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Amu Nuney explores humanity from multiple angles with anthropology, biology and English degrees

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 10:06

Amu Nuney is interested in exploring humanity from all angles —where we come from, how we communicate with one another and what makes us who we are. With majors in anthropology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology and a minor in English, the KU senior is seeking answers to those very questions from multiple disciplines. In the process, she’s discovering connections between culture, language and our biological make-up. And gaining a more holistic, nuanced view on what it means to be a human.

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

Overland Park, KS. I decided to come to KU because I felt drawn to the strong sense of community and I knew how supportive peers and faculty are. Overall, KU seemed like a friendly and hospitable environment for me to explore my interests throughout my college years.

Why did you choose your majors and minor?

I have always been drawn to biology since high school; I think it’s one of those subjects that helps me focus on the details and not get carried away by larger ideas and it has really helped me develop sound scientific skills especially in inquiry. Anthropology has helped me fulfill this lifelong desire I had to better understand human beings and what aspects of culture, language, and biology affect who we are. Coming into KU, I knew I wanted to combine biology and anthropology somehow, and I started off as a Human Biology major with an emphasis in Anthropology. I switched to a double major because I realized that I wanted to learn each subject in its own right and then decide how to integrate them myself as I progressed through my degrees. I added my English minor farther into my freshman year because I enjoyed my first year English class at KU so much (thank you Dr. Rowland) and I wanted to be able to discuss literature in an academic setting for as long as I could. My two majors and minor have worked in tandem with each other multiple times – sometimes I would be reading the same theorist for anthropology and English at the same time. Biology stands out a bit because of how cut-and-dry STEM it is, but I think that the discipline has surprising connections to other subjects. Learning biology alongside anthropology and English has helped me understand how scientific information is acquired, how it’s disseminated, and how alternate modes of understanding the world are not incompatible with scientific thought. It’s given me a much more nuanced perspective on what science and truth mean to human beings.

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

Being in the KU College allowed me to interact with a large variety of students, all of whom study a multitude of different disciplines within the College. This allowed class discussions to be more colorful and complex because each student has their own perspective to bring to class. An English class no longer stays just an English class because students apply their knowledge and theories from psychology, sociology, and even STEM to class discussions.

What has been your favorite class at KU?

This is a tough question, but I would have to say that it’s a three-way tie between ENGL 383 Cultural Rhetorics with Dr. Prasad, ANTH 484 Magic, Science, and Religion with Dr. Hannoum, and BIOL 503 Immunology with Dr. Benedict. I really loved my Cultural Rhetorics class because it challenged me more than any other English class had before. I was forced to look at how rhetoric informs culture and how the popular media that we consume often reflects and dictates cultural values and narratives. Magic, Science, and Religion was an eye-opening course that helped me understand how different modes of making sense of the world are related and often overlap. Immunology with Dr. Benedict was one of the first upper level biology courses I took, and his instruction was so refreshing because he frequently made reference to the relevance of the material we were learning and it really helped biology come to life for me.

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

I want to thank Ed Healy, Dr. Ann Rowland, Dr. Katie Rhine, Christina Holt at the Center for Community Health and Development, and Dr. Michele Pritchard at KUMC for being mentors and advisors throughout my college journey. I have learned so much from them and I will be forever grateful.

What would you tell your freshman self?

I would tell my freshman self to worry less about productivity and to think more about what brings you fulfillment. I spent a lot of time in my first couple of years of college worrying entirely too much about being ambitious enough to achieve my goals, but the lesson I learned later is that ambition’s most meaningful form is expressed through acts of service to the community. I realized that ambition can be a way to become informed and capable enough to use my knowledge in a direct way that impacts others. I found that through my work with HEAL KU, the Center for Community Health and Development, and other initiatives on campus. Finding things that make you feel motivated makes it much easier to have a clear vision for who you want to be and what you want to contribute to your community. I would also tell my freshman self to stop messing up her sleep schedule, she will regret it!

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I am starting med school at the end of the summer and I also hope to get an MPH along with my MD. I also want to continue to participate in research and community service projects. I also hope to get through my entire summer reading list before my white coat ceremony!

What motivates you?

I am motivated by wanting to be in a position where I can help as many people as possible in whatever capacity that I can. This includes community, family, and friends. I also am motivated by a desire to bring something new to the field I am going into: medicine. I think there’s a large and increasing gap between the general public and healthcare providers and I hope to be a part of the solution to bridge that gap so we can live in healthier communities with a higher level of social trust.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore the Department of Anthropology, the Undergraduate Biology Program, and the Department of English at the University of Kansas.

Joseph Hartung follows his passion for policy interning at Kenyan think tank

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 10:01

Joseph Hartung’s fascination with history and the conduct of conflict dates back to his childhood. As a kid, he says, he’d spend hours playing with plastic army men and building elaborate small-scale fortifications out of Lincoln Logs.

As a global & international studies and history double-major with minors in African studies, national security studies and political science, the KU junior is combining his diverse interests in and outside of the classroom. And in his current role as an intern at The Horn Institute, a think thank in Kenya, he’s using his research and writing skills to explore his passion for political and security issues.

Learn more about Joseph’s advice for students searching for the right internship and his future plans to help in the creation of better-informed U.S. policies toward Sub-Saharan Africa.

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

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I came to KU in large part due to the robust array of course offerings in international security and African politics provided by the Kansas African Studies Center and the Kansas Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence. The combination of KU’s acceptance of my dual-credit and AP classes with wide-ranging courses in the disciplines I was most interested in enabled me to specialize much more than I would have had I attended another university. KU also has a fantastic jazz program that I had the privilege of participating in and hope to return to when I get back from Kenya!

Why did you choose your majors and minors?

I came to KU knowing exactly what I wanted to study. I took a class on modern African history and politics a favorite teacher of mine during my junior year of high school. That course sparked my enduring interest in the continent. I’ve been interested in the history and conduct of conflict since I was a kid playing with plastic army men and making fortifications out of Lincoln Logs! I selected my set of majors and minors based on these two primary interests.

Tell about your research internship at the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies in Kenya.

