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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, rebekahtaussig.com, 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.

On her road to med school, English & Biology major Nidhi Patel makes discoveries at KU and abroad

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 11:40

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

I am from Overland Park, KS. I was undecided between KU and a couple of other schools for a while, but when I came to visit for an Honors Reception, I noticed how the environment was supportive rather than competitive. Many of the students talked about how they all helped each other in their classes, and it was then I knew that KU would be the right choice for me. I wanted that encouraging environment that would provide various opportunities, and KU offered that.

Why did you choose your majors? 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?

I started out as a biology major at KU, thinking that it would satisfy my pre-medical requirements, and my fellow pre-medicine friends would also be with me in my courses. I actually decided to add English as a major when I took the English course “Ways of Seeing” taught by Dr. Mary Klayder. After a class discussion about Intuition by Colson Whitehead, I realized that I wanted to continue doing that by taking more English classes. I was walking back to my dorm when I told my roommate, “I think I want to add an English major.” After I talked to Dr. Klayder and figured out a plan to finish both majors in four years, I haven’t looked back.

What is the most exciting part of your majors? What do you think is most valuable about your experiences in these programs?

I get to go from a lecture-style class, learning about neurobiology, to a small discussion-based class every day, and that’s what excites me the most: the variety in the education that I am receiving. Biology always amazes me in terms of advancements in the field like the CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing. With English literature, I get the opportunity to read different authors and do more critical analysis. The most valuable aspect about my experience is learning from my professors in both subjects, as I strive to have the same passion that they have in the specific fields.

Is there a particular professor or mentor you’d like to give a shout out?

There are so many people that have brought me to this point in my college career, but I would not have even considered adding English as a major without Dr. Mary Klayder, who has always been supportive of my endeavors. 

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

We have so much to learn from one another, and ultimately, it makes us more well-rounded individuals. I have gained a better understanding of the world through my peers that come from different backgrounds, and I hope to apply these understandings in my future career.

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

My favorite class at KU was my Global Scholar Seminar, which was on Collective Memory in History. It was one of the first courses that I took outside of English and Biology, and I got to interact with my fellow Global Scholars, all in different majors and from unique backgrounds. We were able to learn from each other and share viewpoints that I would have not previously considered. I still reference back to that class when I have conversations with people because both the material and the people had a large impact on me.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or have you been involved in any KU organizations that you’d like to share?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study abroad twice. I did the British Summer Institute with Dr. Mary Klayder the summer after my freshman year, studying British Literature and Art History. I spent a month in the United Kingdom, traveling from London to Bath to Edinburgh. My second study abroad was Microbiology in Western Europe the summer after my sophomore year, visiting France, Germany, and Switzerland. Both study abroad experiences were enriching and helped me grow as a person. Outside of my study abroad programs, I have been involved in Phi Delta Epsilon, Honors Community Advocates, and a Bollywood dance group. Additionally, I do research in the Medicinal Chemistry department.

What would you tell your freshman self?

I would say to not be so anxious about the future and enjoy my time in Lawrence and not just at Anschutz.

What can you tell us about being selected as a 2018-2019 Hall Center Scholar, and also as a KU Global Scholar in 2016? What opportunities or interesting experiences have you had as a result?

I am truly honored to be selected as a Hall Scholar and a Global Scholar. The Hall Center for the Humanities provides opportunities to attend the Humanities Lecture Series and often meet with the guest speakers. It was an incredible experience to listen to author Neil Gaiman and to discuss with journalist Maria Hinojosa about reporting on Latino issues in the United States. As I previously mentioned, Global Scholars provided the opportunity to take an incredible seminar, as well as provide funding for a study abroad program.

I also get to conduct a research project with a global focus, which I will present at the Global Scholars Research Symposium this upcoming April. The research project focuses on healthcare disparities in indigenous populations in New Zealand and the United States, and I would not have had the opportunity to work on this project without the Global Scholars program.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I have been accepted to and will be attending University of Kansas School of Medicine next fall.

What motivates you? My parents immigrated here in the early nineties, and they have worked tremendously hard in order for my siblings and I to get the education that they were not able to receive. With their support in all of my endeavors, I remain motivated to learn and continue to succeed.

Be like Nidhi. Seek out experiences that will take you where you want to go. For more, check out Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, the Department of English, the University Honors Program, Study Abroad, the Hall Center for the Humanities, University Global Scholars, Phi Delta Epsilon, and Jeeva Dance Team at the University of Kansas.

Busy award season for College’s Kevin Willmott

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 13:47

KU professor of Film & Media Studies Kevin Willmott has had a busy awards season. As a co-writer on Spike Lee’s newest film, “BlacKkKlansman,” Willmott has received numerous industry award nominations for his work on the script.

Possibly the biggest recognition Willmott received came with the Oscar nomination announcements in January when it was announced that Willmott had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The nomination kicked off a wild month for Willmott who will be in attendance at the ceremony in Los Angeles.

In mid-January, Willmott attended the Critic’s Choice awards in Hollywood with stars of the film John David Washington and Adam Driver in addition to Lee. The film was nominated for numerous awards including for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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POWER to the #BlackKklansman cast. #CriticsChoice @gettyentertainment

A post shared by Hollywood Reporter (@hollywoodreporter) on Jan 13, 2019 at 9:26pm PST

While Willmott didn’t pick up the Critic’s Choice award for Best Adapted Screenplay, he won the BAFTA award in the same category a few weeks later. Check out Willmott on the red carpet below! (And listen for a KU shout out!)

