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Hawks to Watch: Carl Grauer, Contemporary Artist

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 15:18
Why Carl’s a Hawk to Watch:

Wisdom and The Wizard of Oz, LGBTQ+ rights and the legacy of Stonewall, family and the uneasy tension between memory and reality, time and the construction of personal identity. KU alum Carl Grauer is using his background in biology to explore human nature, but not in the ways that you might expect.

Through his work as a contemporary portrait and figurative artist, Carl is exploring the human elements at work in moments both mundane and magnificent, ranging from personal recollections to pop culture icons. With a mix of scientific precision and humanist curiosity, he examines the depths of everyday experience and the meaning we assign to the past, using brushstrokes and fine pigments to tell stories of humanity and document the rich, vivid, complex, entirely ordinary beauty of his subjects in 2-D form.

Meet Carl, our May Hawk to Watch, and learn how a B.A. in biology led him from a pre-med track to graduate work in medical illustration, and later, art shows across L.A., New York, and London. Get his advice for others wanting to pursue a career doing what they love, and discover how he carved out a path that was unexpected, yes, but completely of his own creation, with honesty, kindness and persistence.

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

I am a contemporary portrait and figurative artist working in oils.

How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey? 

This was a rather long journey. I’ve always had an interest in drawing and art but it took a roundabout way to get where I am now. I started off as a pre-med biology major at KU, but I always had the little voice in the back of my head to be an artist. While at KU, with the help and direction of the career development office, I started taking art courses in drawing, painting and illustration and upon completing my biology degree at KU I was accepted into a graduate program in medical illustration, which then led to work in NYC. During this time I worked with several companies in advertising and then went freelance, all the while drawing and painting in my free time. 

About 10 years ago I co-founded a retail antique and design store that hosted art events and openings. This was an amazing lesson in running a business and being quick on my feet in New York. We had great success and began doing interior decorating work and landed some great gigs including the Nighthawk Cinema theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However, it wasn’t until the passing of my brother in 2011 when I fully decided to make a leap into painting full-time and it was then when things really started coming together. 

I decided to start painting as many people as I could in a span of two hours. It started as a practice to get better and then six years later it has grown into a full body of work that will continue until my death. This project began in 2012 and it continues to excite because of this element of time. It documents the subjects in a specific amount of time and also my evolution as a painter. In the past several years I have had the great privilege to paint live in many locations including galleries in Los Angeles, New York and recently I have had in invitation to show in London this coming October. To date I have painted a little over 200 Two Hour Portraits.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

My biggest achievement would probably be exhibiting with the Royal Portrait Society in London, and building this fully realized body of work for my upcoming exhibit entitled “The Lavender Temple of Their Most Fabulous,” which opens at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, New York on Wednesday, June 12th. Envisioned as a tribute to the Stonewall Rebellion that occurred in New York City in 1969, the show features portraits of 15 figures who have impacted the LGBTQ+ rights movement. But mostly, it has been finding the strength and persistence to pursue this work I love.    

Whats your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

My lowest point was after I had accepted a job in NYC for a company doing medical illustration, signed a lease on an apartment and was very excited to start this new life. Everything seemed amazing!!! However, after a month working for the company… no paycheck came. The second month…. no paycheck. They kept saying the checks will be coming but they never paid me. It was during the Dot com bust in the early 2000s and unfortunately myself and several other entry level employees were being taken advantage of. I wasn’t able to pay my rent, almost got evicted and had to scramble to find a new job. The main motivator was getting money to afford an apartment. I eventually moved to Brooklyn with roommates, interviewed at as many places that would have me and finally found a job in advertising doing illustration and web design. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I see myself still making a living doing art. With 10 years I will have continued to learn more and to push my work even further. By then I will hope to amass at least 600 more Two Hour Portraits, several strong solo shows, at least 5 residencies including the American Academy Rome Prize as a major goal.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

Shed your fear, trust yourself and believe in your talent completely. It will all work out.

Whats your best career pro-tip?

Pursue your path with honesty, kindness and persistence. If you believe in what you are and what you are doing, do not give up.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job? 

My time at KU continues to prepare me. Having a liberal arts degree gave me a breadth of knowledge that I still use as a starting point for research or for general interest. It showed me that there are many avenues in your life and that one path may lead to a very unexpected one and that is okay. Having had amazing instructors in the fine arts department like Jon Swindell, Michael Krueger, and Tanya Hartman, who guided me with a kind arm to look harder, still stands out to me and how I approach my work. 

 What do you do after youve clocked out?

I really never clock out, but cooking at home with my husband, watching movies and taking walks in the Hudson Valley. A must-do once a month is going to an art museum like the Clark, Dia Beacon, Olana or Stromking. Or to go down to the city for the Met, Whitney, Frick or gallery hopping are some of my favorite things. 

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I grew up in a very small town in the middle of Kansas called Wilson. It’s always fun to see people’s reaction when I tell them my town had a population of 800, my graduating class had 16 people and there were no stoplights unless you count one red blinking light in an intersection.  

Be like Carl. Find your path and pursue it with honesty. For more information, visit the Undergraduate Biology Program and the Department of Visual Art at the University of Kansas. Learn more about Carl’s work and upcoming events on his website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook page.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts. 

DC Internship Program celebrates 35 years

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 17:01

The University of Kansas hosted a reception in Washington, D.C., this April to celebrate 35 years of the Washington, D.C., Internship Program. Since its inception in 1984, the D.C. Internship Program has helped more than 600 students secure internships in the nation’s capital. The majority of participants are KU students, however the program expanded in the last 20 years to include students from Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University and Wichita State University.

Several alumni of the program attended, alongside members of the Kansas delegation and KU leadership, including Professor Burdett “Bird” Loomis, founder and director of the program; Gary Meltz, the current D.C. director; Chancellor Doug Girod; Interim Provost Carl Lejuez; and Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Reggie Robinson.

D.C. Internship Program alumni have held internships in a broad variety of offices and organizations, including Congress, federal offices, the White House, museums, C-SPAN, D.C. Public Schools and several other national organizations and public policy groups. Students are tasked with researching, identifying and contacting the offices and organizations with which they would like to intern. The program hosts weekly seminars featuring notable guest speakers throughout the semester-long internship, as well. Many students have been able to use their internship experience as a springboard to careers in Washington, D.C.

View event photos from our Facebook album:

Unwinding with Hannah Britton: Anti-trafficking Researcher

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 16:25

What does human trafficking look like? Most of us have seen stories of captivity play out on big or small screen with familiar casts of villains and victims. Compelling drama, perhaps, but the reality is far more complicated, and closer to home, than we might like to imagine. Make no mistake, says KU researcher Hannah Britton: it’s happening in the Heartland, and often in plain sight.

Issues as complex and consequential as human trafficking, exploitation, and gender-based violence, which intersect with culture, labor and migration, race, policy and power, are challenging subjects to unpack, surely. But for Hannah and her team of researchers in KU’s Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative (ASHTI), the ball truly begins to move forward when students, scholars and policy makers collaborate both across and within their respective disciplines, not only to respond to instances of exploitation, but to identify areas of vulnerability and strategies for prevention.

In the final episode of Unwinding, we sat down with Hannah Britton, professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Injustice at the Institute of Policy & Social Research (IPSR) at KU, whose research has brought her around the world and all throughout Africa. But some of the best and most productive research, she says, takes place in the classroom with her students. And as she likes to point out, learning is not a one way street; quite the opposite, it is a multidirectional force that impacts both students and instructors alike. Meet Hannah, and learn about how she’s incorporating hands-on, qualitative research methods in her classes, KU’s unique position in advancing human trafficking research, and her ongoing work with ASHTI to understand and stamp out the root causes of exploitation that affects communities from the Global South to the Midwest.

It’s Unwinding with Hannah Britton:

Unwinding is a podcast that tells the human stories driving the minds and talents of the University of Kansas. In each episode we sit down with KU researchers in a favorite or familiar setting to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. You may find us on campus, running the trails, on a farm, at a coffee shop or down at the pub. Wherever the location, the conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a collaboration between The Commons at KU and KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The Commons is a catalyst for unconventional thinking, interdisciplinary inquiry, and unexpected discoveries across the sciences, arts, and humanities. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is the heart of KU. It’s home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, offering more than 100 majors, minors and certificates. A collaborative and creative community, the College is committed to making the world better through inquiry and research.

Music: Lee Rosevere‘s “Let’s Start at the Beginning

Phillip McGruder: ‘Believe Autism Matters’

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 13:13

For nearly all his life, KU College alumnus Phillip McGruder has felt a duty to make an impact on the world. Inspired by his mother’s determination to earn a college degree during the American civil rights movement, he was driven to be a role model for those who may not otherwise have one. And, having been diagnosed with autism early in life, he endured personal struggles of his own growing up.

Phillip knew he wanted to be Jayhawk the first time he set foot on KU’s Lawrence campus. The people and resources offered at the University, as well as its close proximity to his hometown in Kansas City, Kansas, made for an easy decision. But early on, he realized the extent to which feelings of social isolation affect life at the Univeristy for students with autism. So he decided to do something about it.

Meet Phillip, founder of Believe Autism Matters (KU BAM), which aims to increase awareness of autism at KU and in Lawrence and improve the lives of individuals with autism. Learn about how he brought BAM to life, his current work with the Kansas City Chiefs, and how experiences at KU led him to get behind a cause that matters.

Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?

