Subscribe to The College Blog feed The College Blog
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Updated: 2 hours 42 min ago

Hawks to Watch: Kiel Johnson, Artist

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 14:37

Why Kiel’s a Hawk to Watch:

To say that Kiel Johnson enjoys the creative process is something of an understatement. He’s positively enamored with it. On any given day, you might find the LA-based artist fashioning an old-timey Western stagecoach out of cardboard, sending sparks flying from metal sheets, or constructing a miniature cityscape from cut-outs, equipped with a winding river and steamboat. He is, admittedly, a bit obsessed with building and inventing. But don’t call him a workaholic. The way he looks at it, work and play are one and the same.

Kiel’s creations, which range from small-scale drawings and paintings to colossal, multimedia 3D installations, are designed to inspire curiosity in viewers and excavate the meaning of his own life’s adventures. His experimental “laboratory” approach to art has garnered him international acclaim and led to high-profile speaking gigs at conferences like TED. But for Kiel, the biggest reward of all comes from the journey of bringing his imagination to life and transforming material into “visual language.”

See what he had to say about the beauty of a creative life, building his artistic vocabulary in the College, travel and outdoor exploration, a 38-foot fall from the radio tower on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, and nostalgia for a long-lost old Mustang.

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

I bring the objects of my imagination to life, doing my best to share these experiences with others and convince as many people as I can to sacrifice everything for a life in the arts.

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

It has been an incredible journey to say the least. Not any one moment. One project leads to the next and you just set out each time to try something different or expand on the last exploration. Eventually you look back on an amazing adventure. 

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Trusting myself to follow my passion and pushing myself to get the work done. I’m proud of myself for putting in the hours when I could have been doing any millions of other things with my short time here. I have sculpted a life that I am proud of and is full of interesting challenges and awesome rewards, but it has been a ton of work. 

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

All highs come with lows. When I’ve experienced low zones, I just work on something. I’ve drawn my way out of any funk I’ve ever been in. Just get to work on something.  Nothing happens while you’re flipping channels. Projects beget projects. A good idea comes while working on a bad idea. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

As crazy as it sounds I hope I’m doing the same things I’m doing now.  Saying yes to projects that excite me and creating projects that excite me even more. Traveling the world, sharing with others and making things with community.  Additionally, I think maybe I’ll have a compound of my own on some land with a bit more time to think and walk around. 

What’s your best career pro-tip?

The ride is fast. Do what you love and focus only on your passion. The world will open up if you follow this simple prescription. 

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

1. Draw more than you already do.

2. Read more.

3. Start a relationship with technology now.

4. Master the camera and make more videos.

5. Don’t sell the old Mustang.

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

I learned so much about manipulating material and physically making the visions in my imagination come to life at KU. In many ways it was a language degree. I learned to speak better visual at Kansas. I was encouraged to hone my particular dialect and take it out into the world with confidence. 

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

 I spend a major amount of off time outdoors exploring the world. We travel extensively but I simply consider it part of a creative life to ceaselessly explore. I also try to read at least 12 books a year.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I accidentally fell 38 feet out of that tall radio/cell tower down on 8th and Mass. in Lawrence back in 1999. I crashed into a few I-beams on the way down and didn’t break anything but needed stitched back together. I’m eternally grateful it wasn’t my time to go. It so easily could have been. Might be one reason I work so hard today.

Be like Kiel. Work hard, play hard, and search for ways to do both at the same time. For more information, visit the Department of Visual Art and the School of the Arts at the University of Kansas. Explore more work from Kiel on his website.

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. 

Daphne Lin finds connections between healthcare and humanities

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 12:03

From the time KU senior Daphne Lin arrived on the Hill, she had med school in mind. As any medical professional is sure to tell you, a career in the field demands a solid foundation in scientific principles and a firm grasp on a range of physical issues. But in healthcare, as its name implies, the ability to empathize, connect with others, and, yes, care is just as critical. 

To gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between healthcare and human experience, Daphne found a home in the College as a humanities major on a pre-medicine track, a combination of studies that allowed her to meld her interests in STEM and liberal arts and learn from experts in a variety of disciplines.

See what Daphne had to say about student leadership and getting involved at KU, being selected as the recipient of an Ex.C.E.L. (Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership) Award, the value of learning from failure, and the Jayhawk connections that defined her College experience.

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

Before my family recently moved to Missouri, I lived in a small rural town called Coffeyville, Kansas (population ~9000) for about seventeen years, but because I attended high school in the neighboring town (Independence), I call both places home. Leaving rural Kansas life was a big step for me. Lawrence was not only a much larger city, but I experienced culture shock my first week here. I originally decided to become a Jayhawk for two really simple reasons: its close proximity to family and its prestigious School of Medicine. I had no idea that there would be so much more than that in store for me.     

Why did you choose your major? And how do they complement each other? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study?

I actually changed my major during my freshman orientation from Biology to Humanities just a couple days before I moved into my dorm. I knew that taking pre-medicine requirements would build a strong science foundation necessary for graduate school and my following career, but when I met with the Honors advisors at Orientation, I realized that I wanted a broader undergraduate experience during my time here. Humanities, with its multidisciplinary approach, seemed like the right way to start. Having been inspired throughout high school by my English classes (big shout-out to AP Literature and Mrs. Rene Stanley!), I wanted to expand on my critical reasoning skills and my studies on the human experience. I think that there’s a really critical need for more humanities majors in STEM students, especially those on pre-health tracks. Too many people forget that health is a field that, although strongly reliant on a knowledge-based background, also relies equally as much on empathy and connecting with others.

Photo credit: Archana Sundar.

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

Mercedes Bounthapanya. She currently works for the Dean’s Office in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, but I’ve known her since I was a first-year because she was one of the thirteen womxn that chartered KU’s multicultural progressive sorority, Sigma Psi Zeta, back in March 2016. I didn’t really get to know her closely, however, until I unexpectedly took up the position of President of our sorority. I had a lot of self-doubt coming into the position. To help me, Mercedes scheduled weekly one-on-one meetings, and those hours are where a lot of my critical growth has taken place. I have gained so much confidence in myself and my capabilities as a leader this past year alone. Mercedes is always there whether it’s to give me general guidance, or if I’m having trouble overcoming a large obstacle in my position. I dedicate a large part of the 2019 Ex.C.E.L. Award to Mercedes, as I would not have applied for the award without her direct encouragement when I first approached her about it.

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

Photo credit: Archana Sundar.

One main benefit from being in the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is having the opportunity to meet and talk to peers who have also been exposed to a broad range of subjects and fields of study. There are more than a hundred offered programs under our mutual College! That alone shows just how many people with different experiences you have the opportunity to meet here. The friends I met through various classes are each so unique and I know I will be forever thankful for all of their stories and our open-minded conversations.

What has been your favorite class at KU?