The Horn Institute is a Kenyan think tank focused primarily on political and security issues within the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. As a researcher, most of my time is spent writing articles for the Horn Institute’s website that provide an analysis of a particular topic (e.g. Kenya’s relationship with Turkey), coupled with a set of policy recommendations. I regularly contribute to larger research projects, attend various meetings and conferences, and assist with editing.  In addition to my work at the Horn Institute, I also volunteer for Wale Wale, an afterschool program focused on providing creative activities and academic support for Kenyan primary and secondary schoolchildren who are interested in the arts.

For KU students interested in pursuing a similar learning/working experience abroad, I would urge them not to be deterred if the organization they are interested in applying to doesn’t have an official internship posting. Be willing to pitch yourself and identify how you can contribute. Also, please take time to learn about the culture, history, politics, and language of wherever you’re hoping to go before you arrive. Not only does it show respect for and navigate the society you will be living in, but it also helps you make more genuine and lasting connections with those you interact with.

Do you have any future internship and/or research experiences planned you can tell us about?

I was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study abroad in Tanzania this coming summer. Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 situation in Tanzania, my program is unlikely to be approved. This being the case, I plan on continuing my internship at the Horn Institute in Kenya till the end of the summer. I will also be starting research for my senior thesis.

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

Having the opportunity to meet people with passions much different than my your is an incredibly enriching experience. Most of the friends I’ve met at KU come from outside my own field of study. Interacting with people in other disciplines provides you with a more well-rounded knowledge base and gives you fresh perspectives a wide variety of issues.

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

A huge thank you to KU’s Kiswahili program (Prof. Peter Ojiambo, Prof. Brenda Wawire, and former Prof. John Muchira) for their support. Their teaching styles, which heavily emphasized conversational ability and cultural understanding, were extraordinarily helpful in preparing me for my time in Kenya.

I’d also like to thank Prof. Elizabeth MacGonagle, the supervisor for my independent study course while I am in Kenya. Her honors course, Modern African History, was a fantastic introduction that helped further shape my interest in African security and politics. I am glad to continue learning from her.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Remember to take your head out of the books sometimes! If you have the drive, you will be able to take advantage of many academic and professional opportunities while at KU. However, it is just as important to take the time forge lasting relationships with the people around you and embrace the other elements that make up the KU experience (not least of which is basketball).

What do you want to do when you graduate?

After graduation, I will pursue a master’s and then a PhD in African Studies or Political Science. I plan to become a ‘scholar-practitioner’ working at the intersection of policy and academia to create a more pragmatic and better-informed set of U.S. policies towards Sub-Saharan Africa. I intend to be a professor at a major research university while also working as a non-resident fellow at a think tank that focuses on African politics and security. Ultimately, I hope to serve as an Africa-focused political appointee within the U.S. foreign policy community.

What motivates you?

A genuine fascination with how certain societies are structured, how they function, and how they interact with one another has always pushed me to learn more about international security, international relations, and comparative politics. I want to find a place where I can put that knowledge to good use!

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Center for Global & International Studies, Department of History, African and African-American Studies, Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence, and Political Science at the University of Kansas.

Unwinding: Brandon Davis examines police reform

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 11:24

Police reform has been at the forefront of the social justice conversation for much of the last year following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and the subsequent protests around the country. For Brandon Davis, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, this topic encompasses more than simply changing the way police are funded. Listen as Professor Davis discusses the idea of police reform, how we can better discuss race and policing in America, and his past as a cook at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant.

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.

Catch up, speed up and get ahead with summer classes

Mon, 04/26/2021 - 10:45

Summer 2021 is on the horizon. Are you considering taking a summer class but don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered.

Summer classes are your friend AND a great way to stay on track – or get back on track – for graduation. And they allow you to choose the path that best suits your plans for the warmer months: Take advantage of the “extra” hours in the day with a flexible course that demands only a few hours daily. Knock out requirements for your major. Take that difficult class you’ve been putting off. (Seriously. It’s time.) Choose your own adventure!

So whether you’re hoping to take care of remaining KU Core credits, refine your creative skills or learn something totally new — like a second language — you’re sure to find a summer class in the College that’ll fit your needs and help you get ahead.

Need some direction? We have some ideas.

Take a fun elective in the KU Core

There are more than 160 classes available during the summer that will fulfill a KU Core requirement. (Yep, we counted them all.) Whatever topics you’re most interested in, there’s sure to be a College class in the KU Core that’ll spark your curiosity. With topics ranging from the Black experience in America and U.S. politics to oceanography and the environment, there’s no shortage of ways to expand your knowledge and take care of those credits this summer.

Explore KU’s list of approved Core classes here.

Want some more suggestions? Check out our list of 11 Core classes that’ll pique your interest and 19 classes you didn’t know you could take in the Core. (Note: Not all of these classes are available for Summer 2021. Check KU’s schedule of classes.)

Get creative!

Need a new artistic outlet in your life? Want to flex your creative muscles and make interesting work you’ll be proud of? Whether you’re aspiring to master a new medium or just curious about various forms of expression, there are plenty of College classes that’ll encourage you to think outside the box and help you get in touch with your creative side.

Have a story to tell? (We all do.) Take a writing course. Do you consider yourself a visual learner? Get an introduction to the basics of drawing. Movie lover? Gain a better understanding of the aesthetics of film. Interested in connections between the arts and society? Immerse yourself in theatre’s pop culture influences.

There are so many opportunities to learn alongside your classmates and explore your creativity. For starters, check out classes in the departments of Film & Media Studies, Theatre & Dance, Visual Art, Art History and English. We have a feeling you’ll find a class you’ll love. (Trust us, we do this for a living.)

Learn a new language

There are nearly 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. In today’s global society, learning a new language — even the basics — can give you a competitive edge in today’s job marketing, provide you with insights into the cultures that different languages represent and help you gain a greater appreciation of the world and your place within it.

Learning a foreign language opens up your worldview. It gives you access to new literature, new music and new art. Combining foreign language skills with other areas of expertise multiplies job opportunities, opening up travel-filled career paths in business, technology, diplomacy, journalism, education, the military and countless other fields.

Your journey to learning a new language at KU starts here.

Still not sure what to take? Talk to your advisor!