I am from Kansas City, Kansas, born and raised. I’ve wanted to come to KU since I was a little kid growing up 45 minutes east of Lawrence. The first time I stepped foot on KU’s campus, I got the feeling that it was the place where I belonged. I toured the facilities, met great people who were very nice and also provided the resources that I felt would allow me to have success, and that’s what my decision was based on. Lawrence is a wonderful college town as well. Great community, great places to visit, and it’s a great place to study and have peace and quiet.

Why did you choose your major? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like?

I earned my Bachelor of General Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Sports Management. I chose my major because the General Studies major doesn’t focus on one specific course of study, but rather provides students with a well-rounded set of core classes in many areas. Students can then decide what interests them most and continue on to concentrate on specific academic areas.

I decided to major in General Studies when I created “Believe Autism Matters,” and I noticed that the program offered the courses that would make me a better person and leader. I was in the Sports Management program and at the time I didn’t fulfill my requirements. The General Studies degree helped me to become a well-rounded individual. I was still able to take Sports Management courses and follow my dreams of working in the world of sports. 

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

I work for the Kansas City Chiefs as a guest service representative during games and concerts. My job is to provide “Championship service,” to make sure the fans have a great time. We guide fans to their seats, provide information if needed, and make sure things don’t get out of hand. Sometimes, depending on a situation, we provide a level of security just in case. Sometimes I would hype the crowd up because Arrowhead Stadium is the loudest stadium in the world. The 2018 season where the Chiefs were one game away from Super Bowl 53 was a great experience, even though it didn’t turn out in our favor.

Networking was the most important aspect from my degree that helped prepare me for this job. The BGS major provides students the opportunity to customize their major and minor areas of concentration rather than adhere to the sequence of courses that is required of students in the respective BA/BS programs. Because of that, it helped me to work around my schedule of classes with my areas of focus like taking those Sports Management courses. Those courses would help me meet the requirements that the organization was looking for, and I also believe it will lead to a bigger opportunity. I also went to the Career Center to create my resumes. That was tough at first because I was released from the Sports Management program, and I was also dealing my father’s passing. But in the end, it worked out well. 

What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?

I feel confident that students in the College gain a better understanding of the world we live in today. I was glad to meet people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and found that working together in this program made us well-rounded individuals. I gained a better understanding of the world around me through my peers in the College, and I hope to apply the lessons that I learned in my courses and from my peers as I strive to make a difference in the world.

Tell us about Believe Autism Matters. How did you decide to start that origination, and what was the experience like? What do you hope to achieve?

The focus of Believe Autism Matters (KU BAM) is to increase the KU and Lawrence community’s awareness of autism, and to improve the lives of those affected by the disorder. Through fundraising, I also sought to establish scholarship support for people on the spectrum at KU, attract speakers, fund programs, support community advocacy, organize monthly events encouraging social networking, and connect with the autism research program at the KU Edwards campus.

It began with talks during my first year at KU with my floor mate at Templin at the time, Brian Gier. Brian already had experience in spreading Autism awareness in high school. I was happy to meet someone with awareness of my disability, and we decided to create the group. The next step was sending the information through the University Daily Kansan on September 20, 2014, the beginning of KU BAM. I wanted to inspire those who have autism and are silent, to let them know that they are important and that they are included. 

I was diagnosed with autism when I was an infant and it’s been a somewhat turbulent journey for me. But I survived the bullying and verbal abuse, and I became a better individual in the process. A major difference between those dealing with autism at the University and those who do not is a feeling of social isolation. My group attempts to remedy that, especially for those who felt they were labeled as socially awkward before college. When I first got to KU, people didn’t assume I had autism. When people would tell me, “I didn’t know you were I autistic,” I kind of took offense. I would think to myself, “This person doesn’t really know what autism is.” That’s what motivated me to create BAM and reach out to those that have faced a similar path. I hope to continue to provide Awareness post-KU, and I’m actually thinking about starting another organization focused on providing awareness like BAM did.

What advice would you give to KU students who want to start or get involved with an organization to advocate for a cause they believe in?

My advice to students is to follow your intuition. If you have that gut feeling that you want to get behind a cause that you believe in, go for it. Find individuals that have the same mind-set, learn about resources, and make connections in order to make it a reality.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

I met a lot of great faculty members during my time at KU, many of whom are not at KU anymore. I wish I could name them all because they really helped me during my time there, and I wouldn’t have made without them. One person is Dr. Scott Ward (a.k.a. Scooter). I took his History of Physical Education course at KU. It’s important to build relationships with your instructors at the beginning of each semester, but Dr. Ward was more than that. He is a dear friend who helped me and gave moral support during my rough period at KU. His encouragement is what motivated me to make a difference in the world. He reminds me of Mr. Russo from the TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” Like Mr. Russo, he’s the cool guidance counselor who often serves as a confidant to the main characters. He genuinely cares for the students, identifying their problems and offering cogent advice in an upbeat manner. That’s what makes him a great mentor.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Do not procrastinate. Step out of your comfort zone. Talk to your professors at the beginning of your first day of classes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What’s your best KU memory?

When Anthony Ianni, the first man with autism to play Division-1 Basketball at Michigan State, spoke on April 2, 2015 during Autism Awareness Day. His message was incredible and his story is similar to mine. From that moment, not only did I want to make an impact, I formed a brotherhood with Anthony. He’s my big-brother from another mother. The moment that made me cry tears of joy was when KU’s official Instagram posted my photo spreading Awareness on that day. I felt my message was brought to the forefront.

What motivates you?

What motivates me is that I am the living dream of my ancestors. Growing up, I was taught about African American history. My Mom became the first in my family to graduate college during the Civil Rights Era. For me, that display of determination, despite the obstacles, motivated me to graduate despite the stigmas I had faced.

I am a visual learner. I can visualize in my mind what my Mom and Dad went through during that era. When I hear her tell me those stories and how it had affected her, it motivated me to become a better person and to make a difference in the world. Also, I think about children who are growing up going through the same cycle like me when I was young. They probably don’t have a role model or an authority figure to show them the way. I have to get out of bed and strive to live well. If I don’t, I feel I would be disappointing those that came before me and went through turbulent times in the past in order for me to live in the present.

Be like Phillip. Believe in something, and let the world know why it matters. For more information, explore the B.G.S. in Liberal Arts & Sciences option and the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training at the University of Kansas. Check out more details about Phillip and BAM in the University Daily Kansan‘s 2016 article. Also, visit Believe Autism Matters and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Top Six Reasons to Take a Summer Class

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 14:49

Summer is upon us and that means it’s time to start thinking about making the most of the warmer months. Summer classes are the perfect way to stay on track to accomplishing your academic goals. Here are the top six reasons you should enroll for Summer 2019.

1. Stay on Track – Maybe Get Ahead (Gasp!)

Had an intense semester? Need time to do an internship? Working on a double major or adding a minor? Summer classes are your friend AND a great way to stay on track for graduation. Not sure what to take? Talk to your advisor! Also, keep reading. We’ve got some ideas.

2. Flexibility

The summer is a great time to take advantage of the “extra” hours in the day. Summer classes are typically just a few hours a day, leaving time to work, travel and enjoy your friends and family.

Bonus Idea: Take an online course and learn in your living room. Can’t get more flexible than that!

3. KU Core

There are more than 160 classes available during the summer that will fulfill a KU Core requirement. (Seriously, we counted.) See #1 on why this is important.

4. Take a hard, single class

Need a chance to really concentrate on a writing, math, or science course? The summer is the perfect time to focus on a class that you’ve maybe been dreading or know will need your singular attention.

5. Take a cool elective in KU Core – enrichment courses for life

Okay, this seems to go against #4 and could be the same as #3, but go with us for a second. You know those classes that catch your eye every year? The classes about zombies, Russian graphic novels, samurais or sci-fi films – now is the time! Go for it.

6. You CAN graduate in the summer!

Did you know that you can graduate in the summer? Maybe you had an internship this semester, or a giant senior project that took more time than expected. That’s cool. Walk in May, finish up and graduate in summer. No problem.

Summer 2019 – KU Core Classes

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 14:44
Critical Thinking and Quantitative Reasoning

Goal 1.1 Critical Thinking (GE11):

AAAS 105, ABSC 100, ATMO 220, CLSX 148, COMS 235, ENGL 203, ENGL 209, ENGL 210, HIST 104, HIST 114, HUM 204, HUM 205, LING 110, LWS 332, PHIL 148, PHIL 160, PHIL 310, SOC 104, SOC 150, SOC 160, WGSS 333

Goal 1.2 Quantitative Literacy (GE12

COMS 356, LA&S 108, MATH 101, MATH 105, MATH 115, MATH 365


Goal 2.1 Written Communication (GE21):

ANTH 389, ENGL 101, ENGL 102, ENGL 203, ENGL 209, ENGL 210, HIST 120, HUM 204, SLAV 320, WGSS 389, COMS 130

Breadth of Knowledge

Goal 3H Arts and Humanities (GE3H):

AAAS 103, AAAS 105, AMS 100, ANTH 160, ANTH 360, ANTH 389, CLSX 148, CLSX 332, COMS 232, ENGL 203, ENGL 209, ENGL 210, FMS 200, FMS 380, HA 100,   HA 166, HA 300, HA 330, HIST 104, HIST 120, JWSH 124, PHIL 148, PHIL 160, PHIL 310, REL 124, SLAV 148, SLAV 149, WGSS 389

Goal 3N Natural Sciences (GE3N):

