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Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

Lawrence Talks! bridges KU scholarship and Lawrence community

Wed, 02/24/2021 - 15:28

In an era where opinion is often mistaken for fact, a group of KU doctoral students turned podcast producers are on a quest to sort reality from fiction and uncover what is true, good, and beautiful in the world — one episode at a time.

With their interdisciplinary project Lawrence Talks!, David Tamez, Michael Otteson, Kevin Watson, and contributors hope to build bridges between KU academics and the wider community in Lawrence, Kansas. And using philosophy as a lens through which to debate and rigorously examine big issues, the team is tackling many of modern society’s most pressing and polarizing questions: Should free speech be restricted? Is artificial intelligence ethical? Why stay home during the pandemic?

See what David, Michael, and Kevin had to say about the initiative’s origins in the turbulent 2016 election, advice for students wanting to launch their own projects, and how they hope to inspire community conversation.

Where did the idea for Lawrence Talks come from, and what do you hope to achieve through the project?

Tamez: As cliché or as controversial as it might be, the idea came from two sources. The first, unfortunately, came from the 2016 Presidential election. Not just for the results, as concerning as these were, but for how the issues of the day were treated. Second, opinions, much of the time, were treated as fact and were not well explored or analyzed. One would have to turn to new sources for more long-form in-depth discussions of the issues. But, most people are exposed to discussions that fail to provide thoughtful and level headed commentary.

Our goal is a simple one – to serve as a bridge between KU academics and the Lawrence community. From my experience, there is a real desire on the community’s part to hear about the research being done on campus. Second, we just want to serve an important role in generating conversations that bring people from various viewpoints and backgrounds together.

At some point, I hope that Lawrence Talks can develop into a resource that can assist local community members and local government in their decision-making, especially in matter of ethics and justice. The idea is for it be something not just of KU but more so of the community. We want knowledge to be truly democratized and shared with the public.

What is one thing you hope listeners will take away from the podcast?

Tamez: Primarily, we would like listeners at recognize there are often more than two ways to look at an issue. Second, I hope people recognize that when discussing a topic or when introducing a topic, that we are not interested in discussing the weakest versions of a point of view. We do our best to employ the principle of charity. If our approach and motivation could be boiled down to a single principle, it would be this one. To always base our analysis on the best version of a given idea, argument, or way of thinking. Another view we would say we challenge is that the sort of ideas we hold are insignificant in our decision-making. Unexamined beliefs can prove deleterious to a well-functioning society.

Otteson: I hope listeners can listen to our podcast and think about issues in our local community and the world more generally in way that they had not before. Even if it doesn’t change your mind on any given subject, perhaps it can help deepen or enrich what you already believe. We talk about a variety of topics, so there is a lot of different vectors for people to learn or take something away from the podcast. I know that I have learned a great deal myself from some of our incredible guests and contributors. Overall, hopefully this podcast can serve as reminder that there is a great that we don’t know. Individuals can only learn so much, and this project has certainly reminded me of this personally.

Watson: I just hope listeners keep an open mind while thinking critically about what’s being discussed.

How do you apply lessons or skills you’ve gained through your research and experiences at KU to your podcast work?

Tamez: One thing that philosophers are known for, and something we like to think we are good at, is cutting through the issues by asking the right questions. We try doing this by organizing a problem into a few essential parts and then questioning those elements. All of this starts and ends with asking the right questions. And philosophy can be applied anywhere and by anyone.

Otteson: Academic philosophy, like many other academic disciplines, requires a familiarity with what professionals and scholars have said before you came into the proverbial conversation. One of the key foundations of discourse is listening and understanding to what other people have to say, and this is something that motivated me to start Lawrence Talks with David. If we want to answer important questions about politics, morality, or just about anything else, we need to have some conception of what came before us. It takes too long to reinvent the wheel every time a new generation or individual looks at these problems with fresh eyes.  None of us are smart enough to figure everything out on our own, so we must rely on the wisdom of what others. 

Do you have any advice for others about getting involved in podcasting or other interdisciplinary projects?

Tamez: One piece of advice, at least for people who might be a little reluctant to put themselves out there (as I was) – be audaciously persistent. Persistence can go a long way in making up for the natural fear that comes with being turned down. One should not be afraid of being turned down or turned away when seeking help or people to collaborate with on a project. Rather, expect to be turned down and prepare yourself for it by coming up with back up plans. On the mental side of it, prepare yourself for the feeling that comes with being told “no.” But, honestly, and this is my experience, we have been told yes more times than we have been told no. Researchers want to make their work available to the public, to speak to general audiences about how their work is relevant to community issues, and general audiences want to know what people are up to on the hill.

However, I will say, what may be more motivating or effective than persistence – is working on something you love and find meaningful. If it’s not something you enjoy talking about and enjoy speaking to others about, then you won’t be as successful or at least as persistent. I think the three of us, and others involved in our project enjoy the most is talking about ideas. And, further than that, it’s watching and listening to others talk about their ideas. Its inspiring and there is a great deal of energy in listening to others talk and discuss their work passions.

Otteson: While we are still relatively new to this, I think one of the key elements of what helps us embark on this project is drinking deeply from literature and writing from outside of our discipline. I personally spend a lot of time talking with people who help me think through some of the questions and topics I am interested in. Many of these individuals are quite different in disposition, background, and outlook than myself. In person conversation is a great way of thinking through topics of morality and politics. Most people don’t change their minds about substantial topics quickly. It takes a great deal of thought to make new beliefs fit in with the rest of our experiences and perspective, especially if the new beliefs radically alter what we believed before. The best way to do this is by talking to people who have a different worldview than we do repeatedly.  It’s harder to ignore difficulties or pitfalls in our belief systems if other people cause us to face them regularly.  

Watson: I would say the most important part of getting involved in interdisciplinary projects is finding people with diverse interests who enjoy thinking and talking about a diverse set of topics. 

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU or in the Lawrence community who has helped you.

Tamez: Sarah Bishop and Brian Rosenblum, Emily Ryan, KU Commons, Aron Muci and his team at KU Center for Latin and Caribbean Studies, Dr. Luke Murry of the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, Dr. Sarah Robins, Dr. John Symons and Dr. Brad Cokelet of the Philosophy Department, and there are so many others. We are also currently working with the Lawrence Public Library, United Way Douglas Co. and LATTE (an anti-trafficking task group) on current and future projects.

