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Aaron Carrillo finds his passion in the Heart of KU and explores Asia through two internships

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 08:51

Preferred Name: Everyone calls me A-A-Ron, but Aaron works too!

Major(s) & Minor(s): I’m not going to lie, I’ve been jumping around in the Biology field quite a bit, but I’m currently majoring in microbiology pre-medicine.

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

I’m from El Paso, Texas originally, but as a child we moved quite a bit and settled in Newton, Kansas. My mother wanted me to stay in state and study Engineering. KU had all of those and the distance from home made it the best fit.

Tell us about the internships you did in Vietnam using the Gilman Scholarship. What organization(s) did you work for? What were your responsibilities? What was your favorite part(s) of the internship? And what did you gain from that experience that will be valuable to you in the future?

My internship abroad started in September of my freshman year. I was looking for opportunities to go to Asia, and really wanted to go to Vietnam, where I have family on my mother’s side. I have to say, if you want to study abroad anywhere and you have the drive to do it alone, Student Initiated Programs are for you. It didn’t exactly come with the freedom that I was looking for but it allowed me to see the world from an outside perspective and truly see what it means to be not only Hispanic, but also Vietnamese-American.

I also wanted to have a lot of first experiences. I went from never being a passenger in a plane, to flying San Francisco, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, San Francisco, and finally back. I saw the Ocean for the first time in person in Vũng Tàu, Vietnam and, though at first I was nauseous from watching the waves, my first words getting into the warm water was “Wow, it really is salty.”

It was also the first time I worked with two non-profit organizations. Smile Group is basically Big Brother, Big Sisters, but focused on providing a space for students, aged between 3 and 18, to hang-out, cook, eat, and nap away the hot day. I taught a simple programming class with the use of a LEGO Mindstorm kit.

The second internship I took on was with Friends for Street Children. This really changed my worldview of what poor really is. Undocumented children do not have the ability to use the free education, healthcare, and are not recognized as citizens in Vietnam – they do not have the resources to buy their birth certificate, they often have no education, and they are limited in terms of movement around the country. My internship involved finding funding to run a school for undocumented children in Ho Chi Minh. It was 40 hours a week, with classes during the week, and I was still able to really experience Ho Chi Minh.

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

This journey of finding my major was riddled with worries of losing scholarships (I did lose and gain thousands), disappointing those who helped me in getting to college, and really finding what I wanted to do. The turning point for me in deciding I wanted to be a physician started with an obsession with taking things apart and putting them back together. I combined that with my love for helping people. I considered pursuing a BS in Mechanical Engineering and also going down the pre-med path, but I realized I really had to choose between the two. It hit me that I wanted more interaction with people, and to understand how the body worked, so studying biology and taking the pre-medicine path was a great option for me.

Give a shout-out to a professor, academic advisor or some else at KU who has been influential for you:

Patty Fugett has to be at the top of this list. She has supported me during the highs and lows of my rollercoaster ride. She hugged me when I received one of the most competitive scholarships and has helped me learn from lessons when I overloaded my plate. Amea Chandler also deserves a shout out. As my advisor for liberal arts and sciences, Amea has been a light, always there to encourage me and tell me that my GPA will get better, I will get into medical school, and that any limitations or fears are in my head.

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

I am a huge believer that any course can be the best if it fits two criteria. First, you have to have an interest in the material. Second, it’s taught by a teacher that knows how to relate to students and is passionate about their material.

That being said, KU has a fair share of such professors, which leads to my favorite course and professor: Human Dissection – the course was not like any other I had taken before. Jackie Garcia, the GTA, was able to motivate the group three times a week for two hour classes at 8am. While Dr. Gonzalez’s material and jokes managed to actually keep me in the lab. I now am a teaching assistant for both human dissection and human anatomy observatory lab.

What motivates you?

Tell us a bit about your work with RESULTS. How did you get involved? What do you do for RESULTS?

RESULTS is a nonpartisan international organization that aims to end poverty by engaging in political dialogue with state and federal representatives. A chapter was already started at Kansas State University and my partner, co-leader Cameron Smith, brought the idea to my attention and a group began to form.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I want to further my education, and at this point that is going through medical school. For me, this encompasses also looking at opportunities for using advocacy for those who, like myself, did not have the means to have access to a primary physician or an ambulance in cases of emergency.

Be like Aaron. Find your passion and seek out opportunities to make a difference, near and far. For more info, check out Pre-Medicine at the University of Kansas, Friends for Street Children, Smile Group, and RESULTS.

People and places at the heart of Karen Campbell’s KU experience

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 14:45

An encounter with Mary Klayder in 2009 inspired then high schooler Karen Campbell to come to the University of Kansas – it’s a decision that sparked journeys across the world with study abroad and connections that last a lifetime.

Each trip has roused different passions for Karen, an English major with a minor in sociology. In Costa Rica, Karen discovered a passion for travel writing, which is now the focus of her senior honors thesis. Exploring literature in the UK and completing language requirements in Italy have been some of the most valuable personal and educational experiences of Karen’s life. And now Karen is studying the impact of climate change on food, water, and energy in marginalized communities in Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia with the International Honors Program.

While travel has been pivotal to Karen, it’s the people she’s met across the world and here on The Hill that have been the heart of her KU College experience. And at the center of that is the person who started it all – Mary Klayder.

The world is your canvas: Van Go intern gives back through community art

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 13:35


Hometown: Fairway, Ks

Majors and minor: Psychology and Strategic Communications, Spanish (minor)

Internship title and organization: volunteer, Van Go

What were your responsibilities during the internship?

My job was to help out the staff of Van Go by helping the apprentice artists wherever I could and helping the more senior staff with maintenance things like cleaning or making sure everyone had the supplies they need for work that day.

What was your favorite part(s) of the internship?

I really liked watching how the group all grew together over the semester. The kids were a bit quiet at first, but everyone found their niche in some way over the course of the program. By the end, Van Go had become a place where they could relax a bit and enjoy themselves with friends after school, while giving them a bit of drive at the same time.

What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future?

Why did you choose your majors/minors? Did you always know what you wanted to study? Or was there a eureka moment?

I ended up stumbling upon Psychology after a really difficult sophomore year. I was in a major that was crushing me, so to help, I started turning towards some mindfulness practices. That started sparking my interest in psychology, but then going to the KU Career Center really helped steer me the rest of the way there. I just became really interested with how the human mind functions and works. The Strat Com double major is mainly to help learn to communicate successfully to groups. 

How had the classes you’d taken at KU prepared you for the internship?

I think they give you a bit of a sense of hope and drive for putting yourself into these kind of situations. I took this opportunity because I was interested in using psychology in a way that could help people. That drive was inspired by the classes I had started to take and it pushed me to take this opportunity.

What motivates you?


What do you plan to do after graduation?

I’d like to go to grad school and get a master’s in clinical social work, then work in the southwest helping get psychological services to non-English speakers.

Be like Mike, and explore internship opportunities to improve communities. Also, check out the Department of Psychology, the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, and Strategic Communication at the University of Kansas.

A Culture of Research

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 15:35

By Joel Mathis

When Robert Hurst travels to Garden City this fall to wrap up filming on his new documentary, he won’t go alone — he’ll take along some help, in the form of an undergraduate student the Film and Media Studies department at the University of Kansas.

It won’t be the first time that Hurst, an associate professor in the department, has used undergraduate help on one of his films. “Students have been participating in faculty research projects in Film and Media Studies for as long as I’ve been here — over 10 years,” he said.

But one major thing has changed regarding research in the College. Hurst’s project is being supported by a new program in KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences — the “Research Excellence Initiative,” a new privately funded effort designed to jumpstart faculty research projects while opening those same research opportunities to students, particularly undergrads, eager for hands-on work in their field.

Robert Hurst, left, with a student in a Film and Media Studies Sound Design Class. Photo courtesy of Andy White.

“It’s experience you just can’t get in the classroom,” Hurst said of undergraduate research.

The Research Excellence Initiative made its debut in January 2018 with the awarding of more than $250,000 in grants to support the work of more than 100 faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students spanning the range of disciplines represented in the College.