KU senior Jade Groobman works to create anti-racist spaces for Jews of Color

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 10:55

KU senior Jade Groobman had long been interested in the many misconceptions that exist about Jewish identity. And as an Asian American Jew herself, she experienced first-hand what she describes as a disconnect between the U.S.’s larger Jewish population and Jewish community members of color. Now, through her research on the experiences of Jews of Color, she’s working to shed light on the variety of Jewish experiences and how to best create anti-racist Jewish spaces.

“As I have learned and grown to embrace my intersecting identities, I felt that it was important to conduct research that would hopefully benefit the communities that I have always loved,” she said.

We caught up with Jade, who told us about the motivation of her research, the class that helped her choose her major and her plans to continue her social justice work after graduating.

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

I’m from Boulder, Colorado! I originally was dead-set on going to school in Washington, D.C. I had a roommate and a dorm picked out and everything, but my dad said I had to come visit KU before I could officially commit to my other school. After just spending one day in Lawrence on KU’s campus, something about it just clicked and I committed to KU within the week!

Why did you choose your major and minors?

I chose my major and my two minors because the course material perfectly aligns with my passions, interests, and career goals. During my freshman year orientation, I remember being asked during an ice breaker what major we would create if we could major in anything. I said that if I could create my own path, I would want to major in Social Justice. Unfortunately, that isn’t an actual major, but the combination of my major and minors are pretty close!

All of my freshman year I didn’t have a major, and wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to dedicate the next four years to. During my spring semester, I took WGSS 101 and loved everything about the course. It was the first time since I started college that I truly connected to a college course. After that semester I officially declared my major in WGSS.

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

My research seeks to understand the experiences of Jews of Color and how to best create actively anti-racist Jewish spaces. I am particularly interested in researching the intersection of racial identity with another identity. As an Asian American Jew myself, I knew from personal experience that a disconnect exists between the larger Jewish population in the U.S. and their Jew of Color community members. As I have learned and grown to embrace my intersecting identities, I felt that it was important to conduct research that would hopefully benefit the communities that I have always loved. 

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

If people only take one thing away from my research, I hope that it’s the knowledge that whiteness does not define Judaism and that Jews of Color are an extremely valuable part of the Jewish community.

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

One of the biggest benefits is that you’re always learning something new. There are so many passionate students at KU who want to find ways to share their interests and knowledge, and it’s really cool to be able to learn from your friends and peers.

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

I’d like to give a shout out to Professor Sarah Deer who serves as my mentor for this project. Professor Deer is the best mentor I could ever ask for, and I am so grateful for her support and guidance. I have learned so much from her, and I truly wouldn’t be able to do this work without her. I’d also like to give a shoutout to Sam Kendrick, who was a graduate student in the WGSS department my freshman and sophomore year. Sam’s WGSS 101 course was the reason I chose my major, and her Politics of Physical Appearance course helped me solidify my research interests in racial identity.

What would you tell your freshman self?

You’re never stuck in any situation and nothing is permanent, embrace the change!

What do you want to do when you graduate?

When I graduate, I’d really like to work in any position that allows me to increase the presence of social justice in the space. Ideally, I would like to find ways to help others become involved and learn more about how to be an activist and ally to marginalized communities.

What motivates you?

The potential that a more just and equitable world can exist is one of my biggest motivators. Knowing that there are steps that I can take to make a difference, no matter how big or small, is really motivating to me.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Political Science, and Department of American Studies at the University of Kansas.

Hawks to Watch: Vanessa Delnavaz, collection manager

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 13:37
Why Vanessa’s a Hawk to Watch:

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

I manage the Invertebrate Zoology Collection at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which contains 2.5 million scientific specimens.

How did you end up doing what you do?

During my time working towards a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I had gained a lot of experience working in research labs and out in the field, but I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted out of a career. What I did know was that I loved science and nature, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that passion. The summer after I graduated, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C., where I visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for the first time. Seeing everything I loved about natural history all under one roof, for all to visit, resonated with me. There, I realized that museums encapsulate science in a way that can be accessible to everyone. It was then that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the museum field.

Back at home, I soon started volunteering in the collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. This is where I fell in love with the collections aspect of natural history museums in particular – where evidence of the diversity of life is researched and preserved for generations to come. A ‘library of life’, I like to call it. After about a year, I applied and started in a part-time, temporary position as a butterfly pavilion attendant at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Once there, I also began volunteering in their Invertebrate Zoology collection. The butterfly position eventually ended, and I was hired on as a curatorial assistant in the collections at SBMNH. During this time was when I decided I wanted to go back to school for a masters in museum studies, and applied to the University of Kansas. After two amazing years in the KU Museum Studies Program, I was lucky enough to return to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to fill the roll of Invertebrate Zoology Collection Manager.

What’s your favorite part about your current job? What does an average day or week look like in your role?

My favorite part about my job is that I get to combine my love for marine biology and museums every single day. Most of my time is spent doing work related to the specimens in the collection, whether that is identifying what they are, cataloging them into our database, or making sure our data is accessible to researchers and educators around the world. In addition to collection work, I also have the opportunity to engage in education and outreach activities, which is always very fulfilling to me. Some days I’m holed up in my office looking at seashells for hours on end, and others I’m engaging with the museum public. Each day is always different, which keeps things exciting.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

In January 2021, I organized and hosted a virtual conference for the annual Southern California Unified Malacologists meeting. (Malacologists are people who study mollusks – think clams, snails, octopus and squid). We had 61 attendees, and because it was virtual, we were able to have people join in from other regions outside of Southern California, including a number of attendees from other countries. It was rewarding to be able to organize such an event in the middle of a pandemic, as well as have it be more accessible to a greater audience than in years past.

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

I would tell my 18-year-old self to be confident in pursuing your interests – it will all pay off in the end if you stay dedicated. Don’t listen to people who are telling you to stray away from an education or career that is not traditionally seen as one that is considered ‘successful’. Success should be determined in some large part by how happy you are with what you do in your life, not just your status or the amount of money you earn.