This project would not be as successful without the advice, feedback, and contributions all of these individuals have made to Lawrence Talks. There is such a great air of collaborative spirit here at KU, and it’s really easy if you simply ask (and of course have a full-fledged idea). People will see your passion and will want to be a part of it. 

What motivates you?

Tamez: So much motivates me about this project. The ideas, the people, and the stories we come by. Right now, we are working with local Lawrence groups like the Douglas chapter of United Way and LATTE on podcast episodes and discussions of topics like digital selves, respecting autonomy, and criminalizing the poor. The purpose, to be clear, is not to discuss ideas for mere intellectual delight, although this is fine too. That’s what I hope is made clear by our work, is that yes, it’s a philosophy podcast, but it’s not just about the ideas. It’s about the impact or influence ideas can have in thinking about what we ought to do given the circumstances. What does x imply about the community’s value of human life? What sort of principles are apparent in our city’s decision to enact a certain policy? What prevents us from helping the poor, or recognizing that they are deserving of our assistance? 

Otteson: I want to learn more about what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.  I can’t think of a better human life.  Lawrence Talks is one small part of that.  It is my job as a philosopher to pursue wisdom, and the people I’ve had a chance to talk to have helped me find a little bit more of it.  

Watson: I am a first-generation student from a working-class family who has done their best to support me throughout my academic career; I just want to make my family proud and ensure the sacrifices they have made for me were worth it. My mother has struggled to keep a roof over our heads for the majority of my life, relying on our immediate family to have a place to live. For people in a position like my own, an academic career seemed unattainable—but here I am.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kansas.

Alaina DeLeo investigates bride kidnapping through accelerated master’s program

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 15:15

Complex issues demand patience, attention to detail, and an open mind to fully grasp. Which is why College master’s student Alaina DeLeo chose to continue her research on narcotics trafficking and bride kidnapping as part of the KU Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies’ (CREES) accelerated graduate program.

The accelerated FASt Track program for Foreign Area Officers (FAO) is designed to allow students to delve into their subjects through in-depth coursework while completing their degree is less time than a traditional graduate degree. “I wanted a degree with excellent instruction in a shorter period of time than a traditional master’s degree,” Alaina explains. “The FAO program is much more affordable than a full two-year program and still offered strong language instruction and research opportunities.”

See what Alaina had to say about the College’s Accelerated Master’s Degree program, her immersive study abroad in Siberia, and what people should know about her research.

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

My research focuses on Central Asia, specifically narcotics trafficking and bride kidnapping. My first major research project was on Narcotics Trafficking in Tajikistan and looked specifically at the Tajik government for criminal connections. I had the unforgettable opportunity to present my research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, inspiring me to look further into the Central Asian region. The summer after graduation I spent the summer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to study Russian on the Critical Language Scholarship program. Living in Central Asia gave me a unique view of security and social issues, further inspiring my research. The moment that stands out the most is a heart to heart conversation with my host mother, who told me about her experiences with bride kidnapping. I began interviewing friends, neighbors, and locals about their experiences ultimately leading me to my current research on Kyrgyz bride kidnapping.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research interests?

Many people look at issues such as bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan through an ethnocentric worldview. Keeping an open mind and listening is of the utmost importance. With such a complex issue, looking at the problem without understanding Central Asian history and points of view will result in misunderstandings and major biases in academic work.

Why did you choose to pursue an accelerated master’s degree in the College?

I chose to purse an accelerated master’s degree for several reasons. I wanted a degree with excellent instruction in a shorter period of time than a traditional master’s degree because I am ready to enter the professional world. I also chose this path for economic reasons. The FAO program is much more affordable than a full two-year program and still offered strong language instruction and research opportunities. So far, I love my program and have nothing but great things to say about the staff, instruction, and opportunities available!

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

I love the diversity of viewpoints. Listening to people from all academic backgrounds provides a wide breath of knowledge and teaches multiple ways to problem solve. I find myself learning new things every day and I constantly discover new interests and hobbies through my interactions with students with all different backgrounds.

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

Although I am grateful to so many people, I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Lagotte, Dr. Six, and Dr. Ahmad. I never imagined myself enjoying research or ever going to graduate school, but Dr. Lagotte inspired me to work hard and push myself. I learned an unbelievable amount in his class, and I consider his GIST 698 course the most beneficial class I ever took. I also want to thank Dr. Irina Six for helping me develop my Russian skills, the countless letters of recommendation, and her dedication to helping her students. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Razi Ahmad for his enthusiastic teaching. Dr. Ahmad helped me build not only my Persian language skills, but also taught me so much about the Persian speaking world.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or any other learning experiences you’d like to share?

I had the opportunity to study abroad twice during my time at KU; I even got the chance to sing for the Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan! I spent one year in Siberia during my sophomore year as one of the only Americans on my program. Living in a completely immersive environment allowed me to make unparalleled Russian language gains. I lived with several local Russian indigenous students who taught me about unique Siberian culture and even took me on a week-long trip around the Republic of Buryatia. I also made frequent trips to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world with thousands of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. During my study abroad program I completed a journalism internship where I published over 20 articles about the unique aspects of life and culture in Siberia, learned about arctic preservation, and even got so cold my eyelashes froze! I also studied abroad in Kyrgyzstan, living with a local host family. During my time, my family took me to a special (toi) Kyrgyz celebration. This celebration was a nomadic sports competition taking place for the first time in 30 years, and I was the only westerner in attendance. This was just one of my many incredible experiences overseas, and memories I will cherish forever.

What would you tell your freshman self?

I would tell my freshman self to try new things and not be afraid to branch out. My favorite activities I came across by chance. By taking a simple risk I joined the Bollywood Fusion dance team KU JEEVA, which was my favorite organization during my 4 years. By putting myself out there I got to be President of the Russian club and study abroad, not to mention meet many genuine friends. Try new things and be yourself!

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I want to work in International security and development. I am incredibly passionate about human rights and would love to work in Central Asia!

What motivates you?

I am naturally very intrinsically motivated. I am a very curious person and I love to learn and grow. I make the most out of any situation and strive to be the best I can be!

Be like Alaina. For more information, explore the College’s Accelerated Degrees, the Accelerated Master’s Program – Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, the Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global & International Studies at the University of Kansas.

