AMERICAN.EDU/CAS/CONNECTIONS | SPRING 2012
From Russia with Love
Gaming the System
Being Raoul Middleman
Pedal to the Medals
Letter from the Dean
On the Cover
Raoul Middleman // Loading Elevator. 1988 // Oil on paper
Publisher: College of Arts and Sciences // Dean: Peter Starr // Managing Editor: Abbey Becker // Writers: Abbey Becker and Josh Halpren // Editor: Ali Kahn, UP // Designer: Nicky Lehming // Webmaster: Thomas Meal // Senior Advisor: Mary Schellinger // Send news items and comments to Abbey Becker at email@example.com.
Join our conversation Facebook facebook.com/AUcollege
THOSE OF US WHO ARE LUCKY enough to work at universities like AU spend our lives
creating and sharing knowledge. In this issue of Connections, we are delighted to feature some of the College of Arts and Sciences’ most passionate knowledge mavens—faculty, students, and alumni, whose groundbreaking research has shaped both their discipline and society at large. The appointments of Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman as Distinguished Professors attest to the value of the mark they’ve made at American University and in the broader discipline of historical study. Economics professor James Bono is working to change air travel as we know it by using statistical modeling and game theory to help NASA better model the effects of increased airline traffic. Biology professor Kathleen DeCicco-Skinner is testing how a particular gene can affect skin cancer development in mice in the hope of developing new cancer treatments for humans. The launch of the American University Initiative for Russian Culture gave life to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s and donor Susan Lehrman’s conviction that sharing the richness of Russian films, music, literature, and theatre will help American students see modern Russia in a new light. Artist Raoul Middleman roamed the streets of the Baltimore harbor and the Block for inspiration to paint the seedy reality of his hometown for his exhibition, Raoul Middleman: City Limits. Many AU students put their knowledge to work long before they walk at commencement. Thanks to first-rate coaching by our faculty, four AU students recently brought home top honors in a language competition for non-native Chinese speakers. While a public history master’s student, Jen Jablonsky passed her love of history to others through her internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Others wait to get some life experience under their belt before making their mark, and they find that their AU studies help them to make a real difference. Erik Taubeneck is using his work in mathematics and statistics to help LivingSocial succeed in the competitive daily deals market. Opera journalist Karyl Charna Lynn set aside a career in the sciences to pursue her true passion for opera. And she established an endowed fund to ensure that AU students who share that passion will be able to follow in her footsteps. Happy reading,
Peter Starr Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
AMERICAN.EDU/CAS/CONNECTIONS | SPRING 2012
Letter from the Dean Distinguished Professors Named 2 Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman receive honors
Hitting a High Note 3 Alumna Karyl Charna Lynn funds new opera program
From Russia with Love 4 Initiative for Russian Culture fosters exchange and dialogue
Being Raoul Middleman 6 AU Museum director and curator Jack Rasmussen interviews Baltimore artist
Knockoff Genes 8 Biologist Kathleen DeCicco-Skinner studies link between a gene deficit and skin cancer
Gaming the System 9 Economist James Bono wins NASA grant to model airline behavior for policy making
Alumni Profile: Jen Jablonsky 10 The internship that launched a thousand interfaces
Alumni Profile: Erik Taubeneck 11 Numbers wonk creates metrics for measuring deal performance at LivingSocial
Pedal to the Medals 12 AU students win big at Chinese language competition
Named “Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman are extraordinary scholars, brilliant teachers, and lifelong advocates for social justice.” — Peter Starr THE BOARD of Trustees
recently confirmed historians Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman as Distinguished Professors. The title honors those who have received national and 4
international recognition in their academic field. “Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman are extraordinary scholars, brilliant teachers, and, each in his own way, lifelong advocates for social
justice,” says Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I can think of no one at this great university who more thoroughly exemplifies our core values.” Breitman says the title
by Abbey Becker
enables him to focus more on research. “I teach a little less and I’m a little freer to explore things on my own.” That freedom to explore is what got him to where he is today. When Breitman came to teach at AU in 1976, David Brandenberg, then department chair, told him he could teach anything he wanted (as long as he got students)—with one exception: he would have to teach a course on Nazi Germany. Breitman, a scholar of the Weimar Republic, was less than thrilled. But in the process of researching the subject for his class, Breitman encountered some gaps
and controversies that piqued his interest. He delved into the extensive collection of Nazi-related material at the National Archives, which led to a book, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933–1945 (University of Indiana, 1988). Coauthored with colleague Alan Kraut, it looks at American policy and reactions to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. While that project was still underway, he came across a story that led him down a new path. “Along the way, I encountered a mystery about a German industrialist who had leaked information to the West about Nazi plans during the war,”
arts of students, and to uphold the ideals of our very special university.” Lichtman has written numerous books, including five editions of his critically acclaimed The Keys to the White House (Lexington, 2000), which explains his system for predicting and analyzing American presidential election results. Based on this formula, he has accurately called the winner of every presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s reelection in 1984. His most recent book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (Atlantic Monthly, 2008) was named a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for nonfiction. A pioneer on the AU campus, Lichtman served as founding director of the University Honors Program. He taught the first honors seminar on U.S. presidential elections, as well as courses on women’s history and women in politics in the twentieth century. Active in public affairs, Lichtman is a regular political commentator on NBC, CNN, VOA, and other U.S. and international networks, and he is interviewed frequently by print media. He has served as an expert witness in numerous landmark voting and civil rights cases. “My goal,” says Lichtman, “has been to fulfill the mission of the university through public engagement and public service.”