Among the goals of the initiative: To supply faculty with “seed” grants that help them do the work that will attract larger external grants to fund their research over the long-term. That effort is already bearing fruit, officials say: Recipients of Research Excellence Initiative grants have already used that to attract funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

“I am thrilled to see that less than a year in, faculty and students have already begun to see results, in the form of new external grant funding, as well as prestigious fellowships and awards,” said Clarence Lang, interim dean of the College. “Research is the engine that drives top-tier research universities like KU, and I am grateful for the generosity of donors who have made this possible.”

Officials say they believe the initiative will help KU enhance its efforts and reputation as a “Research I” university. And students, they say, will benefit from the new opportunities.

“I think seeing something in action maybe turns the light on a little bit,” Hurst said. “It connects the ideas discussed in the classroom with stuff that’s actually happening.”


The Research Excellence Initiative is led by the College’s associate deans for research, Professors Tamara Falicov and Joy Ward, and administrative associate for research, Tabatha Gabay.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities for faculty not only in the sciences, but also for humanities and arts faculty,” said Falicov. “That will translate into research opportunities for undergrads and grad students.”

External funding sustains much of the research done at KU, the duo said, but obtaining those resources is often arduous.

Left: Joy Ward, Professor of Ecology of Evolutionary Biology and Associate Dean of Research. Right: Tamara Falicov, Professor of Film and Media Studies, and Associate Dean of Research.

“There are many areas of science where we’re operating in a highly competitive environment – sometimes only about 8 to 10 percent of grant proposals are successfully funded,” Ward said. “The Research Excellence Initiative provides bridge funds for our faculty to advance their work as they work to attain major grants. When you try two or three times, and in the end you get the grant on the fourth try, you need that bridge to sustain student participation in research. And we provide that through this initiative.

Projects funded by this initiative explore a range of subjects, such as examining the effects of a reward system to help adolescents overcome eating disorders; illustrating a book that is in press that explores modernist decorative arts created by Tunis-based artists; and developing new methods to calculate key measures for transport properties in CO2-expanded liquids.

These are important topics. But the “really special” aspect of the Research Excellence Initiative, Falicov and Ward say, is how it provides opportunities for undergraduates to participate in faculty-level research. Applicants are asked to discuss how their work would also affect student participation, learning, networking, and achieving career-readiness.

Joy Ward with Taylor Leibbrandt, a KU graduate in French Literature and Language (2012) who worked in the Ward Lab on Influence of Global Change on Plants

That, in turn, has challenged faculty members to think more broadly about how they engage students. Kathryn Rhine, an associate professor in anthropology who received a Research Excellence Initiative grant to develop a “humanities lab” that helps Tanzanians use digital resources to solve local health issues, said she brainstormed with colleagues about how to meet the challenge.

“How do we start to teach or mentor collaborative practices in the humanities, and what do students need to be able to learn the skills, learn teamwork, learn how to manage projects, learn how to communicate in a group setting?” she said.

In August 2018, the seven KU students and four faculty and staff members spent two weeks in Tanzania as part of the ColLab: Bridging East Africa’s Digital Health Divides field school, a project supported, in part, by the College’s Research Excellence Initiative. Learn more about the project’s work in Tanzania

Mary C. Hill, a geology professor whose research of water issues in Kansas, is being funded by the Research Excellence Initiative. She said research is an incredible learning opportunity for students.

“Doing independent research is a different frame of mind than learning in classes,”  she said. “When you’re doing research, you don’t really know what the next step should be. There’s a certain set of skills that you develop to make those decisions more efficiently, make more right turns than wrong turns.”

Misty Porter (right) works as a graduate student of Mary Hill’s project examining daya about Kansas stream flows and creating visualizations that Hill hopes will help state leaders make the best decisions possible about conserving the state’s groundwater. has created an interactive map (available at that shows the rate of irrigation, streamflow levels, groundwater levels, and wet/dry periods in Hamilton County in Southwest Kansas since 1950. Also pictured with Misty is KU grad student in Geology Matt Downen. Photo via KU Geology. LOOKING AHEAD

The results, Rhine said, should resonate beyond academia.

“We have a master’s student who’s just getting started. We have a law student and we have an epidemiology student,” Rhine said of her project’s graduate level participants. “So to take undergrads in the liberal arts and sciences and pair them with the students that are following these different tracks — they can actually start to imagine different ways of using their education beyond teaching.”

There will be more opportunities. The College will open the call for proposals each fall with awards to be made during the spring semester, with additional opportunities in open calls throughout the academic year.

The project requires funds, of course. Therefore, generous alumni and supporters have made gifts to support the Research Excellence Initiative, both as one-time gifts and establishing new named funds. Funds for the Research Excellence Initiative are managed by KU Endowment.

The Research Excellence Initiative was the College’s primary fundraising focus during the university-wide “One Day. One KU.” campaign in February. Furthermore, interim dean Lang hopes to build support for this initiative such that all interested students can be supported to have a research experience in the College.

More research. And more students getting hands-on learning. It all adds up to strengthening the College — and KU as a whole, Falicov said.

Waving the wheat in Tanzania

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 08:18

On August 7th, these seven Jayhawks waved the wheat with smiles to match the sun’s rays in the Iringa region of Tanzania, hundreds of miles from the coastal metropolis of Dar es Salaam. Rolling hills and tea fields surround the group as they reflected on the life-changing experiences of the past week. During the trip, new friendships formed and partnerships with Tanzania-based KU alum were kindled, as these Jayhawks put hours of Kiswahili language lessons to use learning, listening and experiencing life in this region of Tanzania.

Each person took something different from the trip, but the group were united under a shared umbrella project: ColLAB: Bridging East Africa’s Digital Health Divides. Commonly referred to simply as colLab, the project brings together scholars from across campus and funding from several sources with the aim to research the challenges of health care access and capacity in rural contexts and that develops online content for use by East Africans in their communities.

Read on to follow the group’s amazing journey in Tanzania, and the project’s evolution from an idea to the first ever KU humanities laboratory.

The journey to Iringa from across the world: Photo credit: Eric Splavec. A world map in Kiswahili located in Mufindi, Iringa District, Tanzania. Photo credit: Eric Splavec.

The journey to Iringa began on July 30th, when seven KU student and four faculty and staff members set-off from different parts of the world. Emily Riley, assistant director of the Kansas African Studies Center, departed from Dakar, Senegal where she had been laying the groundwork for a future research project focused on female politicians looking to run in the Senegelese presidential election in 2019. She also checked in with two KU Foreign Language and Area Studies Wolof students studying at the West African Research Center in Dakar. Others left from Kansas City, Newark, and Oslo, Norway. The full range of trains, planes and automobiles got them to Tanzania.

Top left: Badges representing the project on a backpack at Kansas City International Airport. Top middle: Travelling by car to Newark Airport. Top right: Dakar airport. Bottom left: Oslo Central Train Station. Bottom Middle: Boarding the plane in Oslo. Bottom right: Jayhawks representing the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in Tanzania. All photos via the @colab_tz Instagram page.

For some, the journey also offered an opportunity to experience somewhere new. Macie Rouse, an undergraduate student majoring in Anthropology,  stopped off for a day in the United Arab Emirates with Symantha Dawson, a graduate student in Anthropology, and Katie Rhine. “We visited the Sheik Zayed Mosque, which is the largest Mosque in the UAE, and then went on a safari tour where we rode sand dunes, went four wheeling, and had a bbq under the stars. This was my first time in the UAE, so I was happy to see the country, even if it was for a short time,” Macie said.

Left: Katie, Macie, & Symantha’s stop #2: an evening safari in the Abu Dhabi desert. Lessons learned: synchronized jumping is harder than it looks, Land Cruisers > walking across the desert, safari” actually means “journey” in Kiswahili — that’s an understatement for today! Tomorrow: Tanzania!. Right: Sheik Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE. Opened in 2007, the mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers. It’s courtyard is said to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world (180,000 square feet)! All photos via the @colab_tz Instagram page.

Once the group arrived in the the bustling coastal city of Dar el Salam they had a chance to take in the sights and sounds and meet up with KU alum Walter Bgoya at his Mkuki na Nyota Publishing Office before starting the journey to the Iringa region via a very small plane!