Habitat: Explore Ancient Artifacts Inside KU’s Wilcox Museum

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 17:07

Inside KU’s historic Lippincott Hall is a unique collection of artifacts from around the Mediterranean. From plaster recreations to ancients coins, the Wilcox Museum provides students and Kansans with access to Greek and Roman history. Go inside this special space in the latest Habitat.

For more information, explore Wilcox Museum and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Hawks to Watch: Richard W. James, ceramicist + sculptor

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 15:40
Why Richard’s a Hawk to Watch:

Some professionals prefer not to mix their work and personal lives. For Richard W. James, the two are inextricably linked. Through his ceramic creations, the visual artist has made a career building a world that’s at once of his own making and also a reflection of powerful external forces each of us grapples with. And using familiar objects — dolls, antiques, cloth, religious icons — to excavate his own rural upbringing and question the limits of human understanding.

As a grad student, the cross-disciplinary focus of KU’s Ceramics program opened Richard’s eyes to the possibilities of his field, prompting him to reexamine his creative approach and output. Now as an assistant professor of art at Texas A&M University—Corpus Christy, he’s sharing his love for the craft with a new generation of artists, in addition to showing his work in exhibits across the U.S. and internationally.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and accolades. Along his way to earning major awards and prestigious artist-in-residence positions, Richard’s path wasn’t without its fair share of roadblocks, rejections, and flat-out failures. Faced with setbacks, he learned to confront his professional challenges with the most effective weapon of all — perseverance. “I like to push against things,” he says. “And failure — in the studio, in my career, etc.— is one of the best things to push against. It gives me fuel.”

We caught up with Richard to find out more about what he’s been up to since graduating in 2016, and what advice he has for young creatives at KU. See what he had to say about pressing on despite obstacles, the value of professional development, why you shouldn’t skimp on hiring a good photographer, and his go-to home loungewear.

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

I am currently an assistant professor of art at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. I teach classes in both ceramics and sculpture each semester and continue to make my own work for exhibitions.

“The Seeders,” 2016.

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

Both really. Looking back now I can see the slow buildup of the “longer journey,” but it’s hard not to feel one bad break away from everything collapsing during the process of getting to where I am now. I’d say the moment when I felt “I had made it” was my acceptance to the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. I will say that I have felt extremely fortunate at every step of the way. Each step was meaningful for me and not easy to come by – my time at KU, my acceptance to Arrowmont and then the Bray, and my opportunity to teach at a research university.

What themes or ideas do you explore through your work?

That’s a tough one to whittle down to a paragraph. In one sentence – It’s about the limitation of knowing. All history, all perceived actions, all understanding of the basic building blocks of communication are filtered through the lenses in which we look; The “Doors of Perception” as William Blake, Aldous Huxley, and Thomas Milton have all written about. During my graduate work at KU, I started to think about the adage “Not all personal work is good, but all good work is personal.” I chose to start the reexamination process with my own background to think about the human limits of understanding.

I grew up in a very rural, religious environment in Tennessee. My work uses the imaginary of dolls, antiques, quilts, and religious icons to question how those early influences still affect how I see the world now, even though I no longer identify with those cultural signifiers. My work also heavily critiques the influence of religion on society. Let’s just say I’m not a fan. I reference psychological studies, recent events, and ancient myths throughout my body of work. I’m always looking for that loose thread to pull on that will lead to a peek behind the curtain of human motivation. I find my work most successful when it carries multiple conversations at once. I usually want at least three avenues into the work, three different lines of questioning that lead to the center. I think about it like a Venn diagram with three narrowly overlapping hazy circles. You don’t need to see it all to “get it”, but the presence of the other narratives is felt, like someone staring at the back of your head. My desire is for my work to feel like there is always something else to discover in the piece. 

Left to right: “Albert VI,” 2017; “Folleree and Folleroo,” 2017; “Dolls,” 2019-20.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

I don’t know if I have a single “biggest” professional achievement. Receiving my MFA from KU, my acceptance into the artist-in-residence programs of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramics Arts, becoming a published writer for magazines, and my tenure track position at a research university are all huge for me. A few awards are up there as well – 2016 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture from Sculpture Magazine and the International Sculpture Center, 2018 Ceramic Monthly Emerging Artist, and as the 2019 Chrysalis Award for Emerging Artist in the field of Contemporary Craft from the James Renwick Alliance.

My biggest achievement overall is, without a doubt, being married for 16 years throughout my career. Everything I have accomplished has only been possible because of my wife. I cannot overstate the impact she has had on my career. She is a role model, patron, editor, coach, critic, educator, emotional pacifier and when needed, drill Sargent, to me. Her presence and effect is woven into all of my work. She is a psychologist, so you can imagine how she might influence/push me and my work.

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

That is an uncomfortable question for me to answer. I could tell you sad stories of years of rejections, all the pressure put on my wife to financially support me while I was failing and while she was building her own career, all the risks and cross country moves my poor child had to make in the process of getting to now. But that seems silly. It worked out for us and those experiences were also very rewarding and intimacy-creating. We had a situation in which we could make those tough choices. I have been privileged and quite frankly, lucky, at several points in my career. Early on in my relationship with my wife she told me that I like to be angry, that I am happiest when I am trying to prove myself. So you might say that I am actually addicted to “picking myself up and moving on.” I like to push against things and failure–in the studio, in my career, etc.– is one of the best things to push against. It gives me fuel.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Drinking in an English countryside pub with my wife.

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

I would probably give my former self a good punch to the face and tell him to start to appreciate education. I didn’t really learn to relish the act of learning and reading until I had already finished undergraduate. I was honestly a pretty terrible student. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized how much information and opportunity I had missed during that time.

“Peter to Pay Paul,” 2015.

What’s your best career pro-tip for students and young artists?

Keep applying, keep going, keep making. Take every workshop you can, you don’t know what you don’t know and I think listening to artists speak candidly while working is the most beneficial activity I have done for my career outside of school. Hire a professional to take pictures of your work, even when you can’t afford it. The images you have of your work are the currency in the art world; it is how you traverse from opportunity to opportunity. Don’t skimp on it. Everyone would love to see work in person, but that’s just not the world we live in. Having professional images is your way into shows, residencies, schools, etc. A good photographer is to an artist what a good producer is to a band.