by Abbey Becker
Courtesy of Karyl Charna Lynn
Breitman says. “That he had done so was known, but his identity was not. Using my growing knowledge of the National Archives, I was able to solve the mystery.” His discovery led to another book, released before the other and titled Breaking the Silence: The German Who Exposed the Final Solution (Simon and Schuster, 1986). It was cowritten with renowned scholar Walter Laqueur. “Now,” says Breitman, “I was stuck deeply in the middle of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and I figured I might as well go all in.” The result? His seminal work, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (Knopf, 1991). Hired as director of historical research for the Nazi War Criminal Records and Imperial Japanese Records Interagency Group, he assisted in the declassification of some nine million pages of government records. Those records served as the basis of his study, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew (Hill and Wang, 1998). Allan Lichtman hopes that he inspires young scholars at AU. “For me, this honor is a culmination of 38 years of hard work and service at AU,” he says. “I have endeavored to contribute to the worlds of ideas and actions, to convey knowledge and understanding to nearly two generations
KARYL CHARNA LYNN, SOC/MA
’80, wants to ensure that students interested in opera can find a place at American University. She recently allocated a portion of her charitable estate plan to establish an endowed fund dedicated to advancing the appreciation of opera. The fund will provide support for faculty, programming, and guest lecturers at AU. While pursuing an undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, Lynn discovered that it was her courses in opera and symphony history that excited her. Which got her thinking that, perhaps a career in science was not her dream. Still, she enrolled in a doctoral program in biochemistry at
Columbia. Instead of completing the program, she moved to Washington, D.C. While working as a producer and correspondent covering science and medical topics for ZDF German Television, she got her master’s in film and broadcast journalism at AU. And that reset her course. Since 1989, Lynn has worked full-time as an operatic journalist. She is currently the U.S. correspondent for Opera Now and the author of six books on the subject. Making a donation to American seemed logical to Lynn. “Washington is home,” she said. “I support the institutions here that are important to me and, as an alumna, I wanted to be sure American University is among them.” 5 5
arts & humanities
From Russia with Love
by Josh Halpren
“We hope to expose American students . . . to the enormous variety and richness of Russian culture.” — Anton Fedyashin “UNDERSTANDING a
country’s culture helps us to understand its people.” And that, says Susan Lehrman, advisory committee chair and cofounder, is the crux of AU’s Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC). “Through greater cultural awareness and 6
experience, students can achieve broader global perspectives and a deeper appreciation for different cultures.” In spring 2010, Lehrman met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Peter Starr,
dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to discuss establishing an initiative at AU to connect American and Russian students. Ambassador Kislyak shared his dream of a collaborative student program with Lehrman
when she was chair of the Washington National Opera Ball, held that year at the Russian embassy. Lehrman thought immediately of a link with AU. “American University was the perfect place to house this initiative because they already had a robust Russian studies program,” she says. “Our initiative enhances AU’s existing programs, as well as future plans.” The IRC takes its mission beyond AU’s campus and into the D.C. community. Students in the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area receive invitations to events.