“BlacKkKlansman” is not the first time Willmott has partnered with Lee. The two worked together on 2015’s “Chi-Raq” with Willmott serving as a co-writer with Lee who also directed the film.

Willmott also has an extensive list of films he’s produced and filmed in and around Kansas including “Jayhawkers”, which tells the story of Kansas basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain’s time at KU, “The Only Good Indian”,  and “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America” among others.

Check out Willmott’s IMDB page for a full list of his work and check out the KU Film & Media Studies website to see what’s new in the department!

Pegah Naemi examines critical multiculturalism and its influence on social justice

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 08:41

Hometown: Santa Monica, CA

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?

My current work draws upon cultural psychology and decolonial perspectives to interrogate and resist dominant epistemologies of social issues and practices. I can’t say that I chose this, necessarily, but rather I was distraught by mainstream academia and the ways in which teachings of “good science” was being dispelled to students. I needed to navigate this system in a way that resisted its notions of “truth” and cultural psychology and decolonial perspectives provided that path for me. This journey was difficult at times especially because I was attempting to push past dominant hegemonic perspectives which is not always an easy task to take as a student of color.

Tell us what your PhD thesis is in under 200 characters:

For my dissertation I am examining an(other) ideology called critical multiculturalism which recognizes both the contribution and participation of marginalized people in social and political domains and challenges oppressions that are perpetuated through dominant social norms. I decided to explore this ideology due to the problems associated with mainstream diversity ideologies (e.g. identity-blind emphasis of colorblind ideology, or superficial celebratory emphasis of cultural differences without regard for issues of power and oppression as with mainstream multiculturalism). I want to show that there is a distinction between critical multiculturalism and the other diversity ideologies and investigate its relationship with and influence on social justice policy endorsement. 

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.

One thing that I would want everyone to know is although I think the idea of diversity and multiculturalism is well intentioned, I don’t think we’ve reached a place where we are conceptualizing it or practicing it in a way that is critical towards true inclusion of marginalized people. Partly this is because current ideologies of multiculturalism fails to disrupt the problems that are inherit within institutions.  

Where are you conducting your research?

I am conducting my research online using samples from large survey groups such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.

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

Grant writing is an art. It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and, unfortunately, the first class about grant writing (the mechanics behind how to write a good grant proposal) that was offered wasn’t until my 4th year. My advice would be start practicing soon and find a mentor who will help you work on your grant writing skills. Along the same lines, my second piece of advice is try to convey how your work is important and relevant to non-experts. People in your field will “get it” but often times they aren’t the ones funding your research. Drop the fancy jargon, get out of the weeds of the technical explanations, and make your work accessible to others so they understand why your work is important and worth funding.

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

My advisor, Dr. Glenn Adams, has been helpful and supportive in helping me think through what a critical multiculturalism means; I am grateful that he too saw a need for change. There are a handful of folks who may not think they have had direct impact in helping me but the times they took to hear my thoughts, ask questions, and see me as researcher with something to offer has given me strength to keep pushing forward when often times I was ready to leave altogether. These shout outs go to Dr. Jennifer Ng, Dr. Clarence Lang, and Dr. Teri Garstka.

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

The most valuable experience I had studying while at KU was learning how to build my own path. Your mentors and other professors will give you advice based on their own experiences as previous graduate students, however, your path is all yours. Understand your career options and seek other experiences that are not academic to decide what will be right for you. The skills we learn as graduate students are so vast that I think it’s important to understand how these skills are applicable to other types of careers.

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

I am happy to say that I am a Research Assistant, Senior with the Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR) at KU. It is a huge achievement for me to gain my first career job before graduating. At CPPR we seek to optimize the well-being of children, youth, and families in the state of Kansas and beyond. We work toward social change and innovation through various channels such as helping community partners effectively use data to more efficiently and effectively do their work with families, and using analytical perspectives to understand and address complex social problems, just to a name a few. As a graduate student I often contemplated about my career path. Most academics encourage students to follow in their footsteps in gaining academic careers, but this wasn’t the path for me. I didn’t feel compelled to remain at an institution to continuously do research and publish in academic journals. I wanted to reach my community in a much bigger and impactful way and working with CPPR was just the right fit. I am able to use all of my skills as a graduate student and apply them to the projects that I currently work on. Understanding the broad research process, conducting data analysis, and effectively communicating the work are all skills that I am able to bring with me as a researcher to CPPR. Here I feel much more connected to the research that I believe will make a difference in people’s lives.

What motivates you?

These days I feel tired. I bet most graduate students can relate. Some days I find it difficult to find the motivation to work my job at CPPR and finish my dissertation, but I keep going because I am motivated to do my part to disrupt social inequalities and impact social change, even if that impact seems small. Doing my dissertation work on critical multiculturalism is a way to get people to have more critical conversations about diversity in our community. My work may not be the main catalyst for social change but if it gets a few people to stop and think about an issue beyond what they think they already know, I’m motivated to keep doing this research.

Be like Pegah. Find out what motivates you in your respective field and seek out ways in which you can utilize your knowledge to make a difference. For more information about KU’s Social Psychology program, visit their web page and learn more about the opportunities they offer to students.

