Georgia State University Magazine, Fall 2017

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Where’s The Flux?



CONTENTS 9 On Location More than 30 movies and shows have been filmed on campus since 2014, with plenty more on the way. 11 Hallowed Ground Retired U.S. Army Col. Tom Vossler (M.Ed. ’72) is a licensed battlefield guide in Gettysburg, Pa.


A NEW ERA BEGINS Georgia State kicked off its football season under the direction of a new coach and in a new stadium.

14 A Righteous Return Kelly Hart (B.I.S. ’01, M.S.W. ’03), a mitigation specialist for death row inmates, is running the bar where she worked her way through college.

Head Coach Shawn Elliott

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AMERICAN IMAM Khalid Abdur-Rashid (B.A. ’02) is Harvard University’s first Muslim chaplain.

TABBY’S STAR Astronomer Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian’s (M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’09) eponymous star is the most mysterious in the universe.


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FROM THE PRESIDENT The Creative Media Industries Institute isn’t just reinventing the classroom. It’s creating new pathways to untold possibilities, futures and careers few other universities can offer.



N A GIANT STEP FORWARD for Georgia State, its students, the city of Atlanta and the state’s booming entertainment industry, the new home of the Creative Media Industries Institute (CMII) will open its doors on Oct. 19. It’s a project three years in the making. The university established CMII in fall 2014 to train a workforce, foster research and incubate companies for Georgia’s growing film and digital media industries, which now generate $9.5 billion each year. Around the same time, a $22.8 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation allowed us to turn the former SunTrust Bank building at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Park Place into an ultramodern facility to house CMII and its digital media programs. Renovations began in January 2016 and are now complete. Leaders across the nation have long recognized the need to rethink the traditional classroom model to meet the changing needs of today’s students. Leading the charge, Georgia State has been taking education beyond the class-


THE CREATIVE MEDIA INDUSTRIES INSTITUTE IS CONNECTING STUDENTS WITH THE FILM, MUSIC AND VIDEO GAME INDUSTRIES. room for years, connecting students with the opportunities, internships, jobs and communities of downtown Atlanta. With CMII, however, we’re taking our commitment to innovation further than ever. Designed to prepare students for careers that transcend traditional degree programs, CMII’s curricula combine technical and artistic chops with entrepreneurship and other business fundamentals, a huge boost for any young career. Featuring advanced studios and production suites for animation, motion capture, 360-degree cameras, 3-D rendering, virtual sets, virtual and augmented reality, and more, CMII doesn’t just teach students to be the best media producers. It connects students and faculty with Atlanta’s booming film, music and video game industries. CMII isn’t just reinventing the classroom. It’s creating new pathways to untold possibilities, futures and careers few other universities can offer. To name just one example, CMII has

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brought eSports (competitive video gaming) to Georgia State. We are one of the first and largest universities to embrace the exciting possibilities of eSports, and we’re using them to provide students with essential skills and financial aid. The nation is taking notice, too. You may have heard about Georgia State eSports through ESPN and Rolling Stone magazine. The institute is poised to become a wellspring of talent for an industry vital to the city and state economy. In addition, the new facility and the forthcoming streetscape improvements to the surrounding area will continue Georgia State’s efforts to bring more life to downtown Atlanta. Sincerely,

Mark P. Becker President


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LETTERS VIA SOCIAL MEDIA electbrian Georgia State Stadium electbrian Congratulations #georgiastateuniversity on a beautiful #football stadium! #thestateway #panthers #atl #gsu

DIGITAL OPTION cityofatlantaga Georgia State Stadium cityofatlanta This evening, Mayor @KasimReed kicked off the @GeorgiaStateUniversity Panthers’ first home game at their new stadium with a coin toss. Good luck during tonight’s game, Panthers! #GoPanthers #TheStateWay #GSUFootball #GeorgiaState #GSUStadium

Kasim Reed @KasimReed • Sep 1 The transformation of Turner Field into the new @GSUStadium has been amazing. Proud to do the coin toss at the inaugural game.

VISIT US ONLINE AT MAGAZINE.GSU.EDU Follow us on Facebook at GSUMagazine Follow us onTwitter at gsumagazine Follow us on Instagram at georgiastateuniversity

“Thank you for offering the green option to receive the magazine electronically only!” Lorraine Presson (B.S. ‘01) Editor’s Note: If you’d like to stop receiving a print issue and read the magazine online only, send an email to, and we’ll take care of it from there. You’ll get an email notification every time a new issue comes out.

Fall 2017, Vol 8, Number 3 Publisher Don Hale Executive Editor Andrea Jones Editor William Inman (M.H. P. ’16) Assistant Editor Benjamin Hodges (B.A. ’08) Contributors Dave Cohen (B.A. ’94), Sonya Collins, Ray Glier, Jennifer Marquez, Shaun Raviv Creative Direction & Design Metaleap Creative Contributing Illustrators Adam Cruft, Andrew Fairclough, Andy Friedman, Mr. Misang, Tim Peacock, Thomas Porostocky Contributing Photographers Matt Kalinowski, Ben Rollins, Gene Smirnov, Steven Thackston Send address changes to: Georgia State University Gifts and Records P.O. Box 3963 Atlanta Ga. 30302-3963 Fax: 404-413-3441 email: Send letters to the editor and story ideas to: William Inman, editor, Georgia State University Magazine P.O. Box 3983 Atlanta Ga. 30302-3983 Fax: 404-413-1381 email: Georgia State University Magazine is published four times annually by Georgia State University. The magazine is dedicated to communicating and promoting the high level of academic achievement, research, faculty scholarship and teaching, and service at Georgia State University, as well as the outstanding accomplishments of its alumni and the intellectual, cultural, social and athletic endeavors of Georgia State University’s vibrant and diverse student body. © 2017 Georgia State University

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CAMPUS ON THE UP AND UP Research funding tops $147 million. Georgia State researchers continue to shatter records. In just three years, external research funding has grown 81 percent, and awards from the last fiscal year rose to yet another all-time high at $147 million. Research awards have exceeded $100 million three years in a row, and this fiscal year’s total exceeds the last by $25 million. The university’s health and biomedical research drew a particularly large increase in funding. Of the $147 million, the Institute for Biomedical Sciences won more than $20 million, and the School of Public Health won more than $16 million. Awards for infectious disease included a $4 million federal grant to Chris Basler in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis to study the Ebola virus and a $7.7 million grant to Margo Brinton in the College of Arts and Sciences to investigate the West Nile and Zika viruses. “Investigators at Georgia State endeavor to answer fundamental questions and pave the way for solutions to complex problems,” said James Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research and economic development at Georgia State. “Achieving this funding benchmark shows that we’ve been adept at cultivating monetary support for our innovative work, which helps drive economic development and transformative research at the university and throughout metro Atlanta.”


GEORGIA STATE JOINS THE WORLD OF COMPETITIVE VIDEO GAMING. CO-OP PLAY: Georgia State is now the largest institution to compete in the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE), the nation’s only association for varsity eSports programs at the college level.

POISED TO LEAD Georgia State is a mainstay among the nation’s most innovative universities. For the second year in a row, Georgia State is rated the fourth most innovative university in the nation, according CONT’D ON P.9


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STARTING LINEUP: Led by Jay O’Toole, director of Georgia State eSports and

assistant professor of managerial sciences in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, students battle fellow schools in two video games, “League of Legends” and “SMITE,” fielding one team per game. LEVEL-UP: Student gamers who make the team each receive a $1,000 scholarship.