“It really is an unprecedented attempt by an embassy to reach out directly to American students,” says Anton Fedyashin, a history professor and associate director of the IRC. “Ambassador Kislyak is a pioneer when it comes to building these connections through young people. Through the initiative, we hope to expose American students from all of the consortium universities to the enormous variety and richness of Russian culture.” Eric Lohr, also in the history department and IRC director, emphasizes Russia’s influence on world culture. “Every
Library of Congress. Imagelink Photography
arts & humanities
undergrad should be familiar with the great elements of Russian culture,” he says, citing literary figures like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and composers, such as Tchaikovsky. Russian culture, he says, is “a key part of a liberal arts education.” The initiative officially launched in September 2011 with an event at the Library of Congress. Attendees included nearly 250 students and faculty from consortium universities, as well as representatives from the State Department, Congress, international institutions, and think tanks. The program
featured a screening of We Are Jazzmen, a Russian film chronicling the rise of jazz in Soviet Russia in the 1920s. “Jazz is a very American form of music,” says Fedyashin. “Exploring its fate in the Soviet Union from the 1920s to the 1990s provides a very different perspective on U.S.– Soviet relations during the Cold War.” The IRC intentionally tries to dispel Cold Warera stereotypes of Russians, reinforced by the arms race and McCarthyism, and present a more accurate picture of the Soviet experience after World War II. So far, students have responded enthusiastically to course offerings on Russian culture. Fedyashin reported that Dostoevsky’s Russia, Russian Film and Politics, and the Cold War and the Spy Novel were particularly popular and reflected students’ interest in all things Russian. “There is a sense,” he says, “that they haven’t heard the whole story, or at least heard it accurately. And these
courses, as well as IRC events, help students to build their knowledge of a country that can seem very distant.” This summer, he plans to take a group of consortium students to St. Petersburg for an up close and personal exploration of Dostoevsky’s work. “Students will walk where Dostoevsky walked and count the individual steps, just as he did,” says Fedyashin. “Reading and analyzing Russian literature is extremely important. But actually going there and experiencing the country and its culture can add so much to the meaning and context of these books.” The IRC has enhanced the breadth and depth of AU’s Russia-related arts activities—in musical performances, museum exhibitions, and theatre. Department of Performing Arts professor Gail Humphries Mardirosian created Project ARTS and the American-Russian Theatre Symposium. In 2006, Mardirosian initiated the first
exchange between AU theatre students and their counterparts at the Russian State Academic Volkov Theatre in Yaroslavl. Project ARTS, in partnership with the Saint Petersburg State Theater Arts Academy, hosted Alicia Ivanova, a professor at the academy, in fall 2010. Students from the academy visited AU for a week in fall 2011 to participate in intensive master classes and workshops with students here. “The arts serve as a connection, a conduit for humanity,” says Mardirosian. “The remarkable communication that occurs between actors is something that occurs wherever you go.” While it was amazing for each group of students to perform scenes for each other, she says that the most meaningful part of the experience was the challenge of working with their foreign counterparts to perform a scene together. “It was remarkable how they overcame the language barrier,” she says. “There is something special about the
artistic experience that brings actors together.” This spring, Mardirosian will take a troupe of AU students to St. Petersburg to work with academy students on a production of Jane Martin’s collection of women’s monologues, Talking With. The AU Chamber Singers have tentative plans for a Russian tour in May 2013, during which they would perform jointly with Russian orchestral groups in Moscow and around the Ural region. This sort of special cultural diplomacy, once the domain of the State Department, is now possible with help from Associate Consultants for Education Abroad (ACFEA). IRC founders Lehrman, Starr, and Kislyak believe that the IRC has the potential to foster greater understanding between American and Russian students for years to come. “The success of the Initiative for Russian Culture,” says Starr, “shows how deeply committed students at AU and in the greater Washington area truly are to understanding Russian culture and building connections between our two countries.” Fedyashin adds, “We ultimately aim to create a snowball effect. As more students get involved, the more we can raise awareness of Russian culture and inspire students to truly understand this extremely important country.” 7
The following interview by Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum, appeared originally in the exhibition catalog for Raoul Middleman: City Limits (January 2â€“ March 18, 2012).