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

Working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic is rough when so much of the job is tied to hands-on work with physical things. I was lucky to be able to have access to the collection for much of the lock-down, but it made it hard to get productive work done. We had to be innovative and creative in the way we did our remote work. We shifted to cataloging specimens from ledgers that had been scanned rather than from the labels that are housed with the specimens, and also worked on data clean-up in our database.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I actually hope to still be in my same position; it truly is my dream job. However, I know it is also important to always strive for new opportunities and growth. In conjunction with my work as a collection manager, I would love to one day teach a museum studies or natural history collections course at a local community college.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job? What opportunities should current students take advantage of while at KU?

I gained an incredible amount of hands-on experience at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute. I was able to apply everything I was learning in my classes in real-time, at one of the best college-based natural history museums in the country. Current students should take advantage of the spectacular museums that are on the KU campus. These include the Spencer Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, and the Booth Family Hall of Athletics. Visit them, they are free for students! They offer a wealth of information about the surrounding community, wildlife, and KU history.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Work collaboratively with everyone in your institution (or organization, or company). It will help you learn about the institution as a whole, and you will become familiar with aspects that you are not so actively involved in, but are still a major component of the overall mission. This is especially important in museums, where scientists, education, outreach, and the public all come together in one space.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

My favorite off-the-clock activities include exploring tidepools, baking, reading, and knitting. Since moving to Santa Barbara, I’ve also been learning how to surf, which has been a life-long dream of mine.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

Although much of my museum experience, past and current, is focused on marine invertebrates, much of my time in college was spent working with marine mammals. I’ve spent 3 months on an uninhabited island to help study the behavior of northern elephant seals, as well as spent time in Australia helping with a study focused on humpback whale behavior and vocalizations.

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the Museum Studies Program at the University of Kansas. Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Photos courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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. 

12 College classes to explore issues that matter right now

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 15:05

In today’s fast-changing world and competitive job market, it’s more important than ever to have a solid grasp on the biggest and most consequential topics of our current moment — the evolving political landscape, the environment, social movements, education, science, technology and pop culture. Easier said than done, we know.

Fortunately, classes in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences allow you to gain broad skills and useful knowledge about a wide range of diverse issues. Whether you’re a current liberal arts & sciences major or just looking to learn more about an interesting subject, these 12 College classes will help catch you up to speed on issues that matter right now.

BIOL 225 Biology – Evolution and the History of Life

You don’t have to be a STEM major to be fascinated by big scientific questions about our existence: How did life begin? What did it look like in the past? And how did we get to our current evolutionary moment? In BIOL 225, science enthusiasts and laypeople alike are invited to explore their curiosity about the origins of life, its changes through time and where it’s going.

This introductory course for non-majors focuses on the significance of the history of life and the fossil record for our understanding of evolution. Key events in the history of life are considered, including the origins of life, the eukaryotic cell, and humans, and also various mass extinctions. The focus is on general scientific and evolutionary principles and mechanisms that can be extracted from the study of the fossil record. It also uses the lessons of the fossil record to consider the prospects for our own species. Satisfies: Goal 3 Natural Sciences (GE3N), N Natural Science (N)

GIST 139 Global & International Studies – The Global Cold War

One needs only to glance at current headlines for proof that the lingering effects and international tensions of the Cold War conflict are still being felt today. And right now, we’re seeing them play out in real time on the global political stage. For those looking to expand their global perspective and interested in taking a deep-dive into the turbulent Cold Water era, its root causes and myriad enduring legacies, look no further — GIST 139 is for you!

This course provides an immersive introduction to the global Cold War and its legacies. It explores how the contest between capitalism and communism unfolded not only in the United States and the Soviet Union, but also in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Through interactive lectures, discussions, and role-playing games, students will learn to “think globally,” gain an understanding of imperialism, nationalism, and decolonization, and discover how the Cold War shaped culture, economics, politics, the environment, and the international system in ways that remain relevant today. (Same as HIST 139.) Satisfies: H Humanities (H)

HIST 150 History – Introduction to Food History: Around the World in 8 Dishes

The late American chef and world-traveling TV personality Anthony Bourdain once noted that “food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable” — a sentiment that many food historians are sure to echo. From imperialism and appropriation to globalism and cross-cultural influence, there’s more to any given meal than meets the eye. In HIST 150, you’ll begin to unpack the histories of culinary creations around the world and gain a better understanding of food’s intimate, multifaceted relationships to various cultures. (No meal-prep or kitchenware required!)

Foods and drinks such as chocolate, coffee, curry, and olive oil have changed the world in ways that transcend national boundaries; this course follows their stories tracing routes of imperialism and globalization while attentive to the impact of these foods on indigenous peoples. Each week offers new foods and new discoveries drawing from cases globally to ask why people choose certain foods, what that says about their culture, and how foods and drinks have changed historically. Besides learning how food can be a window to history and gaining an introduction to the interdisciplinary methodology of food studies, this course will help you understand the consequences of what you eat in terms of your own body, the environment, and communities a world away. Satisfies: H Humanities (H)

WGSS 319 Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies: History of Women and Diversity

Take a journey through the history of being female in America in WGSS 319. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of women in the country, as well as the critical influence of social factors like race, sexuality, ethnicity and class.

This survey course explores the history of being female in America through a focus on the ways differences in race, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and life cycle have shaped various aspects of women’s lives. Themes to be explored could include, but are not limited to: social and political activism; intellectual developments; family; women’s communities; work; sexuality; and culture. (Same as HIST 319.) Satisfies: Goal 4 Outcome 1 (AE41), H Humanities (H)

PCS 120 Peace and Conflict Studies – Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies

Philosophers, historians, artists and countless others have grappled with the concepts of war and peace throughout recorded human history. No matter the lens through which one examines the issues, one thing’s for certain: There are no easy answers. In PCS 120, you’ll take a closer look at the causes of violence in societies, the ramifications of conflicts and efforts to counteract and prevent instances of harm.

An introduction to the content and methods of peace studies. Peace studies is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to the study of war and peace. Building on and integrating the work of various fields of study, the course examines the causes of structural and direct violence within and among societies and the diverse ways in which humans have sought peace, from conquest and balance of power to international organizations and nonviolent strategies. Satisfies: Goal 1 Outcome 1 (GE11), Goal 3 Arts and Humanities (GE3H), H Humanities (H), HT Historical Studies PC (HT)

AMS 365 American Studies – Angry White Male Studies

“Lone wolf” attackers. “Toxic masculinity.” Online bullying and harassment, racist demonstrations and conspiracy theories. The image and often destructive actions of the “angry white male” are forces that loom large in contemporary American society and politics. In AMS 365, you’ll chart the origins of the idea of the angry white male, its evolution and connections to rights-based movements.