The colLab team with alum Walter Bgoya! Photo via the @colab_tz Instagram page. Left: the colLab team prepare to fly to Mufindi in the Iringa region via a small chartered plane. Right: “And we’re off to Iringa with Macie as our co-pilot”. All photos via the @colab_tz Instagram page. The photo and caption speak for themselves: “Iringa is beautiful!” Photo via the @colab_tz Instagram page. The long journey to Iringa, an idea realised:

The journey to Iringa actually started several years ago when a group of KU faculty and staff got together to talk about developing an idea that would bring faculty, undergraduate and graduate students together on a project bridging the humanities and sciences. An initial grant of nearly $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities set the wheels in motion. And then in 2017, the Hall Center for the Humanities at KU issued a call for a first-of-its-kind “lab” in the humanities, which Rhine and her colLab co-directors – Peter Ojiambo, associate professor of African and African-American Studies, and Elizabeth MacGonagle, associate professor of history and African & African-American studies, proposed and won. This grant provided funds to implement this innovative model of collaborative research.

And in 2018, received further funding from the College of Liberal Arts & Science’s Research Excellence Initiative,  a privately funded effort designed to jumpstart faculty research projects while opening those same research opportunities to students, particularly undergrads, eager for hands-on work in their field. The funds helped support student participation in the field school trip to Tanzania.

Taking the Kiswahili language students to Tanzania for first-hand research and work with communities was incredibly exciting, Rhine said. Students in the project were given $3,000 each to help cover the cost of the trip. “International travel is massively expensive, but there’s really no substitution for students who need these skills.”

There is a payoff, Rhine said, for students participating in the project that they won’t get in the classroom:

To prepare for the trip, the students were required to focus on developing their Kiswahili language skills during the summer of 2018 – all of the students in the project project received funding from the prestigious Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship program that the Kansas African Studies Center received. A number of the students took a whole year’s worth of lessons in just eight weeks through KU’s Summer African Language Institute. 

The faculty and students also participated in the lab’s “proseminar” to prepare for the cultural differences they would encounter in rural Tanzania and they worked to develop preliminary questions to research in East Africa. These topics, Rhine said, span “everything from how first aid is learned and taught, to how gender and gender-based violence are addressed through community-organization programs, to the ways in which the Kiswahili language is used to shape HIV prevention campaigns, and how mobile-phone apps may better help women live with HIV and improve maternal health outcomes. We see this as a first step for these students. Maybe they will develop thesis projects and go into graduate programs. Several of them ultimately plan to work for governmental and nongovernmental agencies that promote global health and development. In these occupations, just like in business and medicine, foreign languages and field experience are critical.”

Musa Olaka, KU Librarian for African Studies and Global & International Studies, talks with students, including Mariah Crystal (right), who will be traveling to Tanzania in August. Credit: Rick Hellman / KU News Service

And once in Tanzania, all of the preparation was well worth it.

Language, learning, and research in action:

Macie Rouse, a junior majoring in anthropology reflects on her experience:

“The most memorable experience of participating in the field school was meeting and learning about different people. This was my second time traveling to Tanzania. The ColLab experience was much more enriching than my first trip, because I knew more about the culture and was able to speak the language.  By using the small amount of Kiswahili I knew, I was able to make new friends and connect with people on a deeper level.  I learned about their lives, and they learned about mine.  Laurencia Kamata and I became very close.  She teaches hotel services at the local vocational university in Mufindi, Tanzania.  During our various breaks throughout the day, we would sit outside and talk about our families, our work, and what life is like in Tanzania and the U.S.  I learned she is a singer in her free time, has one son, and has parents who live on the coast who would teach me how to fish.  I was able to create similar friendships with other Tanzanians.  Because of this, I learned a lot about the culture of Tanzania, and was able to share about my culture as well.  I now know when I return to Tanzania, I will have many friends to reconnect with.”

Photo courtesy of Macie Rouse

“The the most valuable lesson I learned from being part of the colLab project is not to be scared to go out of my comfort zone.  When I arrived in Tanzania, I was extremely nervous to use my Kiswahili.  I thought people would judge me for not saying the correct thing, or become impatient when I had to speak slowly.  I ended up finding the opposite to be true.  When I spoke Kiswahili, people were eager to help.  They engaged with me, taught me new vocabulary, and spoke at a slower pace so I could understand.  We laughed when I made mistakes, and were excited when we could understand one another.  By the end of the trip, I was comfortable with my language skills, and had made many new friendships because of it.”

Learning by doing in Iringa:

Left: “Hats of to our students on their way to their homestays!” Middle: Symantha Dawson walking with her host sister to give her condolences to a nearby family who lost a loved one. Today, ColLAB’s home-stays showed students the power of empathy, critical listening, and community building. Right: Mwalimu (Professor Peter Ojiambo) works with John Cormier on his thank you speech to his host family in Mufindi. Caption: “How do I say one day I will beat you in checkers?” (“Ninatumaini siku moja nitaweza kushinda nyinyi mchezo wa checkers, Mnaelewa?”). Photo via the @colab_tz Instagram page.


Left: the colLab team receive a lesson in basket weaving. Right: the team working on a farm. Photos courtesy of Katie Rhine.

On August 5th, the group visited the Mdabulo Health facility. They learned about how challenging it is to promote family planning—especially condoms—when condoms are almost always associated with HIV and unable to be distributed in a Catholic clinic like this. They may be purchased in local dispensaries but are rarely asked for using the word condom. Instead, community members use local terms and slang to refer to them. While posters like those in the photo montage are often disregarded, the students learned how community education meetings that couples attend together are making a difference.

Top left: John Cormier and Eric Splavec listens closely to a presentation on the history of HIV in Tanzania. ColLAB students are asking questions about why the Iringa region and women in particular have disproportionately high HIV rates. Top middle: an educational door from the clinic. Top right: Professor Peter Ojiambo and John Cormier at the clinic. Bottom left: the colLab team at a local clinic, learning about family planning and HIV prevention and treatment from local home-based care workers. Bottom middle and right: family planning posters. Photos via the @colab_tz Instagram page.

Mariah Crystal, Ph.D. student in KU’s Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, reflects on her experience:

Photo courtesy of Mariah Crystal.

“Being a part of the colLab project re-confirmed the importance of being flexible, resilient, open to new and different opportunities, and to being respectful and open to local leadership and aware of power dynamics and our own positionality,” Mariah added.

Jamie Treto at the Partnership for Public Service: a Washington D.C. internship story

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 10:44

Hometown: Garden City, KS

Major(s) / Minor(s): Political Science, pre-Law, and Business (minor)

Internship title and organization:

Government Transformation and Agency Partnership Intern, Partnership for Public Service.

What were your responsibilities during your internship?

I also helped coordinate and organize events, as well as create handouts for these events.

What was your favorite part(s) of the internship?

My favorite part of the internship was being able to attend events where speakers like a former astronaut from NASA spoke about resilience and what it took to get to the moon.

I also really enjoyed creating a project and having that project chosen.


What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future?

My internship had weekly intern seminars where they gave us “real world” advice and helped us become better writers, critical thinkers and helped a lot of the interns find jobs in D.C.

How had the classes you’d taken at KU prepared you for the internship?

In meetings with other staff, I was familiar with many of the issues brought up during the discussions because of the previous political science classes I had taken.

Jamie Treto and a KU Political Science class.

Why did you choose your majors and minor? 

I chose this path because I would like to be an attorney and own my own practice. I have known I wanted to be an attorney since I was 5 or 6 years old because of a funny and very old movie that introduced me to a much more glamorous and overly dramatic view of an attorney’s life.

What do you like best about studying in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at KU?

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is a great fit for me. The professors are all very kind and are always willing to help any way that they can. I have enjoyed every single class I have taken so far.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to attend Law school and start practicing law one day. I also hope to earn an MBA as well.

What motivates you?

My family is my biggest motivation. I am a first-generation student, so I want to show my younger family members that it is possible to get a college education regardless of all the obstacles that sometimes lie in our way. I hope that my decision to further my education will not only instill a desire for them to learn, but to also motivate them to be the best they can be.

Be like Jamie, learn more about KU’s Washington D.C. Internship opportunities here.

History grad student lands two prestigious fellowships for research in Lithuania

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 10:27

Program of study and year: History doctoral program, starting my fourth year

Hometown: Mountain Home, Arkansas

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

My research focuses on the Holocaust and the history of modern Russia and Eastern Europe. I became interested in these fields from a really young age, in 5th grade. As I grew older I retained these interests and adapted them to whatever goal I had at the time, but I credit my undergraduate history professors at Arkansas State University and my Russian language/literature professors at the University of Montana for opening many academic and perceptual horizons for me. Law, justice, social conflict, memory, and historical legacy are the main themes of my research and have always intrigued me. I grew up in the American south, and so the legacy of slavery and racism has consistently guided my approach to memory and history.