But to make the team, they have to pass muster at tryouts and maintain a 3.0 grade point average. “Georgia State eSports go beyond playing video games,” said O’Toole. “Students also hone their skills in broadcasting, media production, marketing and management. As one of the nation’s most innovative universities, Georgia State has a great opportunity to lead the development of eSports at the college level.”


A DREAM MADE REAL Master sculptor Martin Dawe (B.A. ’80) drew upon nearly 40 years of experience to create Georgia’s definitive statue of Martin Luther King Jr. BY BENJAMIN HODGES (B.A. ’08)



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nglish ivy frames the bay doors of Cherrylion Studios, an offbeat industrial warehouse tucked away on a narrow one-block street in Atlanta’s Berkeley Park neighborhood. Here, over the first five months of 2017, owner and sculptor Martin Dawe (B.V.A. ’80) shaped more than 800 pounds of clay into a striking figure of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Shepherded through an ancient, painstaking process called “lost-wax casting,” the eight-foot portrait of America’s greatest civil rights hero now rises in bronze outside the State Capitol at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Dawe’s sculpture reveals the reverend as he was in 1963, moments after recasting history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his “I Have a Dream” speech — his face teeming with confidence, shoulders relaxed, a palpable peace suffusing throughout his body. Dawe says King’s statue was the most daunting portrait of his career. “He had the most elusive features — extremely hard to capture,” he said. “You can look at 20 photographs of King and not recognize half of them. There are statues of him all over the country, and hardly any of them look like the same man.” Dawe is far from the first artist to wrestle with accurately depicting the cleric, and he hopes his handiwork can help repair a tragic legacy of King statuary that’s rife with contention, controversy and vandalism. Getting things right happens to be Dawe’s hallmark, however, and the master sculptor took great pains to convey King’s distinctive qualities of body and spirit — the contours of his face as well as his courage and charity. For half a year, Dawe sculpted in the shadow of a giant photograph of King while a computer played video footage of the “I Have a Dream” speech and subsequent news conference on endless loops. (“I watched them millions of times,” Dawe said.) Surrounded by worktables awash in diagrams and bookmarked biographies, he also made continual


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reference to a large poster covered in three dozen more photographs he’d collected to showcase the spectrum of King’s angles and postures — and ever so slowly molded the man out of mud. Installed in one of the Capitol’s most visible locations, Dawe’s statue of Atlanta’s dearest hero stands atop a natural theater eight feet above the street — a permanent fount of inspiration and a reminder of how far we’ve come, both sorely needed in these days of national unrest. “I feel so lucky, so fortunate I got to do this,” Dawe said. “It gives me goosebumps to think about how brilliant he was and how he changed the world so completely. We take a lot of it for granted now.” Perhaps thanks to Dawe’s handiwork — King’s immortal figure, eyes to the east, his shadow extending across Capitol Square — we’ll stop doing that.

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Total fall 2017 applications for graduate and undergraduate degree programs at all seven campuses — a university record. to the 2018 Best Colleges edition of U.S. News and World Report magazine. Georgia State also moved up from 14th to eighth, tied with Stanford University, among national universities cited for “an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching.” The university followed Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology atop the list of innovative colleges and universities. Institutions on the list are nominated by college and university leaders across the country. Georgia State’s First-Year Experience program was Thousand new among those idenstudents enrolled tified by U.S. News for the fall 2017 as “outstanding semester — another examples of acauniversity record. demic programs that are believed to lead to student success.” The program, which gives students external learning opportunities, is central to Georgia State’s student success initiatives. “Our model for proactively supporting students in innovative ways is leveling the playing field so students from all backgrounds succeed,” said President Mark P. Becker. “It is deeply gratifying to see this recognition of our faculty and staff.”


DISCOVERY FLU FIGHTER University researchers create a more effective flu vaccine. Most doctors and pharmacists promote the flu shot as the best deCONT’D ON P.10



MORE THAN 30 MOVIES AND TV SHOWS HAVE BEEN SHOT AT GEORGIA STATE SINCE 2014, WITH PLENTY MORE ON THE WAY. LEGAL AFFAIRS’ AMAR AGHA EXPLAINS THE UNIVERSITY’S RISE TO A MARQUEE SET. Who’s in charge of showbiz at Georgia State? Legal Affairs coordinates everything because filming on campus combines use of university facilities with contracts. We try to accommodate every filming request but balance each with the university’s mission and potential impact on campus.

What does it take to get the cameras rolling? To shoot on campus, a film studio first scouts extensively and develops a comprehensive plan to bring the director’s vision to life — scheduling, set decorations, lighting, sound, equipment, security and so on. We review their plan, listen to

concerns and recommendations from university units, and negotiate changes to the contract before approving and executing it. Facilities Management, Campus Services, Georgia State Police and countless academic departments all play vital roles. Some of the major motion pictures filmed on campus recently are “Baby Driver,” “Antman” and “The Fate of the Furious,” the latest in the “Fast and the Furious” series.

How is showbiz good for Georgia State? As units like the Creative Media Industries Institute position Georgia State as a premier media destina-

tion, our collaborations with the city’s booming film industry are facilitating Atlanta’s emergence as a global media capital. We get to showcase our beautiful facilities and create a host of partnerships that provide students, faculty and staff with exciting opportunities For example, we once arranged for a student to help a film company with some audiovisual work for a scene on campus. The student impressed them so much they ended up hiring him. Stories like these make our work to facilitate filming on campus so rewarding. • Visit to find out what’s been filmed on campus.

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IN THE CITY fense against the misery of influenza. To be effective, however, the experts who develop the vaccine must accurately predict which strains of the virus are likely to infect the public that year. If they choose the wrong strains, millions of people can be left unprotected. A universal flu vaccine that could protect against almost every strain of influenza remains a scientific holy grail — one that Baozhang Wang at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences hopes to find. Wang and his team of researchers have developed a super-vaccine that combines protein sequences shared by many different flu strains to protect individuals against a broad range of pathogens. Further boosting its effectiveness, Wang’s vaccine is delivered through a skin patch created by researchers at Georgia Tech that elicits a more substantial immune response than an injection or nasal spray. According to new research published in the Journal of Controlled Release, mice who received Wang’s super-vaccine via skin patch, in addition to a conventional flu shot, were better protected against an unmatched virus (a viral strain the conventional vaccine wasn’t designed to neutralize) than those who received only the shot. Wang hopes to replicate the results in ferrets, whose respiratory systems more greatly resemble humans’. BIG DATA GOES TO SCHOOL Georgia State introduces the Georgia Center for Education Policy. Teachers and administrators can choose to employ a host of innovative tools, programs and policies to improve student outcomes. Yet hard evidence doesn’t always motivate or guide those decisions, according to Tim Sass, Distinguished University Professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. To help educators use data to support students more effectively, Georgia State is creating the Georgia Center for Education Policy. Funded by a $3.9 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold FounPercent increase dation, the center in external research will house two funding over the major initiatives: last six years. the Metropolitan



Atlanta Policy Lab for Education (MAPLE), directed by Sass, and the Career and Technical Education Policy Exchange (CTEx), directed by Dan Kreisman, assistant professor of economics in the Andrew Young School. Partnering with four of Georgia’s largest school districts — Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County School District, Fulton County School System and Gwinnett County Public Schools — MAPLE will analyze existing policies, design new and improved Million dollars’ worth p ro g r a m s, a n d of tuition and fees train officials to saved each year by make decisions helping students based on results graduate faster. and evaluation. “We’re using cutting-edge research methods to help schools achieve better attendance, test scores and graduation rates,” said Sass. “Our goal is to give all students the opportunity to be productive and successful.” The Georgia Center for Education Policy will also start a second initiative focused on career and technical education (CTE). While demand for CTE programs has grown over the past decade, educators still don’t know how well the programs work. CTEx will analyze the impact of CTE programs in Arkansas, Tennessee and Michigan on students, their career choices and their earnings. Findings will be shared with policymakers across the country.