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

It prepared me for the art world on multiple levels. Both the facilities and faculty are very good, the best I had worked with. It also expanded my horizon of what is possible in the field. KU brought in successful visiting artists, provided support for my summer in China (KU has a strong relationship with organizations in Jingdezhen), allowed me to teach as a grad student, hosted a wood fire conference, and exposed me to a very cross-disciplinary approach to critiquing artwork. Marshal Maude (ceramics) and Tanya Hartman (painting and chair) are fantastic professors with whom I still maintain close relationships. Seeing their example of how to navigate teaching, academia and students while still continuing to create was perhaps more valuable than any class I could have taken.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

 Watch an episode of Poirot on BBC with my wife.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I wear a wrap skirt when I’m relaxing at home. I have been for about 16 years now, it’s the best. My 14-year old son is starting to do it. He gets it.

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the Department of Visual Art at the University of Kansas. Explore more of Richard’s work here.

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. 

Unwinding: Steven Soper discusses new COVID test

Thu, 02/04/2021 - 12:45

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, testing has been under scrutiny. From a lack of tests to delays in results, there have been signs that these systems need improvement. Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Engineering Steven Soper and his team have been working on a solution to make testing more convenient and more affordable. Listen as Dr. Soper breaks down how his team pivoted from working on cancer and stroke diagnoses to tackling testing for COVID-19.

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 to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. The conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a production by KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. 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.

Sam Glaser seeks to better understand coronavirus protein

Fri, 01/29/2021 - 15:06

Sam Glaser wanted to chart his own course at KU. As a student in the College, he was able to do just that by creating his own major. Recognizing the need for a pre-medicine-specific concentration within the physics B.S. program, Sam reached out to program directors across the country and began mapping out a plan for the new concentration area.

In the College, Sam has kept a busy schedule with hands-on research projects as well. During the Summer of 2019, he worked in a pulmonary immunology lab, where he gained exposure to medical research. Soon after, he joined another research lab which was a coronavirus virology lab. And in Fall 2020, he was selected as one of eight KU students to receive an Undergraduate Research Award.

Meet Sam and learn more about how he created his own major, the most valuable parts of his experience, and the KU College mentors who helped him along the way.

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

Overland Park, Kansas. I am the oldest of 8 kids, and it’s been great being close enough to home so I can still visit my siblings and parents, especially my 11-year-old brother, Gus. Choosing KU over my other options was undoubtedly the smartest move I’ve ever made, and if staying close to my family hadn’t influenced that decision, I would have missed out on the best times you can ask for with great lifelong friends.

Why did you choose your major and minors? And how do they complement each other?

Until about winter break of freshman year my degree was still “undecided,” and I had no idea what career to pursue. That break I spent a lot of late nights going over all the possible degree combinations I was interested in. I thought about studying things like math, physics, political science, economics, and women’s studies before I really felt satisfied with the physics + pre-med + Spanish minor option. Fast-forward to fall of sophomore year, I heard about free cheese and pepperoni pizza at a Society of Physics Students meeting. So, I went to the meeting, and while I was eating the pizza, they started to host an election.

I ran and got elected the Undergraduate Representative on the Department Committee where my role was to represent student concerns in the decision-making process behind changes to curriculum and other miscellaneous things. A topic brought up at the very first committee meeting was the need for a pre-medicine-specific concentration within the physics B.S. I told them that was exactly what I was studying anyway, and from there I began calling Directors of Medical Physics at various universities to help me outline an ideal set of courses.

I’ve modified a lot about this degree since then, but making my own major was one of the coolest parts of my KU experience. At one point in the fall of my junior year, many of these classes that I’d planned on taking in the coming spring had been switched to fall-only, so I was left with 6 credit hours for the spring 2019. To fill in the gaps, I took Medical Ethics: Life and Death and Moral Issues in Medicine. That summer I took two more philosophy classes and now I’m in my last one to complete a minor. All in all, the way I decided my degree was to just study what I was most interested in and let it work itself out.

What is the most exciting part of your major and minors?

Probably that most of what I’m learning is directly applicable to practicing medicine or medical research. Classes like immunology, anatomy, and physiology were obviously great for that, but also my physics background has been huge for understanding things like MRIs and PET scans, as well as research techniques involving nuclear magnetic resonance and thermodynamics. I think having Spanish will always be important for engaging with Spanish-only patients and traveling to other countries. The Medical Ethics and Moral Issues in Medicine classes were really interesting to me because as a physician you can encounter a lot of cases that press your moral intuition, so I liked seeing where different sides were coming from as well as learning how those led to actual laws in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

You were named as the recipient of one of eight Undergraduate Research Awards this fall. Please tell us about your research project.

During the summer of 2019 I worked in a pulmonary immunology lab, which is where I got my first exposure to medical research. The mechanism we studied involved a protein family called poly-ADP-ribosylating polymerases (PARPs), which your cells use to promote an immune response. That experience was really cool to me, so I looked on the KU molecular biology website to see if any professors had similar labs that I could join to keep doing research. It turned out that Dr. Anthony Fehr’s coronavirus virology lab studied PARP mechanisms, and at the time I knew nothing about coronaviruses at all. Last school year Dr. Fehr accepted me into his lab, and as his team trained me in his research, the COVID-19 pandemic gradually made its way into lab conversations and eventually grew to where it was on the news.

Last spring, Dr. Fehr explained to me about the UGRA award, and we agreed it would be a perfect opportunity for me to transition from a passive trainee to a more active undergraduate research assistant in the lab. To preface this next part, PARPs work by adding one or multiple ADP-ribose molecules onto DNA-wrapped proteins in order to start manufacturing immunoproteins from those DNA segments. The topic of my UGRA proposal is to understand how a coronavirus ADP-ribosylhydrolase (CARH) protein is able to bind to these ADP-ribose-protein complexes and cleave the ADP-ribose off of it. We already have found that CARH activity is crucial for the virus to thrive and replicate, but we want to know biochemically exactly how CARH kills these ADP-ribose immune signals with the hopes of developing a drug that can specifically disable CARHs but not human proteins.

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

It was nice because a lot of my pre-med friends had already taken the classes I was in, so whenever a topic came up that I really struggled with, we’d talk it over and test our understanding until we were certain we had it. By the same token, my physics classmates and I would meet up at a library and work homework problems out on the white board together, which for me was the best way to learn.