Detail from Self Portrait. 1990. Oil on canvas
Jack Rasmussen: My first curatorial effort was an exhibition of Grace Hartiganâ€™s recent work in 1974 at the Watkins Gallery of American University. I went to her studio in Baltimore to see her recently figurative work. She had left New York and come to Baltimore, leaving behind Abstract Expressionism, which was really quite scandalous. I remember she told me at the time that the best painter in Baltimore was Raoul Middleman. Raoul Middleman: She was very generous to me. When I had my first show at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1965, she wrote the introduction to my catalog. I actually worked with her for many years as an adjunct professor in her Hoffberger program at MICA. I was an artist in residence there, as was Sam Gilliam for a time. To return the compliment, she had a terrific sense of mastering the space of the painting. She had a real genius for that. Her energy would
command and dominate the whole canvas. But even though her work changed when she left New York, she always had a figurative base. I think her talent was to take her immediate environment, the Lower East Side at that time, and translate the edgy energy of that into some sort of negotiable space between abstraction and figuration. JR: She must have seen some of those qualities in you, though she was never a narrative painter the way you are. RM: She responded to Baltimore in her own way. For me, it was the Block, which was a burlesque area on East Baltimore Street. As a kid, I would take the trolley car in from the suburbs and roam the streets with the nightclubs and go to the Gayety or the Clover Theater across the street. And then two blocks south of that was the harbor, and the harbor had a grim, kind of funereal presence. The two things juxtaposed were the basis for a lot of my work. The other big influence as a kid, of course, was comic books— the lure and energy of their projectile covers and caped heroes. JR: There is certainly a very strong graphic element to your work. RM: Comic books were like an extension of Renaissance and Greek art, in a way. You have the heroes, you have the
Tintoretto space to make the format more interesting, to shake it out of a linear dullness. You look up at something, you look down on another scene—all these gods and goddesses that circulate among the clouds that occasionally come down to earth to cause all kinds of panic among us mortals. Comics could be seen as the dying gasp of Renaissance morphology. Then in Baltimore you had the Block, which was burlesque and jokey and dealt with our carnal interests, and on the other side you had the harbor, with all its flottage. As a kid, I used to roam between these two places. I remember one foggy night exploring the harbor with a friend of mine. We wound up at the end of Henderson Wharf, sitting on top of one of those boxcars, which were themselves on top of barges, drinking whiskey, talking about becoming artists along the lines of Charles Dickens, ducking when the Coast Guard came by with its prying searchlights. I think Baltimore has a certain funky presence in all its major artists. You take somebody like John Waters—there’s a funky kind of arrogance and challenge to conventions. You find that as far back as Mencken, in his prose in the Sun. It’s a kind of Baltimore tone, I think. It has a squalid degeneracy about it that gets transformed into an icon of subversive glamour.
JR: I think of Baltimore as the perfect antidote to Washington, D.C. RM: It is. Washington is a corporate town while Baltimore is a haven for eccentrics and characters, loners, and misfits. Most people think of landscape as honeybees and flowers and the circuitry of hurtling clouds in the midst of summer splendor. But the harbor has another kind of beauty, with the rot and decay in which nature reclaims man-made things. I spent a lot of time on the Block. We lived for several years on the Block above Boots’s Show Bar and all the barkers lining the street out there. The burlesque comedian was an inspiration to me, people like Max Baron at the Piccadilly Club and Stinky Fields. On the stage, you have a painted burlap backdrop that underscores the fiction, which has its underpinnings in radical poverty. In the endless array of wacky skits, it was the language of the comics, which transformed the vulnerability of the human condition into the hilarious richness, which became for me the essence of burlesque theater. JR: Tell me about your technique. You actually mix your dry pigments from the earth right into the oil medium on your palette. I’m fascinated by how your technique is entwined with your subject matter.
Detail from Madi. 2009. Oil on canvas
RM: In the studio, you have just the raw pigment, basic minerals that come out of the earth that you mix with linseed oil. The image comes through all this muck of paint, through its manipulation. A painting is finished when it suddenly changes into this glamorous richness, an otherness, a painterly presence that hovers above the fragile transience of the everyday. Nonetheless, I like a kind of visceral presence. The paint itself should have authority. I like the paintings to say something about paint. If I were writing for the violin, I would like to reveal something about the instrument, as well as the melody. The paint should participate in the transformation so that you experience the paint, its opacity and transparence,
its fluidity and its focus on describing different properties of being. If a painting becomes too slick, however, and goes too quickly to the descriptive image and forfeits the presence of the paint, I don’t like it as much. I prefer somebody like Soutine, Rembrandt, Courbet. My ambition has always been to have a sense of the body, the body’s embrace on the canvas, be part of the image. De Kooning said he only needed as far as he could stretch his arms out to paint. He was bored with cosmic space, a place to hang stars on. He just wanted what the body can hold in its embrace. Painting becomes, essentially, a total portrait, a selfportrait, any painting is that in a sense—a portrait of the body and its nearest cohort, the paint. 9
“Understanding the genes that regulate inflammation . . . helps us design drugs that block the pathways that become overactive as a cell turns into a cancer cell.” —Kathleen DeCicco-Skinner
WHEN BIOLOGY professor
Kathleen DeCicco-Skinner was a child, she preferred to spend her days off in her father’s microbiology lab at Catholic University. “I’d be streaking bacterial plates, eating soft-serve with his grad students,” she says. “We’d plan fun experiments.” Her enthusiasm for research has been going strong ever since. In August 2011, DeCicco-Skinner was awarded a $381,871 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate, collaboratively with Jonathan Wiest at NIH, the relationship between skin cancer in mice and a missing gene called Tumor progression locus 2 (Tpl2). “What we found out previously is, if we completely knock the gene out of mice, about 80 percent of those mice develop skin cancer,” she says. “What we’re trying to figure out now is the mechanism behind this increased tumorigenic potential.”