CREATIVITY CREATIVE CHIEF Art history alumna is hired to oversee leading contemporary art museum. The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) has appointed Wassan Al-Khudhairi (B.A. ’02) as chief curator. Al-Khudhairi previously was CONT’D ON P.12

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HALLOWED GROUND Retired U.S. Army Col. Tom Vossler (M.Ed. ’72) is an authority on America’s bloodiest battleground: Gettysburg. BY DAVE COHEN (B.A. ’94)



h e n To m Vossler returned from Vietnam in October 1970, the U.S. Army gave him a unique opportunity. “The Army thought those of us who wished to stay in the Army, like me, would have a better chance with a master’s degree,” Vossler said. So he enrolled in a master of education degree program at Georgia State’s extension campus at Fort Benning. For two years, Vossler worked as a soldier during the day and took classes at night. After graduation, he taught military history, strategy and leadership at the U.S. Army War College and oversaw the U.S. Army Military History Institute. With 30 years in the service, he retired as a decorated colonel in 1998. After retirement, Vossler became a licensed battlefield guide and settled in Gettysburg, Pa., site of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War. He leads tours of the battleground and teaches seminars for military units from the U.S. and around the world. He and Carol Reardon, former professor of American history at Pennsylvania State University, have written three Civil War books and recently released the second edition of “The Field Guide to Gettysburg,” published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. For many, visiting Gettysburg goes well beyond a history lesson. “It was Americans fighting Americans,” Vossler said. “A lot of people come here in search of family. Showing visitors the field and being able to describe the hard fighting and take them to the exact place where their ancestors fought — it’s powerful.”

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IN THE CITY curator of modern and contemporary art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, where she curated “Third Space,” a two-year exhibition that examines the connections between the American South and other parts of the world. “She has an extraordinary breadth of experience and global knowledge of the contemporary art world, which is seamlessly balanced with her attention to local and regional communities and audiences,” said Lisa Melandri, executive director of CAM. “We are grateful to have her vision and abilities at CAM and in St. Louis.” Al-Khudhairi has earned respect for her curated exhibitions, which acknowledge local cultural climates, global issues and minority perspectives. She helped found Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar and was coartistic director at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation in South Korea. She has also held positions at the Brooklyn Museum, British Museum and High Museum of Art. “We are experiencing an important moment in museums today,” said Al-Khudhairi in a press release. “There is an urgency to think critically about the role and responsibility of art institutions. I am excited to have the opportunity to consider what this means for CAM and St. Louis.”


Seating capacity at “Pete” Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium. Atlanta’s cultural and social landscapes through creative initiatives and community partnerships. For more than 10 years, WonderRoot has enjoyed enthusiastic support from Georgia State faculty, students and alumni, some of whom lead programming and fill leadership positions at the nonprofit. WonderRoot established the Walthall Artist Fellowship in 2012 to provide exemplary Atlanta artists with the tools and resources they need to advance and define their careers. Each year, WonderRoot names 12 Fellows, each of whom is guided through professional programs to develop his or her skills. Iman Pearson (B.F.A. ’10), WonderRoot’s arts innovation specialist, helped curate the fellowship awards. An interdisciplinary artist and curator, Pearson is also a member of the Atlanta-based and alumni-founded Dashboard Co-Op art collective, a 2011 Hambidge Fellow and a 2013–14 Walthall Fellow.



RECORD-BREAKING RECOVERY Softball star dominates after returning from a devastating knee injury. As a sophomore in 2015, Megan Litumbe hit 21 home runs, the second highest season total in Georgia State history. After her first two seasons, she already ranked sixth in school history with 31 career homers. But soon after the 2016 season began, she knew something was wrong with her left knee. When an X-ray revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), she underwent three hours of surgery followed by six weeks on crutches , and started the long journey to get back in uniform. A year and three days after tearing her ACL, Litumbe hit her first home run of the season, Worldwide ranking the 33rd of her cafor the sport reer, and was soon administration catching up to her master’s degree personal record. program. After three home runs in three games, she was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week on May 2. By the end of the 2017 season, she was one of five Panthers named All-Sun Belt, tying the single-season home run record with 22, breaking the career home run record and leading the team in RBI and slugging percentage. She ranks among the top 10 NCAA Division I players. Litumbe earned national recognition for turning in such a productive year after her injury. She ended the season as the No. 2 active player among all NCAA Division I teams. “Seeing my name in the top 10 was a huge honor,” Litumbe said. “But it


GOOD COMPANY Faculty and alumni artists win three more WonderRoot fellowships. At its annual Walthall Artist Fellowship exhibition, Atlanta arts organization WonderRoot awarded three of 12 coveted fellowships to Georgia State faculty and alumni. Davion Alston (B.F.A. ’15), textiles lecturer Nicole Benner and Steffen Sornpao (B.F.A. ’15) joined last year’s Georgia State alumni Fellows, Wihro Square-foot video Kim (B.F.A. ’15 ) board at Georgia and Tori TinsState Stadium, the ley (M.F.A. ’16), eighth largest in whose work was college football. displayed and celebrated at the exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Co-founded by former Georgia State student Chris Appleton in 2004, WonderRoot is a nonprofit that works to improve

and held hitters to a .227 batting average. “We are extremely proud of Hunter for representing our country and playing with the best young players in the nation,” Panthers head coach Greg Frady said. Gaddis made the final 24-man Team USA roster, which was announced on July 2 prior to the sixth USA vs. Cuba International Friendship series. Team USA completed its 2017 tour with its 41st USA vs. Japan College All-Star Series, July 1217 in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

ATHLETICS MAKING THE PITCH Panther hurler Hunter Gaddis makes Team USA in his freshman year. The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team named Georgia State starting pitcher Hunter Gaddis to the roster for its June 27 series against Chinese Taipei. A rising sophomore, the 6-foot-5-inch right-hander is the first Georgia State player to compete for Team USA. In the Collegiate National Team’s fourgame series against teams from the Coastal Plains League, Gaddis went 1-1 with 10 strikeouts in four innings. In his rookie season, Gaddis led Georgia State with 67 strikeouts in 75 innings,

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ultimately makes me want to work harder. I have one year left now, and I want to make it count. I want to help Georgia State get to the NCAA Tournament.”

ALUMNI EYE OF THE SHARKNADO Scotty Mullen (B.A. ’13) is a writer and casting director for the sci-fi series featuring funnel clouds of flying sharks.



A GEORGIA STATE PHYSICIST HELPS DISCOVER HOW TO TARGET CANCER CELLS WITH NANOTECHNOLOGY. “Metastasis” is a word no cancer patient wants to hear. It means a cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor and begun to invade other parts of the body. One cause of metastasis, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are malignant cells that have detached from a tumor and hitched a ride in the bloodstream. But even with blood analysis, oncologists struggle to detect these CTCs as each cell can be lost amid millions of normal blood cells. But what if doctors could simply see CTCs right through the skin and destroy them on the spot?