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

After WWII, amidst broader political aims, the Communist regimes and local actors in Poland and Lithuania pursued retribution and justice on a spectrum for Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

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

My research invites us to interrogate many of the normative assumptions we have about justice and the societies in which it’s pursued.

What are you researching in Lithuania? 

I’ll be researching Soviet criminal trials against people accused of crimes related to the Holocaust. Mostly I’ll be looking at a lot of former NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union,) KGB (Soviet Committee for State Security,) Ministry of Justice, and Communist Party archives, as well as newspapers and memoirs. I have three specific archives lined up in Vilnius, the capital, but do plan to take trips to regional archives. I’ll be affiliated with Vilnius University and will have a faculty advisor, and I do intend to meet other graduate students while there.

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

Have you been to Lithuania before? Asides from your research, what’s it like living in Lithuania for a year?

I visited Lithuania two years ago for pre-dissertation research and a Yiddish language program. Lithuania is fantastic! Amazing culture, lots of fun cafes and bars, and beautiful nature. The Lithuanians also love their basketball, just like we do in Lawrence.

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

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

I am aiming to work as a professional historian and professor. But I’m also interested in exploring analytical work for the government.

Be like Alana, learn more about the KU’s graduate program in history here. 

All photos courtesy of Alana Holland

Hawks to Watch: Danny Caine, poet and bookstore owner

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 08:51

Why Danny’s a Hawk to Watch

Downtown Lawrence, you’re walking north on Mass on a sweltering sunny Sunday in mid-summer. You’re stuffed from brunch at Merchants. Head buzzing from too much coffee mixed with more than one mimosa, legs aching from that early morning run you’re trying to make a habit. Right on 7th, cross the road, through a glass door and you enter a world where stories and poems line the walls, bright posters announce visits from writers you know and want to know. A curled-up cat purrs in a hollowed-out television, another comes out to greet you. “Meow.” You grab a book, a novel that will make you laugh and cry, and settle for a moment in the cinema seats by the window. Phew. Stimulating calm. You’re in The Raven Book Store, owned and run by published poet and Kansas Humanities advocate Danny Caine.

Danny’s journey to own a bookstore took a few turns. As a poet, he’s always loved books. After college he started teaching high school. But a few years in he began to fall out of love with teaching and decided to do an MFA in Creative Writing. In 2014, he arrived at the University of Kansas, found a home in Lawrence and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) in 2017.

KU’s graduate program in creative writing proved to be the perfect foundation for Danny’s success as a poet – he published his first chapbook Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah in 2017, and has two forthcoming publications. In the program, he also picked up design skills, got involved with promoting and organizing literary events, and took a part-time job at The Raven, gaining the necessary experience that would lead him to buy the store when it came available in 2017.

Danny has made The Raven more than a bookstore. It’s a key cog in Lawrence’s artistic and literary community, bringing some of the best writers in America to Lawrence and building partnerships with the The Commons at the University of Kansas, the Lawrence Arts Center and with the Lawrence Public Library. By maintaining a space housing a wide and diverse range of books and through collaborative events, The Raven Book Store helps build connections between people in our community to chat, share and learn.

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

I’m the author of two forthcoming poetry collections, Continental Breakfast (Mason Jar Press 2019) and El Dorado Freddy’s (collaboration with Tara Wray, Belt Publishing 2020).

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

It’s hard to say—since graduating from KU, I’ve had a lot of great moments. Buying the bookstore, of course, and helping it stay successful. I’m also super proud of The Raven’s community partnerships. We partner with Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence Arts Center on many great events.

Something that’s still unbelievable for me to say out loud is that I have two books coming out in the next few years. Oh yeah, I also recently welcomed my first child. Any one of those things could be my proudest achievement.

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

I used to be a teacher, and there were many moments that convinced me it wasn’t the right job for me. I won’t go into too many details. I’ll just say I had to chaperone prom and homecoming dances.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I certainly hope I’ll be in the bookselling field in some capacity, if not right here at the Raven in Lawrence.

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

“Stop being such a picky eater, it’s not worth it”

What’s your best career pro-tip? How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

The creative writing graduate program at KU allowed me the flexibility to pursue other interests in addition to poetry. The poetry mentorship and guidance obviously helped me a great deal; my first book, Continental Breakfast, is a revised version of my thesis. But I also earned a graduate book arts certificate, and every day I use the design skills I picked up in that program. I also helped run the Creative Writing Graduate Student Reading Series, and got involved with the Taproom Poetry Series. The skills of promoting and hosting a literary event are perhaps the most relevant of all—I’m constantly working to improve the Raven’s author event experience, and for that I draw on skills I learned in grad school.


What’s your best KU memory?

Zadie Smith gave a Hall Center lecture in December 2015. She is my all-time favorite novelist. My wife hadn’t read any of Smith’s books, so on our trip home for Thanksgiving we both read On Beauty at the same time. To avoid fighting over who got to read it, we each read our own copy, and we tried to go at the same speed. In the autograph line, we told this story to Zadie. She said, “oh, you’re such dorks.” If I’d never gone to KU, my favorite novelist would’ve never called me a dork.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I always read a lot of books. These days, I also do a lot of reading to my son, who’s two months old. Alas, he can’t read yet, but he at least loves to look at the pictures.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I’m a dog person and I always have been. Despite that, I currently have zero dogs and three cats: the Raven’s store cats, Dashiell and Ngaio, plus my exceptionally surly home cat, Benson.

Learn more about Danny Caine, The Raven Book Store, and Danny’s chapbook Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah Be like Danny. Here’s more information on KU’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing.

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. 

Global ecologist finds balance with Hindi classes

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 11:29
What are your research interests and why did you choose them? 

I have two overlapping sets of interests. As a researcher, I’m interested in distributional ecology; essentially, I study where and why we find species, and how human activities and anthropogenic climate change impact those distributions, in the broader context of conservation. As a humanist, I have a passion for ensuring that access to biodiversity information (and relevant training, tools, and opportunities) is equitable globally.

I never had that lightbulb moment of “this is what I’m going to study;” rather, it was the collective suite of experiences I cultivated after undergrad that led me to my current path. Instead of enrolling in a graduate program directly after graduation, I chose instead to gain some life experience—first as a zoo keeper in Florida, then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, and finally as a field biologist in India. Even as I progress through my graduate studies, my research continues to evolve based on where the data (and my life experiences) take me.

Tell us what your PhD topic is about:

I’m exploring novel methods of improving predictive capacity of correlational niche models for migratory species (specifically birds) with a focus on application of open-access data and programs.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about starting a graduate program?

If you want to go into a research-based graduate program, spare yourself the angst later and take the opportunity as an undergraduate to learn computer programming.

Why is your subject important?

Biodiversity is essentially the ecological infrastructure which we as a species rely on for survival. Thus, understanding biodiversity, and how we impact it, is critical to our own survival.

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

Shout out to my graduate advisor, Town Peterson, who’s been a phenomenal mentor and amazingly tolerant of my need to learn all the things, my tendency take on too many projects at once, and my weirdness in general!

What KU class would you recommend to other students, and why?

My two favorite courses at KU have been Hindi and glaciology; but as a general recommendation I would tell anyone to take Hindi. Why? Well, first, the class is amazing! You’ll work hard, but the professor –Patrica Jii—and the Fulbright Language TAs are always supportive and do a wonderful job of making the learning process fun and engaging; they strive to provide opportunities for students to immerse in the culture outside the class. Passport-To-India festival at the Nelson Atkins. The latest Bollywood release in theatre. Cooking lessons and potlucks at Patrica Jii’s. Skype calls with friends in India… And, second, you can never speak too many languages. Seriously, no one was ever denied a job because they were a polyglot!


Why did you choose to take Hindi classes at KU?

I worked in Bihar, India for just under a year prior to beginning graduate school. During that time I tried to learn Hindi but work somehow always got in the way. Flash forward five years… I had just finished my comprehensive exam and decided I needed a hobby that was stimulating yet unrelated to my doctoral research. I contacted Patrica Jii about auditing Hindi 110, and here I am two years later still loving her Hindi languages classes and my classmates!

Left: Kate Ingenloff. Right: A Hindi class potluck and cooking lesson with Patrica Jii. What has been most valuable about taking Hindi classes at KU? 