This course charts the rise of the “angry white male” in America and Britain since the 1950s, exploring the deeper sources of this emotional state while evaluating recent manifestations of male anger. Employing interdisciplinary perspectives this course examines how both dominant and subordinate masculinities are represented and experienced in cultures undergoing periods of rapid change connected to modernity as well as to rights-based movements of women, people of color, homosexuals and trans individuals. (Same as HIST 364, HUM 365 and WGSS 365.) Satisfies: H Humanities (H)

HUM 300 Humanities – Indigenous Food & Health

Hungry for some more food knowledge? We know a course that’s sure to satisfy your appetite. In HUM 300, you’ll explore topics and examine a variety of diverse media, cultures and historical periods to better understand the rich histories and significance of food and health issues within various indigenous cultures and communities.

An interdisciplinary course, focusing on different topics and drawing on diverse media, cultures, and historical periods. Humanities-based, this course, depending on its topic, may include the arts, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. May be repeated for credit with different topics. Satisfies: H Humanities (H)

DANC 580 Dance – Movement for Social Justice

Looking to ignite your social activism? Interested in exploring ways to build community and spark positive change at KU and beyond? In DANC 580, you’ll examine your complex roles in the social ecosystem, learn dances and songs of resilience and share your lived experiences with others.

A study of current developments in dance with an emphasis on performance or research.

THR 380 Theatre – Popular Culture: Instagram

With over one billion monthly users, Instagram is everywhere. It’s social influence is vast, far-reaching and, for better or worse, unavoidable. And for aspiring public figures looking to make a name for themselves, carving out a unique space on the platform is often seen as an essential step to gaining status as an influencer. In THR 380, you’ll go beyond the selfies, scrolling, likes and hashtags to dig beneath the surface and learn about the social media giant’s significance in contemporary popular culture.

Interdisciplinary examination of popular culture oriented around a specific genre or theme. Objects of study may include popular forms of live performance such as musicals or vaudeville, as well as media-based performances (radio, television, film, internet). Specific topic to be studied changes as needs and resources develop. Satisfies: Goal 3 Arts and Humanities (GE3H) , H Humanities (H) , HL Literature & the Arts PC (HL)

AAAS 323 African & African-American Studies: Introduction to Black Education in the US

Equity, justice and fair treatment of all students are frequently brought up in discussions of education as ideals that institutions must strive for. The realities, however, are far more complex. In AAAS 323, you’ll explore the rich history and current issues surrounding the experiences of Black Americans in the US educational system.

Lecture and discussion course in African-American area of current interest. Satisfies: H Humanities (H)

SOC 160 Sociology – Social Problems & American Values

Why does progress seem to take so long, and why do many of society’s most pressing problems persist still today? Despite countless strides that have been made in American society over the years, ranging from instances of gradual change for the better to momentous leaps forward, we can all likely agree on one thing — There’s a lot more work to be done. In SOC 160, you’ll analyze the roots, competing explanations for and ongoing issues related to America’s enduring problems and policies aimed at addressing them.

This course is designed to explore competing explanations for the causes of, and cures for, the enduring problems of American society. The course critically analyzes dominant definitions of social problems, the political and economic roots of these problems, and the public policies aimed at reducing them. May not be taken by anyone who has already completed SOC 306 or its equivalent. Satisfies: Goal 4 Outcome 1 (AE41), Goal 5 Outcome 1 (AE51), Goal 1 Outcome 1 (GE11), S Social Science (S), SF Public Affairs PC (SF)

EVRN 385 Environmental Studies – Environmental Sociology

An inescapable conclusion that’s underscored within the vast body of research on climate change is that society and the environment cannot be viewed as two separate, unrelated entities. Instead, as recent crises have made abundantly clear, the two are inextricably interwoven in ways that will require society to quickly reimagine its relationship with, and future as part of, the natural world by putting big plans into action. In EVRN 385, you’ll discover why environmental problems are social problems by exploring society’s impact on the environment.

This course invites students to study society and its impact on the environment. Environmental problems are social problems. This course will address such items as social paradigms, theories, inequalities, movements, and research. (Same as SOC 385). Satisfies: S Social Science (S)

For more information, check out KU’s schedule of classes. Ready to discuss options? College of Liberal Arts & Sciences majors can schedule an appointment with their advisors at collegeadvising.ku.edu. Explore more Cool Classes

Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre wants to inspire political engagement through film

Tue, 03/30/2021 - 10:40

Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre knew from a young age that she wanted to make movies. With her Film & Media Studies major and Journalism minor, the KU senior has been able to build a network of talented actors, writers, editors and cinematographers to live out her dreams. Now, several of the films she’s created have won awards, including a 2019 Brosseau Creativity Award from the Spencer Museum of Art, and been screened as part of major events like the New York Latino Film Festival.

Learn more about the projects she’s working on, how her major and minor work hand in hand and why story is a central — and often personal — aspect of her films.

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

I’ve lived in Lawrence most of my life, and I’m a third generation Jayhawk, so KU has always felt like home. I love Lawrence and being close to family, and the academic support of the KU Honors program and the financial support from KU’s scholarship for National Hispanic Scholars helped me finalize my decision.

Why did you choose your major and minor?

I’ve known since I was in middle school that I wanted to make movies, and I’d been drawn to journalism after being on my high school newspaper’s staff. Over time I realized what I loved about both film and journalism was the opportunity to tell stories and make people be seen and heard. In industries that suffer from a lack of diversity, and have often upheld systems of oppression, I felt my voice could be powerful and important to break down walls for other people who are underrepresented in media.

What is the most exciting part of your programs?

What I find most exciting about film and journalism is the opportunity to be investigate the world around me. With film, I benefit a lot from observing people and relationships, which makes my writing stronger in creating complex characters and stories. In journalism, I get to peek into people’s lives when I interview them and research a story, which is always enlightening.