Unwinding with Ward Lyles: Compassionate Urban Planner

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 14:32

What’s the foundation of a city? For urban planner Ward Lyles, the spaces we inhabit are defined as much by an approach to life, and the people we encounter, as they are by the systems and physical structures that make up a sound infrastructure. The way he sees it, the true bedrock of a strong community lies in a simple, yet immensely powerful, guiding principle: compassion

With compassion at the center of our framework in the ways we think about life’s biggest problems, Ward says, we stand a better chance of solving them, creatively and collaboratively. And he’s applying this humanist approach in his work addressing some of the major issues facing society today, ranging from climate change and natural disasters, to diversity and social justice work, in the interest of building a network of caring and compassionate communities. 

In this episode we sat with Ward Lyles, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration’s Urban Planning Program, at The Commons at KU. Tune in and follow along as we join Ward in a conversation about his work with the KU Center for Teacher Excellence‘s Diversity Scholars Program, his research on resilience in planning, which recently earned him a National Science Foundation CAREER award, as well as the inaugural ACSP/Lincoln Institute Curriculum Innovation Award, and the fundamental question of not just how, but why we plan.

It’s Unwinding with Ward Lyles:

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: David Toland, Kansas Secretary of Commerce

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 15:49

Why David’s a Hawk to Watch:

Serious issues call for serious action. And David Toland has long been guided by the philosophy that real-world results are best achieved through a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and work together to put concrete plans in motion, or as he aptly put it, “stop talking about it — get up from behind your desk and make it happen.”

A seventh-generation Kansan and fourth-generation Jayhawk, David has devoted his career to improving communities at both local and national levels, serving in nonprofits and government in Kansas and in Washington, D.C. Now as Acting Secretary of Commerce for Kansas, David is at home leading the state’s economic development agency for Governor Laura Kelly, working to expand employment opportunities within Kansas communities.

As an undergraduate at KU, faculty mentorship together with the hands-on experience he gained as a student in the Political Science program opened David’s eyes to a world of possibilities, setting him on a path to explore what would become the major focus of his life’s work: diving deep into areas and problems that many would be happy to turn away from. And since earning his M.P.A. in City Management & Urban Policy from KU in 2001, he’s continued to tackle issues including economic development, urban policy, and affordable housing. It’s no wonder that David was named one of Ingram’s 50 Kansans you should know in 2018!

Meet David, and see what he had to say about family and lifelong friendships forged at KU, his passion for Kansas communities, bouncing back in the face of unexpected tragedy, the inexplicable power of everyday kindness, and his love of David Bowie. Discover why David’s a Hawk to Watch.

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

As Secretary of Commerce I lead Kansas’ economic development agency for Governor Laura Kelly. At Commerce we work to recruit and retain jobs; connect job-seekers and employers; and administer federal grant programs that help build libraries, water systems, and roads across our state.

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

Throughout my career I’ve sought opportunities to join turnaround efforts — to go to places that needed help and where oftentimes other people didn’t want to go. That’s what drew me to the District of Columbia when it was under federal receivership; back to rural Kansas, where most metrics of well-being have been in decline for a century; and to state government, which has been badly damaged by ideology and mismanagement for most of the last decade. To the extent I’ve had a career plan it’s been about pursuing opportunities that were intellectually stimulating and personally fulfilling rather than taking whatever was considered the safe or “right” path. 

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Allen County, Kansas’ recognition as a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize winner in 2017 was a personal and professional high point when I was CEO at Thrive Allen County. All my life I’ve been proud of my home county, but having our community’s efforts recognized by one of the largest foundations in the world elevated that pride to a new level. 

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?
In 2015 our grant writer, thought partner and friend at Thrive Allen County, John Robertson, died unexpectedly. When you run a non-profit that is 90% funded by grants, the death of the grant writer creates an existential crisis for your organization. It also takes a human toll — the five of us remaining at Thrive were incredibly sad to have lost our friend and colleague… but we had no time to mourn him because we had to focus on keeping the Thrive ship afloat. If Thrive was to survive — and if our staff were to keep their jobs — we had no choice but keep writing grants, submitting reports, and designing and running great programs. There’s no silver bullet or special sauce that can help your organization survive something like that; the only response is to grind it out. Being mentally and emotionally tough, and working nonstop, was the key to our survival.

The lesson for others enduring similar situations is that someday — when you’re out of the woods — you can take time to mourn the loss and be thankful that you survived, but if you pause to catch your breath too soon you can quickly lose everything you’ve worked for. I’m thankful every day for the lessons of that experience, but I’d never want to endure it again. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I’ve never been one to make long-term plans like that. 

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

I don’t know how or why this works, but I’ve learned that if you’re having a bad day, the best way to feel better is to help someone else. Don’t focus on your own problems — focus on people you sense or know are struggling. By trying to improve their day, you improve your own. So pay the compliment, even if you don’t think they’ll care; write the note, even if you don’t have nice stationery; hold the door, even if you’re in a hurry; and give a smile, even if it might feel fake. The return on investment is incredible. 

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Action removes doubt.  Stop talking about it — get up from behind your desk and make it happen.