Fourteen years ago, Mark Stockman, professor of physics and director of the Center for Nano-Optics at Georgia State, won attention for introducing a nanoparticle called a “spaser,” a sphere just a few hundred atoms across that can absorb and generate its own light. This past June, Stockman coauthored and published research in Nature Communications showing that these spasers can “stick” to malignant cells, such as CTCs, and destroy them. Once a cell absorbs a spaser that has been excited by a laser pulse, the cell

Made-for-television B-movies: They may never win an Emmy, but we watch them voraciously anyway for pure camp, humor and entertainment. Perhaps the genre’s most over- the-top specimen, the “Sharknado” movie series has gained a cult following for its outrageous storyline involving waterspouts that lift bloodthirsty sharks out of the ocean and drop them into Los Angeles. Student organizaThe plots are ritions covering arts, diculous by design, leadership, activism, and the moviemakrecreation, politics, ers are not afraid religion and more. to push the absurd to the extreme. “It’s pretty epic,” said Scotty Mullen, the writer and casting director for the latest installment, “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming,” which aired in August. “The ‘Sharknado’ movies are crazy — it’s 500 miles a minute,” he said. “Everybody loves to watch them. They’re so fun, especially during these crazy days we live in.” Mullen said he didn’t write for movies or television at the start of his career. Seriously, at least. Instead, he moved to Los Angeles to become a movie publicist. “I was having so much fun and making decent money, but there was a part of me that wasn’t fulfilled,” he said. “When I would go to the movie studios and talk to them about publicity, I felt like I was on the wrong side of the table — CONT’D ON P.15

becomes visible through a photodetector. With a stronger pulse, the spaser can then break apart the CTC from the inside, wiping it out. Stockman tested human breast cancer cells in the research and hopes clinicians can use his findings to develop new ways of targeting CTCs and other metastases. “Our work takes place on a nanoscale, but the potential applications are enormous,” said Stockman. “I hope cancer patients in the hospital benefit from what we’ve managed to achieve in the lab.”

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A RIGHTEOUS RETURN After more than a decade of advocating for defendants facing the death penalty, Kelly Hart (B.I.S. ’01, M.S.W. ’03) is back running the bar where she worked her way through college. BY WILLIAM INMAN (M.H.P. ’16)



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or most of her career, saving people from execution has been Kelly Hart’s work. As a mitigation specialist and investigator, Hart helps inmates sitting on death row plead for mercy during the appeals process. Hart’s job is to tell the defendant’s life story in hopes the jury will consider the circumstances and change the death sentence to life in prison. “I meet and interview the defendants, their parents, siblings, friends, girlfriends, go to where they grew up — you name it — to find out who these people are, and what happened to them along the way,” she said. Hart is sipping an iced tea at an outdoor patio table at the Righteous Room, a beloved Atlanta watering hole that has been serving cheap drinks and pub grub favorites for two decades. Hart worked here behind the bar and as a waitress while she earned two degrees from Georgia State. Right now, she’s one of the few in the establishment without a libation in hand. That’s because she’s still on the clock: Three years ago, Hart became a co-owner of the legendary dive bar. “Life doesn’t go in a straight line sometimes,” she said, laughing. “I’ve had people come through who recognize me when I was here almost 20 years ago.” Despite a few gray hairs, Hart looks like she could be an undergrad. When a regular patron walks in, she gives him a high five. It’s hard to imagine her sitting across from a convicted murderer asking about life’s darkest moments. Hart has worked about 20 capital murder cases and saved the lives of several inmates. She slowed down after her son was born but continued her work on a contract basis. So when the opportunity arose to buy into the Righteous Room, she jumped on it. Bringing a “woman’s touch” to the saloon, Hart’s been working on some much-needed updates — but she’s been careful not to disturb the Righteous Room’s distinctive vibe. “I’ve had customers who’ve come here for years tell me, ‘Man, the bathroom looks great,’” she said. Hart still works as a mitigation specialist (“It’s hard for me to say no,” she said), but is reveling in her reprise at the venerable bar. “This time around, I get to make my own hours,” she said, laughing.

• Peerless Panthers Celebrate the achievements of our outstanding alumni at the 2017

Distinguished Alumni Awards on Oct. 20. For details, visit

• Homecoming 101 Visit for a history of Georgia State’s homecoming

traditions, which range from a four-hour dance in 1935 to today’s quirky Golf Cart Parade.

that I wasn’t being authentic.” Mullen’s first writing gig was for “Sharknado 2,” where he provided “punch-up writing,” or extra jokes and dialogue. For the third movie in the series, he began working in casting. Ideas constantly flow, and Mullen says he’s always on the move whether he’s on set or writing his next script. In fact, he has been so busy over the years that, even though he finished his Georgia State coursework in 2004, he didn’t technically graduate until 2013. He was in such a hurry to work in Los Angeles he forgot to submit his application to graduate. “It finally got in my head, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, did I ever graduate?’” Mullen said. “In 2013, I finally called the registrar. I was really scared I would have to take a bunch of classes, but they worked with me. “I actually flew back to Atlanta so I could attend the graduation ceremony,” he said. “It was really fun.” ARTS ECOLOGIST Susannah Darrow’s (M.A. ’13) scrappy startup, Burnaway, energized the Atlanta art scene. Today, she’s leading ArtsATL. Susannah Darrow knows the cyclical relationship between the arts and the economy: Nobody buys art during a recession. Between 2008–11, dozens of Atlanta galleries shuttered, and reporting on the arts dwindled. Casualties included The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s art section, whose full-time writers were laid off or reassigned. To fill the void, Darrow and a handful of friends and colleagues started Burnaway, an online arts publication focusing mainly on visual arts and emerging artists. “We were all art history students or recent grads,” Darrow said. “We all had our own independent blogs, and we just decided to aggregate our efforts.” The Atlanta arts community immediately buzzed around Burnaway and its grassroots methods for supporting


Million dollars raised for Burning Bright, the university’s capital campaign, since 2015. A record $50 million was raised last fiscal year.



“Atlanta still has a lot of room for growth in the arts. We get to see a lot of exciting failures and occasionally productive successes.” artists and art spaces. “As an art history grad student, I was already writing about art a lot, so it was complementary to be able to work academically and professionally at the same time,” Darrow said. The Georgia Center for Nonprofits named Darrow one of Atlanta’s top nonprofit leaders under the age of 30 in 2013, and Georgia Trend honored her among the magazine’s annual “40 Under 40” rankings in 2014. She’s now the executive director of ArtsATL, one of the many startup arts organizations that cropped up in Atlanta around the same time as Burnaway. Ac-

cording to Darrow, many of those recession-era outfits have since matured into more sustainable organizations. “What’s interesting about Atlanta’s arts community is that there’s an opportunity for anyone to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Unlike other cities where arts scenes are overly saturated, Atlanta still has a lot of room for growth in the arts. There is still an openness to projects and initiatives. We get to see a lot of exciting failures and occasionally productive successes.” Got a promotion? A new addition to the family? Go ahead, brag a little. Visit for news from your classmates and fellow Georgia State alumni.