Her theoretical starting point has some historical basis. About 200 years ago, German scientist Rudolf Virchow proposed a link between inflammation and cancer based on observations of what he believed were inflammatory cells surrounding isolated tumors. Virchow’s hypothesis only resurfaced with the onset of the millennium, when it launched a ton of research around the link between chronic inflammation and the development of cancer. So, for example, if you have hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver, you’re more likely to develop liver cancer, DeCicco-Skinner explains. Mice lacking the Tpl2 gene show more inflammation than normal mice—and this inflammation in the Tpl2-knockout mice contributes to increased susceptibility to skin cancer. DeCicco-Skinner believes that Tpl2 works as a skin cancer tumor suppressor gene. “We think it normally controls
by Abbey Becker
your inflammatory response. So, when the gene is absent, inflammation—and thus potential to develop skin cancer—increases,” she says. “If you already have a cell that’s been what we call ‘initiated,’ meaning it has a DNA mutation, the inflammatory cells can give promoting effects to that cancer cell, causing it to grow quicker than normal.” For the next three years, DeCicco-Skinner plans to conduct biological tests of isolated skin cells taken from these mice. Her goal is to identify what exactly causes such high rates of skin cancer, which could help launch new cancer treatments down the road. “Understanding the pathways better, and understanding the genes that regulate inflammation,” she says, “helps us actually design more sophisticated drugs that can then go and block the pathways that become overactive as a cell turns into a cancer cell.” To assist her in her research at AU, DeCicco-Skinner has enlisted a couple of her undergraduate and graduate students. Their role will be to extract protein and RNA from cells and examine the pathways that indicate inflammation to identify which proteins are altered when Tpl2 is absent. DeCicco-Skinner emphasizes the importance of working with students in the lab. “If you involve them in actually doing hands-on research, I think the students get a lot more out of that. They learn the intricacies of designing experiments, analyzing data from them, coming up with the next experiment or the next question to ask.”
EVER SPENT HOURS
stuck in an airport or on a plane because of a flight delay? Unfortunately, over the next couple of years, the problem is only going to get worse. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects demand for air travel to skyrocket, and with that will come an increase in air traffic. “We have lots of working, productive people sitting on tarmac and in airports all the time, missing flights to important meetings,” says economics professor James Bono. “That’s an enormous efficiency loss for the economy.” The FAA currently administers the national air space system for the airlines at very low cost.
Gaming the System
by Abbey Becker
As a result, the skies continue to get more crowded. “It’s a national resource, and when more and more people want to use it, it gets more clogged up,” says Bono. “It’s a type of resource where, if too many people use it, it degrades the quality of it. You have to figure out how to, through technology and economics, organize the entire system so that you can service everyone, and everyone’s happy.” Bono, along with colleagues Juan Alonso of Stanford University and Philippe Bonnefoy of Booz Allen Hamilton, won a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant for $500,000, renewable
each year for up to three years. The grant funds a project to create software that will enable NASA to model airline behavior, and thus develop policy and technology, such as advanced GPS systems, to help airlines manage air traffic. Essentially, says Bono, NASA wants to be able to “see the effects of various policies on the strategic behavior of airlines.” But the FAA has to make a commitment to adopt new policies—and individual airlines won’t invest in the new technology, called NextGen Equipage, unless they all do. “Ultimately, the quality of air travel is going to depend on the interaction between the policy
“This is taking game theory into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence.” —James Bono makers and the airlines,” Bono explained. “How can they sort out the operation of the national air space system?” Bono is responsible for the technical side of the modeling, which employs game theory, a mathematical approach that predicts the strategic behavior of selfinterested entities when they’re forced to consider each other’s goals.