ANTH 304, ATMO 105, ATMO 220, BIOL 100, BIOL 400, EVRN 148, GEOG 104, GEOG 148, GEOG 150, GEOL 105, GEOL 171, GEOL 301

Goal 3S Social Sciences (GE3S):

AMS 110, ANTH 100, ANTH 160, ANTH 315, ANTH 360, ANTH 389, ANTH 484, COMS 310, ECON 142, ECON 144, EVRN 150, GEOG 102, HA 315, LING 110, LWS 330, POLS 100, POLS 170, POLS 320, PSYC 104, SOC 104, SOC 110, SOC 563, SPLH 261, SPLH 566, WGSS 101, WGSS 389

Culture and Diversity

Goal 4.1 Human Diversity (AE41):

AAAS 106, AMS 100, AMS 110, AMS 324, HIST 109, HIST 353, LING 110, LING 320, SOC 104, SOC 110, SOC 160, SOC 324, SOC 450, WGSS 101, WGSS 327, WGSS 333

Goal 4.2 Global and Cultural Awareness (AE42):

AAAS 320, AMS 332, ANTH 100, ANTH 160, ANTH 201, ANTH 360, ANTH 389, ANTH 484, ECIV 104, GEOG 102, GIST 535, HA 100, HA 166, HA 300, HA 363, HIST 124, HUM 204, HUM 205, JWSH 124, LAA 100, POLS 150, POLS 170, REES 110, REES 111, REL 124, SLAV 148, SLAV 149, SOC 130, SOC 332, SOC 534, WGSS 389

Social Responsibility and Ethics

Goal 5 Understanding Social Responsibility and Ethics (AE51):

ABSC 150, CLSX 384, COMS 539, LAA 300, PHIL 160, PHIL 360, PHIL 380, SOC 150, SOC 160

Integration and Creativity

Goal 6 Integration and Creativity (AE61):

COMS 496, ENGL 590, LA&S 490, LA&S 494, LING 320

I am Seeking: Nicole Hodges Persley

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 13:40

Our new video series, I am Seeking, highlights what our faculty are seeking with their research. From finding new ways to treat additction, to looking for signs of alien life in rocks on earth, or searching for new ways to diagnose cancer, our faculty are innovators and explorers seeking answers and solutions to a myriad of questions. Learn how Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Nicole Hodges Persley’s research is bringing diverse theatrical works to Kansas City as she and her fellow theater makers work to elevate the voices of Africa-American playwrights.

Avary Kolasinski applies variational mesh adaptation to improve solution approximations

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 09:18

The opportunities and applications that can stem from subjects like Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing seem to be endless in a world where technology grows at a rapid pace. KU’s Avary Kolasinski has utilized her love for these subjects to produce meaningful research and to program theoretical results. The applications of this research affect a variety of fields including but not limited to physics and computer science.

Meet Avary, a 6th-year Mathematics Ph.D. student who is currently in her last semester at KU. Learn about how her research involving variational mesh adaptation has led to a job after graduation at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and what advice she has for graduate students seeking funding for their research.

Hometown: West Linn, OR

What are your research interests and why did you choose them?

I study Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing, or more specifically, moving mesh adaptation and generation.  In simple terms, I study methods to move grid points in order to better approximate a solution to a problem or better represent a curve or surface. When I first came to KU, I took my first class in Numerical Analysis and absolutely loved it. Before that, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study but that class made it easy for me to decide at least what direction I wanted to go in.  Then, after talking with some of the professors, I decided on moving to mesh adaptation for a few reasons. The first is that it was not just solely theoretical but it also included programming the theoretical results, like many applied mathematics research. Secondly, I felt as though I could combine the main mathematics subjects that I enjoyed into one research topic.  I have loved the research I have been working on and it has provided me with a significant number of opportunities in industry, national labs, and academia.  The topic is very interesting to a variety of people in various subjects including physics, computer science, etc. and I am always excited to share about it.

What was that journey like?

The journey has been difficult, to say the least. There, of course, have been ups and downs but whenever I got stressed out I always thought “if I could just give up now what else would I want to be doing?” and the answer was nothing else. I truly love the research even in stressful times. I’ve absolutely loved the community in the Mathematics Department, everyone is so helpful and friendly that it makes the tough times of graduate school much easier. I mean, getting a Ph.D. is never easy, and it shouldn’t be. It is supposed to challenge you and push you to the academic limit but I wouldn’t have had my experience here at KU any other way. I have learned so much and met so many great people that I will keep in touch with forever.

Tell us what your Ph.D. thesis is in under 200 characters:

I study variational mesh adaptation. You can think of it as starting with a grid while keeping the lines between the points the same. We move the points around to attain a better approximation for a solution to a problem.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research project or research interests? This might be a commonly held belief that your research questions or complicates.

Getting a Ph.D. in Mathematics opens A LOT of doors, not just to teach. The one question I get every time I say that I am in graduate school for mathematics is “oh, what do you want to do with that, teach?” I completely understand this question because before coming to graduate school, I didn’t really have a full understanding of all of the things you can do with mathematics research, but let me tell you, there are tons of opportunities. Depending on what you research, you can work for companies such as Siemens, Cerner, or Intel, you can work for different National Lab’s around the US like Lawrence Livermore, NASA, and Argonne, or you can go into academia at any university.  It is really amazing how many doors knowing mathematics can open. One day I do hope to come back to academia to do research and teach because I do truly enjoy teaching; however, there are other paths one can take with math.

Where are you conducting your research? In archives? In laboratories? What are your sources?

I conduct my research in my office. Mathematics research is all about reading and studying to come up with new ideas and methods. I also work in Matlab, a programming language, to numerical test and prove my results, but that is all done on a computer. My research is very specific so there are few sources that I have used; however, I read a lot of published papers from professors in a similar field as mine to keep up with the most recent research and spark ideas. (All of those sources I have used can be found in my thesis.)

What advice would you give students applying for research funding opportunities?

Definitely consult with a professor who has applied and received funding before. It is a very detailed and lengthy process and sometimes has to do with luck. However, without the help of some professors, I would have not known where to begin or how the applications should be written, etc.  Also, if you don’t get the funding the first time, keep applying! There are SO many cases of people who receive funding on the second or third or even fourth time of applying after they spruce up their application or get a little bit further into research.  Don’t be discouraged, believe me, we have all been there!

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

I’d actually like to give a shout-out to three professors. The first is my advisor, Dr. Weizhang Huang, who has molded me into the researcher I am today and one that I am very proud to be.  He has been an amazing advisor over the years and I am very grateful to have had him as mine. Additionally, I’d like to give a shout-out to Dr. Estela Gavosta and Dr. Agnieszka Miedlar, both who have gone out of their way on countless occasions to help me in my career and in my life. They have both been so supportive and it has truly meant the world to me that they have been so kind and helpful throughout my career. One day I hope I can be the mentor to someone as they have both been to me.

What is the most valuable experience you have had while studying at KU?

I don’t think I’d be able to narrow it down to one experience. Every part of my time here has been extremely valuable and I have loved every part of it. 

What do you plan to do after you graduate from KU?

I accepted a research PostDoc position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. I am extremely excited. The research at the lab is advance and cutting edge and the community there is absolutely amazing. It is going to be a great experience.

What motivates you?

I love to learn. Especially learning to produce new results, formulate new methods, and discover new insights.

Be like Avary. Discover what you love and find ways that it can be applied in the world. For information about KU’s Math program, visit their web page and learn about the “countless” opportunities that they offer.

Hawks to Watch: Amanda Shriwise, Postdoctoral Researcher

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 17:20
Why Amanda’s a Hawk to Watch:

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bremen in Germany working on a project that seeks to understand how colonial legacies have impacted social protection arrangements in the Global South. Social protection, or ensuring access to basic income and healthcare, is critical for improving development and well-being, particularly for those experiencing extreme poverty and vulnerability.

Today, only 27 percent of the world population has adequate social protection and more than half have no coverage at all. To address this, the United Nations (UN) has recognized the importance of improving social protection in order to end poverty, promote gender equality and empower women and girls, and reduce economic inequality in its new Sustainable Development Goals. The findings of this project aim to better understand the impact of colonialism across the Global South – where social protection is often the lacking or absent altogether – in order to better inform and support efforts to extend and enhance social protection coverage worldwide.

How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey?

It continues to be a journey full of surprises, with several critical moments and junctures. During the summer of 2006, I left the United States for the first time and traveled to Tanzania, and my desire to examine societal issues such as health and education on a global scale originated there. This experience opened my eyes to the ways in which the effects of poverty and deprivation are more than material; the right to dignity and ensuring that individuals, families, and communities are empowered is critical to preserving and respecting the rich histories, cultures, languages, and traditions of countries like Tanzania. Improving and securing livelihoods by improving access to quality education, health care, and decent work appeared to be a necessary first step to substantiating human rights and making concepts such as equal opportunity and self-determination a reality. When I returned to Lawrence, I pivoted from a focus on the sciences in preparation for medical school to a focus on the social sciences to better understand these issues.

KU provided me with every opportunity to explore critical social questions of poverty, inequality, and development across disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, geography, and African studies; I was even afforded the opportunity to attend a specialized seminar on global poverty with then-Chancellor Robert Hemenway in the spring of 2008. I remember Chancellor Hemenway’s deep commitment to promoting an awareness of global issues among KU students, including the UN’s previous Millennium Development Goals. His participation in the World Economic Forum in Davos and connections with KU alumni across the globe only reinforced his passion for these issues and provided me with a window into how I might become part of this global community of Jayhawks. Having the opportunity to study abroad with Dr. Mary Klayder in both Costa Rica and the United Kingdom taught me how to put these desires into practice. She provided me with a foundation for how to process and understand my experiences whilst traveling living abroad, where I have been now for almost a decade.