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

As an undergraduate in the Political Science program at KU I had amazing professors — Burdett Loomis and the late Allan Cigler in particular — who opened up a world of possibilities for me. As a sophomore I was one of Bird Loomis’ Washington interns, where I served subpoenas and photographed crime scenes as an intern at the DC Public Defender Service. It was quite an eye-opener for a kid from small-town Kansas. That experience helped clarify what I really wanted to do: fix broken communities. Ultimately that led me to the KU MPA program where professors like John Nalbandian, Steven Maynard-Moody and Chuck Epp (among many others) presented a blend of academic theory and real-life case studies that enabled me to actually get things done when I started working in local government. I would also add that most of my closest friends to this day are people I met in the “3E” program at Ellsworth Hall as a freshman in 1995, and that I’m a FOURTH generation Jayhawk and very proud of it! 

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?  

My wife Beth (a KU School of Ed alumna) and I have two amazing kids, Caroline (age 12) and William (age 9), and we’re happy that they are growing up as “free range” kids in Iola.  The kids and I love to watch old episodes of the 1980s TV show Dallas; renovate old buildings; ride (and build) trails in Allen County; and travel abroad. We took an amazing trip to Iceland and Paris in November to celebrate Beth’s 40th birthday and made a lot of terrific memories. 

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I am a huge David Bowie fan. So much so that I dressed up as Ziggy Stardust for Halloween this year.

Be like David… For more information, see …. at the University of Kansas. Also, 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.

Finding a creative outlet led Trevor Bashawk to KU’s Department of English

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 15:01

Trevor Bashaw has found an outlet for his creativity in KU’s Department of English. He’s the winner of the Spencer Museum Brosseau Creativity Award for his diverse media project that combines poetry, critical and philosophical writing, personal accounts and visual art. Committee members were impressed by his ability to “connect personal experience in such a complicated, multilayered work.” Learn more about Bashaw and his award winning project in our student spotlight.


Be like Trevor, here’s information on the English and Art History programs at the University of Kansas.

Aroog Khaliq examines human nature through writing, psychology, and medicine

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 14:19

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

My hometown is Overland Park, KS. I really ended up at KU in a miraculous way; I hadn’t even seen more than two buildings on campus before I committed to the University, and even during summer Orientation, I didn’t go on a full “tour.” My first and last interaction before enrollment with KU was through the Hall Center, where a group of students from my high school and I were invited to meet Krista Tippett, and a brief visit with some of the lovely honors faculty. Those few interactions were so warm and rich that it wasn’t too difficult thereafter for me to take the plunge and become a Jayhawk.

Why did you choose your major(s)? 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?

English is something that has always been integral to my life. I read early and I read a lot, and that voraciousness made me a permanent fixture at my local library. First, I was just a patron, and then, I became a volunteer that helped with everything from shelving books to organizing outreach programs to interviewing visiting authors. The library also had a program where local teens could review advanced reader’s copies, and that was really my first foray into writing about writing, and learning what constituted “good writing.” I carried all of these experiences with me from middle school to high school, and my current interests in editing, poetry, and opinion writing can all be tied back to the library and the wonderful mentors who encouraged me there.

Psychology is linked more to my interest in medicine, and the ways in which the medical industry on a national level disconnects physical and mental illnesses. I’ve shadowed in cardiology clinics for several years now, and I’ve volunteered in neurology units in hospitals as well, and my time in both places has reinforced my belief in holistic treatment. Patients are people, not the area of their bodies that they have complaints with, and gaining a better, more scientific understanding of people is what psychology is all about. If more pre-med students took a moment to appreciate the linkage between physical and mental ailments beyond the errant case of phantom limb syndrome, I think the future of medicine would be much brighter, and more empathetic.

What is the most exciting part of your major(s) and/or minor(s)? What do you think is most valuable about your experiences in these programs?

I think in the English department, the most exciting part is getting to see how differently each faculty member approaches a different author or period or topic in teaching. The ability to quote authors at length, and in Old English to boot, is a great party trick, but more than that, it is an excellent demonstration of the depth and breadth of knowledge that these professors have. I am always adding to my reading list, thinking deeply and critically about texts that I used to snooze through in high school, and discovering the truly universal and timeless nature of literature, be it a poem or a novel or a play. None of those things would be possible without the dedication KU’s English professors have to their craft.

In the Psychology department, the professors are similarly awesome, but I think the value is most deeply ingrained in the material and the emphasis professors place in checking bias when it comes to not only the data but the way clinicians treat individuals with mental illness. The perception that individuals with mental illness are violent, for example, is refuted regularly, which makes this realm of the sciences most human and most humane, I think. In order to make KU grads the best clinicians they can be, the Psychology department ensures that we center empathy in our studies.

Is there a particular professor or mentor you’d like to give a shout out?

Mary Klayder! Her freshman honors seminar was the best thing that ever happened to me, and getting to come back my sophomore year as a teaching assistant was the brightest part of the fall semester. She is my rock, my guardian angel, and one of the best people on this campus and possibly this planet.

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

I know the word interdisciplinary gets thrown around at every opportunity, but truly, that mixture of areas of focus is what makes KU College so unique. Wescoe alone is a great example of a building where you can find a class from nearly every field in action. I once got lost on my way back from my poetry workshop class and ended up in a room where some kind of math was being taught! You don’t get that experience anywhere else, really, and at the end of the day, if we burrow into a singular area of focus we won’t come out of our undergraduate experience as multifaceted as we all have the capability to be, and a what a waste that is.

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

A tie between Dr. Kaminski’s poetry workshop and Dr. Barybin’s honors general chemistry II class. Every day in both classes was a gift, because I always walked out knowing more than I did walking in. Even when the material got tough or not entirely in my arena of interest, I felt confident that both professors would help me stay afloat.