“My job is to determine what’s the best mathematical model of airline behavior,” he says. The grant proposal, based on a paper by Bono, Alonso, and Bonnefoy, modeled a cyber attack on an electrical grid. “If you’re the person who’s in charge of the grid,” he says, “you have to figure out when somebody has compromised the grid,
and you have to try to mitigate the damage.” The NASA project takes that work a step further. “This is really the cutting edge of game theory,” explains Bono. “This is taking game theory into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence, which we should have done a long time ago. This is really taking it into that world and joining it with economics.” 11
by Abbey Becker
Courtesy of Jen Jablonsky
“I now have experience with planning, museum education, and public programming. It’s opened my eyes to so much more that I could do.” JEN JABLONSKY, MA pub-
lic history ’11, thought she wanted a job with the National Park Service. But her internship with the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture shifted her trajectory. “I now have experience with planning, 12
museum education, and public programming, which I’d never done before,” says Jablonsky. “It’s opened my eyes to so much more that I could do.” The museum’s internship program is an offshoot of a partnership with American University. Initiated by Lonnie
Bunch, the museum’s director and an AU alum, the program offers three intern positions: two in curatorial affairs and one in education. During her term as an education intern, Jablonsky’s responsibilities have primarily involved assisting with research for a youth gallery that
will showcase children in different historical periods. “We’re hoping to represent every child in the gallery, not just African American children,” says Jablonsky. “We want to show the diversity of children in the different eras of slavery, segregation, in 1968, and then today, where children will be able to create their own contributions.” Now, with her internship extended, Jablonsky has the opportunity to broaden her scope of work and experience. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is
teasing the public with a series of short-term exhibitions for the African American museum, previews of what’s to come when the museum opens in 2015. The current show, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, runs through October 12. “I’ve been able to do some writing for the exhibit script, and my work was included in the final version,” she says. “I never thought, as an intern, that they would use anything I wrote.” She also helped to develop classroom programs and has written lesson plans. During her previous
by Abbey Becker
internship with the National Park Service, Jablonsky says she most enjoyed getting people excited about history. “It was about showing them something cool, then trying to find out what they were interested in and getting them engaged. It was so rewarding to see it on their faces,” she says. She is still teaching visitors about history, but because her work at the museum is behind the scenes, she doesn’t get the immediate feedback. “It’s different,” she says, “because I have to wait so long to know if it’s helping people.” While the internship relates more to museum studies, there’s overlap with her public history studies at AU. “When I did readings in class, a lot of times I would think, why am I reading this? One thing that has surprised me the most is that people really are talking about the things I was reading or are mentioning the authors to make a point,” says Jablonsky. “I can say, oh, yeah, I read that. I know what they’re talking about.” Although she’s been with the African American museum for more than six months and has taken on more work and responsibility, she’s still in awe at the level of her involvement. “Even when I was just starting, they gave me responsibilities and let me participate in meetings,” she says. “I’m always amazed that they still ask for my input.”
“We use these metrics to see the relative performance between different cities, the size of a city and its market, and other factors to come up with a standard way to measure how well a deal does.” WHEN YOU CHECK your e-mail
each morning, your inbox is probably flooded with offers from daily deal sites. You can thank, or blame, people like Erik Taubeneck, BA economics and statistics ’08 and MA mathematics ’10. He spends his days at LivingSocial figuring out which deals you will receive. As a senior yield optimization associate,Taubeneck works in the consumer business optimization department doing data analysis. “I look at past performance and try to come up with ways to predict future performance, and to determine what works and what doesn’t, what we should run and what we shouldn’t,” he explains. He and his team create metrics for measuring deal performance in all kinds of categories and make suggestions for specific markets.
“We use these metrics to see the relative performance between different cities, the size of a city and its market, and other factors to come up with a standard way to measure how well a deal does,” says Taubeneck. “From that, we can do things, like look at seasonality and day of the week, to decide on strategies that help us operate in the future.” LivingSocial has to work hard to distinguish itself in such a crowded market, with Groupon leading the pack. “Our competitors are coming at us,” he says. “They are growing fast, so there’s an extremely competitive aspect between us and other competitors in the space. We believe that fine-tuning the way we look at and measure performance can only help the company perform better in the future.”
Taubeneck spends most of his time programming so he can pull data to do analyses and create reports. He’s also using the problem-solving tools he learned at AU. “With my degree, especially with mathematics, the most useful thing I learned was how to understand a concept quickly,” says Taubeneck. “It’s the same thing at LivingSocial. I need to be able to look at something, read through a book to find what I need, then take it apart and understand how I can apply it very quickly.” More specifically, he uses machine learning and econometrics to measure and normalize deal performance. “The most difficult part is not the actual statistics and mathematics,” says Taubeneck, “but the engineering required to obtain and process the data, then publishing the results that will be used throughout the company.” When he finished graduate school, Taubeneck didn’t exactly have a vision of his dream job. Mostly, he was looking for a job that presented interesting problems to work on and solve. But being techminded, he thought he’d like to work for a tech startup, and he sees LivingSocial as a good fit. “Erik has a great ability to not only understand mathematics but also to see how it is used in the real world,” says his graduate adviser at AU, Stephen Casey. “Working at LivingSocial gives him a chance to use all the math tricks we taught him at AU.” It doesn’t hurt that LivingSocial’s workplace culture is a lot more fun than his previous job doing cleanup at Freddie Mac. Otherwise, he said, the actual job isn’t that different and the approach is similar— only now he’s calculating daily deals instead of mortgages. 13 13