While the social sciences provide critical analysis and insight into the nature and causes of social problems such as a lack of income, health care, or education, they did not contain a roadmap for what I, as a young undergraduate, could do about them. This question was one that I wrestled with as a Co-Director at the Center for Community Outreach at KU. What I learned from that role – and what continues to drive me – is that there is not only so much to do but so much than can be done. Strong communities – whether they consist of indigenous peoples, lifelong local residents, international students and/or individuals and families with transnational roots and lives – find ways to identify and work together towards shared goals with creativity, ingenuity, and determination.

There is no singular or ‘right’ way to build a sense of community. Having the opportunity to watch, learn, and facilitate engagements towards this end in my role at CCO was interesting, inspiring, and full of possibility. CCO’s programs contribute to meeting some of our most basic human needs and desires – such as a meal on the table as supported by Jubilee Cafe, self-expression and creativity with Music Mentors and Create, health and wellness through Hawks for Health, support and guidance along the way through Mentors in the Lives of Kids (or ‘MILK’), and for promoting connection through language and literacy with Project Bridge – for all in the Lawrence community, regardless of background or place of birth.

At its best, the kind of volunteering that CCO and organizations like it promote is about more than charity; when performed as an act of service, it provides an opportunity to consider what our shared goals might be, to think about and question how we can best support and empower each other in achieving them, and perhaps most of all, to participate in their achievement together. This kind of civic engagement helps us to move beyond screens and ourselves and to see the world through the eyes of others in order to connect in a meaningful way – a critical and timely component of undergraduate experience and education as students are learning to live away from home, often in a new place, for the first time. These connections are powerful, and they are why people continue to say that they receive more than they give when engaging in service, whether by profession, volunteer work, or one-off acts as simple as helping litter find a trash bin. It is not the size of the act but the doing itself that helps to create this kind of connection. These acts, and the communities they ultimately build and inspire, are critical to laying a strong and civil foundation of mutual respect and understanding upon which to have more difficult political discussions and debates. I believe that our ability to make political and social progress rests largely on our ability to lay this shared social foundation together, and for this reason, CCO was a formative part of my time at KU.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

On International Women’s Day, I successfully defended my dissertation in order to receive my doctorate degree (or ‘DPhil’) in Social Policy at the University of Oxford. The dissertation was on the use of social policy as a tool of foreign policy. In total, it took me about five years to complete the research and write up the findings, though I was a doctoral student for a while longer and also Master’s student at Oxford before that.

However, my greatest achievement while at Oxford is the sense of community we were able to create both within Kellogg College when I served as its Middle Common Room (MCR) President and also across the MCRs of all of the Oxford colleges in 2012. Several of the MCR Presidents even teamed up to take a trip to Istanbul together, which was good fun.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

My work is integral to who I am, which somewhat dangerously obscures the need for a work-life balance. My lowest career moment was not marked by an event so much as it was a phase leading to burnout, from which I learned that substantial amounts of stress in my professional life, personal life, and living situation was more than I could sustain. Stress on one, or even two, of these fronts is manageable, and arguably somewhat normal; significant stress on all three for an extended period of time is, for me, a recipe for burnout.

To recharge, I had to remind myself that I am more than what I do and find a balance between acknowledging mistakes and being compassionate towards myself. I am incredibly fortunate to be short on neither friends nor ambition; the ambition helps, but my friends have made my world brighter on all fronts. I learned that however behind I am at work, I am probably behind on tending to my life and the people I love more, and when I feel frustrated at work, it usually means I need to focus more outside of the office than within it.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I would like to be playing an active role in strengthening communities and enhancing social protection globally, which could take shape in a multitude of ways. When I was an undergraduate at KU, if someone had told me that by 33 I would have worked for both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and at the World Health Organization and be working and living in Germany, I would not have believed them. My path was possible due to hard work and preparation in combination with a willingness to wait for and embrace the right next step when it appeared – not to mention an outstanding network of teachers, mentors, family and friends. On a personal front, it’s a goal of mine to have a more permanent place to live, and I would love to have a dog.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

Learning what makes you happy is neither frivolous nor a waste of time. Taking time to rest, revive, and enjoy life will not only be equally as critical to your success and has intrinsic value. If you aren’t working to create a world where art, beauty, love, laughter, joy, and fulfilment is possible – including for overambitious workaholics such as yourself – then what is the point? Why do so much ‘doing’, if it does not make the ‘being’ a little easier, a little better?

When done right, aging is transformative and progressive. During this process, you will fail, and you will, at times, have to learn the hard way. Sometimes, this is your own fault. Sometimes, what feels like failure is really life falling apart because you are in the process of outgrowing your surroundings. Try to discern the difference between the two; when in doubt, consult those you trust.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Be kind and try to have some fun along the way. In meetings, pay as much attention to what is not being said or done as what is; what is actually going on is usually somewhere in between. Don’t ever let anyone control your story or define who you are, and beware of anyone who tries. When faced with a chance of a lifetime, take it.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

My degree in Dance was outstanding training for academia. Ballet prizes a level of perfection that few can reach, which resembles academia in several ways. As a young ballerina, I was lucky; I learned how to take control of the way I internalized the seemingly unachievable criteria for success that were visually held up in front of me every day in the ballet studio in a way that helped me to identify clear steps for growth rather than to feel powerless or discouraged.

I also learned that it was a waste of energy to compare myself to others and that I was far better off learning to develop healthy ways of competing with myself, which was good training for any highly competitive environment. Ballet also taught me how to deal with rejection early on. I did not always get the part that I wanted or get admitted to every summer program I auditioned for, and if I wanted to change that, it was best to focus on how and where I needed to improve rather than to waste time taking it personally – a very transferable insight when submitting and reviewing academic articles for publication among other aspects of life.

Intellectual development is also a process; it takes time and is often not linear. In the same way that the first ballet class after a long break is almost invariably better than the second or third, time off often helps to let the things stewing in the back of one’s head come forth and then good writing comes. The hard, conscientious work of going to ballet class every day or doing a thorough literature review is far less fun than those good, well-rested days, but it is what provides one with the skill and capacity to trust oneself when taking giant leaps later. Above all, my dance training taught me that hard work should ultimately be a labor of love and that perseverance and delayed gratification are required to create most things of lasting value; academia is not dissimilar.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

On a daily basis, anything I can to relax and revive my brain – usually some combination of sleep, exercise (a run if I must, ballet or yoga if I can), podcasts, and reading. As an American living overseas, I also spend a fair amount of time on various bureaucratic exercises ranging from filing for residency permits to opening bank accounts to learning how to file taxes while abroad. On a more fun note, I have also been spending quality time with Duolingo, as I am desperately trying to improve my rather basic French and what could generously be described as very limited German. When I have time, I love going to the ballet and to art galleries, being outdoors when the weather is nice, and I try to make time for drinks, meals, and trips to see friends and family whenever I can.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I was named after a jazz song called ‘Mandy’, which is somewhat amusing given how much more comfortable I am with structure than spontaneity. However, my grandfather, Rocky Krsnich, loved jazz music. Someone once told me that one’s name is the first gift they are given, and I am grateful that mine reminds me of him.

Be like Amanda… For more information, visit…

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts. 

Poetry assignment reminds Fengxue Zhang of her childhood in China, helps her find home in the College

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 16:54

Fengxue Zhang, a junior from Hays, is studying economics, political science, and creative writing. After moving to the United States from China as a child, Fengxue jumped from major to major before finding a home in the College.

In addition to her studies, Fengxue is a Student Advisory Board member of the Dole Institute, the Co-Curation Director for TEDxKU, and the Public Relations Director for the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Association. Learn more about Fengxue in our latest student feature.

I am Seeking: Richard Yi

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 16:17

Our new video series, I am Seeking, highlights what our faculty are seeking with their research. From elevating African-American playwrights, to looking for signs of alien life in rocks on earth, or searching for new ways to diagnose cancer, our faculty are innovators and explorers seeking answers and solutions to a myriad of questions. Learn how professor of psychology and Director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment Richard Yi’s research is benefiting Kansas and the world as he and his team news ways to treat addiction.

Hawks Who Brew: KU Alumni in Beer & Brewing

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 15:12

Something special is brewing. Spring is in the air, downtown streets are bustling with business, and wherever you look people are flocking to fill patios and pints at their favorite breweries. As if anyone needed more reason to be excited, Sunday, March 7 is National Beer Day, and all across the country, Jayhawk alumni are applying their KU degrees in the most delicious and refreshingly thirst-quenching ways, working in the beer industry for operations both big and small.

With degrees in Microbiology, Geography and Latin American Studies, Chemistry, Art History, and Atmospheric Science, these alumni are using their diverse talents to create and innovate in their spaces, combining yeast, hops, and water with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of Jayhawk pride. Meet Geoff Deman, head brewer and director of operations at Free State Brewing Company; Aaron Justus, brewer at Ballast Point; Matt Williams, president and co-founder of Lawrence Beer Company; Victoria Gunderson, brewer at 23rd Street Brewery; and Sean Flynn, associate pilot brewer at MillerCoors. Raise your glass for these alumni as they reflect on their KU memories, careers in beer, camaraderie, and community in the industry. Cheers, and Rock Chalk to our Hawks who brew!