Beyond the obvious value of increasing the breadth in which I’m able to communicate with my fellow humans, Patrica Jii’s classes provide much needed breaks from the day-to-day intensity of doctoral research/obligations. And, let’s be honest, if she can get a non-traditional student such as myself to hear (and pronounce!) some of those syllables, she can teach anyone. Although Hindi isn’t directly related to my research, it’s rare that I travel somewhere and don’t hear people speaking the language, so familiarity with the language will definitely be useful. And, of course, it will continue to make watching Bollywood movies that much more enjoyable.

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

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

Get a job. In all seriousness, I hope to find employment with an international conservation NGO or similar which will allow me to continue as a researcher and positively impact conservation policy.

What motivates you?

Travel and learning: the banes of prejudice and stagnation.

Hawks to Watch: Amy Anders Corcoran, theatre director

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 10:35
Why Amy’s a Hawk to Watch

Imagine criss-crossing the Atlantic throughout the year to work on hit musicals and cutting-edge creative works gracing some of the biggest stages in London, New York and beyond. That’s the life of Amy Anders Corcoran, a freelance theatre director, choreographer, script doctor, educator, and proud Jayhawk.

Amy’s journey to her current career was not a straight path. While she has always been involved in theatre, developing a love for dance and acting as a kid growing up in Topeka, Kansas, she chose to major in Psychology at the University of Kansas – like many students Amy didn’t have just one interest. But she kept up her passion for performance while at KU, and after graduation and a brief stint as a performer, Amy completed an MFA in directing at Penn State. Since then she has worked on shows performed at prestigious venues including The Guthrie, Asolo Rep, Goodspeed Musicals, Marriot Marquis on Broadway, and American Conservatory Theatre. Amy’s worked on many hit shows, including as an associate director for Disney’s ‘Freaky Friday’ and more recently for ‘Escape to Margaritaville,’ on Broadway.

A constant advocate of new works, Amy loves helping develop shows that try something novel. This September, she’ll be directing ‘Unexpected Joy’ in London as part of her work with Aria Entertainment, a company that develops and presents new and ground-breaking productions on both sides of the Atlantic. This passion for helping talent at the early stages of their careers has led Amy to return to KU to support productions here, including as the director and choreographer of ‘Little Women’ in 2016.

Amy loves working with creative people – collaboration is her favorite word. The key to developing these professional relationships is, in her words, the “invaluable” Psychology degree she received from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Kansas.

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

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Working on Broadway and off-Broadway while having a toddler.

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

It was definitely when I was still a performer, 23 years old–fired from a cruise ship job before I even made it to the boat.  I was let go because I was too fat. That’s the harshness of this business.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?


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


What’s your best career pro-tip?

Make all the connections you can and say yes as often as you can early (life will get in the way later).  I said yes a lot to a lot of projects and opportunities at the beginning of my directing career and they have all served me by setting up relationships and connections.

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

What’s your best KU memory?

Camping out for basketball seats and going to England with the choir after my junior year.  That began my love affair with London, which continues to this day.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I read scripts or reply to emails.  There is no clocking out for a freelance director.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I married my high school sweetheart (also a Jayhawk).

Be like Amy. Here’s more information on studying Psychology at the University of Kansas.

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

Hawks to Watch: Aaron Justus, Brewer

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 10:45
Why Aaron’s a Hawk to Watch:

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

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

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

Oh, Aaron’s parting gift to broadcast meteorology is this hilarious video that has gained over 1.6 million views on YouTube.

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

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Passing the IBD Diploma In Brewing exam was arduous to say the least. Presenting at the World Brewing Congress in 2016 and MBAA in 2017 was also a great honor. It can be intimidating talking in front of a large group of scientists and brewers! Our brewery also recently won gold for Double IPA at the Great American Beer Festival. It’s great to work with such a talented team.

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

After I finished college, I worked in television as a meteorologist for twelve years. I decided to quit my job and start a career in brewing. I was 35 at the time. I packed my bags and moved across the country to San Diego, where there were a lot of breweries and job opportunities. I was very fortunate to land a job washing kegs at Ballast Point. I also worked two other jobs to make ends meet. In addition, I was attending an online brewing school. It was a tough first year in California. I had to schedule every minute of my life and stay focused on my goal.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Just as long as I’m brewing beer, I’ll be happy. The brewing community is full of passionate and fun people.

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

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

What’s your best career pro-tip?

You’re never an expert. Don’t get comfortable. Continually push yourself to learn more.

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

What’s your best KU memory?

Walking across campus on a Friday afternoon during the autumn. The campanile is ringing and I’m excited to hang out with my friends.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I’m fortunate to have a tasting room at work that has over 40 taps of different beer. It’s hard to decide which one to enjoy at the end of my shift.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

My wife doesn’t like beer. Life’s all about compromise: we drink wine at home.

Be like Aaron. Here’s more information on studying Atmospheric Science at the University of Kansas.

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

Meet the CLAS of 2018

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 12:34

As the graduates of the College took to the Hill to celebrate their accomplishments, we asked some to look back at their time at KU. These students pushed boundaries in research, made changes for the world around them, and did so much more. Their futures span the globe, but their start happened here. By looking back at the years they spent at KU, many of these students had advice and the knowledge that could help current Jayhawks lead to greatness. Rock chalk!

Kathryn Brewer, bachelor’s in chemistry

Notable: Kathryn received the Beckman Scholarship while at KU which enabled her to do research full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year. Her research experience helped her figure out what it really means to be a scientist and prepared her to pursue a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University.

“I have grown tremendously during my time here at KU. I have grown more curious. I have learned how to ask questions about a subject and dig deeper in search of a greater understanding. I have learned to never be satisfied with a simple answer and to always strive to know more. I have also grown in my Catholic faith during my time at KU, learning how to be the woman I was made to be and to walk with confidence in who I am and what I am capable of, with the help of the Lord. These past four years I feel as though I have really become myself, and I’m certain the next chapter of my life will be even more life-changing.”

Gita Nadinda, bachelor’s in psychology major with a minor in applied behavioral sciences

Notable: Gita may be a KU legacy – her father is a graduate – but she still travelled quite a ways to get to Lawrence, KS. Being an international student from Indonesia means Gita has forged her own path and found a way to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

“Being an international student, I’ve grown a lot through finding a balance between adapting to an independent environment and maintaining my interdependent values. Learning how to live independently and adjust to the different expectations and standards have made me more flexible, open minded and motivated. I’ve met so many different people at KU who have introduced me to many different viewpoints and outlooks on life that enabled me to step out of my comfort zone.”

Emma Murrugarra, bachelor’s in human biology, psychology and philosophy

Notable: Emma was a psychology research lab manager for two years working on research projects focusing on emotional bonding processes in close relationships. After graduation she plans to attend Cornell University to pursue a doctorate in human development with a specialty in culture in context.

“College is unnerving at first — the university experience is oftentimes the first time that people are exposed to an environment with many different people from many different cultures. It is jarring, and can be abrasive. You’re not alone. Get involved in the things that interest you and branch out to explore all the new things that are available to you for the first time.”

Soroush Rezvanbehbahani, doctorate in geology

Notable: Soroush’s research involved testing fundamental glacier flow assumptions using a range of sophisticated numerical models. He repeatedly learned new models and used them to address important scientific questions that pushed his research group into new and exciting directions.

“My project involved a very exciting, yet complicated question. While working on it, I would get inspired or sometimes distracted to do a side project. These side projects have consistently served as my semi-healthy way of procrastinating; I felt I was still doing something useful, while taking short breaks from my main project. I started working on a side project, purely out of curiosity and we ended up publishing the results in a somewhat high impact journal relatively quickly. Then, a few months after that, I saw a tweet by my advisor how she was proud of my ‘curiosity and tenacity.’ That was truly flattering!”

Katie Phalen, bachelor’s in molecular, cellular & development biology

Notable: Katie is bound for medical school at KU Medical School next year. She’s been an active student leader, serving as executive director for the Center for Community Outreach, was a finalist for the 2017 ExCEL Award, and has been involved in multiple student organizations, all the while maintaining outstanding academic performance.

“Despite the fact that these last four years have gone by so quickly, I feel as if I have grown tremendously during my time at KU. The classes I’ve taken, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had here have changed my perspectives and challenged my thinking in many different ways. My time with the Center for Community Outreach in particular has taught me so much about serving my community, and has sparked in me an interest in community engagement that I plan to take with me after graduation and into my career.”