This is a really hard question because I’ve absolutely loved so many different classes, but if I had to narrow it down to a couple then I would choose “Literature of Human Rights” (PCS 565) with Dr. Marike Janzen, or “Gender, Sexuality and the Law” (WGSS 563) with Prof. Nicholas Syrett. I found “Literature of Human Rights” to be extremely thought-provoking as we explored what it truly means to be human, which is surprisingly far more complicated than one may initially think. The assigned readings were also really enjoyable; I’ve reread most of them since the class ended. However, my favorite part were the discussions, especially since the class had several graduate students whose academic focuses were mostly directly related and thus sometimes provided more detailed and thorough perspectives. “Gender, Sexuality and the Law” is tied for my No. 1 for most of the same reasons while also exploring more controversial issues that are critically relevant to current news. I credit Professor Syrett for a large portion of what I gained from the class, because it wasn’t just the content but also how the content was delivered. (Plus, it turns out he makes an amazing life guru at times.) In the end, WGSS 563 only enforced my beliefs that every student should take at least one class in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies during undergrad. If you’re a current or prospective student with room in your schedule, I’m talking to you!

Have you done any internships, study abroad or research programs, or have you been involved in any KU organizations that you’d like to share? Do you have any advice for KU students who want to get involved?

The very first student organization I joined (or, more specifically, was convinced to join by various Board members,) was the Asian American Student Union (AASU). I actually ended up being a part of AASU for the next three years, first as its Freshman Representative, then External Vice President, and lastly President my junior year. Being President of AASU was one of the highlights of my college career, especially because I lucked out with an amazing group of general members that year. I most definitely did not expect to play that active of a role in AASU when I originally joined, mainly due to how much I had repressed my identity as an Asian-American for so many years prior, but AASU ‘s warm community and the close friends I found through its meetings and events quickly made me realize that I wanted to personally contribute to this organization by being more closely involved. The close friends I made in AASU directly led me to joining Sigma Psi Zeta as well. Everything cascaded from there. My involvements in student organizations have undoubtedly been the most influential aspect of my college experience and I’m incredibly grateful for these opportunities. Through them, I’ve learned countless leadership and organizational skills, along with getting to know myself better.

If you’re a KU student wanting to get involved, please know that it’s never too late to join student or community organizations! At the end of my junior year, I applied and was accepted into a co-coordinator position for an advocacy-based program under the Center for Community Outreach (CCO), and this is quite honestly one of my favorite leadership positions I have taken on.

What can you tell us about being selected as a 2019 Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership (Ex.C.E.L.) Award recipient?

Being selected as one of three Ex.C.E.L. Award recipients, and even merely being part of an incredible line of Finalists, was such an unexpected honor! All ten Ex.C.E.L. finalists were each so talented and impressive, which is evident in the fact that the selection committee awarded more than two Award recipients for the first time. To me, this award is proof that hard work and dedication towards your community does not go unrecognized by KU.  

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I intend on working as a medical scribe in Kansas City. I wanted to maintain an independent lifestyle while staying relatively close to KU. Going straight to graduate school was something I strongly considered and applied for, but I was rejected from KU College of Medicine this past fall. This is something I think many students – including myself for a time – are oftentimes too silent about. While it’s important to set high expectations for yourself, it’s also just as important to learn how to make the most of your failures on the way. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection since and I think this next year will be personally beneficial by allowing me to continue improving my application, gain more health experience before graduate school, and work on my mental health.    

What would you tell your freshman self?

Have an open mind joining new organizations and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from others!

What motivates you?

I have multiple motivators in various parts of my life: In more social student organizations like AASU, one of the most rewarding and inspirational results has always been watching communities being built and friendships coming together. For Sigma Psi Zeta, watching others grow stronger as individuals into leaders themselves motivates me to continue my work as President. But my main motivator on an everyday basis are my mentors like Mercedes, my older sister Tiffany, and my closest friends who give me a healthy amount of constructive criticism through our open and honest relationships that I am extremely lucky to have. These individuals exemplify the kind of individual I strive to be through their compassion, empowerment, determination, and presences as positive differences in others’ lives. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without them, and for that and more, I am thankful for them beyond words.

Be like Daphne. Get involved and keep an open mind. For more information, explore the Humanities Program, the Asian American Student Union, and Sigma Psi Zeta at the University of Kansas.

I am Seeking: Maria Velasco

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 10:59

In the College at KU, our research is driven by the passion for improving the world around us. We are explorers, innovators, and dreamers seeking answers to crucial questions in our communities. Learn what professor of visual art Maria Velasco is seeking.

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

Habitat: Explore KU’s greenhouses

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:43

On a third floor terrace on Haworth Hall, KU researchers cultivate hundreds of plants for research on genealogy and evolution. The KU greenhouses are home to a variety of plants including some rare species like a large carrion flower and an array of carnivorous plants. Go inside the greenhouses on our latest episode of Habitat.

For more information, explore the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Ishan Parikh launches his third feature film ‘Ego’

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 10:52

Steven Spielberg released his first full-length film at the age of 25. Hitchcock made his debut at 26. Ishan Parikh, a film & media studies major and business minor at KU, has recently launched his third feature during his junior year.

The concept for “Ego,” which released on YouTube in November 2019, had been simmering in Ishan’s mind since high school. But the logistics of developing the movie, which features a complex story with interweaving plot points, from scratch – assembling a cast, securing funding, and a myriad of other production challenges – had left plans of tackling the project just out of reach.

Then years later as a student in the College, Ishan found resources and mentorship that soon opened doors to new opportunities for creative partnerships and helped bring “Ego” to life. Now, he has received a $950 Arts Research Grant from the The School of the Arts Student Advisory Board to green-light a new project titled “Rainbow Boulevard.”

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

I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas and am from there. I decided to come to KU because it was close to home, and I had heard the film program here was great and provided a sizable experience for students.

Why did you choose your major and minor?

From a very early age I always loved films and their ability to entertain. I can’t remember the exact moment, but from very early on I decided that I wanted to be a movie director because I was fascinated by the job and all its responsibilities, and so from there on, I made films in high school with friends and did my best to develop my craft, and the journey has basically led me here.

As far as the business minor goes, it essentially came as a byproduct of choosing my major. I felt it complements being in the entertainment industry, which is a business in itself, and helps one understand the financial stuff better.

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

KU has an excellent standard for students being able to develop their projects. I think it’s quite a welcoming place for people who need the aid to not only get better at what they want to do, but also to meet others with the same interests. I’ve found the most beneficial thing is to meet others and group with one another to work on things that interest you, whether that be making a film, working on a project, or what have you.

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

I have found a lot of support in many of my professors here at KU, but chief among them would have to be Tamara Falicov, who is the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Tamara was my professor for my Introduction to Film class my freshman year and she was not only a great teacher, but an incredibly productive and approachable professor. She immediately heard my pitch to make my film and was nothing but supportive and encouraging the whole way through the process. She gave me the freedom to pursue it how I wanted to and was a great resource and sounding board for me in the process. I couldn’t possibly run out of things to say about Dr. Falicov and how great she is.

Please tell us about your newly released film, Ego. Where did the idea of the film come from, and how did development and production come together? What was it like collaborating with the team to create the film?