Before the craft beer explosion, there was, well, craft beer. And with it, passionate communities of enthusiasts dedicated to craftsmanship, creativity, and small-scale brewing done right. In downtown Lawrence, Free State Brewing Company, the establishment credited with putting the city on the craft brewer’s map, has been serving up its signature brews to Kansans since 1989, when they became the first legal brewery in the state in over 100 years. And Geoff Deman, now the Head Brewer and Director of Brewing Operations, has been finding ways to get creative with Kansas’ signature craft beer since he started in 2002.

As an Art History student at KU in the ‘90s, Geoff Deman first fell in love with brewing shortly after his 21st birthday while working a summer job on a “Dude Ranch” in Montana. “It was somewhat serendipitous that when I returned to Lawrence to finish up studies, Lawrence Homebrewers’ Supply had opened,” he recalls. “Not only did I return an avid homebrewer, but really kicked my studies into gear when I returned.” But Geoff soon found himself torn between two interests: art and brewing. Unsure of which road to take, he decided to take both, using brewing as an outlet for his creative inclinations. “Every good brewer that I know has other passions and pursuits to balance out their careers,” he said. “I think that studying Art History imbued me with a spark that I might not have had otherwise, allowing me to think creatively and critically.” 

Geoff relocated to Seattle, where his persistent door-knocking eventually landed him jobs at notable breweries across the city, like Fal Allen at Pike Brewing Company, and after eight years in the Emarald City, he found new opportunity in familiar territory in Lawrence, Kansas. There, he joined the team at Free State, then led by former Head Brewer and “industry giant” Steve Bradt. And ever since, Geoff has been finding new ways to blend his creativity and love for beer, with a hand in just about every process in the operation’s portfolio from research and development, to naming beers, developing recipes, and working alongside the design team on packaging. “The great thing about my job is that there is no typical day,” he notes. “Every day is new.”

Looking back on his experiences at KU, Geoff fondly remembers the “great memories and great people met along the way, he said. “But the one that immediately comes to mind is walking down the Hill and high-giving my father along the way.” Since graduating, his career hasn’t been without some bumps in the road, with lay-offs and consolidations occasionally throwing a wrench in carefully made plans. But in the face of challenges, Geoff has found opportunities to innovate and look forward. “Though I may not be getting rich off of my career, I am richer in all other ways for having chosen this profession,” he points out. “I work for and with great people making a product people love and get to have fun doing it. Is it stressful at times? Sure. But never that bad… ‘because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.’”

In 2011, Aaron Justus packed up his bags and life in Richmond, Virginia to travel across the country to San Diego, California. It was the start of a journey that led him to his dream job. He was 35 at the time and had established himself as a broadcast meteorologist, having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Science from the University of Kansas in 1999. Broadcasting jobs in Kansas City, Iowa and California had led him to Richmond. But after 12 years in television he wanted a career change and asked himself two questions: what do I love doing, and how can I use my knowledge of science to get it? Brewing beer ticked both boxes. “I decided to quit my job and start a career in brewing,” he said. “I was 35 at the time. I packed my bags and moved across the country to San Diego, where there were a lot of breweries and job opportunities.”

Making a career change is daunting. And that first year in California was tough for Aaron. He balanced his online studies at the American Brewers Guild with several jobs, including his first role in craft beer as a keg washer at Ballast Point Brewing Company. It was worth it, though. He quickly climbed through the ranks at Ballast Point, getting experience in various aspects of brewing before arriving at his current role as Director of Research and Development and Specialty Brewing. Along the way, he’s presented to the best brewers and beer scientists in the world, won prestigious awards for Ballast Point, and teaches brewing for the University of California San Diego Extension Program.

Though brewing is a very different career to weather broadcasting, there are several cross-overs. Most notably, the importance of math, physics and communication, all skills he developed here at the University of Kansas. Goes to show, that what you learn in college can be transferred to a whole range of industries once you’ve graduated.

Aaron’s advice to KU students: “Don’t stress out about not knowing what you want to do for a living. You have plenty of time to figure that out. If you stay focused, you can change your career path at any point in your life.”

Community, conversation, and craft beer. For Matt Williams, those are some of life’s essential ingredients. Matt’s craft beer journey began in the same place that he calls home today, Lawrence, Kansas. As a KU student in Geography and Latin American Studies, gigs bartending and managing at local bars and restaurants set the foundation for job opportunities in sales, merchandise, design, and branding, working with high-end agencies and handling big-name breweries throughout the Midwest and the nation.

With more than 10 years of experience in craft beer, Matt has explored his fair share of large-scale operations across the country. But more often than not, the visits he looked forward to most were the ones that took him to establishments that felt unmistakably specific to the areas in which they were located. Places that invite community members in to catch their breath, crack open a cold one, and let the conversation and beer flow freely. “Places where you would sit on the patio in the sun drinking a beer and talking about wild potential ideas with the owners and watch the neighborhood roll in,” he said. “Walking, riding bikes, pushing strollers, people just descending upon the place and immediately giving hugs or warm conversation with the staff and other patrons.”

With the beer industry already established in Lawrence with Free State and, more recently, 23rd St. Brewery, Matt saw an opportunity to bring his own take on the neighborhood brewpub model to his community. In 2015 he created the business plan for Lawrence Beer Company, LLC, with a specific building in the east side of town already in mind, and assembled his team of brewing and culinary experts. “And the rest was history.”

Like a good beer, Matt’s outlook on the industry he first fell in love with remains bright and fresh as ever. “The main thing I’ve always enjoyed most about the craft beer industry is the creativity and passion that is involved,” he said. “Most of the people who have started breweries are people who tried something more conventional and then went off on their own, throwing their hearts and souls into their own business not to be rich, but because it’s what they were passionate about. My advice is to find something that interests you rather than a job hoping to make a certain amount of money. If you are worried about money, then just put the work in to be one of the best at that career and the financials will follow. Just keep trying to learn all you can about whatever your interest is and eventually you’ll find something that sticks.” Cheers to that!

When combined correctly, grain, hops, yeast and water make a huge variety of delicious beers. But what four ingredients are needed to brew an exciting, successful and fulfilling career? College alum and brewer Victoria Gunderson’s story is unique to her, but also serves as a great recipe for all KU students:

  1. Find your passion – Victoria fermented an interest in craft beer while at KU and during a study abroad trip to Brazil. “My best KU memory is when I studied abroad in Brazil,” she said. “I really learned to depend on myself, and I learned Portuguese, how to surf, and do capoeira, and I met some awesome people along the way.”
  2. Explore, be open and persevere – When Victoria graduated she applied to all sorts of jobs, struggled, and got frustrated. But that perseverance eventually led her to brewing at 23rd Street Brewery. “I applied to 23rd Street just as a host, and that’s when pieces started falling into place. Within months I became a brewer.”
  3. A KU degree – A KU Chemistry degree gave Victoria the science needed to succeed in brewing, but also invaluable problem-solving skills for working in a brewery. “My background in chemistry helps me with the science side of brewing,” she notes. “And my background helps a lot with problem solving around the brewery, which is very important.”
  4. Have fun – Finding a job you love is great, but Victoria keeps up other activities, like skateboarding, beer-tasting and napping – if Victoria hadn’t pursued her interest in beer while a college student, she would never have landed her current role.

Becoming a brewer was a journey for Victoria, but with the right mix of these four ingredients, and some serendipity, she is doing a job that she loves, even if it involves a lot of cleaning!

A beer is nothing without quality, and a good brewer knows that a well-rounded beer demands high quality in every step of the brewing process, from ingredients to equipment used for mashing, fermenting, bottling, and kegging. At MillerCoors, Sean Flynn is on a quest to perfect the art of brewing down to the molecular level as a brewer for the research and development department at their Pilot Brewery in Milwaukee. There, he and his team use a 10 gallon and a 10 barrel system for prototyping, material, and process testing to ensure quality in products that are distributed by the company worldwide.

Sean, who earned his B.S. in Microbiology from KU in 2010 (fun fact: he also used to DJ for KJHK!), first developed an interest in Coors when he learned about the opening of a temporary position. “I knew the second I showed up for my interview that I wanted to work there,” he said. “So, I spent the next few years studying, homebrewing, and learning everything I could to make sure I would end up with a permanent position.” The hard work payed off, and today Sean spends his days putting his problem-solving skills to the test as a full time employee. “The variety and the challenge are the best parts; I do something different every week and I am never bored.”

There’s an art to brewing, surely, but there’s also a science to it, something that Sean knows well. “There’s a lot of microbiology in brewing,” he noted. “I spent my first few years working in the quality department, using my familiarity with PCR, aseptic technique, identification, and chemistry to make suggestions and eventually improvements in our processes and capabilities. My time at KU also made me push myself and that drive to keep improving has served me well.”

And take note, aspiring brewers! Sean has a few words of advice: “Make sure you can make light beer. You can hide a lot of problems with your brewery and your techniques with hops or a heavy grain bill but if you can make a clean kolsch or pilsner, then you know you are doing something right.” That one’s on the house.

Be like these Jayhawks. Find a craft, and a community, that you’re passionate about. For more brewery info, check out Free State Brewing Company, Lawrence Beer Company, MillerCoors, 23rd Street Brewery, and Ballast Point. Also, visit the Department of Molecular Biosciences, the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, the Department of Chemistry, the Kress Foundation Department of Art History, and the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science at the University of Kansas.

James Coll utilizes drone technology to quantify the state and trends of the water cycle

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:54

Hometown: Andover, New Hampshire

Tell us what your PhD thesis is on in under 200 characters, make it Twitter-friendly:

With more than 2.7 million miles of streams and rivers in the US, traditional means of measuring them are unscalable.  I think drones have a large role to play in addressing this data void.