The most fun part about both majors, though, is getting to work with brilliantly talented people. The staff at the UDK constantly amazes me with how much detail and effort they put behind reporting, and serving the community through journalism. In film, I’ve met so many amazing actors, writers, editors and cinematographers at KU and while abroad, that make me so excited for the future of film. And there’s just the joy of getting to create something together.

Tell us about recent projects you’ve been working on or upcoming projects that are in the works.

Recently the film I produced in Costa Rica was accepted into the New York Latino Film Festival, which was huge news for us. My favorite director is Barry Jenkins, whose film Moonlight basically convinced me to be a filmmaker, and a film he worked on is going to play at the same festival. It was a super surreal moment to see our film in the same festival lineup, and in an article in Deadline!

We worked on that project, called Apertura, in Fall 2019, which was the semester I took abroad at the University of Costa Rica. It was a musical, which was incredibly ambitious and definitely a challenge for me as a producer. But I could just see how talented everyone was and was so psyched to help bring the whole project to life, and we did! I’d never worked on a project of that scale, and so many people from the film industry in Costa Rica showed up to our set to help, which was incredible.

What themes or ideas do you explore through your work?

Right now I’m really focused on how we can use stories to connect the personal and political. My experimental short that won the Brosseau Creativity Award last year was centered around an interview I did with my mom, where I was able to talk to her about her experiences growing up during the Salvadoran Civil War. She heard bombs go off in her neighborhood often, and in college she interviewed people who had been targeted by the right-wing death squads.

The right-wing was funded by the U.S., and some of the worst massacres they committed were carried out by soldiers trained in U.S. counterinsurgency programs. Through my home-videos and archival footage of the war, I was exploring what it means for me to have grown up with such a different experience from my mother, and how what might have been “just politics” for the country I was raised in had devastating effects for her home country.

I hope my work can move audiences to be more involved in the politics around them, and see how policy shapes people’s lives. I hope people realize that the institutional violence around us is not normal, that as a country we should not be withholding aid from the very people who we’ve historically terrorized.

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

It’s really critical to have an interdisciplinary education, and that is something that KU has given me. My anthropology, sociology and WGSS classes have been instrumental to who I am as a filmmaker, and I hope everyone gets to benefit from a broad education like the one I’ve had here.

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

Wow there are so many! Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley has been a mentor to me since freshman year, and her honors seminar on Kanye West forever changed how I think about art. Kevin Willmott’s screenwriting courses really helped me grow as a writer, and seeing him win that Oscar will always inspire me. And Laura Kirk’s Acting for the Camera course made me an infinitely better director.

What would you tell your freshman self?

That it’s gonna go by so fast! And to join groups like KU Screenwriters and the UDK sooner, I promise people are super nice and you’re gonna do some of your best work there.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I really just want to tell stories that make the world a better place. That might look like producing my own films and working my way through the film industry, or reporting on issues I care about, or both at once.

What motivates you?

I’m super lucky to have a supportive family, and parents and siblings that inspire me. I want to tell stories that expose injustice so eventually the world can be better for my younger siblings, and I want them to have the representation on screen I didn’t have as a kid.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore the Department of Film & Media Studies at the University of Kansas.

Discover what’s growing at KU’s Community Garden

Fri, 03/26/2021 - 10:54

Long before COVID reared its ugly head, many Lawrence and KU community members were struggling to access nutritious food on a regular basis. As the health and economic crises ignited by the pandemic accelerated, so too did the already rampant problem of food insecurity.

On a 10,000-square-foot plot of land on the grounds of the Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden, Jayhawks are teaming up to fight hunger in Lawrence by engaging the KU community in civic agriculture. Since 2010, KU’s Community Garden has provided a space for students, staff and alumni from diverse backgrounds and departments to work toward a common goal — educating others about locally-sourced food through hands-on learning. And their collective efforts in the outdoors have yielded impressive results; in fall 2020, the group donated an average of 40 pounds of produce per week — and approximately 800 pounds for the entire year.

To learn more, we talked with Ashley Wojciechowski, Kayla Clouse and Haley Burrill, all graduate students in KU’s Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department. They filled us in on the Garden’s recent impact, their partnerships with local organizations in the past year, and how they hope to inspire community engagement in local food systems.

Tell us about the KU Community Garden. What is its mission?

Wojciechowski: The KU Community Garden is a place where members can come together to grow local fruits and veggies for themselves and the community. This plot of land is roughly 10,000-square-foot and was provided for the use of the Community Garden by the KU Native Medicinal Plant Research Program through the Kansas Biological Survey. We offer individual plots for members to garden and designated plots for donations.

Our mission is to provide the KU community the space and opportunity to learn about, experience and experiment with growing their own food and engaging in civic agriculture. We hope to inspire the KU community to support local food systems and encourage them to develop an appreciation of where their food is sourced. We have recently dedicated ourselves to community partners like Just Food to share our produce with those in need to provide nutritious, healthy foods for food-insecure families in the greater Lawrence area.

Our members are from diverse backgrounds and departments within KU, but our donation area is co-managed by Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate students including myself, Kayla Clouse and Haley Burrill. Any KU student, staff or alumni is welcome to join our Garden!

What different roles do members play in terms of duties?

Clouse: Each one of our garden leaders is instrumental in the management of the community garden. Whether it’s running our social media accounts, managing finances, organizing community workdays, or making garden management decisions, we all have something to offer. 

What is most rewarding about working in the Community Garden? What’s been most challenging?

Wojciechowski: While we have sufficient tools and seeds for planting, we lacked the infrastructure to grow this produce efficiently. We were fortunate to receive a $1100 grant from the KU Student Environmental Advisory Board (SEAB) that provided us funds to construct fifteen new raised beds that would be designated for growing donated produce. Harvesting our local, fresh veggies every week makes all the effort put into preparing for the season all worth it! Every week there is a new challenge and greater reward!

Burrill: I didn’t quite realize the impact of our gardening space until the first time I dropped off a harvest at Just Food. It is incredibly rewarding to be simultaneously giving back to the community, learning about growing food, and spending time outside. There’s also nothing like ending a workday with my hands covered in soil, having made critter friends (insects, frogs, snakes) along the way. The most challenging thing has been adapting to the nuances of Covid-19. We had to quickly shift our strategies on how to maintain all the plants we ambitiously planted in the spring, with the health of our garden members (and community!) close in mind. Overall, the reward has been well worth the challenge and we have prevailed with a highly productive season.