Ego is a film I’ve had in my head for a while now. It takes the disparate stories of a failed private investigator, a married couple, and a successful internet blogger and connects them through the themes of self-pride and narcissism. It taps into large themes about human nature and basically acts as an allegory for the entire philosophy on egos.

This was a film I had the idea for in high school, but back then, circa 2017, it seemed impossible for me to ever make it. When I got to KU, I found so many resources, in terms of the theatre department and film students, that it suddenly seemed possible for me to pull this off on a low budget.

I spent a lot of time last fall prepping the film, figuring out the cast, crew, locations, and all the logistics of how we were going to go about this. We began shooting in February of 2019 and went straight until the end of April when we finished. Even though how fast we were moving in terms of filming, the process was incredibly rewarding in terms of working with actors, and bringing to life such a dense and complex story.

Lots of amazing friends within the film department helped out on the making of this film and they couldn’t have been more generous, lending their time and help making this happen. This is by far the most ambitious and hardest thing I’ve yet to do when it comes to filmmaking and the amount of help I was able to get is the only reason we were able to pull this off.

Do you have any tips for KU students who want to launch their own creative projects?

The only tip I can give is the one that is given many times, which is go out there and do it. There are probably so many others with similar goals as you, and I would say go out and find them. Collaborate with them. Make stuff. Put it out there. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

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

I am currently working with another professor at KU on a project that I am doing as an internship for the spring. We’re developing a documentary. I have yet to go abroad to study, but the plan is to do that in the fall of next year.

What would you tell your freshman self?

I would tell him to slow down, enjoy life in the moment and appreciate it for what it is, because as we all know, time flies.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

The plan is to move to Los Angeles after college and find a job working within the industry somehow, be it starting out as a production assistant, or working on a film crew. The goal is to hopefully be a working filmmaker someday.

What motivates you?

I would say I’m motivated by going out and pursuing what I want no matter the circumstance, or limitation. I think if you keep trying to reach your goals without giving up, eventually, you will succeed in one way or another.

Watch Ego (2019) in its entirety:

Be like Ishan…. For more information, explore the Department of Film & Media Studies and the School of Business at the University of Kansas.

Collaboration across cultures: Returning to Tanzania with ColLAB

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 10:46

Soaring palm trees. Cool ocean breezes. An East African metropolis. These aren’t images you’d normally associate with the University of Kansas. But for 10 Jayhawks this summer, these tropical trappings made for the perfect KU classroom.

In July 2019, those Jayhawks — seven students and three faculty members — participated in a field school in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam. The field school was part of the Kansas African Studies Center’s research program, ColLAB: Bridging East Africa’s Health Divides, which brings together KU students and faculty from different fields and backgrounds to study questions of global health and development.

“The program is an opportunity for students of all levels to take a big step toward living, working, and conducting research in an African context,” says Katie Rhine, ColLAB co-director and associate professor of African & African-American studies and geography & atmospheric science.

Part study abroad and part experiential learning, the field school puts months and years of students’ Swahili language learning, African studies expertise, and research skills to the test.

From Mufindi to Dar

Coastal and boasting more than six million inhabitants, Dar es Salaam couldn’t be more different than the quiet, rural highlands of Mufindi, the setting of the first field school in 2018.

In planning for 2019, Rhine and her fellow ColLAB co-directors, Elizabeth MacGonagle, associate professor of African history, and Dr. Peter Ojiambo, associate professor of African & African-American studies, decided to transplant the field school to the city. Also new: Scholars from the University of Dar es Salaam would work and learn alongside the Kansas students in the field and at lectures and seminars at the university.

Altogether, the 2019 field school would represent an even fuller experience than 2018, offering a trifecta of field research assignments, visits to local non-governmental organizations, and trips to historically significant sites around the region.

From left: ColLAB co-directors Katie Rhine, Elizabeth MacGonagle, and Peter Ojiambo Far afield in the field

The 9,000-mile journey from Kansas to Dar was a long one, but the ColLAB students enjoyed little time to rest. In a formidable first day in the field, the KU and UDSM students were paired off into teams and sent off into different areas of the city. Each team was assigned to collect data related to broad research topics, such as public transport and health and sanitation.

The project, an example of ethnographic research, encapsulated the field school’s objectives.  Kansas students engaged with their UDSM counterparts, interacted with local Tanzanians, and conducted field research in incisive, sometimes unfamiliar ways — experiences impossible to replicate in a classroom environment.

A campus on a hill

Between field trips, the students spent time at the UDSM’s hilltop campus. With its midcentury breezeways and soaring palm trees, UDSM was a scenic, low-key locale for seminars and lectures.

Clockwise from left: Symantha Dawson, Tyler Cargill, Mariah Crystal, Eric Splavec, Lia Thompson, Macie Rouse, and Joe Clark enjoy some downtime on the University of Dar es Salaam campus.

“It’s a beautiful campus,” says Eric Splavec, who graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s in political science. “The amount of history and character there — it reminded me a lot of KU.”  

In the classrooms, the students and faculty shared each other’s markedly different learning and teaching styles. “In the U.S., we believe in participatory exercises and engagement and conversation. In Tanzania, they’re going to give you an hour-long lecture, and you need to listen,” says Katie Rhine.

At the 2019 field school, ColLAB students worked alongside scholars from the University of Dar es Salaam. Living history

Effective humanistic research relies on an understanding of a culture’s past, and how it has shaped societies today. With that in mind, the field school visited several historically significant sites in or near the city: The National Museum of Dar es Salaam; the Pugu Hills Forest Reserve, site of what is considered one of the world’s oldest forests; and Bagamoyo, a former hub of the slave trade and capital of Germany-occupied East Africa.

“When it comes to the slave trade and the history of Dar, there’s so much that affects the living conditions and demographics today,” said Tyler Cargill, a senior studying chemical engineering. These histories figured much more prominently into day-to-day life than he expected.

Students witnessed those effects in a walking tour of the city. Its straining infrastructure and crowded skylines revealed a city fighting forward from a patchwork history of colonialism. Less than six decades after achieving independence, many of Dar es Salaam’s inhabitants still remember the country under colonial rule.

Engaging with Dar’s disadvantaged

East African non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are a major focus of ColLAB’s research efforts. This summer, the program partnered with two nonprofit NGOs: Child in the Sun, a faith-based orphanage funded by the Catholic archdiocese; and PEDDEREF, or People with Drugs Dependence Relief Foundation, a sober house for men and women who suffer from addiction.

Child in the Sun takes in Dar’s “street children” — homeless, frequently orphaned boys who were found stealing, begging, or participating in delinquent activities. Rhine draws connections between the organization’s work and problematic missionary efforts during the slave trade. “Our students saw those parallels when we went to Bagamoyo, where we toured a number of spaces that were rehabilitation centers for former slaves. These were connections that needed to be made. That’s why these histories still matter.”

PEDDEREF seeks to integrate men and women with substance use disorders back into society, as well as treat their addictions and emotional trauma. “To me, PEDDEREF addresses questions of healing that go beyond the body, that have to do with structural inequalities, social stigmas, and gender roles and performances,” Rhine says. “I think those are valuable lessons for our students to bring back with them.”