You received several research awards in the spring 2018 semester for three different projects. What is the main focus of your work – what drives your research?

I did. Like all bad grad students, I’m too scattered.  The theme which underlines my research, broadly, is quantifying the state and trends of the water cycle.  As with many academic pursuits, although we have a solid understanding of the water cycle once you drill down into the specifics there are a number of uncertainties that dominate the research landscape.  I also really enjoy being outdoors, so any reason to get me outside and into the environment is a huge draw.  I’m currently intrigued by integrating new technologies into the tools and techniques we use to measure and categorize the world, and the interactions of that data across the different scales we collect them at.  Finally, whatever discovery I make needs to be communicated in a more intelligent manner than the broad stroke, impersonal approach currently being used, so exploring the potential ways in which we can communicate this science through a technological lens (as opposed to a societal lens) also plays a large role in my research.

Can you tell us a little more about your research?

If my research succeeds, I like to say that I’ll be able to tell you if your house will be underwater tomorrow.  To follow through with this rather audacious claim, we need to be able to do a few things: forecast how much water will be in the river and determine where that water will go.   This means we need to know what level of terrain detail is needed to accurately model the flood, and how to go about collecting that level of detail in a timely manner.  To do this, I use a combination of state flown lidar, augment that with my own data collected with a drone, and the shape of the river bed which can be collected with fancy instruments called Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP).  That data goes into geographic information software where we process it and then into hydraulic models where we model the flood extent and then compare that with observations.  Although these measurements have traditionally been made in in transects, falling computational barriers means extending these into 3 dimensions is easier than ever. By researching these techniques, we can more completely understand the theories of fluid dynamics, which has practical implications in hydraulic design and flood management.  This entire process, from measurement to communication, is where my research interests lie.

Where are you conducting your research? In archives? In laboratories? What are your sources?

My research is a blend of field collection methods and modeling/analysis and development.  I was originally drawn to the environmental sciences and geography because I enjoy being outdoors quite a lot, and although I spend a little more time in front of a computer than I would ideally like, it’s always nice to be able to say “I have a question about this, lets go outside and look at it.”  So as long as the water is deep enough to stand in, I can perform my research.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research project or research interests? This might be a commonly held belief that your research questions or complicates.

That our ability to predict rivers are no longer limited to just areas with USGS gages, and the tools we use to measure, predict, and communicate their state is now significantly easier to use than even 5 years ago.  That and that drones can be serious scientific instruments and not just toys for fun. 

What is the most valuable experience you have had while studying at KU?

Related to graduate school in general, the most valuable experience would have to be the opportunity to further specialize in what I want to do.

Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like? What was the process of refining them?

If I had to pick a defining moment when I had that “a ha” moment, it would have to be when I was spending the summer with CUAHSI (Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences).  After spending most of the summer trying to measure a small section of river, John Sloat from WaterCube came out one afternoon and hopped in the water with his ADCP and within 3 hours had one of the most gorgeous bathymetric models I had ever seen, and I knew that this was a skill I needed to pick up and study.  From that point on, it was a long hard slog to refine, frame, and phrase my desire into a passably coherent research idea.

What advice would you give other students applying for research funding opportunities?

Don’t be discouraged when you don’t get them, and apply to a lot of opportunities.  I like to emphasize the more tangible aspects of the outcomes (papers, programs, code, ect.), and the benefits that funding that research has to the organization.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

I would not be where I am today without my advisor, Xingong Li in the Geography and Atmospheric Science department, who took me on for my Masters and kept me around for the PhD, and introduced me not only to the world of academia, but also a host of larger academic institutions like UCGIS and CUAHSI, where I meet several of the people who were authors on papers I was reading, and graduate students from across the country.

What about the future of the field of geography excites you most?

It may be a biased perspective, but I really do think the geographic field has the tools we need to address and resolve a great many of the issues we face as we look towards the future.  Despite, or perhaps because, geography is such a broad discipline, it has the potential to readily absorb the latest and greatest advances in other fields and use them to tackle issues they would otherwise not be applied to for many more years.  As an example, although drones and drone research has traditionally resided within the realm of aerospace engineering, geography has taken it and applied that for use in archeological mapping, remote sensing applications, and photogrammetric techniques.  Fun fact: geography is the only department in KU that has a class which requires you to fly a drone to pass, drone mapping.

What do you plan to do after you graduate from KU / What are your career plans?

Can we make it through the week?  Haha.  At this point I’ve come a little too far into academia to not consider being a professor and the idea of directing my own research agenda is certainly appealing.  However, my research has enabled me to pick up some fantastic skills that translate well into the private sector and I’ve met some outstanding individuals at NOAA, the National Weather Service, and the Army Corp of Engineers.  So, I guess we’ll see.

What led you to Geography and why did you choose the University of Kansas?

(Besides funding!)  Geography sits at that sweet spot between theory and practice, where I can bring my environmental science and policy skills together with technology and application to ask and answer the questions that I am interested in and have practical and tangible consequences.  Geographers also have the most fun.  I landed at the University of Kansas because they provided the best funded opportunity and were incredibly supportive of my sometimes very disparate research questions.

If you had advice for freshmen or others investigating majors, why do you think they should explore geography?

First and foremost, you should do something you are passionate about or, at the very least, you enjoy.  Then, you should reevaluate that choice based on whether or not society will pay you to do that so that you’ll get a job out of college (so unfortunately no, most people don’t get to play videogames for a living).  That being said, you’ll be hard pressed to not find some aspect of those in the Geography and Atmospheric Science department.  Like computers and data science?  Geographic information science and atmospheric modeling sits at the bleeding edge of big data and computational complexity and some of the slickest applications are geographically driven (think Google maps or Pokémon go).  Like policy or the more social aspects?  Geography is the primary tool used in qualifying and quantifying social injustice issues.  Finally, regardless of what aspect you’re interested in, geography and atmospheric science majors are some of the happiest and most inclusive group of folks you’ll ever know, and there’s never a dull moment around them.  In short: Geography (and atmospheric science) is where it’s at.

What motivates you?

I really like solving problems and really dislike routine.  So what motivates me to continue into academia (aside from the thought of having to get a 9-5 job where pants are required) is the freedom to design and run my own day.  I really enjoy asking weird questions and designing a methodology to answer that.

What motivates you?You were president of the GIS Day at KU committee and led the event. Why is GIS Day and GIS technology important? Will there be new things people can expect at the 2018 GIS Day this fall?

GIS day is a worldwide event held every year in celebration of and to raise awareness of the wonders of geographic information science.  The committee consists of students from several departments, Libraries, and the Institute for Policy & Social Research, and we take over the 4th floor of the union all day and host invited speakers, a job/information fair, activities and a student poster competition.  This free event brings together students, faculty, and the greater public to see how GIS is making a positive change in the world.  Last year was the first time we had a high school class attend with fantastic results, so this year we expect to see a lot more participation from that demographic.  We also hope to have the state emergency GIS van and a drone exhibit to make an appearance.  Stay tuned for more information and look for announcements at

Be like James. Discover a field that your passionate about that you can make a realistic difference in. For more information about KU’s Geography program, visit their web page and learn more about the opportunities they offer. Additionally, be sure to check out the GIS website for more information regarding GIS day at KU.

Courtland Triplett seeks to do good through government

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 10:01

Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?

I am originally from Kansas City, Kansas. I spent the majority of my life growing up in the city before my family decided to move to Olathe. I made the decision to come to KU after hearing about the amazing Political Science program offered at KU. KU is also close to home which had a major influence on my final decision.

Why did you choose your major and minors? And how do they complement each other? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like?

Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to make a positive change in the world. There are many ways that people go about making a difference in the communities around them and I really struggled to figure out what exactly I could do to add to these changes. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that government was the best medium for me to both direct and support the positive changes in communities all over the world.

My minors add to my knowledge of governance by teaching me about the various aspects of democracy that have an impact on policy. I believe this combination will help me to best serve people in the future.

What has been your favorite class at KU? And why?

Introduction to Public Administration is significant to me because it introduced me to planning for urban communities. I got a sense of what the unique challenges of governing a city would be. I also started to develop a Strategic Action Plan for Kansas City with the skills I received in this course. I discovered ways to highlight structural problems in the city and come up with inventive ways to tackle them.

What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?

The most important benefit of studying in the College for me is having the opportunity to learn from my peers. Each of them has their own unique perspective and the College acts as a forum for us to exchange our ideas and discover more about the world we live in.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

It is difficult to name just one. There are many people who have supported me here at KU and each of them have inspired me both personally and professionally. Anne Wallen, Mary Klayder, Kirsten Andrews, Genelle Belmas, and Lindsey Deaver are among those who have made a significant impact on me.

What would you tell your freshman self?

If you want to make a difference, it starts now, and it starts with you.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or have you been involved in any KU organizations? If so, which ones, and what was that experience like?

Yes! I have served on several different boards and committees through Student Housing, Student Senate, RiseKU and Multicultural Student Government. Outside of campus, I have been fortunate enough to serve on the board of directors of the United Way of Douglas County and intern in the district office of Congressman Kevin Yoder. In addition to these honors, last summer I was selected for the Hoover Institute’s Summer Policy Boot Camp at Stanford University. Each of these experiences have contributed to my success thus far. Some were more difficult than others, but each of them has given me the tools to make positive changes on this campus and in the communities I care deeply about.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Absolutely nothing (for a year)! But I will most likely focus my energy on community building in Kansas City before attending graduate school to get an MPA.