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On Fridays after noon, many Muslims assemble in a mosque to pray together, and those who do — who spend their prayer supplicating before Allah — are rewarded, Abdur-Rashid said. As he gave this explanation, another coworker announced a plane had just hit the World Trade Center in New York. That exact moment, which complicated what it meant to be Muslim in America, was emblematic of where life would take Abdur-Rashid. This past June, Harvard University hired Abdur-Rashid as the school’s first full-time Muslim chaplain. As President Donald Trump was taking office in January, before Abdur-Rashid was hired, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said hiring a full-time Muslim chaplain would recognize “the special concerns of the Muslims among us at this moment in our national life.” Abdur-Rashid hopes to awaken the consciousness of Cambridge, Mass., “so when members of the Harvard community look at Muslims they see people who are part of their own historical identity,” he said. To serve students some people fear simply because of their religion, Abdur-Rashid will draw on his past — as a Muslim, AfricanAmerican, social worker, imam and son.


bdur-Rashid was born to African-American Southern Baptist parents. The name on his birth certificate is Charles Burris, the same as his father. In 1977, his parents converted to Islam, and Charles Burris Jr. became Khalil AbdurRashid. His new name came from two men his father admired, the LebaneseAmerican poet Khalil Gibran and a Senegalese teacher in the Atlanta Muslim community. After 9/11, Abdur-Rashid graduated from Georgia State with a bachelor’s degree in social work and spent a couple of years as a caseworker. At the time, he was the only Muslim at the Clayton County Division, so his colleagues would ask him for help serving other Muslims in the community. A pivotal moment came when a juvenile court judge came to Abdur-Rashid for guidance. The judge wanted to know what Islam says about parenting and child abuse.

Abdur-Rashid grew up Muslim, but when the judge asked him for help with the abuse case, he didn’t have an answer. “Those kinds of discussions weren’t talked about in the mosque or anywhere else, so I didn’t have a clue,” he says. “Here I was in a position to make a difference in someone’s life, and I wasn’t able to do what I should have as a caseworker who comes from a Muslim background. I felt like a failure.” By that time, the Iraq War had begun and the War on Terror had been underway for almost three years. It was clear the relationship between being American and being Muslim was becoming politically and socially complicated. Abdur-Rashid decided to devote himself to guiding Muslims and non-Muslims through that challenge. “I wanted to learn about Islam,” he says, “and really help Muslims in American society.” He resigned from his caseworker position and went overseas to study Islam. After visiting Syria and Yemen, he came home briefly to teach Arabic at Georgia State before relocating to Istanbul, Turkey, to attend seminary. Once he finished his Islamic training, he returned stateside to attend Columbia University in New York City, earning a master of arts degree in Middle East studies and a master of philosophy in Islamic law. While in New York, he discovered another community that needed guidance.


s a student at Columbia, Abdur-Rashid worked as the prayer leader, or imam, at Iqra Mosque in Brooklyn. Some students heard about his off-campus role and asked if he’d like to volunteer as a chaplain at Columbia. He accepted and became the Muslim Programming Association and Religious Life Adviser at Columbia and Barnard College, where he mentored his fellow Muslim students. Then came a crisis. In February 2012, the Associated Press broke a story about surveillance the New York Police Department (NYPD) had conducted on Muslim student groups at Columbia, among other schools. Suddenly, the campus wasn’t a place where Muslim students were free to coexist. They were being watched. Abdur-Rashid worked with the president of Columbia and the other university chaplains to help guide the Muslim community through the ordeal. After the report of surveillance at Columbia, Abdur-Rashid met with NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had doubled down on the city’s profiling practices. “I described the impact that policy had on Muslim students on campus,” says Abdur-Rashid. “Having that big institution behind me enabled me to speak to power from a stronger platform.” Abdur-Rashid suggested Kelly assemble an advisory board of people from New York’s Muslim community. Kelly took his advice, creating the NYPD’s Muslim Advisory Council and making Abdur-Rashid a member. Alongside his fellow councilmembers, AbdurRashid advised Kelly on police surveillance of mosques and other practices until he finished his studies at Columbia. He then took a job as a clergyman at a large mosque in Texas, working “on the frontlines to battle Islamophobia in Dallas.” While in Texas, he also helped establish the Islamic Seminary of America, the first of its kind in the United States, to teach Muslim professionals about their faith. He wanted his peers to do better than he did back when the juvenile court judge had looked to a young Abdur-Rashid for guidance and found a blank stare.


uch of Abdur-Rashid’s counseling style comes from his politician father and artist mother. His parents divorced when he was a child and instilled lessons from their separate homes that have proved invaluable. His father, the late Charles Burris, was the first African-American mayor of Stone Mountain (1997–2001), a town best known for its eponymous pluton carved with the likenesses of Confederate heroes Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. When Burris first ran for Stone Mountain City Council five years before his mayorship, James Venable, the former Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Klan, supported his run. Burris’ house, where Abdur-Rashid spent a lot of time, was once owned by Venable, too. In Stone Mountain — the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux

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Klan and 75 percent black — conflicting views smacked right into each other. “I saw my father work wonders in Stone Mountain and change it from this place of hate to a place of happiness,” says Abdur-Rashid. “The idea — as my father would like to say — of changing hate into hope resonates with me very strongly, and I take that legacy very seriously. I’d like to think that motivates me when I deal with students and deal with anybody else.” Burris entered Morehouse College at age 16 and attended Bible classes taught by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One day, Burris was late to class because a man had picked a fight with him. When King asked Burris if he’d always respond to provocation that way, Burris said he would — that you have to stand up for yourself. “Dr. King told my father, ‘Young man, so long as someone else provokes you to violence, you will always be a slave,’” Abdur-Rashid says. “That really stuck with him. It’s become a mantra of mine as well. It’s what I try to convey to others, that we cannot let Islamophobia provoke us to become something outside of us. Because we are not slaves. We are not slaves of other people, and we cannot be slaves of ourselves.” Abdur-Rashid’s mother, Jihan AbdurRashid (M.Ed. ’00), is also a Georgia State graduate. Her master’s thesis was on Islamic art. “From her, I learned the power of representation,” Abdur-Rashid says. “The importance of art and pictures in the lives of people both positively and negatively. How depictions and representations can be destructive, emotive and constructive.” His mother once painted a picture of the American flag with an AfricanAmerican Muslim man popping up in the middle of the stripes. For AbdurRashid, the meaning was obvious and powerful: Muslims have spilled blood for this country just like every other American group. Through her art, his mother helped Muslims think differently about who they are as Americans, which AbdurRashid hopes to achieve at Harvard. “Representation is one of our students’ biggest challenges: who represents us in the media and in commu-



nities,” he says. “Who should represent us, who speaks for us now, who should not speak for us, whose voices represent us and how do we represent ourselves to our peers and communities?”


fter Trump became president amid campaign promises to enact a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Harvard started searching for a full-time Muslim chaplain. “I understood what it was like for students to be in a traumatic position, whether they felt ostracized, unsupported or victimized,” Abdur-Rashid says. “I felt I had been in a position to help students at Columbia and that I could be in a good position to offer that service again at Harvard.” He applied and got the job. Now the work begins. Abdur-Rashid is getting settled in Cambridge after moving there in early July. He has already begun a long “listening tour,” where he’ll spend months speaking with students, faculty, administrators and staff about what’s happening on campus in and around the Muslim community. “I’m hoping that Muslim students on campus will leave a lot more empowered about their American identity and their Islamic identity than when they arrived,” he says. “I’m also hoping that the larger Harvard community through my role, are able to better understand the intersection of Islam and America and its indigenous qualities. “Islam, in the media, has been portrayed as a phenomenon that’s been exported — or imported, depending on how you look at it — to this country,” he adds. “But there’s a forgotten narrative about the indigenous quality of Islam that has been here since the very beginning.” Abdur-Rashid likes to point out that Muslims have called America home longer than the United States. The first records of Muslims on this land date back nearly 500 years. Muslims fought alongside the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and Muslim slaves fought in the War of 1812. When President Trump broke tradition this year and didn’t host a White House dinner to celebrate Ramadan, he wasn’t just separating himself from presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton, but also Thomas Jefferson, who hosted a Muslim envoy during Ramadan in 1805. Abdur-Rashid says he would have taken the Harvard job no matter who had won the election in November. “I believe that Islamophobia would still be there,” he says. “I still believe students have a crisis of identity in terms of what it means to be an American Muslim. I still believe that non-Muslims could be better informed about Islam and about the junction of Islam and America.”