For Macie Rouse, who graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s in anthropology, the visit to PEDDEREF was eye-opening. “I was honored that they opened their doors to us and let us see this side of Tanzania. Addiction is a deeply stigmatized issue here, so a lot of these people feel really marginalized. That they were willing to share their stories with us was inspiring.”

Endings and beginnings

After nearly two weeks of rigorous fieldwork and close-knit collaboration, the 2019 ColLAB field school came to an end. Many students boarded planes for the U.S. and some to other parts of the world. All planned to continue their work in academic or professional capacities. “We all went on our own journeys after the field school,” Rouse says. “Whether that meant returning to KU, starting a Fulbright, or continuing to travel within Tanzania — that’s exciting.”

For Katie Rhine, the 2019 field school was a turning point for the KU and UDSM students. “I feel a thousand percent confident that the KU students could jump on a plane tomorrow and begin a job or an exciting research project in Tanzania,” she says. “Likewise, the UDSM students could come to the U.S. and enrich and enliven the universities here.”

When asked what she’s taken away from the trip, Lia Thompson, who graduated in 2018 with a master’s in anthropology, is quick to answer. “Confidence. It’s easy to get comfortable in America. Doing research in America, or just being at an American university. But it takes courage to get on a plane, travel 20-plus hours to another country, and interact with intellectuals about topics that you know nothing about.”

Whatever the future holds for ColLAB and the field school, its significance remains clear for Rhine. “I think the approaches to human health that we take in this program hold a tremendous amount of promise,” Rhine says. “This is how social change is going to happen. This is how students are going to learn the skills that they need to make a difference in the world.”

A recipient of the prestigious Foreign Language & Area Studies fellowship, Joe Clark focuses his research on contemporary hip-hop. Symantha Dawson’s research — on violence and health in East Africa — is based on fieldwork conducted at the 2018 field school.

Top 10 #HeartofKU stories of 2019

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 15:27

As the first month of 2020 comes to an end, we’re taking a look back at some of our favorite KU stories of 2019. From bees, beer, and Oscar buzz to research excellence, a Jayhawk Women’s Hall of Famer, and the search for habitable planets outside of our solar system, here are 10 stand-out moments from the past year that highlight just some of the incredible achievements and discoveries of students, faculty, alumni and staff in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Heart of KU.

1. Busy award season for Kevin Willmott

KU professor of Film & Media Studies Kevin Willmott had a busy awards season in 2019. As a co-writer on Spike Lee’s film, “BlacKkKlansman,” Willmott received numerous industry award nominations for his work on the script.

The biggest recognition Willmott received came during the Academy Awards at the end of February when Willmott took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The award capped off a wild month for Willmott who accepted the award onstage during the telecast with co-writers Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, and David Rabinowitz.

2. Go behind the scenes of visual art

Comprising five stories and 130,000 sq. ft. of space, Chalmers Hall provides the perfect home for visual art students to create and learn. In episode four of our video series Habitat, see where students get hands on learning in everything from painting and drawing to textiles and fibers.

3. Meet our Hawks Who Brew

To celebrate National Beer Day on April 7, we profiled six Jayhawk alumni who are applying their KU degrees in the most delicious and refreshingly thirst-quenching ways, working in the beer industry for operations both big and small across the country.

With degrees in Microbiology, Geography and Latin American Studies, Chemistry, Art History, and Atmospheric Science, they’re using their diverse talents to create and innovate in their spaces, combining yeast, hops, and water with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of Jayhawk pride at Free State Brewing Company, Ballast Point, Lawrence Beer Company, 23rd Street Brewery, MillerCoors, and Black Stag Brewery. Cheers!

4. For the Love of Bees Photo by Meg Kumin, photographer at KU Marketing Communications.

You’ve probably heard about the recent boost in popularity for the KU Beekeeping Club (KUBC), who signed up nearly 300 Jayhawks at Hawkfest and Unionfest alone in Fall 2019.

To find out what’s driving the buzz, we asked KU seniors Alex Murray, co-founder and president, and Elizabeth Sundahl, co-founder and club treasurer, who are bringing their creative energy and academic interests to the KUBC to better the environment, connect Jayhawks across disciplines, and build community around beekeeping.

See more of the latest stories about our current students.

5. Unwinding podcast explores the motivations behind new KU discoveries

In new episodes of our podcast Unwinding, we sat down with KU researchers in the College to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans.

Check out some of our latest conversations, including discussions with memory researcher Dave Tell on race, memory and the legacy of Emmett Till, astrophysicist Jennifer Delgado on the search for habitable planets outside our own solar system, and ecologist Joy Ward on how plants respond to rising CO2 levels. Subscribe to Unwinding on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher to get new episodes immediately.

6. Hawks to Watch: Estelle Johnson, professional athlete

Before playing soccer professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France as part of the Cameroonian National Team, Estelle pursued her love of the game on the Kansas soccer team from 2006 to 2009, appearing in all 85 games during her career at KU. At the same time she was building experience as a player with the Jayhawks, Estelle applied her same work ethic to gain complementary skills as a communication studies major in the College.

Learn more about the marks our Hawks are leaving in their industries and communities.

7. Sam Steuart named as KU’s 20th Truman Scholar Photo by Meg Kumin, photographer at KU Marketing Communications

Sam Steuart couldn’t contain his excitement when a visit to Chancellor Girod’s office in April turned out to be a surprise announcement that he had been named as KU’s 20th Harry S. Truman Scholar, which carries an award of $30,000 for graduate school. Then, in December, Sam received another round of exciting news when it was announced that he had earned a George Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom.

Sam, a senior from Topeka majoring in American studies and biochemistry and minoring in Spanish, is studying how socioeconomic status affects a person’s ability to receive health care and education, and intends to pursue a degree in comparative social policy at the University of Oxford. Rock Chalk, Sam!

8. Professor Sarah Deer inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame gained its first Jayhawk in Fall 2019. Sarah Deer, a KU alumna and faculty member who has a joint appointment with the School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame during a ceremony held on September 14, 2019 in Seneca Fall, New York.

She was recognized in particular for her work on the Violence Against Women Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act and her advocacy around issues of sexual assault and domestic violence in indigenous communities. She is the first woman from the University of Kansas and the fifth Kansan to be inducted into hall.

9. Research Excellence Initiative fosters innovation and student growth Photo by Earl Richardson.

Discovery starts with the spark of curiosity. Through hands-on, real-world experience and faculty mentorship, the College’s Research Excellence Initiative (REI) fosters innovation and growth among KU researchers. In 2018-2019, the College’s Research Excellence Initiative provided $580,000 in support for faculty and student research. From filmmaking in Garden City to exploring health access on the ground in East Africa, REI funding is driving KU discoveries that impact communities in Kansas and around the world.

Learn more about REI-funded research in the College in KU Giving Magazine from KU Endowment.