What would you tell your freshman self?

When things get really tough, focus on putting one foot in front of the other and just finishing up the day. When you wake up, don’t just try doing things again, but try doing them differently, doing them better. Sleep more. Do the things you want to do, not the ones that everyone thinks are predestined for your track. Be as good a friend to yourself as you are to others. Embrace the athleisure look on 8 am lecture days. Microwave quesadillas are not a meal.

What can you tell us about being selected as a 2018-2019 Hall Center Scholar? What opportunities or interesting experiences have you had as a result of being selected by the Hall Center for the Humanities?

The Hall Center does many great things, but one of the most amazing things they do is bring in brilliant speakers. This semester, Maria Hinojosa and Neil Gaiman came to campus to discuss their new work, and Professor Marie Grace Brown presented her research on fashion and body politics in Sudan. Getting to discuss the work of these brilliant individuals either one on one with them or with faculty members is exciting, but even more exciting is getting to delve into these niche topics with the other Scholars, all of whom bring their unique outlook to the discussion. We get off topic quite a bit, but even our tangents leave me with something to pick apart further when we adjourn. No greater argument can be made for the humanities’ importance than this program and the Center’s tireless work.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Go to medical school, work with MSF, and publish another chapbook or two. Hopefully!

What motivates you?

Making Allah and my family and friends proud, foremost. Becoming a better poet, a better role model, a better person. Spreading empathy and happiness in a world of complacency.

Be like Aroog. Explore the ways that your interests compliment one another, and finds ways to spread empathy in all you do. For more information, visit the Department of English, the Department of Psychology, the University Honors Program, and the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas.

Sam Henkin Explores Concepts of Liberation, Justice, and Anti-Violence

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 15:54

Program of study and year: Geography doctoral program, 5th and final year!

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?

My research of state power and security governance has drawn considerable attention to the political and spatial dynamics of social movements, demonstrations, and everyday mobilities whereby public spaces become contested spaces.  I am interested in exploring theoretical questions related to how technology, violence, and power intersect in these spaces, how the state is endowed with legitimacy to pursue violent security practices to stabilize social and political order, and how these practices impact direct community action and its possibilities. I focus on the ways that participation in community social action and security governance—from intervention in everyday spaces to the implementation of law—confront one another, reinforce, weaken, or otherwise relate to one another.  

I like to think that I did not choose my research, instead my research chose me.  At a time when social movements are spreading across the globe understanding why and how people engage in collective action in contested public spaces has become ever more vital.  I was drawn to the activism emanating out of places like Ferguson, Missouri and Bangkok, Thailand.  The all-too-familiar images of security/police forces facing off against protestors in the streets and plazas across the world echoed battlefields of war and imprinted themselves in my consciousness.  The decision to study security governance in contested space emerged from the inherently unstable, multiple, and contradictory militarized common-sense (b)ordering of public spaces that activists and everyday people chose to challenge and resist. 

Tell us what your PhD thesis is in under 200 characters:

It is intensive study that seeks to understand how non-lethal weapons change the dynamics of policing contested spaces and bodies in ways that preserve the legitimacy of state power and violence.   

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.

My research broadly connects everyday experiences to larger systems of privilege, knowledge, and power that produce uneven social and spatial relations.  At its core, it confronts and disrupts dominating power relations that sustain systems of oppressions and amplifies legacies of injustice.  Rooted in possibility, I draw on critical concepts of liberation, justice, and anti-violence to imagine alternative futures addressing spatial politics and social justice.

Where are you conducting your research?

As a geographer, I am inclined to conduct my research “in the field”.  I spent a significant amount of time in Bangkok, Thailand while there was growing political instability that led to a noticeable increase in security forces deployment across the city.  It was indicative of the forthcoming political crises that led millions of Thai people into the streets in mass demonstrations. Over the past 4 years, my research has relied on engaging local activists, security infrastructures, and various official policy texts in Bangkok as well as a significant discourse analysis of archived materials and auxiliary sources.    

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

Remember that your worth and intellectual growth lies far beyond the rejections you will receive.  Do not allow rejection to become the center of your research agenda as it will create an even more insidious effect—imposter syndrome.  Acknowledge rejection but do not accept it as enduring, embrace resiliency and work around rejection. Your moment (and funding) will come!      

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

The productive capacities of mentorship in my graduate experience cannot be overestimated.  Without the invaluable counsel and guidance of my advisor, Dr. Shannon O’Lear, I would not be on the path I am today.     

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

Rather than focus on what “I plan to do” I focus on what I hope to achieve after graduating from KU.  I hope to achieve a life defined by my commitments to democratize knowledge, to disrupt and undo legacies of oppression, violence, and injustice systemic in society and embodied in everyday life, and to pursue greater mindfulness, content knowledge, and empathetic understanding of the vertiginous complexities of humanity.  

What motivates you?

I am motivated by everyday engagement with my students, peers, mentors, and the greater community that generates respect and a shared dignity providing opportunities for intellectual growth and participation in a diverse society. There is always a chance of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.         

Be like Sam. Seek out opportunities that pique your interest in your respective field and look for ways to apply and expand your knowledge. For more information about the KU Department of Geography, visit their web page and learn more about the opportunities they offer to students.