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

Dr. Fehr, Joseph O’Connor, Yousef Alhammad, Nancy Schwarting, Jess Jeannin-Pfannenstiel, Lynden Voth, & Catherine Kerr – Huge thanks to all you guys for everything you’ve taught me about virology and coronaviruses. You guys are brilliant, fun to be around, and have had a lot of patience with my inexperience, and I’ll always be extremely thankful for this chance to work with you on this frontier of the pandemic.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Don’t hesitate to infuse your own fun.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Hopefully go to medical school and become a surgeon.

What motivates you?

Learning new things and making people laugh.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Department of Physics and Astronomy, Department of Philosophy, and Department of Spanish & Portuguese at the University of Kansas.

Hawks to Watch: Jomana Qaddour, foreign policy professional

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 09:54
Why Jomana’s a Hawk to Watch:

Questions about America’s role on the global stage are deeply complex and often controversial: When is intervention appropriate? When is it not? Who gets to decide? Those issues are only further complicated during times of war and political unrest abroad. Through her work as a public servant and humanitarian, Jomana Qaddour is seeking answers to questions about the United States’ international influence — what it is, what it should be, and what it can be.

Jomana’s interest in the U.S.’ relationship with the Middle East — including Syria, her country of birth — dates back to her time as a student at KU, where she earned degrees in human biology and international studies in 2006 and a J.D. in 2009. Since graduating, she’s investigated how policymakers make key decisions, why they make them, and how those calls impact the lives of millions overseas.

According to Jomana, one should avoid saying “yes” to opportunities that don’t leave you hungry to learn more at the end of every day. That mindset has undoubtedly guided her own varied professional journey, which has included roles as a Senior Political Analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a Senior Research Assistant and Publications Manager at the Brookings Institution, an advisor for Syrian Americans for Biden, and co-founder of a humanitarian nonprofit in Syria. Now serving on the Syrian Constitutional Committee, as head of the Syria portfolio at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, and a doctoral student at Georgetown Law, she’s continuing her decade-long exploration of America’s involvement in the Middle East.

We caught up with Jomana, who filled us in on her newest roles and research, her mentorship for immigrant Americans and their children, and why — if you can help it — you shouldn’t take a job that doesn’t motivate you to wake up each morning.

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

I am a foreign policy professional, working on issues that pertain to America’s involvement in the Levant and the Middle East more broadly. I am also a doctoral student at Georgetown University Law Center.

Credit: Georgetown Law.

How did you end up doing what you do?

I have always been fascinated with United States’ role in the Middle East, since my time at KU. I first came to Washington to pursue my legal career, but as the Arab Spring unfolded in 2011, I decided to make it my full-time job. I co-founded a humanitarian nonprofit in Syria, the country of my birth, and I saw first-hand the difficulty of trying to deliver aid in an active war zone, in a context unfamiliar to most Americans (America and Syria have had a strained relationship for decades now). I also saw how helpless one could feel working on conflicts but not full time (I was doing my work at my nonprofit all as a volunteer, and continue to do so). I wanted to better understand how our policy makers made decisions that impacted millions of lives in countries far away – what their interests were, their calculations, and how that impacted local populations in those countries. By 2012, I had left the law firm and landed a job at the Brookings Institution, which was my first professional exposure to foreign policy, and I decided I wanted to make the career change permanent.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Being involved in the establishment and as an advisor for the group Syrian Americans for Biden. I’m incredibly proud of being one of the more senior Syrian Americans committed to public service for this country. Our parents came from countries that didn’t allow for vibrant democracy or even genuine elections, so being a mentor for immigrant Americans and/or children of immigrants and helping foster both a sense of responsibility and the sense of ownership over this country and the direction it is going is a meaningful experience for me. I am also very grateful for the opportunity to start a humanitarian non-profit in Syria that has served millions of Syrians, both inside the country and in neighboring host countries. Our amazing team of 1200 includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, family planning professionals, and engineers – all Syrians – who insist on serving their own countrymen and women. I am proud of do what I can to help facilitate their work and bring attention to their plight.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research interests?

I am interested in understanding what America’s place in the world should be and can be. It can’t do everything, despite the best of intentions and even if we had infinite resources. When is it appropriate to step forward, and when is it most appropriate to let other countries lead?

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

It’s not easy to work on a conflict that has waged on for 10 years, and to watch people you know get killed, displaced, and become refugees in inhospitable lands. But every time I’ve seen this happen, the consolation I have is the great network of friends and colleagues that have experienced this as well, and that realize that we at least have the luxury of watching this as opposed to experiencing it first-hand. A good dose of self-reflection and self-care is necessary, but at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that sometimes we need to take a step back in order to have the energy to move forward.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

No idea! I never thought I would be here 10 years ago. Possibly teaching on the side, given I am working on my dissertation (S.J.D.) at Georgetown Law.

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

Life is unpredictable and if things don’t turn out the way you want them, it will be OK because what you want in life changes, and human beings have a way of adapting and assimilating to change. And usually, life ends up better than you expected it would be. I never thought I would want the things I want today, and I know that I will likely change in the future too – so I try to always leave space for those changes to happen. Nothing is ever fixed.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

If you’re able to, don’t settle for a job that doesn’t motivate you to wake up every morning. Not every job will make us do this, but over the longer term, your desire to do work in the middle of the night, your desire to excel and your thirst for knowledge – all those things come when you are excited about what you do. That kind of energy is what drives me.

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

My professors in law school, especially Professors Raj Bhala and John Head, always reminded us of how big the world was outside of Kansas (I took international law classes with them). They themselves were quite experienced and had worked in different parts of the world, and that always pushed me to dream big and gave me the drive to leave the state and come to a very competitive city like Washington, D.C. I don’t regret it one bit. I also value the friendships I made while at KU, several of which remind me of the sweetness of the Midwest and the learning we did on campus and the nights we spent studying in the library.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I enjoy reading, painting, taking long walks with friends, and most of all, traveling and spending long hours on sunny beaches in the Mediterranean.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

My favorite hike ever was climbing up Mount Batur in Bali, Indonesia. It’s an active volcano, and you have to start the hike at 2 am, but at the top of the mountain you will be met with the most beautiful sunrise of your life.

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the Undergraduate Biology Program, the Center for Global & International Studies, and the School of Law 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. 

15 KU College moments from an extraordinary year

Fri, 12/18/2020 - 11:06

2020 has been — well, take your pick of adjective: Difficult. Uncertain. Unpredictable. Unprecedented. Challenging. By now, we’ve all heard and used these words so many times that they hardly do justice to the collective whiplash and mind-boggling paradigm shifts we’ve adjusted to during the past months.