Mario D. Balcazar, bachelor’s in physics and electrical engineering

Notable: Mario has spent much of his time at KU in research labs. This includes studying particle accelerators and their technology. Mario credits being able to work closely with his professors as playing a role in his success. Once he graduates, Mario will head to the University of Michigan for a Ph.D.

“I would greatly emphasize the importance of exploring your curiosities outside of the classroom. This could be in the forms of conducting research, pursuing interdisciplinary coursework, participating in summer internships, or simply chatting with professors from fields different than your own. Life is a cumulative experience and your interests evolve with time. The ability to learn and adapt is fundamental for success.”

Kayla Wilson, bachelor’s in molecular, cellular & developmental biology

Notable: Kayla knew from an early age that she wanted to be a scientist. She’s been active in undergraduate research, working with her mentor Robert Ward for three years. She’s also served as an undergraduate research mentor to help encourage other students to get involved. She will continue her research pathway in the fall, starting a Ph.D. program in genetics, genomics and development at Cornell University.

“While at KU, I have learned to be a little more fearless in my everyday life! All of the amazing opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of at KU have come when I tried something outside my comfort zone, applied for something I thought I would never get, or when I introduced myself to someone new.”

Amy Olson, bachelor’s in geology

Notable: Amy is known among faculty and peers as an involved and dedicated student and mentor. She has served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for a few introductory classes, led the Association for Women Geoscientists’ mentor program and serves as the Department of Geology’s undergraduate representative at faculty meetings.

“My most memorable experiences as a KU student have definitely been on KU Geology field trips, including KU Geology Field Camp. They were the perfect opportunity to apply all of the knowledge and skills that I acquired in the classroom to actual field settings, which was always rewarding. Also, when you spend every waking moment with a group of people an extended period of time, whether it be a week, two weeks, or 6 weeks, the relationships that are formed are truly awesome and unique.”

Zachary Douglass Green, bachelor’s in biochemisty, human biology and psychology

Notable: With his heart set on a medical career, Zachary’s spent his time at KU building his understanding of the fundamentals of human life and mind, triple majoring in biochemistry, human biology, and psychology. Adding certificates from the Research Experience Program and Global Awareness Program along the way, this Honors student has also been dedicated to honing research skills, including working as a research assistant with the Neuropsychology and Aging Laboratory under the guidance of David K. Johnson.

“My most memorable time here is mostly from my position as a research assistant with the Neuropsychology and Aging Laboratory under David K. Johnson. Not only did I get to work with Alzheimer’s patients and other older adults, but I traveled abroad to work with a collaborating lab at the University of Costa Rica. Assisting my mentor with his research into Alzheimer’s has very much shaped my interests and passions, and it is something I feel makes me unique. I will be matriculating to the University of Kansas Medical Center as an M.D./Ph.D. student to pursue my medical degree and continue my neuroscience research. I’ll be accompanied by my amazing girlfriend, who will be pursuing her J.D./M.H.S.A at KU Law, and our Great Pyrenees, who will probably have a lot of time home alone to chill.”

Hannah Gibson, bachelor’s in astronomy

Notable: Hannah came to KU at age 16. She was in the University Honors Program and a Sigma Pi Sigma & Phi Kappa Phi inductee. She also helped plan the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics the last two years. Hannah is graduating with university and departmental honors and will be attending Purdue University to pursue a Ph.D. in planetary science.

“I’ve dreamed of studying Europa since high school and thanks to KU that dream will soon be reality. Without my coursework and research experience at KU, my future as a planetary scientist would never have been possible. Be fearless. Take every opportunity that comes your way and never dwell on the ones that don’t work out.”




Insia Zufer, bachelor’s in biology with minors in film and media studies and psychology.

Notable: Ask Insia Zufer why she studies biology, and she’ll give you an answer that extends far beyond a passion for fieldwork. By exploring how and why humans, animals and even a blade of grass work, Insia discovers the connections that unite us all to each other, and to the planet. She added minors in psychology and film to gain new ways of looking at the world, and to explore her love of the arts. For this Jayhawk, the subjects she studies help shape her worldview. And it is this desire to help others and the environment that motivates Insia’s work beyond the KU campus. As Managing Director of the KU Center for Community Outreach, Insia helps coordinate programs that address the needs of the Lawrence community. Along with the other members of the CCO, Insia makes our local community a better place, contributing to programs that support education, arts, health and care for the elderly. And in the process, she helps fellow KU students apply their passions to support others and become lifelong active, aware and engaged citizens.

“I will be going to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine after graduation to pursue an MD/MPH. The opportunities I received at KU, especially my humanities classes, social justice programming, and leadership with the Center for Community Outreach most definitely led me to this career path and made this possible. Advice-wise, I would definitely say be “interested” in as many community and campus events on Facebook as possible. I have never regretted putting off an assignment or studying for a test to attend a cool event or lecture happening on campus, even if it was totally out of my discipline. My humanities courses and these events are what kept me linked into local and global issues of justice, as a biology major. KU has definitely shaped the medicine I hope to pursue — merging individual health and population health rooted in equity with an MD/MPH.”

Carin Gavin, bachelor’s in physics and astronomy

Notable: Carin did not start out as a student in the College, but she followed her heart and found her way here still. Since becoming a double-major in physics and astronomy, Carin took advantage of multiple opportunities such as the conference for undergraduate women in physics and the Harriet Johnson scholarship. After graduating, Carin will continue studying physics and work towards her PhD.

“Don’t be afraid of changing your plans. My first year here, I was completely sure that I wanted to pursue architecture. Even after becoming convinced I wanted to switch majors, it was terrifying. I hated admitting that I was wrong in the first place, and the prospect of essentially overhauling my entire college existence was so daunting. But when I finally owned up and made the change, it was the best decision of my life. I know it can be very difficult, financially, logistically, etc. But you can find a way to make it work. Don’t ever get stuck doing something you don’t love. You will regret it later.”

Collin D. Clay, bachelor’s in chemistry

Notable: Collin has made a mark as an exceptional student in the Department of Chemistry. He is the vice president of the Chemistry Club, serves on the department’s Undergraduate Affairs Committee and was the department’s representative in a research exchange program in Dublin, Ireland. To cap it all off, he was selected as a Beckman scholar as a sophomore, providing him resources and support to enhance his development as a scientist.

“While at KU, I have had plenty of memorable experiences. Traveling to Ireland and DC, listening to President Obama speak, teaching students, and doing research. While all of these moments were in some way life changing, the most important experience I had at KU was meeting the people I call my friends and peers. The people I have met at KU have made my college experience a time I would not trade for anything, and getting to know people who are driven to make a positive change in this world makes me proud to be a Jayhawk.”

Alexandra Erwin, doctorate in ecology & evolutionary biology

Notable: Alex was instrumental in raising funds for and the organizing of the first SEARCH (Scientists Exploring non-Academic caReer CHoices) symposium and the first Jayhawks Breaking Barriers event that aimed to increase awareness of the gender leadership gap in STEM, empower women through leadership and mentoring opportunities, and foster discussion about the gender leadership gap among university women and the community. Alex will be graduating in the spring and accepted a position created for her at BioKansas, a local life science non-profit, to lead their STEM workforce development and bring in grant funding. The job aligns perfectly with her interests and goals and will be a great first step in her career.

“Pursuing a Ph.D. in the sciences allowed me to develop a deep understanding of biological processes and the scientific method. Not only have I found this knowledge to be broadly applicable, but learning how to effectively distill and disseminate complex scientific information to the broader public has enhanced my communication skills. Independent scientific research also requires commitment, self-direction, self-reliance and resiliency for when barriers are encountered which happens often in science. These are essential skills that I am glad to have had an opportunity to strengthen. Additionally, I have developed a truly deep understanding of data including how to generate it, how to analyze it, and how to use it in the decision-making process, which is a powerful toolkit that I can utilize to work on a wide variety of issues. I’m so glad I chose to pursue a graduate degree at KU. A supportive environment is an integral part of pursuing a higher degree and I’m lucky to have had a great network of KU students, faculty, and administrators who helped me grow along the way. These long-lasting relationships are one of the greatest values from my time at KU.”