Hawks to Watch: Abbie Hodgson, Officer with the State Strategy Group at the Pew Charitable Trusts

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 11:41

Why Abbie’s a Hawk to Watch:

Abbie Hodgson is a problem solver. It’s fitting then that she’s built a career taking on some of the most pressing issues of the day, hopping back and forth between Kansas and Washington D.C. working in government, on the campaign trail, and for a non-profit. In all that she’s done professionally, she has put her KU degrees in Political Science and Communication Studies, and her impressive knack for political strategy, to work in ways that have far-reaching implications and make visible impacts in the lives of many.

Never one to sit still for long, her resume includes a run for Kansas Legislature, serving as a speechwriter for a governor, a role as Chief of Staff to the Kansas House Minority Leader, and currently, as Officer with the State Strategy Group at the Pew Charitable Trusts, an international nonprofit. In navigating the political sphere, and the whirlwind work schedules that often come as an occupational hazard, she’s learned to look ahead in the face of loss, and that solid relationships are as valuable as solid credentials. For Abbie, we’re all community members — locally, nationally, and globally. And she’s driven by a profound sense of duty to make those communities better and stronger.

Admittedly, the daily grind of policy and politics, campaigns and constituents, and the hustle and bustle of D.C. can make for some non-stop, around-the-clock days followed by long nights. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that this Jayhawk is a busy bee. But Abbie shows no signs of slowing down or running out of steam. In fact, we’d say she’s just getting started.

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

I work for the Pew Charitable Trust, an international nonprofit that seeks to solve some of the most challenging problems facing our society today. I support our project teams in developing and executing strategies to inform and effect public policy at the state level.

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

When I started college at KU, I could have never envisioned the career that I’ve had. Rather, professors such as Loomis, Cigler, Johnson in the Political Science Department piqued my interest in politics.

I’ve bounced back and forth between Kansas and Washington, D.C. several times – I’ve worked in government, on political campaigns, for a non-profit. I’ve been open to following opportunities when and where they have arisen.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Serving as the speechwriter for then Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius was an early highlight of my career. The role I played as Chief of Staff to the House Minority Leader in electing 12 new Democrats to the Kansas House in 2016 is something I am profoundly proud of because it changed the course of our state’s history.

Recently, I worked to pass a bill in Ohio that reforms payday loans and will save citizens $75 million a year – that felt pretty good.

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

I ran for the Kansas Legislature in 2014 and lost. While losing is never fun, the process of campaigning for elected office stretched me both personally and professionally. From that loss came the opportunity to serve as Chief of Staff to the House Minority Leader, a position that allowed me to be equally as involved in the legislative process.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I don’t know where I will be physically – on a farm in rural Kansas, in the U.S. Capitol Building in D.C., or somewhere else unknown, but I do know I will be working to make our community, state, nation, or world a better place for everyone.

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

Building relationships is important. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how hard you work, you will still need the help of other people to succeed.

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

In pursuing my bachelor’s, I learned the basics of political theory and developed my passion for politics. In obtaining my master’s, I learned to look at issues from multiple perspectives. In earning my doctorate, I honed my analytical skills and developed confidence in my ability to produce solutions to problems well-grounded in research. Each of these skills are critical to engaging in the political process and working with lawmakers to develop public policy.   

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Be direct, honest, and forthcoming – people may not always like what you say, but they will appreciate knowing where you stand.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I’m not very good at clocking out. My brain is constantly thinking about project ideas and things I need to do. When I’m out with friends I’m likely talking politics, and even when I’m in bed I’m generally reading the news or checking Twitter. D.C. isn’t known for its healthy work-life balance.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I used to raise chickens!

Be like Abbie. Hone your skills, keep your eyes on the prize, and search for solutions to the problems that matter most to you. For more information, see the Pew Charitable Trusts, and explore the Department of Political Science and the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas.

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.

Sarah Wright: Depth of Field

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 11:50

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

I’m from Overland Park, Kansas. I decided to come to KU because I attended a summer camp here with Duke TiP in middle school, and I absolutely fell in love with campus. It’s also a nice mix of just close enough to home, but just far enough, too.

Describe your areas of study and academic interests in a couple of sentences that we can all understand, and tell us why these subjects are important to you:

I’ve always been a creatively oriented person with skills in math and science, so I feel like this is a good marriage of the two different areas I like- I enjoy my classes and they work well together.

Photo by Caleb Simpson

For example, if I ever wanted to do freelance photo or video work in the future, I have the skills to successfully run a business and the skills to create amazing video. It also provides a huge pool of potential careers, which is helpful to think about in the later years of college.

Why did you choose your major(s)? 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?

I actually came into KU as a Women’s Studies major and had been trying to decide on a second major (I had considered everything from Political Science to Religious Studies). I fell in love with FMS after taking FMS 177, the first-year seminar that also tied into a history class. I also made my closest friends in this class, and that’s when it hit me that I wanted to major in Film & Media Studies, doing the production track.

Getting into Business took a little longer, because the amount of prerequisite foundation courses and the credit hours was extremely daunting. When I discussed it with people close to me, they suggested it because it provides a lot of career opportunities and gives me better security should I decide to freelance- courses like Business Law would help me out in the nitty-gritty like drafting client contracts for a shoot.

What is the most exciting part of your major(s) and/or minor(s)? What do you think is most valuable about your experiences in these programs?

The most exciting part is learning concepts that are applicable to my life and experience, such as in business classes. The most exciting part of film is getting encouraged to be creative and to not be afraid of my abilities or what I can create.