But even in a year as unusual and downright disruptive as the one we’ve just experienced, there have been countless moments of resilience, celebration, and triumph that have been welcome bright spots, representing the Heart of KU at its very finest. This year has shown us yet again that even in the face of extraordinary adversity, Jayhawks continue to do what they do best — rise to big challenges, seek bold solutions, and inspire their communities, no matter what curveballs are pitched their way.

So as we bid farewell to 2020 and look ahead to a year full of new possibilities, new opportunities, and — no doubt — new challenges, we’re recapping 2020 with 15 defining stories that intrigued, dazzled, and inspired us. And that proved yet again what our communities are capable of accomplishing, against all odds and under the strangest of circumstances.

So long, 2020. And here’s to the start of a new chapter.

Jayhawks join forces to curb coronavirus’ spread

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt across the globe, students, alumni, faculty, and staff from the College brought their expertise to the frontlines, applying their diverse talents in labs, hospitals, non-profits, kitchens, essential businesses, and home work stations. There’s strength in numbers, and if this year showed us anything, it’s that incredible things happen when Jayhawks come together with a common goal.

Unwinding with College researchers

Researchers in the College are searching for answers to big questions — how to make cities more compassionate, human trafficking prevention, global health. In the Unwinding podcast, we talk with them about their latest discoveries, why they matter, and what makes them tick as humans.

This year, our conversations spanned topics ranging from efforts to close the gender gap in politics and what we can learn from zombies in popular TV shows and movies to who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and why Zora Neale Hurston’s work resonates in the era of Black Lives Matter. Stream new episodes on Spotify.

11 KU faculty members honored with 2020 College Awards

Faculty contributions in research, teaching and mentoring were recognized this spring with a series of awards from the College. The prizes acknowledge outstanding professors for commitment to advising and teaching undergraduate and graduate students, as well as community-engaged research.

This year’s honorees:

Community Engaged Scholarship Award 

  • Gregory Rudnick, professor of physics & astronomy 

Steeples Service to Kansans Award

  • Claudia Dozier, associate professor of applied behavioral science
  • Scott Harris, senior specialist and KU Debate coach, Department of Communication Studies
  • Ken Fischer, professor of mechanical engineering

Gene A. Budig Teaching Professorship Award

  • Alison Gabriele, professor of linguistics

Byron A. Alexander Graduate Mentor Award

  • James Bever, Distinguished Foundation Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

John C. Wright Graduate Mentor Award

  • Jarron Saint Onge, associate professor of sociology

Grant Goodman Undergraduate Mentor Award

  • Bruce Hayes, professor of French literature & culture

J. Michael Young Academic Advisor Award 

  • Kevin McCannon, lecturer and academic program associate, Department of Sociology
  • Laura Mielke, Dean’s Professor of English
  • Maya Stiller, associate professor of the history of art
Jayhawks flock to Iowa ahead of 2020 caucuses

Two months before the pandemic became the center of collective national attention in the U.S., political rivals across the ideological spectrum journeyed to Iowa with their teams for a marathon of non-stop campaigning, hand-shaking, and rallies in an all-hands-on-deck final push to amplify their messages and ultimately find a path to victory.

As the events unfolded in the Hawkeye State, back when the democratic race seemed to be anyone’s game, three research teams of undergraduate and graduate students, along with their faculty advisors, from the University of Kansas, South Florida State University, and the University of Alabama went out in the field to see how candidates’ messages were playing with caucus goers. They explained how their findings could reveal insights about American voters’ preferences, biases, and hopes for the country’s future.

Bringing Black authors’ work out of digital shadows Part of the collection of the Project on the History of Black Writing. Credit: Rick Hellman / KU News Service

First, the Project on the History of Black Writing worked to preserve physical copies of novels by Black writers, often rescuing works from dusty attics and estate sales. In the 21st century, HBW began digitizing its library. And now, with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, it is moving to make the collection even more accessible to future scholars worldwide.

For Maryemma Graham, the HBW project — growing out of her grad school discoveries in 1983 — came with her to the University of Kansas in 1999. Now the Distinguished Professor of English is one of three principal investigators for a $500,000, two-year grant that will bring the collection out of the digital shadows.

Hawks to Watch: Young alumni making their mark

Having recently graduated, our Hawks to Watch are just starting to leave their mark in their industries and communities. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it.

We caught up with some of our recent alums about their work, plans for the future, and how they’re navigating this year’s many challenges and plot twists. Meet our newest Hawks, whose career paths and individual stories – a former NFL athlete, an energy justice advocate, a professional dancer inspiring change outside of the studio, a molecular virologist working to develop faster testing for COVID-19, and so many others – showcase the endless possibilities of a KU degree in the liberal arts and sciences.

Undergraduate student discovers 18 new species of aquatic beetle in South America

It would be striking for a seasoned entomologist with decades of fieldwork to discover such a large number of species unknown to science. But for Rachel Smith, an undergraduate majoring in ecology & evolutionary biology, the find is extraordinary: Smith recently published a description of 18 new species of aquatic water beetle from the genus Chasmogenus in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

“The average size of these beetles, I would say, is about the size of a capital ‘O’ in a 12-point font,” said Smith of the collection of new species. “They spend a lot of their life in forest streams and pools. They’re aquatic, so they’re all great swimmers — and they can fly.”

KU joins ALICE project at Large Hadron Collider with new funding from Department of Energy

Daniel Tapia Takaki, associate professor of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas, has created a new research team at KU to exploit the unique opportunities to research physics at high energies available at the ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest and most complex particle accelerator in the world.

For his new research program at ALICE, Tapia Takaki recently earned a $447,000, two-year award from the Nuclear Physics program in the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. The award is titled “Research in Heavy-Ion Nuclear Physics: Studying the Initial State of QCD Matter.” He has also received funding to serve as a visiting professor at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California-Berkeley during the 2020-2021 academic year.

College alum tapped by Governor Kelly to fill Lt. Governor position

College alum and Kansas Secretary of Commerce David Toland has been appointed by Governor Laura Kelly to serve as the state’s next Lieutenant Governor. Toland, who earned a B.A. in political science in 1999 and an M.P.A. in city management & urban policy in 2001, will begin serving in his new role in January.
“Jobs and economic growth have never been more important than now, and building on the tremendous gains of the economic development team at the Department of Commerce will continue to be my focus going forward,” he said in a press release from the Governor’s Office.