What are some recent achievements or milestones the Community Garden has celebrated?

Clouse: Just the last week, the KU Community Garden donated our largest ever haul to Just Foods – over 120 pounds of fresh okra, peppers, and tomatoes! This donation pushed us over the 700 pound total food donated mark and helped us achieve 350% return on investment for our KU SEAB grant.

Wojciechowski: We have been averaging about 40 pounds of donated produce a week, so we estimate that we will donate over 800 pounds of produce this year!

What is one thing you think everyone should know about community gardening and growing food locally?

Burrill: It requires upkeep but otherwise is not very difficult! Just an hour or two a week is usually all that is necessary to keep your plants producing. It’s also helpful to have some prior knowledge of pests you may encounter on whatever crops you plant. Thankfully our team has lots of resources on these pests — whether it be insect or fungal — as well as sustainable approaches to getting rid of them.

What advice would you give students who want to get involved in organizations or causes at KU and in their communities?

Burrill: Look into what organizations exist via Rock Chalk Central! If you have an idea that isn’t being explored, find some people who are into it and start it up yourself! KU has plenty of resources to offer those ambitious students with a mission. You might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish!

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

Clouse: None of this work would have been possible without the guidance of our faculty advisor, Shannon Criss, who is a professor in the School of Architecture and Design at KU. Shannon was instrumental in the construction of the raised beds and has shared her love and knowledge of gardening with community garden members.

What motivates you?

Burrill: The joy of being outside, surrounded by organisms that have so much to teach us, has brought me to the path I’m on and where I study now. What motivates me most is advocating for these organisms. How can we protect and serve them if we do not understand what they need to thrive and survive in this place we (humans) are so rapidly changing? With every study we unveil a need or a mechanism for livelihood, and science acts as the universal language between us and other organisms.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and the Community Garden at the University of Kansas.

Unwinding: Donna Ginther breaks down economic impact of COVID-19

Thu, 03/18/2021 - 10:04

In March 2020, America’s economy was rocked by the beginning of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders due to the rise of COVID-19 in the country. As a third round of stimulus hits bank accounts this month, much of the country is still working to get back to pre-pandemic economic levels. Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor in the Department of Economics Donna Ginther, who also serves as the Director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, used her experience as an economic policy researcher to begin providing updates on the economic impacts of COVID. Hear more about her work on COVID economic recovery, how she used her background as an economist to study how mask mandates improved COVID rates, her work as a policy researcher, and more on the latest episode of 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.

Hawks to Watch: Aric Toler, digital investigator

Mon, 03/15/2021 - 13:43
Why Aric’s a Hawk to Watch:

Russian spies. Chemical weapons attacks. Drug lords, drones, conspiracy and war crimes. A day at ‘the office’ is anything but ordinary for Aric Toler. As the director of research and training at Bellingcat, an independent international collective of researchers and citizen journalists, Aric and his meticulous team of cyber experts are following digital breadcrumbs to uncover misinformation, expose corruption, and shine a light on global injustices.

Founded in 2014 by British journalist Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat has made international headlines for its investigations into explosive recent events — the storming of the U.S. Capitol, the murder of Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi, and the poising of former Russian officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter, to name just a few. What started as volunteer work for Aric soon turned into a full-time job after his dig for Russian social media activity helped the organization identify a missile launcher responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. And with a background in English and Slavic languages and literatures at KU, Aric fit the bill for what is perhaps the key qualification needed to land a position with Bellingcat — an ability to quickly process dense, complex information (and lots of it).

Around-the-clock data analysis, fact-checking, and online deep-dives into bad actors can make for a fast-paced work schedule. But when you truly love what you do, there’s rarely a dull moment. “It sounds grim but I don’t know how much I ever clock out,” Aric tell us. “But that’s mostly a good thing… My ‘hobby’ before starting this job was more or less spending way too much time on the Russian-language corners of the internet, and that’s what I still do.”

With a résumé full of open-source intelligence missions and detailed takedowns of corrupt power structures, we wondered what’s next for the digital investigator. “Hopefully doing more or less what I am now,” he says of his ten-year plan. “Things change so quick and often with this work that it doesn’t ever really get boring.”

Tell us in a couple of sentences what you do for a living: 

As the director of research and training at Bellingcat, I spend about half of my time doing research on topics with digital open source information, such as social media and satellite imagery. The other half is spent teaching others, usually journalists and NGO researchers, how to conduct these types of investigations themselves for their work.

Cover art for an eBook by Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2021.

How did you end up doing what you do? What drew you to Bellingcat? 

I started out by volunteering doing research in my spare time after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine — the one that was shot down, not the one that disappeared over the ocean. I was looking for witness accounts for locals in eastern Ukraine talking about what they saw happen before and after the downing on local social networks, as Russia has its own equivalents for Facebook and other social networks. I was finding some interesting stuff, and volunteered with Bellingcat, which had just been started that same month in 2014. From there I kept digging into Russian-language social media activity on the day of the downing, which led to a report we eventually published identifying the exact Russian missile launcher that was used to down the passenger plane, and then to start working full-time as a researcher and trainer for Bellingcat in 2015 once we received a grant.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work? What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?

Digging into and uncovering Russian spy operations is good for the headlines and my CV, but being able to run training workshops for and cooperate with the Russian journalists that I was reading and almost mythologizing when I was first learning Russian as an undergrad is pretty wild. I would read their blogs back in like 2009, 2010, and watch them be arrested in protests in 2011, and then five or six years later I’m talking to the same people in my very badly-accented Russian about how to analyze satellite maps and dig through social media.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

It will vary wildly depending on your field, but most broadly I’d say to try and find some niche that you are good at and have a lot of organic interest in, and see if you can turn that into work. I got lucky on this, but especially if you get a humanities degree, your career path probably is not going to be entirely linear compared to more obvious professional-track degrees like engineering and business.