Ben Rogers, doctorate in political science

Notable: Ben Rogers is receiving the 2018 Marnie and Bill Argersinger Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences! Ben graduates with honors based on a dissertation which showed how an algorithm could be used in political science. The algorithm was applied to old and new questions in political science, and its predictive capabilities were used to compare the advantage provided by the variables suggested by different theories. But the greatest privilege he had at the University of Kansas was serving as a teaching assistant, helping students to answer their own questions in political science.

“What KU gave me was a chance to excel by sharing the things I love with others. It taught me about what it meant to have a sense of your own worth, how to develop into something better through practice and pushing beyond the fears that we have with others’ help.” My advice: “Neil Gaiman once wrote that if you can write a minimum of 400 words a day, you can write a novel. It turns out that with appropriate preparation, the same holds true for a dissertation. When you’re thinking about an argument (especially if it includes numbers), always look for the advantage the person arguing gains if you believe them.”

Hannah Schifman, bachelor’s in art history and psychology, with a minor in leadership studies and undergraduate certificates in global awareness, arts engagement, and leadership.

Notable: Hannah has made her mark here on the KU campus. She has been involved in multiple activities across KU including co-founding the KU Art History Club, co-founding Sigma Delta Tau sorority, participating in the Women’s Leadership Institute and being involved with Colors of KU, Hawk Week and KU Hillel. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Alumni Association’s Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership Award. Hannah has also held a summer internship at Crystal Bridge Museum of Art, supporting their adult public programs department. After graduation, Hannah will be attending Marist College’s campus in Florence, Italy, to complete a master’s in museum studies to prepare for a career as a museum professional.

“I would be lost without the tremendous opportunities the University has to offer. Without the support systems I have gained over the years, I would not be as confident or ambitious in discovering what I am most passionate about. The flexibility of the College allowed me to take on a well-rounded educational experience without compromising my career goals. Be true to yourself, and don’t be afraid to say no.”


Sammy Badran, doctorate in political science

Notable: Sammy spent the 2016-2017 academic year on Fulbright Fellowship, conducting interviews throughout Morocco. He recently presented a chapter from his dissertation at a conference at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar. His dissertation concerns protest dynamics in Morocco during the Arab Spring. This Fall he will be a new Visiting Professor of Political Science at Saint Martin’s University in Lacy, Washington.






David Easley, bachelor’s in Chinese language & literature and in computer engineering

Notable: In his time at KU, David has made sure to get involved with his studies. After studying abroad in Hong Kong, David took up learning Mandarin. This led to a love of the language which helped form his college experience. After graduating, David and his wife (and cats!) will head to Kansas City for work.

“Take risks and jump on opportunities. This really takes a different form depending on your interests. Being an engaged student at KU, all sorts of people may ask you to do something or make you aware of events, and it is up to you to go out and participate.”

Sara Neel, bachelor’s in art history, minor in French

Notable: For her History of Art capstone project, Sara took on the challenge of writing about the restoration and repurposing of the fourteenth century Chinese murals at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. This paper, which she later presented at the Annual Undergraduate Art History Symposium at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, earned her an invitation to join the graduate seminar “Korea-Japan: Negotiating Art Old and New.” Alongside 10 East Asian art history graduate students in the seminar, Sara worked on her own research project about the proposed restoration of an amazing 17th century Japanese painted screens of dancers held by KU’s Spencer Museum of Art. After graduation, Sara plans to continue her education in art preservation.

“My most memorable experience as a KU student was the opportunity I had to study abroad in both Italy and France my junior year. With a great amount of help from the KU study abroad advisers, I was able to participate in two different programs. The first was an art history program in Florence, Italy in the fall of 2016, and the second program was a French language program in Angers, France in the spring of 2017. This was my first time traveling abroad and learning about and experiencing other cultures and traditions of various countries. I am forever grateful for the experiences and friendships I made while abroad, which would not have been possible without the benefit of being a student at KU.”

Bronson Herrera, doctorate in political science

Notable: Bronson is a first generation college student and PhD. candidate in the Department of Political Science here at KU. In the fall, Bronson will be joining the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Northwest Missouri State University as an assistant professor. His primary duties will include teaching courses in American politics and policy, mentoring students, and conducting research. Bronson’s dissertation focuses on the role that religious identity plays in the formulation of opinion and its effects on policy adoption.

“Attending KU was the best decision, not only for me, but for my family as well. The mentorship and support that I received from the Political Science faculty was invaluable in my preparation to join the academy as a professor. They did so much to help me be the best student I could be while, supporting my decision to have a family. I hope to mentor my future students in a similar way and help them to achieve their goals.”


Jenna D’Ottavio Swanson, master’s in American studies, graduate certificate in peace & conflict studies

Notable: As a Kansas African Studies Center affiliated graduate student, Jenna gets it. She understands the complexities of the African continent and, as is evident from her work and service contributions as a graduate student, is committed to communicating that to the undergraduates she teaches, her colleagues, and the broader Lawrence community. This includes volunteering to teach Arabic at the Lawrence Juvenile Detention Center. Jenna plans to work toward a doctorate in ethnic studies with a focus on Arabic and Middle East studies.

“My favorite class is Arabic. It will forever be Arabic. Language learning is like a relationship— it must be nurtured. My second language acquisition at KU has equipped me with the skills to express my political views in cabs, read books without an English translation (although slowly), and make connections across Tunisia, the Occupied Territories of Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt. Alf Shukran to our ustaz.”

Alex Burdge, bachelor’s in environmental studies, minor in English

Notable: Alex is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a great leader and activist who will be pursuing a Ph.D. in English here at KU.

“I came to KU with fairly clear ideas of where I wanted to end up after graduation, but my degree program exposed me to an incredible array of topics and allowed me to find skills and interests that I was completely unaware of. The interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Studies as well as the wonderful faculty have set me on my current path, the trajectory of which I never would have guessed on my first day here. Go to the office hours of your favorite professors, even if you don’t think you need to. The ideas that I have been exposed to and lessons that I have learned in one-on-one conversation are some of the most important and formative of my time at KU.”

Kaitlyn Johnson, bachelor’s in Russian, East European & Eurasian studies, global and international studies, (focus in Latin American & Caribbean studies), Slavic language & literature (focus in Russian), and political science

Notable: With four degrees under her belt when she graduates, Kaitlyn has kept busy here at KU. Kaitlyn has studied abroad multiple times, which helped prepare her work with the U.S. State Department in DC. After graduating, Kaitlyn shows no signs of slowing down. She plans to head to Georgetown for her master’s, while interning with the State Department’s Office of European Security & Political Affairs.

“KU has allowed me to take advantage of a myriad of opportunities, including internships in DC, fellowships, study abroad, research abroad, and independent studies. Students should take advantage of every opportunity they can as early as possible. Do not wait until your junior or senior year to explore possibilities beyond classes.”

Ylham Jorayev, bachelor’s in international studies (emphasis: Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies)

Notable: Ylham is an extraordinary linguist with a passion for contributing his language and research skills to public service. Since arriving in the US from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Ylham has honed his language skills and is now fluent in Turkmen, Russian and English, with knowledge of French, Azeri, and Uzbek. While at KU, Ylham has serviced as a research assistant at the KU Institute for Social and Policy Research, supported by the prestigious Minerva grant and conducted his own research project as part of the Diplomacy Lab Project. He’s interned for a council member of the City of Berkley, taught English in Turkmenistan, and taught Russian to KU students in the Foreign Language Center. Next up, Ylham will start a master’s degree in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.

“I’m originally from Turkmenistan. After graduating from KU this May, I’m planning to attend Georgetown University for my master’s degree in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies. Looking back at my experience at KU, I would like to mention the importance of networking at KU. Don’t be shy, get to know your professors and the research they work on. Knowing your professors and being friends with them can get you very far.”

Marcus Williamson, doctorate in political science

Notable: Marcus has worked for numerous political campaigns during his professional career, including several during the 2014 and 2016 general election cycles, and the 2017 KS-04th special election, while at KU. He also served as Chair for the Second Congressional District with the Kansas Democratic Party. His dissertation, “Campaigning in Context: A Practical Statewide Study of Correlations between Campaign Contact Methods, Partisanship, Timing, Frequency, Population Density, and Regionalism on Voter Turnout,” focuses on bridging some of the gaps between practical campaign activity and academic study. He is currently an adjunct professor at Missouri Western State University.