Oscar-winning College professor releases two new films Photo: Associated Press.

Filmmaker and professor of film & media studies Kevin Willmott followed an extremely busy awards season with two new releases this year. Willmott and writing partner Spike Lee, who directed 2019’s “BlacKkKlansman,” teamed up again for “Da Five Bloods,” an action drama that chronicles five Black veterans’ journey back to Vietnam. “There’s been a few small films that dealt with the black Vietnam experience, but nothing like this,” Willmott said of the film, which premiered on Netflix on June 12. And with “The 24th,” co-written, co-produced and directed by Willmott and released via independent distributor Vertical Entertainment on Aug. 21, the KU professor provides a timely look at police violence during the Houston Riot of 1917.

College KUdos: This year’s roundup of good news

Faculty, staff, students, and alumni in the College bring life to the Heart of KU through their hard work and amazing support. And in a year full of so many anxiety-inducing headlines and news alerts, we’ll take all of the good news we can get! From election wins and film festival selections to teaching awards, student scholarships, and White House Fellowships, see the latest achievements from the College in one place here.

Explore KU’s Max Kade Center

Ever wonder what’s in the stone house nestled on the northwest corner of campus? In this episode of Habitat, watch as we explore the interior of the Max Kade Center for German-American Studies. As part of the German Studies Department, the Center provides a link to German immigration to America and Kansas. See why it’s one of KU’s best hidden gems.

Federal grant bolsters Russian, East European, Eurasian studies at KU Photo: Students attending the 2019 CREES spring festival. Credit: Courtesy CREES

With the phrase “Russian hacker” on everyone’s lips, a federal grant will give KU more tools to study the area of the world from which the threat is deemed to emanate.

Increasing expertise and course offerings in the areas of cybersecurity and intelligence is just one purpose to which KU’s Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREES) will put a newly announced two-year, $426,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The money will also strengthen the university’s language and other course offerings and support outreach to the surrounding community.

But foremost, as stated in its grant application, compiled by Vitaly Chernetsky, former CREES director and associate professor of Slavic and Eurasian languages & literatures, the new CREES programs are designed to “respond to critical national needs,” including the intelligence capabilities that foreign language speakers can provide.

A big year of recognition for College scholars

Representing the very best of KU, numerous scholars from the College were recognized this year for excellence in teaching, dedication to research, and outstanding contributions to their respective fields. Here are just a few of this year’s honors and honorees:

  • Maryemma Graham, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English and the founder and director of the Project on the History of Black Writing, was named as the 2020 Chancellors Club Teaching Award recipient.
  • Sarah Deer, who has a joint appointment in the School of Public Affairs & Administration and Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, was named a University Distinguished Professor. She was also selected as one of 27 researchers in the 2020 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows.
  • Donna Ginther, professor in the Department of Economics, was awarded a Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professorship.
  • Joan Sereno, professor of linguistics, and Joane Nagel, University Distinguished Professor of Sociology, were named as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
  • Bozenna Pasik-Duncan, professor of mathematics, was named to the 2021 Class of Fellows for the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) for her support and encouragement of women and girls in mathematics and engineering.
A Year in Instagram Photos

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But considering the stunning images we saw over the past twelve months, that figure seems far too low. This year, members of the KU College community shared with us their photos capturing the beauty of Mount Oread and its iconic landmarks, moments of discovery, celebration and creation, and the extraordinary perseverance of our Jayhawks, who pushed ahead to pursue their dreams and make new connections in spite of physical distance.

Keep up with the latest news from the Heart of KU. Check out recent stories on the College blog, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and explore our website.

Hawks to Watch: Don Davis, senior director of player affairs for the NFLPA

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 13:47
Why Don’s a Hawk to Watch:

Don Davis’s love for the game of football runs deep. With two Super Bowl rings to his name and 11 years of professional playing experience under his belt, the Kansas native is continuing to leave his mark on the sport — this time, off the field.

Born and raised in Olathe, Don played as a three-year starter with the Kansas Football team, racking up 238 tackles and 9.5 sacks during his time at KU. A College graduate, he earned his B.G.S. in Human Development in 1997, a focus, he says, that sharpened his communication skills and shaped his outlook on the value of lifelong learning.

After years playing with the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams, in 2003 Don signed with his final team — the New England Patriots. During his four seasons as a linebacker for the Patriots, the team chalked up two Super Bowl victories in 2003 and 2004. Now retired as an athlete, Don is on a mission to improve working conditions for football players as the Senior Director of Player Affairs for the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). A tireless advocate for athletes’ rights, he’s applying his strategic strengths and longtime passion for education to fight for fair wages, hours, and treatment for NFL players.

Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images.

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

I advocate for the rights of professional football players and work to improve their wages, hours and working conditions.

How did you end up doing what you do?

During my professional career I had the pleasure of being voted as player representative six times. This opened my eyes to the NFLPA and how valuable the organization is to players.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

I oversee the engagement and education of all active players in the NFL. We have worked hard to improve the relationship with our players and I am most proud of the fact that we have increased the number of players who attend our annual events.

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

In 2014, I had coworkers questions my integrity and character. This was especially difficult because I considered these two individuals my friends. The only way I was able to move through that year was to keep my head down and focus on my work. I had to ignore the noise around me and trust that in the end that the truth would eventually come out. I am thankful that it did.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I have a passion for teaching. Education is the ultimate equalizer. In ten years, I hope to be on a tenured track at a university and running a sports institute that focuses on athletes.

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

Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. Know exactly who you are and never try to be something you are not. In the end, you will work way too hard to gain the appreciation of people who don’t matter.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

I have two: Under-promise and over-deliver, and master the mundane.

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

Human Development is all about learning, growth and people. My degree has allowed me to communicate with a diverse group of people and engage in the process of being a lifelong learner.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

100% family man. I have no real hobbies. I work, workout and spend my time with my family.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I am 100% an introvert, even though I fake extroversion on a daily basis.

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

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. 

Unwinding: Emily Vietti works to close leadership gender gaps

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 10:49

August 18, 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. 100 years later, women still lag behind men in holding elected office both nationally and regionally. Institute for Leadership Studies Lecturer/Program Associate and Communication Studies Ph.D. Candidate Emily Vietti is working to close the gaps. Hear about her research on gender gaps in politics, her work with Appointments Project & Ready to Run Kansas Women’s Leadership Series, and how she is hoping to inspire more women to run for office on the latest Unwinding.