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

I haven’t had too many roadbumps thankfully, but I wasn’t able to find any jobs that directly correlated to my degree either when I finished my undergrad work in 2011 or my masters in 2013. Things are a bit different now with far more remote work, but there aren’t many jobs in the US outside of New York and DC where you can use Russian much, so I had to sort of make my own new job out of it with the training and research elements.

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

Probably nothing related to education and career choices, as there would probably be a bit of a butterfly effect that ends up sending me to some bad, dead-end job. Maybe: find a way to take out fewer student loans.

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

Doing my English BA and focusing on Russian literature for my master’s help a ton with how I think about and process data, especially for complex tasks and events. A lot of people assume that having a more hard science or math background is what would help you most to be able to gather and synthesize lots of data points, but, having been a failed physics major before I jumped ship to the humanities, I find that knowing how to read and understand literature is way more applicable. When I do work researching things like Russian spies moving around the world and looking through their phone and social media records, it’s not so much processing numbers and figures as it is reading lots of texts, which is what a degree in literature prepares you to do better than anything.

Artwork for the 2018 documentary Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

It sounds grim but I don’t know how much I ever clock out, but that’s mostly a good thing — my “hobby” before starting this job was more or less spending way too much time on the Russian-language corners of the internet, and that’s what I still do. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Hopefully doing more or less what I am now — things change so quick and often with this work that it doesn’t ever really get boring.

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the Department of English and the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Languages & Literatures at the University of Kansas. See more from Bellingcat 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. 

Nikki Brown explores civic engagement in the Latinx community

Wed, 03/03/2021 - 15:24

Nikki Brown discovered her passion for politics, cross-cultural sociology, and pop culture through an American Identities class during her freshman year. Now a junior in the McNair Scholars program, she’s conducting interdisciplinary research on Latinx voting and political attitudes in the 2020 election. And in her roles as a University Academic Support Centers (UASC) peer mentor and president of the Latin American Student Union (LASU), she’s working to serve Latinx and first-year students at the university.

Meet Nikki and learn more about how she chose her majors and minor, how diversity in the classroom shaped her college experience, and a word of advice for her freshman self.

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

I am from Kansas City, MO and I decided to come to KU because of the sense of community that KU fosters. My mom who’s from Lima, Peru also came in the 80’s as an international student to study English at KU!

Why did you choose your majors and minor?

I choose my majors and minors because of my interests in political movements, elections, governmental systems, cross-cultural sociology, and popular culture. I feel that they all overlap in ways that better help me understand each topic in a different perspective.

The moment I knew I was going to study my majors was in my first year during a required class, American Identities 110, needed for the program I was in called Hawk Link. I originally came in with the idea that I was going to be a dentist and study biology because I didn’t know much about college. Both my parents did not have a traditional experience with college, and I did not have any older siblings/relatives that could help me with that major life decision. I knew that I had to choose a degree that was commonly associated with the idea of success and money, and when you grow up in a typical Latinx household, you are used to putting others’ needs ahead of yours.

Luckily, I realized my first semester I did not want to be a biology student and that I needed to study something that made me happy. In Hawk Link, I was able to meet other minority/low-income students that were studying all kinds of majors from Art History to Neuroscience. This inspired me to change my perspective and pursue the topics that interested me.

What is the most exciting part of your programs?

The most exciting part of my majors is open discussions that are created in the classroom. In each of my majors I notice that while my professors teach, they also allow us to express our opinions on each topic we cover in class. In social sciences, input from multiple folks is crucial to have since we all have different and multiple identities which impact the way we approach our lives. I feel like I learn more about each subject every semester with all the variety of classes that are offered, and I can choose from.

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

The availability to be surrounded with a diversity of students who all think differently is very eye opening. Also being able to take classes that divert from my usual major classes is sort of a fresh breath of air! Being able to have those interdisciplinary experiences has made my academic career grow and expand to what it is today.

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

My favorite class at KU so far has been Sociology of Immigration 342 with Professor David Alvord. Immigration has always been a topic that has interested me and with the political spotlight that has been placed upon immigration at the Mexican-U. S border, learning about the foundations of immigration policies was crucial to study. Professor Alvord also made the class very interactive and allowed for all his students to have an open discussion which made me look forward to each class.

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

My mentors Veronica Rodriguez Mendez and Dr. Megan Brooker

Veronica, thank you for being such a happy presence all the time in the OMA. You have made the OMA feel like a home away from home for me and have encouraged me to always do my best.

Dr. Brooker, thank you for presenting me with such incredible research opportunities and being so patient with me on my ongoing project. Her experience and knowledge of understanding how to prepare a research study has made me realize how difficult but fulfilling research is.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or been involved in any campus or community organizations?

I am a part of the McNair Scholars program. Being able to have the opportunity to compose my own research project over Civic Engagement and the Latinx community has been very fulfilling and beneficial as I was able to look at political attitudes and potential insight into the Latinx voting pool for the 2020 election. McNair has connected me to many resources on campus as well as presented me opportunities to present my project/further my research as I am now conducting a second part to my research.

I am Vice President of Kappa Delta Chi which is a Latina founded but not exclusive sorority. I am very proud to belong to such an empowering and uplifting organization. We are service based and strive to help promote Latinx issues into the community as well. Being able to have found a sisterhood on campus has been one of the most important experiences that I have had at KU so far.

I am President of the Latin American Student Union which serves the greater Latinx population of students on campus. My experience so far has been an uphill challenge as we have struggled with the pandemic; however, we have collaborated with organizations like Student Senate and ACSA to promote Hispanic Heritage Month via zoom sessions on colonialism/talking about brown student issues.

Finally, I’m also a part of the Peer Mentoring team at the UASC. Being able to be a resource for first year undergraduate students has helped me provide a sense of guidance for other students that were in my similar position their freshman year.

What would you tell your freshman self?

If you worry about what everyone else is doing, you won’t see the accomplishments and milestones that you’re completing on your own academic journey. Imposter syndrome is very real, make sure to surround yourself with people and resources that care about you. 

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I would like to pursue a joint JD/PhD program

What motivates you?

Being able to give back to community and my family because they have pushed me to do great things and further my knowledge.

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Political Science, Sociology Department, Department of American Studies and a Minor in Social Justice at the University of Kansas.

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.