“I plan on continuing my research and further peruse a teaching career. The KU faculty and campus community enabled me with the capacity to connect practice and academic political science. I now have many more tools to connect my experiences with scholarship. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop my understanding of the field in a way that advances both practice and study.”

Emma Easom, bachelor’s in philosophy and Spanish

Notable: Emma was a member of the LEAD Program here at KU – she’ll earn her B.A. + Law degree in just 6 years. She was a Hall Center and University Scholar and served in leadership roles in many KU activities. Emma also studied abroad in Buenos Aires. She will be attending KU Law to achieve her J.D. next year.

“I am an out of state student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, so moving away to college was a big step for me and my family. My independence and self-reliance have definitely grown while at KU as I have matured and created my own adventure. KU has fostered my curiosity and self-exploration in ways that I never expected when attending college. I have been able to become really involved with the Honors Program, the Hall Center for the Humanities and my majors’ departments while also maintaining a strong circle of friends. The Midwest has rubbed off on me in more ways than one. I say “Ope!” now whenever I bump into someone. I’ve learned about the importance of giving back to a place that has given you so much – I plan to return here often after I graduate. I am very grateful for all the memories I have made here.”

Annie Landis (center), bachelor’s in English, minor in psychology

Notable: Annie is looking ahead to a career in higher education, a passion she discovered working on campus at KU. She has been admitted to a master’s program at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. As an undergraduate, she balanced a number of obligations by completing much of her coursework through the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences online degree completion program.

“I’ve grown so much throughout my time at KU. I’m definitely more open-minded and outgoing because of my time here. Looking back, I have so many faculty and staff to thank for all the help and support they’ve given me along the way. I would tell new and current students to use your faculty and staff as resources. I could have been involved in so much more exciting opportunities at KU had I started developing those mentor relationships earlier on. Faculty and staff really are eager and willing to help-so there’s no need to be nervous about asking them for it!”

Thomas Dirth, doctorate in social psychology

Notable: Innovative. That’s the word repeated over and again when describing Thomas’ achievements in the classroom, in his research, and the solutions he helps find while advocating for an inclusive and accessible KU for all students. Passionate about improving understandings about diversity, particularly in relation to disability, Thomas has already published several academic papers and has served as graduate advisor to the campus organization “Ablehawks and Allies” and as graduate student representative on the Architectural Barriers Committee. Thomas’ hard work and expertise has secured him his first academic job at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.

“I don’t think the ‘me’ that drove into Lawrence for the grad program interview 6 years ago would recognize the ‘me’ that is graduating. My experiences at KU have been transformative, both in the positive influence of my peers and mentors and the enriched academic environment that calls for perpetual self-reflexivity. I feel very confident moving on from KU to begin my career as a professor because of my everyday experiences at KU interacting with and being mentored by leaders in my field. Through the wealth of independent teaching and research experiences in my time at KU, I have also crafted an independent identity as an educator and scholar that can help to provide a clear heading in the years to come.”

Emily Reno, bachelor’s in environmental studies, minor in Spanish

Notable: Emily will attend the University of Minnesota next year to pursue a master’s in urban and regional planning. She’s focusing her degree around food systems and how urban planners can better support the agricultural community. She’s taken advantage of many opportunities at KU, including study abroad, research, and the McNairScholars program.

“Aside from studying abroad in Australia, attending the spring banquet as a new McNair Scholar has been the most memorable moment for me because it was the first time I felt like I was where I belonged. Surrounded by other first-generation, minority students, and recognizing our accomplishments up to that point had me in tears because I didn’t realize that going to college was such a big deal. (While at KU), I have clarified many of my career and life goals, and become a much more independent thinker. I continue to dream big, but more strategically so that I don’t forfeit my personal health or time with family.”

Allison Maxfield, bachelor’s in psychology, anthropology minor

Notable: After a 7 year break from KU, Allison returned in 2016 to finish her degree as an online student. Since her return she has been a straight-A student balancing a full time course load with work and ungraduated research. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in organizational psychology in the near future.

“Before my academic career at KU, I had little confidence in my academic ability. I left high school with limited dreams, believing that my only skills were as an artist. I’m happy to say that my time at KU has totally transformed me. I am now confident in my ability to use my many academic skills from writing to reading to researching and beyond. I have become someone who is known for their well-rounded academic intelligence, which is something I never thought I would hear. I take so much pride in the person I have become, and I have KU to thank for pushing me further than I ever thought possible.”


Tomas Green, bachelor’s in chemical engineering with a public policy minor

Notable: Tomas may be an engineering major, but when he looks to the future, the values of the College are close to his heart. As a student, Tomas was involved with my activities on campus, including student senate elections and studying abroad. After graduating, he plans to head to MIT to complete a master’s in policy and technology.

“I have changed more than I ever expected. Most notably, I changed my career trajectory from engineering to public policy. While I am keeping an emphasis on science and technology, I am now focusing on how to build a better connection between STEM and politics.”

Chelsea Ren Morton, master’s in public administration, graduate certificate in peace & conflict studies

Notable: Ren was an intern for the League of Kansas Municipalities, where she was in charge of the Youth Education program. Last summer, she revamped all the league’s civic education pieces. Her work while interning led to her being hired by the league where she has worked while completing her degree.

“KU enjoys incredible professors. The time each of my professors has invested in my life, my goals, and my academic interests has allowed me to grow spherically in many directions. I can honestly say that I am an entirely different person in terms of my understandings and worldviews than I was when I started undergraduate, and again when I started graduate school. I believe I have become more open-minded, more compassionate, and more curious during my time here. I have definitely learned not only to ask questions, but to ask deeper questions to uncover the underlying assumptions and worldviews of the work we pursue.”



Mylls Cheffey, bachelor’s in psychology, minor in sociology

Notable: Mylls is an active duty member of the military who has completed his coursework while in the field. Completing his degree while serving has convinced at least one of his fellow soldiers to join the College’s online degree program as well. His future goal is to work on counseling veterans and to pursue a graduate degree.

“If there is something that you truly want or believe in you must find a way to accomplish it. Many people will stop when someone tells them that they cannot complete a task or that it is impossible. However, when I reflect I found myself doing homework for the University of Kansas on a C17 flying between Syria, Iraq and Qatar. It would have been easy to stop or not take as many classes when I was faced with adversity, but to me being a Jayhawk means more than just operating at a minimum level.”

Eilish Gibson, bachelor’s in physics and classical antiquity

Notable: Eilish Gibson has reached for the stars at KU, and her list of achievements are stellar. In 2017, Eilish was awarded both the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship and the Astronaut Scholarship. That same year, Eilish flew out to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to conduct research under the supervision of Prof. Alice Bean. Next stop? A doctorate in particle physics at the University of Oxford.

“When I started at KU, I was very enthusiastic about particle physics and really enjoyed reading Latin. My experience at KU empowered me to hone my raw passion for both subjects. While I still specialize in particle physics and reading Latin, I understand where my particular interests fit into the larger picture. KU has prepared me to pursue one of the most elusive frontiers of particle physics: the search for dark matter. The coursework in the physics department has prepared me to make the leap to Oxford, and the research experience that I’ve gained while working with Prof. Alice Bean and Prof. Phil Baringer has proven invaluable. Without either the coursework or the research experience, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on one of the hardest and least understood problems in modern physics. My most memorable experience as a KU student is undergraduate research. I had the unique opportunity to work with scientists from around the world, and I even got to travel to Geneva, Switzerland to work on site at the Large Hadron Collider (where the Higgs boson was discovered) for seven weeks. With help from the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships, I won two national scholarships, the Goldwater Scholarship and the Astronaut Scholarship, for my undergraduate research. KU has prepared me to pursue one of the most elusive frontiers of particle physics: the search for dark matter.”

Joshua Robinson, master’s of public administration (emphasis: City Management)

Notable: Joshua’s positive attitude shines through in all he has achieved at KU. Named a KU man of distinction in 2017, Joshua has thrown himself into various initiatives beyond his program including chairing the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government. All this while taking up an internship in Kansas City and landing a job as a Management Fellow for the City of Cedar Park, just outside Austin, Texas.

“The most memorable experience at KU was the opportunity of being the Conference Chair of the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government. This conference hosted over 500 students from across the Big XII and the country for leadership development, workshops, and keynote speakers. It was an honor to represent the University of Kansas and be the host school for this conference. I truly had the time of my life.”