by Josh Halpren
“We’re a small program, but because of that we can give our students a lot of personal attention and support.” —Xiaoquan Raphael Zhang WHEN ERIC MCCABE,
BA business administration ’14, discovered an opportunity to flex his Chinese skills, he jumped at the chance. The Jiangsu Cup, cosponsored by George Washington University, the International Cultural Exchange Center of Jiangsu Province, and the Institute for International Studies at Nanjing University, challenged undergraduate non-native Chinese speakers to prove their command of the language in a multiround competition. McCabe, president of AU’s Chinese Language Club, began studying Chinese because of his interest in global business. “China is a country that is only going to become more important,” he says. “If we’re going to be able 14
to compete with China economically, we have to understand their language, and more importantly who they are.” With just two weeks to prepare for the Cup, McCabe and his fellow AU student participants had their work cut out for them. The impetus behind the effort was Xiaoquan Raphael Zhang, who joined the College faculty as a professor of Chinese in September. “We saw this contest as a great opportunity for our students to not only work on their speech skills,” says Zhang, “but to interact with students of Chinese from other area universities and to learn more about an important region of China.” As their first challenge, students had to submit a recorded statement to
contest judges. Coached by Zhang and several other instructors in the Department of Language and Foreign Studies, four of the five AU contestants made it to the final round. Finalists had to prepare a speech on a given theme, the charm of Jiangsu Province, to be delivered at the contest. “Jiangsu Province has a rich, traditional culture and heritage,” says Zhang. “It also represents one of China’s most dynamic economies. This contest was a great opportunity for students to learn about the unique aspects of this very important part of China.” McCabe related the story of how he lost, and then found, a friend’s passport in a Nanjing taxi during a stint in China as a high school exchange student. “I think the
judges really appreciated the fact that I had a personal connection to the province,” says McCabe. Evidently. They gave him a gold award. Bryan Yannantuono, BA political science and international relations ’13, won a silver award for his speech. He says that understanding the Chinese language and China as a nation is critical because “China is the second largest economy in the world, and they are set to overtake the United States as the largest world economy by 2020.” Tone is everything in Chinese, says Yannantuono. The same word in Chinese can have very different meanings depending on the speaker’s tonality. He credits Svetlana Xu, his instructor at AU and a native Chinese speaker, with teaching him the nuances of the language and how to use tone effectively to communicate to a Chinese audience, and also the importance of understanding Chinese culture and heritage. “Professor Xu has been one of the best, most helpful professors I’ve had at AU,” says Yannantuono. “She really makes sure that her students not only learn the Chinese language but about China itself.” The other two AU student finalists, Aaron Turk, BA international studies ’13, and Matthew Wagner, BA international studies ’12, took home bronze awards. “I think the fact that all of
our students who competed in the final round won awards says a lot about the strength of our program,” says Zhang. “We’re a small program, but because of that we can give our students a lot of personal attention and support.” McCabe’s gold came with a full scholarship for a master’s at Nanjing University, including full tuition, housing, health insurance, and a monthly stipend. The sophomore decided to forfeit the prize, however, because he will not be ready to pursue a graduate degree before the offer expires. All is not lost, though; he’s doubling up on the silver prize with Yannantuono. The two will receive a fully funded, eight-day tour of Jiangsu Province through the International Cultural and Exchange Center. As for the bronze winners, they will receive a partial scholarship for a four-week Chinese language program at Nanjing University this summer. The opportunity to study Chinese in China, says Zhang, will be exponentially beneficial for these students. “Chinese is a critical language to know. It is also very different from English. Our program helps students to master the language. But the opportunity to actually go to China and learn more about Chinese culture, economy, and society will help students to use the language as a tool for learning so much more.”
Appointments & Honors
RICHARD SHA (literature) received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to complete his book, Imagining the Imagination: Science and British Romanticism, 1750–1832.
NAOMI BARON (language and foreign studies) was invited to join the editorial board of Discourse, Context and Media, a new journal published by Elsevier.
ANASTASIA SNELLING (SETH) was among a group representing Kelly Miller Middle School honored by First Lady Michelle Obama for efforts to fight hunger, obesity, and disease among Washington’s youth.
SARAH IRVINE BELSON (SETH) is spearheading a partnership with City Year, through which the School of Education, Teaching, and Health will provide graduate education to a cohort of corps participants.
DAVID ANDREW SNIDER (performing arts) was selected for the National Arts Strategies’ Chief Executive Program and will spend 18 months reimagining cultural institutions and how they can contribute to civil society.
RICHARD BREITMAN (history) and ALLAN LICHTMAN (history) have been confirmed as Distinguished Professors by the Board of Trustees. (See story p. 2)
KATHARINA VESTER’S (history) paper, “Regime Change,” was awarded the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence by the Association for the Study of Food and Society.
