Alliance, and Residential Hall Association.


The Alumni on the Front Lines video series celebrates five who made a difference in 2020.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, addresses summer and fall graduates at AU’s virtual 140th Commencement. AU files its 2021 Campus Plan with the DC Zoning Commission. The Alumni on the Front Lines video series honors five for combating coronavirus, racial injustice, and economic hardship. Interim SOC dean Laura DeNardis lands on Wired’s Smart List of 2021. Washington Post editors praise five graduate students who tracked and reported on hundreds of presidential election legal challenges while supervised by SOC’s John Sullivan. The Washington College of Law receives a $3.8 million grant from the Arcadia Fund to promote international right to research in copyright law.