bdur-Rashid calls professor of social work Elizabeth Beck the most influential professor he ever had. “She revolutionized my life because of her approach to social work, her approach to justice, her passion as a teacher, as a scholar, her breadth of knowledge,” he says. Beck, in turn, says Abdur-Rashid is one of the most interesting students she’s had in her 20 years of teaching. When he was in her undergraduate class, she remembers, he was already taking a leadership role for his fellow Muslims. “His understated way encourages strong coalitions,” she says. In his first two weeks at Harvard, Abdur-Rashid has learned Islamophobia is still a major concern for students and administrators. He knows how important it is to address the fear head on, “so that Islam does not become this religious phenomenon that only exists in a clergy or a divinity school.” He wants Islam, the world’s second most commonly practiced religion, to be relevant to students of all disciplines and faiths. But his first priority is to learn what his campus needs of him. Once he understands the problems that Shaun Raviv need addressing, he hopes to become a “strong anchor within the is a freelance institution that students can rely on for mentoring and guidance.” writer in Atlanta. Abdur-Rashid has his work cut out for him.

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Illustration by Andrew Fairclough


A star named for Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian (M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’09) is baffling her fellow astronomers so much that some say aliens are involved. Tabby’s Star’s bizarre light pattern has earned it another moniker: The WTF (Where’s the Flux?) Star. BY SONYA COLLINS





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Since midnight, Boyajian had been downloading and analyzing data from the Las Cumbres telescopes — two on Maui, Hawaii, and two more on the Spanish island of Tenerife off the coast of West Africa — that sat trained on an F-type star, bigger and hotter than the sun, near the constellation Cygnus. She’d been working all night, but Boyajian had been waiting for this moment for four years. By 5 a.m., data from the telescopes in Maui confirmed what the ones in Tenerife had already said: The star formally known as KIC 8462852, now called “Tabby’s Star,” had started to dim again. For the next five days — while Boyajian, her colleagues and a pack of crowdsourced amateur astronomers from around the world observed — the star grew dimmer and dimmer. “I don’t think I slept for a week,” says Boyajian, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University (LSU). An event never seen on any star in the universe, it was as if the hand of God had turned a giant dimmer in the sky. Science proffered no explanations for what was causing the star to wane, how long it would last or how much light the star would lose. After the star had faded by 2 percent over the course of five days, the lights mysteriously rebounded more slowly than they dimmed. Since the star’s discovery in 2009, the anomalous luminary has inspired theories behind its sensational odd-ball behavior. When astronomers and stargazers watch the star fade, are they witnessing the aftermath of a star devouring its planet? A catastrophic collision of planets? Or does the star’s waning shed light on the everelusive search for intelligent life? This latest event in a string of inexplicable fluctuations could provide an answer.



Tuesday this past May, Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian sat staring at a laptop, cross-legged on her couch in the living room of her Baton Rouge, La., home. The coffee table was cluttered with the artifacts of an all-nighter: an empty wine glass to calm her nerves alongside an empty coffee mug to fuel her through the night. G E O R G I A S TAT E U N I V E R S I T Y M A G A Z I N E FA L L 2 0 1 7

CROWDSOURCED ASTRONOMY the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Kepler Mission. Until May 2013, the Kepler spacecraft continuously monitored the same patch of sky in search of undiscovered exoplanets — that is, planets that orbit stars other than our sun. While comprising less than one-tenth of a percent of the visible sky, the field ON MARCH 7, 2009,

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rum about KIC 8462852, the skeptical scientist figured the data had to be wrong. After all, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” she says, quoting Carl Sagan. When a planet passes in front of a star, it briefly blocks a miniscule shred of the star’s light — less than one-tenth of a percent — for a few hours. Plotted on a graph, that slight dimming registers as a narrow, symmetrical dip in an otherwise straight line, like an icicle dangling from a rooftop. Once several of these dips are recorded, a pattern emerges, such as a star that loses .08 percent of its light for four hours every 75 days. That’s how planets are discovered. “But with this star, you don’t have the regular, periodic dips,” says Boyajian.



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under Kepler’s gaze contained more than 150,000 stars. Throughout its mission, Kepler took a measurement known as a “light curve” of each star’s brightness every 30 minutes. Dips in a star’s brightness, also known as flux, can signal a planet is passing in front of it. The light curves of more than 150,000 stars, captured every half-hour for four years, amount to more than 2.5 billion data points per year. Computer algorithms can search the data for light curves that would indicate the presence of an Earth-sized planet that orbits its star once a year but might not pick up planets whose orbits lasted longer than that. Humans, however, have unique pattern-recognition abilities. So, Boyajian and her colleagues at Yale University, where she was then a postdoctoral fellow, decided to crowdsource the data analysis. They started Planet Hunters, a citizen science project through which amateur astronomers can mine the data captured by Kepler for trends computers don’t detect. Posting their findings on an online forum, planet hunters sometimes detect patterns that lead to the discovery of a planet. Other times, they pick up on unusual behavior that puts certain stars on a watch list. That’s what happened when amateur astronomer Adam Szewczyk saw that KIC 8462852 was dimming in a way planet transit couldn’t cause.



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Above: A “finder’s chart” reveals Tabby’s Star in the constellation Cygnus about 1,280 light years from Earth. Left: Boyajian in the Landolt Astronomical Observatory at LSU.

“There is no period in which you know dips will occur. The dips last for extraordinarily long periods of time — different durations each time.” The shape of the dips on the light curve are irregular and asymmetrical — and different every time. Taken together, these behaviors hardly suggest a planet is passing in front of the star at regular intervals. Boyajian was prepared to find an error in the data or a technical problem with the telescope itself. “Stars just don’t do that,” she says. But over the remaining years of the Kepler Mission, the telescope continued to record arbitrary dips in flux that were confirmed by several other space- and landbased telescopes pointed at the star. Its luminosity plummeted up to 22 percent in dips that lasted anywhere from five to 80 days. The star also faded cumulatively over those four years. What’s more, other — albeit hotly contested — data captured through a different method before the Kepler Mission say the star faded by a full 16

percent between 1890–1989. Boyajian, several dozen other professional astronomers and 11 of the citizen scientists who helped uncover the star published a paper on its discovery in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in which they cleverly asked, “Where’s the flux?” and inspired followers of the luminary to call it the “WTF Star.” P L A N E T- E AT I N G S TA R S , L I G H TSUCKING ALIENS BOYAJIAN SUGGESTS the flux could be hid-

den behind a swarm of comets that has fallen towards the star. Or perhaps rocky debris, stirred up after some sort of catastrophic collision, could be blocking the star’s light at these unpredictable intervals. But for each of the possible explanations Boyajian and her colleagues propose in their initial discovery paper, they offer solid reasons to question that theory.