KATHLEEN FRANZ (history) was named the 2011–2012 Goldman Sachs Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History. MONICA HAZANGELES, MA arts management ’96, and MOLLY SMITH, MA performing arts ’76, were named on the Washingtonian magazine’s list of Washington’s 100 most powerful women. CONSUELO HERNANDEZ (language and foreign studies) received the Antonio Machado Poetry Accessit Award for “Polifonia sobre rieles.” ROBERT JERNIGAN (mathematics and statistics) won a special award for the Best Evidence of Inspiring Students at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Miami Beach for his video, Through the Eyes of a Statistician. DAN KALMAN (mathematics and statistics) was awarded the Beckenbach Book Prize by the Mathematical Association of America for Uncommon Mathematical Excursions: Polynomials and Related Realms. ERIC LOHR (history) was awarded a National Council for Eurasian and East European Research fellowship for spring 2012. BARRY MCCARTHY’S (psychology) book Enduring Desire won the 2011 American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists award for best consumer book of the year. PAMELA NADELL (history) is one of four members of the Historians Team and a consulting historian for the media at the National Museum of American Jewish History. JEANNE ROBERTS (literature, emerita) received an award from the Folger Shakespeare Library for Outstanding Contributions to the Innovative Teaching of Shakespeare in American Classrooms.
Grants & Research JAMES BONO (economics) received a $115,000 grant from NASA to develop models and software to predict air carrier behavior. (See story p. 9) KATHLEEN DICICCO-SKINNER (biology) received a $381,871 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project investigating how the Tpl2 gene contributes to skin cancer susceptibility. (See story p. 8) JEREMIAH DITTMAR (economics) received a $143,910 grant from the Institute for New Economic Thinking for a project, “Spillovers to Slavery: The Long and Short Run Economic Impacts of Slavery in the U.S.A.” DOUGLAS FOX (chemistry) was awarded $158,476 by the National Institute for Standards and Technology for the first year of a three-year project, “Lignocellulosic Materials as Intumescing Flame Retardants for Bio-based Polymer Composites.” GREGORY HARRY (physics) received a $12,028 grant from the California Institute of Technology for his project, “Coating Thermal Noise in Advanced LIGO.” ANASTASIA SNELLING (SETH) received a $94,813 award from Kaiser Permanente for a project, “Community Voices for Health Initiative.” She also received a $30,000 award from the USDA Economic Research Service for another project, “Behavioral Economics-based Strategies for Improving Consumption of Health Foods Provided as a Part of NSLB School Meals.” Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States gave her a $20,000 grant for her project, “Food Waste Data Collection Project.”
Publications & Productions MATT BOERUM (audio technology) released his first solo album, Cold Hearted Disaster, in February 2012. JONA COLSON (literature) published “Anne Sexton’s ‘The Little Peasant’” in the Explicator. His poem, “Doctor to Patient (II),” will be published in the Potomac Review in spring 2012. JOHN ELDERKIN (literature) wrote two songs for the Arena Stage production of The Book Club Play. GINA EVERS (literature) published “When I Miss My Mother” in Copper Nickel 17 and “Pomegranate” in Bloom. KATE HAULMAN (history) published The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina, 2011). DAVID KEPLINGER (literature) released By and By: The Copybook Songs of Issac P. Anderson, based on lyrics by his great-great-grandfather. He also published a co-translation of House Inspections (BOA Editions), a collection of prose poems by Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen, with whom he collaborated in 2010. ADREA LAWRENCE (SETH) published Lessons from an Indian Day School: Negotiating Colonization in Northern New Mexico, 1902–1907 (University of Kansas). ERIC LOHR’S (history) Nationalizing the Russian Empire: The Campaign against Enemy Aliens during World War I has been translated and published in Russia by Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (New Literature Review). GAIL HUMPHRIES MARDIROSIAN (performing arts), NINA SHAPIRO-PERL (anthropology), and MYRA SKLAREW (literature, emerita) contributed chapters to The Power of Witnessing: Reflections, Reverberations, and Traces of the Holocaust: Trauma, Psychoanalysis, and the Living Mind (Routledge, forthcoming April 2012). A composition by PAUL OEHLERS (performing arts), Protolith, was selected by Ablaze Records for inclusion on a new CD, Electronic Masters, Vol. 1. The piece, premiered by Nobue Matsuoka-Motley at the International Community for Auditory Display Conference, was accepted for the 2012 University of Alabama–Huntsville New Music Festival. The Japanese translation of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison by JEFFREY REIMAN (philosophy) was published in January.
Non-Profit Org. U.S. Postage PAID Permit No. 966 Washington, D.C.
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
American University 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20016-8012 american.edu/cas
An equal opportunity, affirmative action university. UP 12-350