10. College alum Gary Woodland wins U.S. Open

It was a big year for KU athletes. PGA Tour professional golfer and KU College alum (B.A. in Sociology, 2007) Gary Woodland won the 119th U.S. Open in June, marking the first time that a Jayhawk claimed a major golf championship.

Check out what Gary had to say about his career and time at the University of Kansas in Kansas Alumni Magazine.

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

Hawks to Watch: Mugabi Byenkya, writer, poet and rapper

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 16:25

Why Mugabi’s a Hawk to Watch:

Life has a way of writing in unexpected plot twists. For KU grad Mugabi Byenkya, whose journey to a career as a writer, poet and “occasional” rapper has been anything but predictable, adapting to shifting circumstances, often brought on by debilitating bouts of chronic illness, has required equal amounts of personal determination and patience.

After an initial childhood stroke, Mugabi wasn’t expected to live past the age of 9. Born in Nigeria to Ugandan parents, he arrived at KU with plans to pursue his passion of ecology and policy and eventually land a steady 9-to-5 job, plans that would change after a new series of recurring health issues. But he soon found that the skills he developed during his time at KU were transferrable to a new path. Now at 27 years old, he’s keeping a full schedule performing shows across five countries and promoting his recent book Dear Philomena, which has been distributed in five continents.

An all-around creative force, in addition to being a one-man-shop, operating as his own booking agency, publicist and manager, Mugabi was selected as one of ten emerging theater artists in bcHUB’s Emerging Artists Ensemble and named “one of 56 writers who has contributed to his native Uganda’s literary heritage in the 56 years since independence”; his award-winning writings have even been used to teach international high school English reading comprehension.

With many successes to his name in the face of lifelong challenges, Mugabi continues to defy expectations. And through his experiences, he’s learned to take things one day at a time, to set manageable goals, and, now more than ever, to be kind to himself.

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

I’m a writer, poet and occasional rapper. Being an independent, proudly anti-establishment artist involves juggling a lot of hats, as I operate as my own booking agent, publicist and manager.    

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

Definitely a longer and still ongoing journey. I started writing privately at a very young age, and I always envisioned a future with a stable 9-5 full-time job, while pursuing my writing as a side hustle. I was able to attend KU through an incredibly generous full-tuition scholarship from the International Institute of Education. I felt internal pressure to gain a practical skill-set that could be leveraged into a sustainable career. Artistic careers are notorious for financial instability in the gig economy, so after two changes in my major, I declared at KU as an Environmental Studies and Global & International Studies double major. I intended to combine my passion for ecology with my love of policy and gain a practical skill-set that could be leveraged into secure, reliable, sustainable full-time employment.

My parents lived through three wars, and I’ve faced my fair share of instability: surviving a stroke and subsequent health complications in 2001, as well as the loss of my father and drastic change to my family’s economic stability in 2005. This taught me to prioritize stability, security and sustainability over everything. So, I worked hard and studied harder at KU, which brought me an additional scholarship from the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow, four undergraduate research awards, and three amazing part-time jobs as an RA, DA and later Night Security with the Department of Student Housing. After four spectacular years, I graduated from KU in 2014, and moved to the University of Michigan for a Masters in Environmental Justice, partially funded by an Academic Leadership Fellowship. But “everything changed when the fire nation attacked!”

At the end of my first semester of graduate school, I suffered from two back-to-back strokes. The doctors told me I wouldn’t be alive to see 2016. With my impending death looming over my shoulder, I started writing Dear Philomena, as a last minute attempt to fulfill my dreams with the limited time I had left. Initially this was grueling; the exertion that 15 minutes of writing would entail on my body would result in an excruciating 3-hour long seizure. Over time, I built up the capability to write for longer and longer. This eventually led to me finding my current publisher and embarking on my current journey! The journey is far from over and managing my disabilities and chronic illnesses occupies the majority of my time.

I’m currently partially dependent on my incredibly generous family and friends for food, shelter, and financial assistance, which I’m simultaneously humbled and incredibly grateful for. Despite my significant challenges, I’ve managed to survive several years past my intended life expectancy, distribute my book across North America, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Australia, tour in support of my book, performing in eighty shows across forty-three cities in five countries, and for that I am very proud.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Tripling my intended life expectancy. I was supposed to die after my initial childhood stroke at 9 years old and I’m 27 currently!

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

During the final leg of my book tour last year, I got hit by an unexplained extended bout of massively deteriorating health. I was supposed to have a thirty-five show, twenty city, six country tour. Instead, I was barely able to complete a ten show, five city, three country mini-tour. These massive cancellations left me devastated and disappointed in my unreliable body. This was magnified by the barrage of racism and ableism I faced while dealing with doctors, promoters and show organizers. I was unable to properly process my feelings while struggling with partial paralysis, seizures, ridiculous amounts of pain and fatigue, among other chronic illness issues. Being chronically ill is a daily struggle and living in an ableist world is even worse. So, I try to allow myself space to grieve missed opportunities and recognize that even though I inhabit an incredibly volatile body, it’s one capable of producing such beauty and is worthy of love, recognition, admiration and respect.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I used to be incredibly Type A and had my five-year plan charted out at any point in time. Life has since then laughed at my plans and thrown me for a loop, so I try not to be as rigid. In ten years, honestly I hope to be alive. I hope to be contributing to my chosen family and communities in whichever ways I am able. I hope to be happy and I hope to be loved.

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

I know that you perceive your mind as your biggest asset due to your disabled body and the ableism you have internalized. However, your mind is not your biggest asset, your heart is.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

My friend from KU, Alec Bostwick (@BostWiki on YouTube/Socials) made an incredibly poignant YouTube video a while back that outlined how to become successful in any career. I will re-iterate his advice because it’s the best career pro-tip I’ve heard. In the video he says, you need 1/2 things in order to become successful, namely:
1. Luck
2. Connections + Privilege
3. Hard work (OPTIONAL)

Hard work on its own gives you nothing. Some of the hardest working people I know consider themselves failures for things beyond their control. You can’t work your way out of miserable circumstances; everyone needs a helping hand. However, when hard work is paired with either luck and/or connections and privilege, you can move mountains. You can’t control luck, so folks should learn how to best leverage their respective privilege and make the right connections in order to succeed.

For example, while I was working on edits for Dear Philomena, my roommate’s older brother walked in and asked me what I was up to. When he found out I was editing a book I wrote, he recommended a friend of his wife’s. She had just recently founded her own independent small publishing house. I decided to learn from the mistakes of artists I knew and opted for a non-conventional independent contract, as this was my first book. I bought the rights for the book from my publisher and paid up-front for all publication costs. This was significantly more than I could afford, so I ran an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, which more than tripled my intended fundraising goal! Shortly after this success, I ended up with a terrible agent, who took a large chunk of my Kickstarter money and did next to nothing with it. This was when I made the decision to become my own manager/publicist/booking agent rather than outsource. 

Currently, I have made significantly more than the typical advance and 5-10% royalty deal that most authors get. I’ve been able to leverage all I’ve learned as my own manager/publicist/booking agent in order to find folks able to actually contribute to my career.