It’s the best confidence boost, and it makes me feel at peace with confidence in my talent, which I know can be common among filmmakers, photographers, and all other kinds of artists. And I think experience in a social science, such as women’s studies, is beyond valuable in today’s ever-political world, because it encourages you to keep an open mind and observe the world around you and notice social/identity aspects you may have not even considered before. It’s eye-opening to realize there are issues other groups of people face that you didn’t even know about since you’re not part of that group.

How did you get into photography? What do you enjoy most about that? Are there any particular themes or subjects you like to explore?

My family has always been super connected to photography- my dad was a photographer for the student newspaper and yearbook at his high school (he still dabbles in it a bit).

I got to take a photography elective in high school, and my parents gave me the old Canon film camera they used on their honeymoon. Once I learned how to use it, I was given my first DSLR for Christmas, and I’ve been incredibly involved in photography ever since. During my freshman year, I applied to the University Daily Kansan as a photo correspondent, and then got promoted to a paid photographer after my first semester- now I’ve made it all the way to being the Photo Editor! It’s one big family and has helped me grow as a photographer in ways I didn’t know I could.

I love photography because I struggle with anxiety and a cramped schedule, so photography as a creative outlet is very relaxing and calming for me. Even in chaotic events, such as loud concerts or protests, I’m kind of “in the zone” and I’m in my own world.

I think my favorite theme or subject would be community. I love taking photos around the University and Lawrence as a whole. I also love when I get assigned to cover events for work that take place as a community gathering, because candids of people having fun without a care make me so happy, because sometimes it can be difficult to capture the pure, unadulterated happiness in someone’s face when they’re having fun.

Is there a particular professor or mentor you’d like to give a shout out?

I’d like to shout out the professor of the class that convinced me to switch my major- Professor Germaine Halegoua from the FMS department. Even though the last class of hers I took was online and I took FMS 177 in freshman year, we still catch up whenever we see each other on campus and she has been beyond uplifting and encouraging when I mention any of my accomplishments from work!

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

I’d say being in the College allowed me to experiment with what kinds of classes I like taking, and a lot of the courses I was experimenting with ended up fulfilling KU Core requirements! I also love how I meet people outside of my majors when I take CLAS classes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my classmates (and you’ll see a lot of the same people semester after semester in FMS), but it’s still cool to meet new people! I’ve made cool friends in those classes who I probably never would’ve even met otherwise. Also, free t-shirts!

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

I’d have to say one of my favorite classes is one I took this semester: Cinematography (FMS 376). I’ve always had an admiration for good cinematography, and it was incredible to be able to learn it a little more in-depth for the whole semester. We learned the fundamentals at first, and then in the second half of the semesters we acted as directors of photography on our own individual projects, where we could play with any element of cinematography- some people used cranes, some used handheld camera techniques, and some worked with unique lighting setups. In my project, I experimented with how light colors affect the emotion of a scene. Plus, Professor Jacobson made the class a total blast.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or any other learning experiences you’d like to share? If so, what was that like?

I got super lucky to find an internship the summer after my freshman year that I really liked- I was a photography intern for the City of Olathe. I will say, it was extremely difficult to balance an internship (even if it wasn’t full-time) and being in accounting classes or 3 hours a day all summer, but I love how it kept me busy and it definitely made me capable of staying sane when I have a lot on my plate. While I don’t think it’s ideal to overload yourself every summer with both internships and classes, it’s not the end of the world if that’s what happens!

What would you tell your freshman self?

“Always shoot your shot and never be afraid to ask for help with anything.”

Photo by Caleb Simpson

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Ah, every college student’s favorite question. I’m still trying to take in all the options ahead of me, but ideally, I’d really like to do photography or videography work or an esports organization! I find the industry super fascinating (and fun!), and it’s also growing at a rapid pace with job opportunities popping up left and right.

This other one is a long shot, but I’d love to make a career out of doing BTS photography on film sets. I’ve done a bit of BTS for my cinematography class, and it was really fun on top of providing me memories of the class to look back at.

What motivates you?

I think that what motivates me is that I want to be proud of myself (even if that sounds a little narcissistic). Sometimes I get so busy I wonder why I’m pursuing two full degrees and a minor, but it’s because I want to accomplish as much as possible so I can look at those pieces of paper and say “hey, I did that!” because persevering and finishing something successfully makes me, well, super proud of myself. I think as humans in general, we all love seeing the results of our hard work and want to show it off, and that feeling specifically is what encourages me to persevere through all the work it takes to get there.

Be like Sarah. Find your fit, and seize opportunities to “shoot your shot.” For more information, see the Department of Film and Media Studies, the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the School of Business, and the University Daily Kansan at the University of Kansas. Also, check out some of Sarah’s incredible photography on her Instagram profile.

Hawks to Watch: Crystle Lampitt, TV Host and Producer

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 11:51

Why Crystle’s a Hawk to Watch:

Crystle Lampitt’s road to hosting and producing for television was not without a few twists and turns. After years spent overseas, traveling across the globe from South Africa to Hong Kong and Australia, pursuing modelling jobs, bartending, editing documentaries, and teaching pre-school, she returned to Kansas City with scarce finances and an inconsistent work schedule. Trying to make ends meet, she took a chance on a part-time gig hosting for KMCI. It payed off. And in that opportunity, and the individuals she crossed paths with, Crystle found inspiration to make a difference in her community by giving voice to its people through news and storytelling.