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“There’s definitely nothing we know of now that’s able to explain it,” she says. “Nature is a lot more creative than we are.” Maybe so, but Tabby’s Star has captured the imaginations of astronomers around the world. Their theories about what’s blocking the star’s light are nothing if not creative. A team of astronomers from Columbia University and the University of California (UC), Berkeley, says Tabby’s Star might have devoured a planet or a moon more than 100 years ago. The energy intake from a meal like that would cause the star to shine brighter, which would explain the century of fading: The star was returning to its original luminosity after digesting the meal. As for the random dips in flux since then, “Anything that didn’t quite get eaten, like leftover crumbs from a snack, could still be orbiting the star and occasionally blocking its light,” says astronomer Jason Wright, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University. Wright keeps track of the latest theories on his blog. (Incidentally, he is the one who called KIC 8462852 “Tabby’s Star” in an interview with a reporter, and the moniker stuck. “Yes, it’s all my fault,” he admits.) While the planet-devouring theory explains the century-long dimming and the episodic dips, the architects of the theory acknowledge the statistical improbability of such an occurrence in their 2017 paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The problem with Tabby’s Star,” says Daryll LaCourse, amateur astronomer and a co-author of the discovery paper, “is that every explanation that doesn’t involve aliens has some sort of problem, some unresolved big issue with that particular theory.” Astronomers don’t waste their time pinning alien theories on any old cosmic anomaly they encounter. They save these eyebrow-raising claims for oddities that simply can’t be explained by natural causes. That makes Tabby’s Star “the most promising stellar SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] target discovered to date,” says Wright in his 2015 paper in The Astrophysical Journal. Wright says a swarm of structures — alien megastructures, he calls them — built by other inhabitants of our universe

could be orbiting the star to harness its energy, as humans do through solar panels. “Imagine a flock of starlings flying in front of the sun,” he says. In some places the flock would block out the sun’s light; in others, fingers of light would poke through. Like a flock of birds, the formation of these alien structures could change, accounting for the irregular light curves. AN O U T- O F -T H I S - W O R L D K I C K S TA R T E R CA M PA I G N TO TEST ANY of these hypotheses, astron-

omers needed more data than the Kepler Mission provided. They needed to observe the star for many more years and record many more dips in flux. But telescope time costs money. So Boyajian turned to Kickstarter, the online funding platform for creative projects. “The most mysterious star in the galaxy,” reads the title of Boyajian’s campaign page. More than 1,700 backers contributed $107,421 to cover surveillance of Tabby’s Star over a private, robotic network of telescopes. Las Cumbres Observatory gifted 200 hours on its Maui and Tenerife telescopes, which covered observation from March 2016 through February 2017. The Kickstarter funds covered observation thereafter, which will continue through May 2018. Data from the telescopes downloads to Boyajian’s computer, where she plots it on a chart so she can identify when the star’s light begins to drop. That’s what kept her up all night that Tuesday in May. At 5 a.m., when it was clear the star was losing flux, Boyajian called Wright. “It’s time,” she told him. The beauty of scientific research that has been crowdsourced and crowdfunded almost from the start is that Boyajian can quickly send out an “all hands on deck” Sonya Collins is across the globe to an Atlanta-based people who want independent journalist to help. She need- who covers health, ed the support health policy and right away of any- scientific research. She one who could ob- is a regular contributor serve the dip via to WebMD Magazine, telescope or ana- Pharmacy Today, Yale lyze the data the Medicine and Georgia scopes produce. Health News.

“We had an awesome response from the entire astronomers’ community, pitching in observations on telescopes we didn’t know we had, folks taking their own time to take observations for us and figuring out how to share enormous amounts of data,” she says. It’s a good thing Boyajian got to see her scientific support network in action. That way, she was ready for the next dip. By early June, Tabby’s Star was bright again. Then, June 11, the flux began to trend back down. Like last time, the star faded by two percent, but this time the fading and rebounding took two weeks. Data gathered from these events can help astronomers determine whether the material blocking the light is solid or diffuse. If the material is solid, alien megastructures can’t be ruled out. “As long as we don’t have a convincing explanation for what’s going on, and there’s a possibility that what we’re seeing is due to an advanced technology, we’ll certainly continue to observe the star,” says Andrew Siemion, director of UC Berkeley’s SETI Research Center, who follows the star. Astronomers at Berkeley’s SETI Research Center have spent a couple dozen hours observing Tabby’s Star through the Green Bank telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope on Earth. In the spirit of crowdsourcing, the raw data will be made public so anyone with the skills can analyze it for signs that communication technology is present near the star. Aliens capable of building massive structures that harvest the star’s light would certainly have such technology. So far, no signs have been uncovered, but Siemion is undaunted. “There is no more profound or fundamental question we can ask as scientists or human beings than whether there is other life elsewhere in the universe,” he says. “So, as long as I have a good idea and the means to pursue it, I will personally keep looking.” Siemion is not alone. There’s not a SETI researcher out there, he says, who hasn’t looked at Tabby’s Star. For now, cosmic collisions, planetdevouring fireballs and, yes, even aliens are still on the table — the coffee table in Boyajian’s living room in Baton Rouge. Boyajian hasn’t figured out exactly what’s happening on her star yet, but she knows she’s getting closer.

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Head Coach Shawn Elliott plans to parlay the transformation of Georgia State Stadium into a new era of Panther football.


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THE NEW GEORGIA STATE STADIUM IS QUITE THE SHOWPIECE, BUT HEAD FOOTBALL COACH SHAWN ELLIOTT ISN’T QUITE READY TO WEAPONIZE IT AGAINST THE PANTHERS’ RIVALS JUST YET. Elliott could raise the trumpets about the former Major League Baseball and Olympic stadium and its two million square feet of potential and wave it in everyone’s face, but he knows that new things don’t stay shiny forever. New facilities may captivate fans and recruits for a season or two, but the business of football demands stability and fundamentals. Hired last December to lead the Panthers into their eighth season of Division I football, Elliott has had nine months to steer the team in a new direction. Throughout, the head coach has shied away from proclamations about the new stadium and how it will save a program with six straight losing seasons. “Everybody shows recruits the bells and whistles,” Elliott says. “But it’s the relationships and the university that matter more. The stadium is great. It’s fueled a buzz. But there are a lot of pretty stadiums out there that are empty on Saturdays.” When pretty stadiums yield more echoes than cheers on game day, it’s usually because the football team that plays inside them doesn’t win. Elliott knows he’s not going to wheel his program around from a 3-9 record in 2016 by spreading 700 gallons of blue paint on the walls of the former Atlanta Braves stadium. Instead, Elliott describes his big picture this way: “We broke the team record for GPA [grade point average]. Our summer camps have been full. The response to our coaches has been great. But we need a stronger fan base and more community involvement. We have to have that support.” College football coaches have been talking about GPA, campuswide support and relationship-building for the past 100 years, so Elliott’s direction may seem a bit shopworn. But the coach who first uttered these words was prescient. Programs with shallow ethics that pay lip service to academics eventually get exposed


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and take everyone down with them. These lessons keep getting repeated because they are true.


Right before the start of the spring semester this past January, Elliott gathered his team together and told them academic performance was the first fundamental of a successful program. Then he ordered them to set a team record for GPA. It was the only goal that mattered, he said. That spring, the team set the record with a 3.03 GPA. Elliott is getting that “3.03 GPA” emblazoned on a banner in the new stadium. The renovations didn’t originally call for one, but they do now. “If this team can achieve a goal like that, any goal is attainable,” Elliott says. “They listened. We made them listen.” Already boasting a degree in economics, fifth-year senior linebacker Trey Payne (B.S. ’17) says he also considers books to be as fundamental to the game as proper tackling technique. “Coach sees smart players in the classroom bringing smart play to the football field,” Payne says. “It all correlates. He’s the coach. If he tells you to push a wall, I’m pushing a wall. If he says go to class and get this done, I get it done.”