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

My degrees at KU directly prepared me for a very different job that I am no longer physically able to do. However, the transferable skills that I learned within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and within the greater KU ecosystem, massively prepared me for my current job. While I was at KU, I had to juggle demanding classes, a part-time job, student organization involvement and relationships/life. Because I was a double major, I went from Chemistry to African Film to a Student Senate meeting in the same day. Similarly, in my current job, I can go from a TV interview to writing and publishing something new to a paid performance in the same day. My KU degrees not only taught me how to juggle many hats in different fields but also how to write for an audience effectively, efficiently digest large amounts of data, and present findings in an engaging unconventional manner.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I used to have a mantra when I was working on Dear Philomena: “#NoDaysOff.” Every day I would post my progress through a word count. This helped keep me accountable but also fostered an unhealthy work practice. I would feel incredibly guilty for being unable to write. Yet, I always had a valid and health-related reason for not writing.

Lately I’ve decided to prioritize rest and the privilege to be able to have “#DaysOff.” When I’ve clocked out I enjoy chai and conversation, live music, especially anytime I can catch my brother and his friends perform, and devouring our 5000+ comic book collection we’ve been accumulating since 1998!

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I hate chocolate.

Be like Mugabi. Tell your story. For more information, visit the Center for Global and International Studies and Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas. Get the latest news from Mugabi on his website.

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: Estelle Johnson, professional athlete

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 15:06
Why Estelle’s a Hawk to Watch:

Paste introduction here.

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

I’m a professional soccer player. I currently play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) here in the U.S. as well as for the Cameroonian National Team.

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

I was drafted in 2010 straight from KU. I still remember the moment I got the news. I was in an interview for an internship in Allen Fieldhouse. I left the interview and had over 70 congratulatory text messages and a handful of calls from friends and family. They knew before I did.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Not much can top playing in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. I was able to represent my birth nation, Cameroon.

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

I’d say my first professional training camp was a low point. It was just an eye opener to how much I still needed to learn to be good enough to play in the American League. I had to just learn to relax a bit. Once I let go of the stress of possibly getting cut and essentially “failing,” I was able to play my game. That was a turning point for me, for sure.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I hope to be mentoring other females, not just athletes, and helping them take on life with confidence, grit, determination, strength, and grace.

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

I would tell 18-year-old Estelle to forget about societal expectations on how you should live your life. Instead, simply be good to others and live your life in a way that makes you happy. Simple.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Put your head down and go to work – day in and day out.

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

The ability to communicate effectively is something that is taken so lightly. Everybody just assumes that others know how to do it but I’ve found the opposite to be true. My studies at KU have helped me be one of the best communicators on and off of the pitch. When you’re surrounded by people from all over the world, this is an extremely important aspect of the job.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

Eat, sleep, and spend time with my family and loved ones. I like to travel and experience new cultures but I’m pretty simple on a day to day basis.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I come from a huge family. I am one of 10. I have 4 sisters and 5 brothers.

Be like Estelle… For more information, visit…. 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. 

Lilah Wilder goes to Washington as a Department of State intern

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 16:22

If you’ve been keeping up with headlines, you’ve probably noticed that stories involving diplomacy have been dominating the news cycle recently. As a Public Diplomacy intern with the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program, KU senior Lilah Wilder gained hands-on experience and training in international relations and foreign policy, working directly with government officials and organizations whose works shape the political and social landscapes in societies across the globe.

Learn about Lilah’s adventures in the U.S. and overseas, how she plans to achieve her career goals, and how communication skills she developed in College classes prepared her for work in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy.

Internship title and organization:

I was a Public Diplomacy intern working in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy for the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program in Washington, D.C.

 What were your responsibilities during the internship?

I was fortunate to not have a set list of duties during my internship, but rather to have the chance to work on many different projects throughout the internship. I coordinated meetings between State Department officials and professionals from the Middle East and North Africa who were visiting the U.S. through the International Visitor Leadership Program. After coordinating these meetings, I escorted the participants from the Middle East and North Africa throughout the building and even had the chance to moderate their discussions with officials during meetings entirely in Arabic.

Additionally, on my second day of work, I had the chance to set up for and attend the Ministerial Meeting for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. I also collaborated with other offices across the department to plan and organize the 2019 International Women of Courage Awards. On the day of the awards, I took on the role of escorting the International Woman of Courage from Jordan, Khalida al-Twal, to her meetings with State Department officials after First Lady Melania Trump recognized her accomplishments empowering women in the Jordanian Security Forces. I also escorted members of the press to different meetings during the 2019 NATO Ministerial, and I assisted in the planning for the 2019 Camp David Accords Celebration. I thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities to meet people from around the world and practice my French, Arabic, and even Spanish language skills.

One of my more long-term projects was curating press clips every morning on Iran and sending it out to the Department to keep officials updated on what was happening there. I also drafted fact sheets about Secretary Pompeo and other high-ranking officials’ upcoming meetings and conferences around the world and the foreign policy objectives those meetings were meant to achieve. Additionally, I analyzed public responses to U.S. embassies’ social media content regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wrote up a report based on that analysis, and sent it to Jason Greenblatt, the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. Finally, I updated content on the State Department website and archived grant records for Near Eastern Affairs Public Diplomacy programs into Excel spreadsheets.

What was your favorite part of the internship?

My favorite part of the internship was definitely coordinating and moderating meetings between State Department officials and groups from the Middle East and North Africa for the International Visitor Leadership Program. We had several of these meetings every single week of my 4-month internship. During each meeting, I had the chance to practice speaking Arabic and French with the participants and learn about their incredible work as journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and scholars in their home countries. My successful coordination of these meetings helped facilitate cross-cultural exchange and improve relations between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa on the people-to-people level.

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

From this internship, one of the first important things I gained was strong relationships with people in my field in Washington, D.C. My goal is to work in the U.S. Foreign Service, and thanks to this internship, I have gained close friendships and contacts with Foreign Service Officers and other State Department officials who have expressed their willingness to act as references for my job applications and have formed a crucial network that will help me achieve my career goals.

Additionally, I gained a strong understanding of how U.S. foreign policy is formed and shaped while working at the State Department, and I gained valuable skills that I can apply to almost any job after graduation. I learned to write much more concisely and effectively than in school, since government writing is about getting a complex point across in a quick, clear, easily-digestible way (and not in 12-page papers). I also improved my Arabic and French speaking skills in a professional setting, as well as my public speaking skills. Additionally, I gained computer skills by updating the State Department website and working with spreadsheets on a daily basis.

Lastly, I learned how to change the ink in a printer. Who knew something as basic as that would come out of this experience?

How had the classes you’d taken at KU, and in your majors and minors prepared you for the internship?