What motivates you?

Simply put, I want to see a more equitable world. I hope that I can serve to mitigate the struggles people face with the work I will do in my life. 

Be like Courtland. Look for ways to make a positive change, and find majors and minors that fit your personal and professional goals. For more information, visit Political Science, the School of Public Affairs & Administration, and the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. Also, check out Student Housing, Student Senate, RiseKU, Multicultural Student Government, the Hoover Institute’s Summer Policy Boot Camp, and the United Way of Douglas County.

An Sasala expands the way humans conceptualize bodies in relation to technology

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:36

Hometown: Parma, Ohio

What are your research interests and why did you choose them? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like?

I am a self-described podcast junkie subscribed to over 300 podcasts. In fact, I originally came to KU expecting to research depictions of queer and trans*(gender) experiences in podcasting, but then things took about five left turns during my first Film + Media Studies (FMS) class. To put it otherwise, I cycled (rapidly) through multiple “Eureka!” moments and went down a rabbit hole from which I have yet to emerge.

The class—FMS 702: Body, Media, Environment—complicated how I understand virtualßàrealßàactual existences and pushed me to consider nonhuman life in relation to technology. Generally, I now study technological embodiment, or how digital bodies and persons (might) navigate the human world. In particular, I link science fiction film and media texts (Bladerunner 2049, the Halo videogames, Battlestar Galactica) to “IRL” tech developments and human experiences. I often ask: how does human discrimination shape the (acceptable) physical/material presence, expressed emotions, and other sense-based experiences of digital entities?

Tell us what your PhD thesis is in under 200 characters, make it Twitter friendly:

Note: I am still finalizing my project thesis, so this is more of a summary of the main concepts with the final sentence as a solid gesture towards a thesis. Also, I checked and this fits in a tweet!

Tyra Banks’ “Lifesize” but make it trans*inclusive, intersectional, and digital. I expand the way humans construct and conceptualize bodies in relation to technology via speculative films, transmedia storytelling + art. Transgender androids dream of radical futures.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research project or research interests? This might be a commonly held belief that your research questions or complicates.

As I am sure comes as no surprise, much popular media and science fiction storytelling tends to reproduce dominant social structures and oppressive norms. For example, we usually portray droids as emotionless workers-cum-tools capable of fixing every technological problem or as hypersexual, heavily gendered robots, usually heterosexual fembots. (see: Caprica-Six, the blonde bombshell cylon played by Tricia Helfer in Battlestar Galactica.) In my work, I first expose the norms inherent in these portrayals and designs (heterosexual, cisgender, white, slender, domesticated everywhere except the bedroom, differently abled in “advantageous” ways, located in middle and upper class society, etc.). After that, I offer examples which challenge and/or trample these norms. I lean into the potential for radical and imaginative uses, understandings, and existences. How might we design a transgender android? What body would they want? Would they even find humans attractive? While some science fiction askes their questions, their answers remain open, ready for my (and your) response.

Where are you conducting your research? In archives? In laboratories? What are your sources?

My dissertation will involve a written portion and a still-forming creative-critical media component.

Written Portion: This part places into conversation science fiction film and media which includes technologically nonhuman characters. A fairly traditional textual analysis, I will analyze sources through an interdisciplinary mesh created out of: trans* theory; science and technology studies; human-computer interaction studies and interface theory; gender studies and queer theory; and new media studies. I plan to include examples spanning television, film, experimental media and installation art, and video games.

Media Component: I plan to conduct interviews with trans* and non-binary folks living in the Midwest/Heartlands. Themes identified through these interviews will inform the narrative of my experimental installation or film. Direct quotations, along with video and audio footage, will appear in different scenes and/or form portions of written text or dialogue. I wish I could explain more, but please stay tuned for the finished dissertation.

What advice would you give students applying for research funding opportunities?

Be realistic with yourself about the scope and feasibility of your project—take into account your ability to commit time and emotion. I burned out quite spectacularly at the end of my second year because I never stopped to check-in with myself or to assess where I was with my projects. You can find plenty of advice on filling applications, but in my experience, you and the project will only find success if you took time to check-in with your emotions, priorities, and schedule. This also creates a chance for honesty and clarity—before the Imposter Syndrome sets in and you stare at a blank screen and blinking cursor for what seems like hours. I like to look at the application and then sit with it before going further so that I can be intentional instead of reactive.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

I struggle so much with picking a person to shout-out. For me, grad school is possible only through community and collaboration. If this were an Oscars speech I would thank:

  • Trish Nixon, my partner, who asks tough questions and brings me chicken soup for body and soul.
  • Abigail Barefoot, cohort member and best friend, whose ceaseless support and feedback (and her rainbow cupcakes) help me grow, constantly, and overcome moments of imposter syndrome-fueled doubt.
  • Katie Batza, the advisor-mentor I followed to KU from Pennsylvania. Katie constantly pushes me to think critically and deeply. (Perhaps) without meaning to, Katie helped me build confidence with a simple bit of writing advice: Don’t use passive voice. Use active verbs, be assertive, and say what you mean.

*starts sobbing and is clapped off the stage.*

What is the most valuable experience you have had while studying at KU?

During summer and fall 2019, I made my first short film, something I honestly never imagined doing until graduate school. My film, I Have a Mouth Yet I Cannot Scream explores the emotions trans* and non-binary people experience when reduced to their appearance—do they “pass” as cisgender and move through the world safely. As the trans* protagonist stares down their viewer and screams, sound drops out, providing a commentary on the systemic silencing of trans* voices within the U.S.

In undergrad, I studied to be a traditional scholar who reads books, watches films, and analyzes them through theory. I did not realize until KU that I wanted to—and that I could!—make something which expresses, explores, and approaches my work in such a radically expressive, affective, and creative way. For the film, I performed in front of the camera, the most challenging and rewarding experience to date of my grad school career. In the past, I kept a nice, safe distance (academic and emotional) from my work—in part because I thought that’s what academics do, but mostly because I did not feel prepared to accept the responsibility of doing increasingly personal work. As actor, director, producer, and editor, I finally embraced my identity as artivist (artist-activist) and embodied my non-binary gender in a primarily visual way. In my life, I minimize my body in order to avoid misgendering and dysphoria—to fly under the radar. In performing, recording, and screening, I allowed myself to have a visible body, a body which experiences privilege and oppression and challenges unequal systems.

What do you plan to do after you graduate from KU?

After KU, I plan to pursue alternative and non-academic careers, preferably with a non-profit or public organization focused on technology, art, and/or community engagement. Instead of standing at the front of the room, I enjoy bringing in speakers and helping to create a space. I love witnessing events from the corner of the room, watching people’s faces light up when they learn something new, or perhaps more satisfying, when faces scrunch up when folks grapple with new ides, challenging questions, and their privilege. Working in a place where I can provide art and technology skills training to local communities is the first step towards my dream: founding a non-profit which provides film + media production classes and equipment to trans*, non-binary, and queer folks, especially youth so that they can explore who they are and tell their own stories.

I also plan to keep creating and producing art after grad school. Who knows, a TBD, multi-media installation piece may pop up at the Spencer one of these days.

What motivates you?

FOMO mixed with anxiety? In all honestly, I think we—academics, society, LGBTQ+ folks—spend too much time focused on representation and forget about material existence and effects. Yay, a trans* character survived the season of “Insert TV drama here!”, but I can still lose my job or house in the state of Kansas because my partner and I are both queer and trans*…

Be like An. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries with your work and be realistic when it comes to your time and emotions. For more information about KU’s Film & Media Studies program, visit their web page and learn more about the opportunities they offer to students. Additionally, the same can be found for KU’s Women, Gender + Sexuality Studies program at their web page.

I am Seeking: Katie Rhine

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 14:11

Our new video series, I am Seeking, highlights what our faculty are seeking with their research. From elevating African-American playwrights, to looking for signs of alien life in rocks on earth, or finding new ways to treat addiction, our faculty are innovators and explorers seeking answers and solutions to a myriad of questions. Learn how associate professor of anthropology Katie Rhine’s research on virtual tools is impacting the health care of communities in Tanzania.

The College is a great place to seek the answers to whatever interests you! Visit the College website to learn more about how you can join us and begin your I am Seeking story. For more information, visit the School of Engineering and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kansas.

Unwinding with Katie Rhine & Macie Rouse: Community Researchers

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 15:25

When most of us imagine a “lab,” familiar images and associations come to mind: sterile spaces equipped with white coats and petri dishes, beakers, glass test tubes and granulated cylinders galore. Spaces where life-changing discoveries are made, no doubt — but Katie Rhine and her dedicated team of fellow scholars had something else in mind. They envisioned a hands-on, humanities-based “lab” that would bring students and faculty mentors together in the field to ask questions and search for real-world solutions to issues of health and development in East Africa’s rural communities. And in 2018, the team’s shared vision was brought to life in the form of an interdisciplinary umbrella project: ColLAB: Bridging East Africa’s Digital Health Divides.

In this episode we sat down with Katie Rhine, associate professor of Anthropology, core faculty member in the Kansas African Studies Center and the Center for Global & International Studies, and co-director of ColLAB at the University of Kansas, and Macie Rouse, a senior undergraduate student majoring in Anthropology at KU. For Macie, the lab presented an opportunity to do research differently, allowing her to apply her language skills in Kiswahili directly through on-the-ground, immersive research into East African communties. And in Katie, she found a mentor committed to putting students at the center, rather than the periphery, of research. Follow along as Katie and Macie discuss mentorship and scholarship in ColLAB, campus partnerships and funding opportunities that turned the team’s humanities lab dream into a reality, discoveries made working with community members, and unforgettable human connections formed along the way.