Go behind the scenes with Crystle and see how her career in media allows her to tell stories of community and compassion, leading to connections on and off the air.

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

I am a TV Host and Producer. I host a daily, live morning show called “Kansas City Live” on channel 41 (KSHB or 41 Action News), and I host and produce a weekly music series called “Behind the Spotlight,” that airs on channel 38 (KMCI or 38 the Spot).

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

In my first year of undergrad I was offered a modeling contract in Singapore for 3 months, so I sped through that first year to take it. From that point forward, I attended regular classes in Lawrence during the school year, then spent my summers overseas wherever I could score a contract while taking online classes. I graduated early so I could pursue a full-time modeling career that took me to South Africa, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Australia. The work wasn’t always consistent, so I took side jobs wherever I could—I bartended, and I edited TV pitch reels remotely for a documentary filmmaker—and I also ended up finding full time work as a preschool teacher in Sydney, Australia, due to my previous experience nannying and working as a teacher aide while a student at KU. It was a fun and challenging job, but I eventually had to come back to the States as my work visa was close to expiring.

When I came back to Kansas City after years overseas, it felt like a totally different city. I had little money to my name and I needed some consistency in my life. Thus, I moved into my parents’ basement and took on more hours editing TV show pitch reels and freelancing as a videographer. Around this same time, there was an open casting call for a hosting position at channel 38. I went on a limb and showed up to the casting along with 1,000 others, and, after 3 months of interviews, writing tests, screen tests, and more, the job was mine! It was part-time, but it was something. So, I continued working in production, modeling, and nannying, while hosting for 38 to make ends meet.

Eventually, the job at 38 expanded to full time, and I also became a fill-in host for the morning show on channel 41, a fill-in digital reporter for the 4pm newscast, and the entertainment reporter for the 7am newscast. Now, I host the 10am morning show daily and I host and produce a weekly series featuring local and national music artists. I get to interview so many interesting artists, entrepreneurs, authors, athletes, and more. One of my favorite things about my job now is getting to spotlight nonprofit organizations and individuals in Kansas City who are truly making the world a better place. I am inspired by other people’s enthusiasm and I love sharing positive stories with our viewers each day.

I am also currently pursuing a Master of Social Work at KU to expand on my work in media and the community.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

She felt I was a positive influence in her children’s lives. That really touched me. I will never claim to be a perfect paragon of virtue, but to hear that a complete stranger thought of me as a role model for her daughters made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

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

There was a time that I was working day and night while going through some health issues, and just barely sleeping or taking care of myself. I had volunteered to take on more than I should have at work, while trying to keep up with my community volunteer activities on my own time and it was all wearing me down. After one particularly difficult taping of our music show, Behind the Spotlight, some of my colleagues gave me a harsh critique. I simply had no free time to focus on my growth and creativity and I was struggling to come up with original content ideas at that time. The pressure to appear perfectly put together while juggling all my behind-the-scenes work with my on-camera work, and community appearances was just too much. My personal life and health were suffering greatly because I wanted to “do it all.” I remember saying out loud to a manager, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” I thought my TV days were coming to an end. It was a reality check. Improving my situation necessitated some difficult talks about my job responsibilities and where I could cut back. I had to learn to say NO to many obligations and opportunities, because I simply could not be everywhere at once.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I would love to continue working in television as a host and producer, spotlighting the important stories that affect our community.

I love people and all their passions and idiosyncrasies, so I hope to continue learning about others while becoming a more tolerant individual myself.

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

“Try your best to enjoy the journey. You will not wake up one morning feeling like you’ve just ‘figured it all out,’ so you may as well make time for joy and gratitude every day.”

Also, “You’re literally allergic to everything in the air except for dog dander and that is why you’re sick most of the time. Start getting allergy shots stat!”

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Even if it seems unlikely that you’ll get a job, a promotion, etc., it never hurts to try. Plus, you never know where a seemingly unconnected opportunity or connection will take you later.

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

Whether that was in the form of writing a research paper or a script, or just forming cohesive ideas to pitch as a story, it was important for me to practice my writing skills in school to be able to do what I do now.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

My favorite thing to do is eat. Indonesian food and American comfort food (mac and cheese!) make me happiest. I also love being outdoors and doing yoga, and watching “Friends” reruns with my dog, Kira. I’m close with my family, and we regularly get together to eat and play with my nephews. When I’m near a body of water, I enjoy scuba diving (not very often given my present geographic location)!

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I was born in Cairo, Egypt, and raised mostly in Indonesia before moving to the States in middle school. I speak Indonesian and English and still visit my family overseas frequently.

Be like Crystle and “enjoy the journey” wherever it may lead. For more information, visit Kansas City Live, KSHB, and 38 the Spot. Also, explore the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas.

Habitat: Explore what makes Mary Klayder’s office a home away from home

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 13:25
Our habitat is about more than just spaces to learn, grow and work. So much of what makes the College unique is the people who inhabit our spaces. Throughout her time at KU, Director of Undergraduate Studies and University Honors Lecturer Mary Klayder has served as a mentor to her students with hundreds sitting in the wicker chair in her office to receive advice. See how Mary has turned her office into a welcoming space on campus for students.

 As the #HeartofKU, the College inhabits spaces across our campus. See where we learn, create and change the world. Explore our habitat.