My classes in Arabic, French, Spanish, Islamic Studies, Environmental Geopolitics, and Comparative Politics are some examples of the coursework from my Global & International Studies major that definitely prepared me for my internship. These courses gave me strong Arabic, French, and Spanish speaking skills in order to interact more productively with visitors coming to the State Department all over the world and to represent the U.S. in a more positive light. The other courses I listed gave me strong writing skills and crucial background knowledge on the workings of the U.S. government and the histories, politics, and cultures of the countries that my office works with on a daily basis. I quickly gained the respect of my colleagues by demonstrating that I had this essential political and cultural knowledge.

Have you been part of any study abroad programs at KU?

I studied abroad twice during my time at KU. First, I studied in an intensive Arabic language program at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco during the summer of 2017. This was my first time living for an extended period of time in a foreign country and my first time to the African continent. It was one of the most eye-opening, impactful experiences of my life and allowed me to gain an incredible amount of independence and confidence in myself.

During the fall semester of 2017, I then studied at IAU College in Aix-en-Provence, France. I lived with a host family who didn’t speak English, so this opportunity allowed me to finally immerse myself in the French language and become fluent after seven years of study. I also had the chance to travel to eight different countries outside of France during that semester and see a lot of Europe.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

After graduation, I am hoping to work as a Program Assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace or at the State Department in Washington, D.C. I am currently applying for these kinds of positions and have interviews in D.C. in a couple of weeks. Eventually, I plan to go to graduate school and get a Master’s Degree in International Affairs. My ultimate goal is to join the U.S. Foreign Service, and although I have passed the Foreign Service Officer Test and have made it through the second round of the selection process, I expect that it will take several years before I can make it through all three rounds and be selected for the Foreign Service.

Give a shout-out to someone to a prof, advisor or someone else who has been influential during your time at KU:

There have been so many people during my college career who have helped me get to where I am today, and I wish I could recognize all of them! However, I would definitely say that my Honors Advisor, Dr. Marc Greenberg, has been one of the most active sources of support in everything I have done in the past four years, from studying abroad, to interning in Washington, D.C., to being involved on campus. One of the first courses I took at KU was an Honors Seminar taught by Dr. Greenberg that inspired my love for learning languages and pushed me to start learning Arabic at KU. Although I never took any other classes with Dr. Greenberg, I have met with him many times over the past four years to talk about my career goals, get advice, and update him on what I am pursuing. He has written me countless recommendation letters and always believed in my ability to achieve my goals. Thank you Dr. Greenberg!

I would also really like to recognize Professor Antje Ziethen and Professor Christine Bourgeois in the French Department for taking my French reading and writing skills to the next level, for always taking an interest in my goals, and for supporting me in my Fellowship and Fulbright applications!

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

One of the benefits of being in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has simply been being exposed to students from diverse backgrounds holding diverse interests, perspectives, and talents in my classes! I have talked to Engineering and Pre-Med students who have told me that their classrooms have been very different than mine, as most of the students in their classes have the same interests and goals, and they have had to join clubs and other organizations in order to get exposure to diversity at KU.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Although it is important to get good grades, you don’t need to pull so many all-nighters to balance school, work, and a social life! Manage your time more efficiently and find that happy, healthy medium between slacking off and taking school way too seriously to the point of stress. Enjoy your youth and get more sleep so you live longer! Haha.

What motivates you?

I have always been very self-motivated, constantly reminding myself of my career goals and where my hard work will eventually take me in order to stay dedicated. 

Be like Lilah. Stay dedicated to your goals. For more information, explore the Center for Global & International Studies, the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Middle East Studies, the Department of African and African-American Studies, and Study Abroad & Global Engagement at the University of Kansas. Also see the U.S. Department of State’s Student Internship Program and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press and Public Diplomacy.

Unwinding: Dave Tell on race, memory and the legacy of Emmett Till

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 11:26

What does it mean to commemorate a moment in time? For Professor of Communication Studies Dave Tell, commemorating the legacy of the murder of Emmett Till has taken him on a journey from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. As part of the Emmett Till Memory Project, Tell has worked with Till’s family to help shepherd his story and to preserve his memory. Hear Tell discuss his latest book Remembering Emmett Till, how he came to be involved with the Emmett Till Memory Project, and his work with memory, race and place on the latest episode of Unwinding.

Unwinding is a podcast that tells the human stories driving the minds and talents of the University of Kansas. In each episode we sit down with KU researchers to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. The conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a production by KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is the heart of KU. It’s home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, offering more than 100 majors, minors and certificates. A collaborative and creative community, the College is committed to making the world better through inquiry and research.

Photo credits: University Daily Kansan

Hawks to Watch: Brett Striker, Entrepreneur

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 11:13
Why Brett’s a Hawk to Watch:

Fair warning: You might want to grab a snack before reading about our November Hawk to Watch, Brett Striker, CEO and founder of the Minneapolis-based popcorn company Maddy & Maize. At Maddy & Maize, Brett and his team are feeling the holiday rush in full force, popping up small batches of chocolate-covered, caramel-drizzled, sprinkle-coated gourmet goodness to satisfy the appetites of a hungry seasonal market.

A career that requires being surrounded by popcorn may sound delightful, but Brett’s road to entrepreneurship was often an uphill struggle, with numerous obstacles and rejections along the way. But with a solid understanding of people from his KU degree in psychology, and a determined, ‘keep at it’ mindset, he was able to turn his vision into a delicious reality.

Check out what Brett had to say about his experiences with business start-up, how Maddy & Maize came to be, and see what kernels of wisdom (pun 100% intended) he has to share with KU students and aspiring entrepreneurs. Discover why Brett’s a Hawk to Watch.

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

I am the Founder & CEO of a popcorn company called Maddy & Maize.

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

I knew that I wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t have a clue as to what type of business it would be. I spent years coming up with ideas in my head – whether it was an idea for an app or taking an existing business model and trying to figure out how I could improve upon it, or simply developing a completely new business that didn’t exist yet. I was pretty obsessive about it.

Eventually, when I thought that I actually had an idea that had some legs to it, I’d research what it would take to get started and then try to find a way to raise some money. I did this for many years and with multiple business ideas that resulted in enough “no’s” to last a lifetime, but it was absolutely necessary for me. Although it was a long and difficult process, I learned so much about business. I began to develop new perspectives as a result of talking to smarter people than I who either explained why my ideas wouldn’t work or would ask me questions that I hadn’t yet thought of. So, in one sense, it wasn’t necessarily a moment when things came together because it took years; however, I do remember the exact moment when I had the idea for popcorn. Finally, after everything I had learned, this idea made some sense. Now, I just had to figure out how to make it! 

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

My biggest achievement so far, without a doubt, is that I haven’t given up. Starting this business has been so much harder than I would’ve ever expected – and I expected it to be extremely hard – but, I never let myself give up despite wanting to so many times.

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

There have been many days when I felt so down and defeated that I couldn’t even move. I have no doubt that I will face more days like that in the future, but I’ve learned to never get too up or too down. I guess the key for me is expecting low moments and viewing them as opportunities. I know it’s cliché, but it’s truly how I view any obstacles in front of me. I feel fortunate that from a very young age, my mom would always stress to me that I need to look at every bump in the road as an opportunity to learn and grow. I’ve definitely become mentally stronger over the years, but fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know how a person can learn and grow unless they also experience challenges along the way. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

In 10 years, I hope to be in a financial position where I can mentor and invest in aspiring entrepreneurs and growing businesses.