It’s Unwinding with Katie Rhine & Macie Rouse:

Unwinding is a podcast that tells the human stories driving the minds and talents of the University of Kansas. In each episode we sit down with KU researchers in a favorite or familiar setting to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. You may find us on campus, running the trails, on a farm, at a coffee shop or down at the pub. Wherever the location, the conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a collaboration between The Commons at KU and KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The Commons is a catalyst for unconventional thinking, interdisciplinary inquiry, and unexpected discoveries across the sciences, arts, and humanities. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is the heart of KU. It’s home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, offering more than 100 majors, minors and certificates. A collaborative and creative community, the College is committed to making the world better through inquiry and research.

Music: Lee Rosevere‘s “Let’s Start at the Beginning

Hawks to Watch: Marlon Marshall, Grassroots Campaign Organizer

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 16:05
Why Marlon’s a Hawk to Watch:

It’s no secret that politics, campaigns, and social movements can be contentious subjects, to say the least. So much so that it often feels as if there’s an ocean of ideological difference separating communities. Marlon Marshall wants to help build bridges to mend those widening gaps, and his career is a testament to the power of authenticity, collective action, and connecting with the public on a personal level by running campaigns with both strategy and heart. And it’s clear to him where that vital, immensely challenging work must begin in order to create visible change for the better: at the grassroots level.

Marlon’s aptitude for leadership has been on full display from the time he was a Communication Studies major at KU in the early 2000s, with his work addressing recruitment and retention of minority students foreshadowing a career defined by an ambitious and unwavering commitment to make politics work better. A passionate organizer, his diverse portfolio includes time serving as National Field Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as Special Assistant in the Obama White House Office of Public Engagement, during which he led on-the-ground enrollment to put the Affordable Care Act into action, and working as a top staffer on the Hillary Clinton campaign during 2016.

Now, as a founding partner at the organizing firm 270 Strategies, Marlon is working with campaigns and nonprofits to mobilize movements, engage communities, and inspire connections through grassroots organizing. And the items on their agenda are about as ambitious as they come, including: “helping to end modern slavery,” “finding a cause and cure for autism,” and “supporting candidates for heads of state all around the world.” Arduous as the pursuit of these goals may be, Marlon remains ever-mindful of the fundamental value of sincerity, humility, and slowing down to take in the moment, and that one should never lose sight of the human elements that energize movements and change the world.

One could say that a person enters the fast-paced world of politics, campaigns, and grassroots organizing at their own risk, but for Marlon, returns in the form of measurable change for communities, and the world, make any risks well worth it. Meet Marshall, and discover why he’s a Hawk to Watch.

Tell us, in 140 characters or less, what you do for a living: 

I helped start an organization called 270 Strategies. We help non-profits and campaigns use organizing strategies to engage audiences.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far? 

Working on healthcare enrollment outreach in the Obama White House. Hearing the stories of people who never had access to healthcare finally be able to get it was incredible.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on? 

I worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Losing was extremely tough, but after a trip to South Africa, I was reminded that even with setbacks, you must keep fighting for what you believe in.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?  

Somewhere west enjoying life with my wife and twin daughters.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self? 

Slow down and take the time to really appreciate the fullness of life in every moment.

What’s your best career pro-tip? 

Always stay humble. People know if you’re just trying to keep advancing your career or if you actually truly care about the work you are doing. It’s totally fine to do both but never lose sight of why you are doing the work you’re doing.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?  

Spend time with my kids before they go to bed and then catch up on life with my wife.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people? 

Two of my best friends I went to junior high school with also have twins!

Be like Marlon. Learn from the setbacks, roll with the punches, and fight for something you believe in. For more information, visit the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas and 270 Strategies.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts. 

I am Seeking: Steven A. Soper

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 15:23

Our new video series, I am Seeking, highlights what our faculty are seeking with their research. From elevating African-American playwrights, to looking for signs of alien life in rocks on earth, or finding new ways to treat addiction, our faculty are innovators and explorers seeking answers and solutions to a myriad of questions. Learn how Foundation Distinguished Professor of chemistry Steven A. Soper’s research is benefiting Kansas and the world as he and his team seek to develop new tools to diagnose cancer.

The College is a great place to seek the answers to whatever interests you! Visit the College website to learn more about how you can join us and begin your I am Seeking story.

Rebekah Taussig: Rewriting stories of disability

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 10:39

Where are you from, and why did you decide to come to KU?

I’m from Kansas City, and I decided to attend KU for a number of reasons, one of which was that the professors in my M.A. program at UMKC had wonderful things to say about the English faculty at KU. In addition, KU’s English department is one among a few to offer a Ph.D. in creative writing.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research or research interests? This might be a commonly held belief that your research questions or complicates.

Within the creative writing program, I focused my work on disability studies and creative nonfiction. As a woman who grew up using a wheelchair to navigate life, disability studies was a planet-flipping discovery for me. Disability studies shifts the default focus from the disabled body itself to the structures and systems that disable that body (e.g. instead of identifying a wheelchair user as the problem that needs to be fixed, disability studies shines the spotlight on the stairs that bar their entrance and strives to include more points of access, like ramps or elevators). Using this lens, my work examines the relationship between the stories we tell about disability and the world we live in, from physical spaces and economic opportunities to social roles and interpersonal relationships. I believe thinking critically about disability and listening to the stories of those who embody it has the power to prompt more curious, imaginative, and inclusive communities.

What advice would you give students applying for research funding opportunities?

Getting involved with the Hall Center for the Humanities was one of the most productive choices I made for making connections and learning about exciting opportunities.

Tell us a bit about your website,, and Instagram profile @sitting_pretty? What is the central focus of your work on these platforms, and what do you hope to achieve through these?

About four years ago, I started the Instagram account where I regularly craft “mini-memoirs” that explore what it means to live in my particular (crippled, female) body. Through my studies, I became more aware of just how little disability representation there is in media. The images of disability we do have are so often distorted — oversimplified into tragedy or inspiration. Growing up, this felt normal. I assumed that I didn’t see any images of vibrant, complicated women with disabilities, because they didn’t exist. This lack of dynamic representation has proven to be powerfully destructive for many both in and outside of the disability community, and I have all of us in mind when I create content. Erasing and warping stories of disabilities harms all of us, and through this platform, I strive to participate in rewriting the stories we tell about bodies.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the community I’ve been able to foster online. As soon as I joined this space, I realized that we are hungry for voices to narrate experiences that have been dismissed for so long. I am one voice among many in this space, searching for words, images, and stories to add distinct flavors and textures to the experience of disability. There are very few human interactions as powerful as finding someone who truly gets it — who understands the very thing you were convinced made you entirely Other. I’m grateful to be a part of this work.

What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?

During my time at KU, one of my favorite programs was the Hall Center for Humanities Disability Symposium series. Each month, a scholar doing work within disability studies presented on their latest research. I remember some of the most exciting projects and connections coming from folks in the School of Education, American Studies, Linguistics, Social Psychology, and so on. These people and their ideas brought rushing fresh water into my own work in ways I couldn’t easily replicate.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

Laura Moriarty changed my entire experience at KU. She was the professor who genuinely saw me, not just as another student in her class, but as a whole person and a writer. I will always remember sitting in her office during a moment of crisis (What am I even doing here? Maybe you’re familiar with this particular brand of grad school distress?) In my moment of panic, she was able to see through the loud, cluttered anxiety and actually help me visualize the project I was there to create. I cannot thank her enough for seeing me as a writer with something to say before I was able to see it myself.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Don’t forget why you are here. What do you actually care about? What do you want to learn? What do you hope to build, create, contribute? You will make space to cultivate these desires when you allow yourself to ask questions, explore, take risks, let go of doing and being everything to everyone, let the less important things slide, and sometimes even look a little foolish in the process.

It’s so easy to get swept up in being a Graduate Student — in confidently affirming that you totally get every reference and name drop, in aiming to add the weightiest insights into every seminar discussion, in having the most publications, the most powerful connections, the greatest job prospects, the longest CV. Genuine learning, growth, and creativity don’t mix well with these rigid, impossibly high expectations. There are plenty of things that will try to grab your attention, your energy, your brain space, but those aren’t the things you’ll hold onto when you leave. Pay attention to the work that makes your eyes light up, and always go after that.

What are you doing now, and what are your future plans?

Right now, I am teaching high school English at an independent school in Kansas City. While I don’t cherish the never-ending pile of grading (although, at this point, can I even imagine a life without a stack of papers that need grading? who would I be without writing a steady string of marginal comments that beg for clarity and precision?), I do treasure the daily opportunity to create spaces where students can encounter new ways of thinking, approach the world with a critical lens, and learn. In the spaces between the classroom and the grading, I’m working on a book that brings the theory of disability to life with personal stories.

What motivates you?

I write and teach, because I want to understand. There is so much about living life on this planet that baffles, intrigues, and mystifies me. Reaching for language, collaborating with a group of thinkers, telling and sharing stories, looking for patterns and points of connection — these are the tools that help me navigate the unknown I long to see.

Be like Rebekah. Tell a story that matters, be an advocate, and don’t lose sight of the things that are truly important. For more, visit the Department of English and the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas. Also, check out more from Rebekah on her website and Instagram profile.