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 to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. The conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a production by KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. 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.

Source for blog intro can be found here.

Mason Hussong

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 14:58

Mason Hussong’s passion for language goes back to high school, where he spent four years studying Latin. After learning about KU’s nationally renowned Slavic Language program and earning a scholarship from the KU Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, he knew it was the right fit for him.

His interest in Russian was sparked by an introductory class that inspired him to a double major in Slavic and Eurasian Languages, and Literatures and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies. This allowed him to work alongside a diverse student body and enrich himself in the culture and language he’s come to love by studying abroad. In Riga, Latvia, Mason took immersive Russian courses and went on excursions to surrounding countries, an experience that confirmed he had chosen the right academic and career path.

Meet Mason and learn about where he plans to study abroad next, his new job with the Navy, and a KU professor that’s helped him direct his passion.

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

My triplet brothers and I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. I am a fourth generation Jayhawk (skipped a generation with my grandparents, but great-great grandmother, great grandmother, and both my parents attended KU). At first, I was hesitant to head to the alma mater of my parents, but after I learned about the nationally renounced Slavic Language program and received a 4-year Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship to KU, I was sold. My triplet brother Grant made it to KU in 2018 and we are now living together in an apartment off campus.

Why did you choose your major and minor?

In high school, I took four years of Latin and through my studies, developed an interest in linguistics and learning foreign language learning. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to take classes concurrently at the University of Oklahoma. I ended up taking an introductory Russian class there at the recommendation of a friend and absolutely fell in love the language. After receiving a language and regional studies scholarship from the Navy, I knew it was the right path for me. I decided to double major SELL and REES because I have a passion for both the region and the language and couldn’t pick just one area to focus on.

What is the most exciting part of your major and minor?

Working with extensively published and renowned Slavic Linguists Steven Dickey and Mark Greenberg has been an incredible treat. The course selection KU SELL offers to students is unparalleled. Over my academic career, I have taken courses specifically on Russian linguistics, verbal aspect, translation techniques, Central Asian history, Eastern European linguistic landscapes – the list goes on and on. The coursework challenges and excites me – it’s the main reason why there is no place like KU.

The most valuable aspect of this programming is undoubtedly the faculty. They bring not only expertise, but true passion to the classroom and are eager to share with their students. Outside of the classroom I have spent hours talking to professors about everything and anything – from content I didn’t quite get the first time in class to their personal research interests. The academic relationships I have gained thus far at KU blew my expectations away. KU CLAS, SELL, and CREES have been a huge part of making that happen.

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

A huge benefit to the KU College is being able work around a diverse student body with unique interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Over the years some of my best friends have studied from physics, to women and gender studies, to policy sci. Having a rich mixture of folks with common and diverging interests is incredibly helpful toward building a sense of community and helping me see where my interests fit in the larger global and academic picture. 

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

Irina Anatolyevna – When I got back from Latvia, I took her contemporary Russian culture (RUSS 604 – sign up!) to help maintain the Russian skills I made while abroad. She helped me direct my passion and introduced me to some of my favorite Russian musicians and authors (check our Victor Tsoi and Sergei Shnurov – seriously cool stuff). I am currently taking her Russian stylistics course (RUSS 716 – another must take) and she organized a Russian / English language exchange with students taking EFL classes at KU through zoom in Russia! I am very appreciative of the extra support she has shown me to help achieve my goals inside and out of the classroom! Спасибо Вам огромное!)

Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Steven Dickey and Mr. Ray Finch helping develop my interests in Slavic linguistics and Central Asia. The passion for your respective fields is evident and has certainly rubbed off on me!

Tell about your experience studying abroad in Latvia. What advice would you give students who want to pursue similar learning experiences?

In the summer of 2019, I studied in Riga, Latvia and took immersive Russian courses at the Baltic Center of Professional Development on a Project GO scholarship. While I was there, I lived with a Russian-speaking host family and went on international excursions to Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia. My biggest takeaway from the trip was a certainty that I made the right choice in my education and career path. It 100% confirmed my love for the region and I made lifelong friendships and bonds with the people I met.

My piece of advice to anyone looking to study abroad and learn a foreign language– step outside of your comfort zone. It is incredibly easy to stay in your English bubble and speak the target language only when forced – expand your horizons! Make friends with the native speakers around you. Go out of your way to speak as much of the language as possible. Being conscious of this will go a long way to helping you on your language learning journey! 

Have you done any other internships, study abroad programs, or been involved in any organizations you’d like to tell us about?

In April 2020 I received the NSEP Boren scholarship to travel abroad at the Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the 2020-2021 academic year. While COVID-19 has delayed my start date, I plan to reschedule my time abroad to next January or 2021-2022 academic year.

During summer 2020, I received another Project GO scholarship and took an online intensive Russian class hosted in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The 8-week program spent over 40 hours a week either in the classroom, with personal tutors, conducting virtual homestay visits, cooking classes, yurt building and much more! While initially concerned about the quality of online language instruction, the dedication of our instructions and real-world interactions made all the difference. While it is hard to match up to the real deal – I would definitely encourage language learners to seriously consider intensive online education.

Additionally, I am a member of the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Kansas. During my time as I midshipman, I’ve had opportunities to travel from coast to coast and learn more about the communities the Navy has to offer. The battalion here is small and operates like a family. This semester I received the billet (battalion job) of company commander and am responsible for the conduct and well-being of 24 midshipmen. Working in a constantly changing COVID environment has taught the importance of planning, flexibility, and most importantly – taking care of your people. The lessons I’ve learned and friends I’ve made here will last me a lifetime. And last but not least – go Navy, beat Army!

What would you tell your freshman self?

Nobody judges you more than you judge yourself. Take a step back and stop taking yourself so seriously.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

When I graduate, I will become a commissioned officer in the US Navy. I hope to serve on a surface ship or submarine for several years, then laterally transfer to work in intelligence or as a Foreign Area Officer in Eastern Europe.

What motivates you?

When you love what you do the motivation finds itself. My curiosity and love for learning fuels most of my drive. Coffee takes care of the rest. 

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Slavic and Eurasian Languages & Literatures and the Center for Russian, Eastern European & Eurasian Studies at the University of Kansas.