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

I’d probably tell myself that the years right out of college are going to be extremely challenging, and although it might seem from the outside that all of your friends look as if they are happy, successful, love doing what they are doing and have it all together, that probably isn’t the case.  They are all just like me. We are all freaking out about not knowing what we want to do with our lives and looking around as if we are the only one. But rather than doing something that seems like it will make you a lot of money, it is actually the time to enjoy the unknown. Take risks. If nothing else, you’ll learn what you don’t want to do and meet awesome people along the way. Oh, and 30 isn’t old at all. It’s not some magic age where you need to have it all figured out. But the 18-year-old me probably still wouldn’t have believed me!

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Meet with people that make you feel intimidated. Ask to meet with them for a coffee and pick their brain for advice. Don’t worry if you don’t really have any deep questions to ask. You’ll quickly start to feel more comfortable around people and in situations that make you nervous the more you put yourself out there. Networking is crucial and those are the type of people you should be looking to meet. One of my favorite quotes, even though I don’t have a clue who said it and I’m likely paraphrasing it is, “everything you’ve ever wanted is just outside of your comfort zone.”

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

My degree taught me a lot about people and how they think. I learned that we all have our own internal struggles, and for the most part, we are all trying our best.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I don’t really ever truly “clock out” but I try to hang out with my friends and relax as much as possible. I like to read and workout, but the truth of the matter is I need to do a better job of turning it off. 

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I have a twin sister named Erin who also graduated from KU. She’s pretty cool.

Be like Brett. Chase what excites you, even it takes you out of your comfort zone. For more information, visit the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas and Maddy & Maize.

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. 

Starting the dialogue: Jeff Thompson and Thomas Angel tackle health issues with new podcast

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 11:18

Issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and male relationships can make for sensitive topics of conversation for some, but two nontraditional students in the KU College have built a podcast devoted to tackling those subjects and more.

Jeff Thompson and Thomas Angel, who are both studying in the College on a pre-med track, quickly hit it off as friends and bonded over their common interests. Jeff, who has Type 1 diabetes, and Thomas, who comes from a poverty-stricken community and served in the U.S. military, wanted to share their passion for helping others with the world. And one morning, over 5:00a.m. cups of coffee, they landed on the idea of starting a podcast to help reduce stigma, promote healthy living, and encourage open discussion about health issues that affect millions of people.

Learn about Thomas and Jeff’s journey as nontraditional students at KU, launching The Kensington Corner podcast, and their goal of spreading mental and physical health through their careers and honest dialogue.

Why did you choose your majors and minors? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study?

Jeff: I chose my major because it’s a science major that I was interested in and really felt it encompassed all the bases moving forward towards the end goal of becoming a doctor. There wasn’t really a moment, but it interfaced well with the desire to get into medicine. The journey has been fun, scary quitting job as an adult, but as a non-traditional student it’s an opportunity to redeem myself in college now.

Thomas: I chose Italian because I love the culture and language and wanted to have a foreign language heading into Med School. I was incredibly interested in Behavioral Neuroscience because I love all aspects of neuro, curious about how the brain works, why we behave the way we do and the evolution of the human brain. I really knew I wanted to do both of these coming back in. The journey from military to now has been humbling, I’m excited to be back in school.

Tell us about your podcast, The Kensington Corner. Where did the idea come from, and what do you hope to achieve through the project? What life experiences informed your approach to the podcast?

Thomas: Our podcast aims to help promote a healthy lifestyle and healthy conversation. The idea came from Jeff and I having a morning coffee around 5 am a couple times a week. We were having great conversations and decided we wanted to share that with the world and invite other people in. We believe every human being is unique and wanted to showcase that. My time in the military really shaped my view of the world and helped form the idea of becoming a doctor and helping people. Jeff has been working well over a decade in the civilian field and has Type 1 diabetes which leads him to wanting to help others in ways that I could never understand. We share a common understanding of wanting to be better people and help others achieve that as well.

How do you apply lessons or skills you’ve gained in your majors to your podcast work?

We would actually say it’s vice versa; we use our communication skills that we develop on the podcast in daily interactions with peers, professors and advisors. The podcast has given us an outlet to learn and understand more about the world and the individuals who roam it.

Do you have any advice for others about how to begin to have more open dialogues about some of the issues you discuss in The Kensington Corner, such as mental health, PTSD, anxiety, and male relationships?

Be open and honest. Don’t be ashamed of anything and know that there are people out here who care and want to help. That approach is a good way to lead by example who are going through dark times and maybe need a lift out of the slump they’re in.

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

Ally Stanton and Keon Stowers of the Alumni Association have been beneficial in our success here at KU.

The professor that I would say we’d like to give the most credit to our success is Shaui Sun. He’s a kind, caring individual who really gets the students. He does not get the credit in his department that he should.

What have your experiences as a nontraditional student at KU been like?

Overall a very positive experience. Being non-traditional gives you an entirely different perspective that your peers probably don’t understand. It is energizing to be around the younger generation because we’re learning more daily about ourselves than maybe we would if we were around like-minded individuals our age all the time. It’s a refreshing feeling, we’re basically kids again.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Jeff: Intelligence and talent isn’t a substitute for hard work.

Thomas: Slow down, be patient. It will all come with time.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Both of us want to be doctors. Of course, Jeff and I are very different, he is leaning towards the trauma side of medicine whereas I’m interested in the brain/psych side. We just both hope we’re healthy and somewhat successful and happy in our careers.

What motivates you?

Jeff: The desire to get into med school and make a positive impact in my community.

Thomas: I come from a poverty-stricken area, so just knowing I never want to live like that again.

Be like Jeff and Thomas. Start a dialogue about the issues that matter to you. For more information, explore the Undergraduate Biology Program, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of French, Francophone & Italian Studies at the University of Kansas. And check out The Kensington Corner podcast. Feature image photo by Kathy Hanks at the Lawrence Journal-World.

Unwinding with Joy Ward: Ecologist

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 15:01

By now you’ve heard about climate change affecting weather cycles and sea levels, but a less discussed element of rising carbon dioxide levels is changes to vegetation. Associate Dean for Science Research Joy Ward and her team are seeking answers to questions about how plants respond under different climate conditions by simulating carbon dioxide levels in a lab setting. Learn more about Associate Dean Ward’s research and how she first became interested in working with plants on our latest episode of Unwinding.

Unwinding is a podcast that tells the human stories driving the minds and talents of the University of Kansas. In each episode we sit down with KU researchers to chat about what they’re working on, why they’re passionate about it, why it matters, and what makes them tick as humans. The conversation explores the fascinations and motivations that produce new discoveries.

Unwinding is a production by KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is the heart of KU. It’s home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, offering more than 100 majors, minors and certificates. A collaborative and creative community, the College is committed to making the world better through inquiry and research.