Field Marshal

Georgia State Stadium field is named in honor of Parker H. “Pete” Petit (MBA ’73). The field at Georgia State Stadium has taken the name of a noted and familiar alumnus. Parker H. “Pete” Petit, a successful entrepreneur and long-time supporter of the university, made a $10 million gift to the university to support the athletics program. Petit has been a generous supporter of the university over the years, donating $5 million for the construction of the Parker H. Petit

Science Center and making gifts to the J. Mack Robinson College of Business and athletics. “This field and stadium are just one of the many successes Georgia State has accomplished in a few years,” Petit says. “Georgia State is destined to become one of the most respected urban universities in this country because of this series of successes.”

Elliott is accustomed to getting things done. As the offensive line coach at South Carolina, Elliott helped lead the Gamecocks to three consecutive 11-win seasons — the most successful run in school history. Former South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier thought so much of Elliott he made him co-offensive coordinator in 2012. When Spurrier retired in the middle of the 2015 season, the school made Elliott interim head coach. When the school later hired Will Muschamp as the head coach, Muschamp immediately rehired Elliott as his offensive line coach. Do you see a pattern? “One of Elliott’s strengths as a coach is relating with players and getting them to play hard,” Muschamp says.


Elliott’s second offseason goal was to find some fans. “This team needs a fan base,” he says. “There will be some excitement the first game, but we have to keep it growing. I know this: Everybody likes a winner.” In the months leading up to the season opener, Elliott has made his case for support to the university’s Greeks, faculty, students and alumni. “This is not my football program. This is Georgia State University’s football program,” Elliott says. “For us to succeed at the level everyone wants, we need the entire community to rally around us.” Elliott has seen programs like Georgia State’s elevate. He was the offensive line coach at Appalachian State in 2007 when the Mountaineers stunned mighty Michigan. Adoring crowds swarmed Boone, N.C., and acclaim for the mouse that roared spread throughout the nation. He’s seen rabid fan support at every stop in his 20-year career, and he won’t listen to the caviling critics who say it can’t happen at Georgia State. That said, Elliott is also keenly aware of the big splash and crash. After opening its new stadium in 2003, the University of Connecticut (UConn) enjoyed sellouts galore for seven seasons. There has been one sellout since 2010, the last season UConn football had a winning record. “I’m not one to step on the gas and try to get everything done immediately,” Elliott says. “We’re going to succeed because our team is going to know how to work, compete, persevere and be prepared. Success is not an overnight thing.”


New Head Coach Shawn Elliott helped lead South Carolina to its most successful run in school history.

Georgia State Stadium is the largest football facility in the Sun Belt Conference, but Elliott sees much more. “There’s plenty of room for us to put a basketball court in there somewhere, so the coaches and staff can play,” Elliott says with a smile. “Charlie doesn’t know yet.” Elliott and Georgia State Athletic Director Charlie Cobb worked together at Appalachian State and, basketball court aside, share a common vision for the stadium: an academic center for studying, a modern weight training and conditioning facility, and a dining hall. These bells and whistles are all on the way because the Panthers finally have a place to hang their helmets seven days a week. At the Georgia Dome, the Panthers were blue renters lost amid all the Falcons’ red and black. The Panthers couldn’t so much as put a tack in the wall. They had to lug everything they needed into the Dome every time they played. Everything they brought with them on a Friday night had to be gone by Saturday night. Georgia State Stadium, however, is awash in hundreds of gallons of blue, and the walls read: “Georgia State plays here.”

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When he does talk about the allure of the new stadium, Elliott gushes appropriately. He loves telling how he took his first group of recruits to the top of the stadium on a cold night in January, the elevator doors opening to reveal the towering Atlanta skyline ablaze like a Christmas tree. “Wow,” they all said at the same time. “Wows” are great, but Elliott says he’s after a different kind of “W” — wins.


The stadium was spackled and painted before the Aug. 31 home opener, but football programs cannot patch up their culture with grit and tenacity without the coach leading the way. Elliott knows the way. In spring practice, the Panthers offense lined up for play “75,” an off-tackle run with an extra running back — none other than Coach Elliott. The ball was snapped, the running back took the handoff, and Elliott stayed on the hip of the runner as they darted into the hole together. Step by step, Elliott coached the running back on reading blocks and being assertive, not just elusive. “I wasn’t sure if it was a live play,” Payne says. “My feeling is that if we had hit Coach, he would have liked it.” A coach-speak cliché is in order: “Walk the talk.” Elliott knows his words don’t mean anything if he doesn’t back it up. There is a lot at stake for Georgia State this season, and he must mean what he says. That’s why he runs in the trenches with his players. Over the last five years, college football has all but invited the public’s distrust. The avalanche of TV money. The academic fraud. The coaches and administrators who make grandiose, tearful pronouncements only to cover problems up or allow them to continue. Football coaches at Division I schools are presumed guilty; they have to prove their program’s honesty. Some might see the Panthers, along with nearly every other football program in the country, as a drag on their schools’ academic missions. While Elliott was building trust with his team by running a play and building trust with faculty and administrators with that 3.03 GPA, Brian Kelly, senior associate athletics director for external affairs, has been building trust with communities through the university and city of Atlanta


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Out to the Ballgame

Braves’ organist Matthew Kaminski (B.Mu. ’00, M.Mu. ’11) will play the keys on game days The show will go on. Matthew Kaminski, the Atlanta Braves’ organist famous for poking fun at opposing players with his song selection, will play his electric Hammond organ during football games at Georgia State Stadium. As luck would have it, there are no scheduling conflicts with the Braves’ and Panthers’ schedules. Kaminski, a two-time graduate of the School of Music, believes he’ll be the first organist to play during a college football game in a long time. His plan is to add to the atmosphere created by the Georgia State Marching Band and to play a few songs to prod the Panthers’ opponents. “I’ll try to pick on the quarterback,” Kaminski says. “Anything to throw them off of their game — pun intended.”

to get fans inside those historic brick walls. This season, stadium capacity stands at 25,000, and Kelly is pushing alumni to do their share to fill those seats. This year’s graduates received a graduation gift of two free season tickets. “We need alumni to be the change with us,” Kelly says. “We’ve laid a foundation. There’s excitement around the new stadium — more than ever, even after we went to our first bowl game.” Kelly and his team are talking to alumni, faculty, students and the neighborhoods around Georgia State Stadium. Kelly and other university representatives have attended meetings in each adjoining neighborhood to address concerns and drum up support. One weekend, they brought an inflatable bouncy castle with them and invited neighborhood children to come romp with the Panthers.

Most stadiums built for the Olympics get demolished or fall into ruin. Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Stadium, which became Turner Field and is now Georgia State Stadium, is already one of the longest sustainable stadiums in the history of the Olympics. And now, thanks to Georgia State, the empty parking lots around the stadium will soon join the surrounding neighborhoods as vibrant blocks of housing, retail and office space that introduce amenities and investment the area hasn’t seen in decades. The players sense an opportunity. “Coach tells us we’re part of history,” Payne says. “The Olympics were here. A lot of Hall of Fame baseball players were here. I was a huge Braves fan growing up. And now, I’m part of all that history. That’s a special feeling.” The new stadium will allow Georgia State football to keep track

Before the Panthers charge onto the field this fall, they’ll suit up in this new locker room. (The Pounce logo is roped off because the players believe stepping on it brings bad luck.)

of its history moving forward. There is space for the Georgia State Athletics Hall of Fame, and placards of retired numbers can line the lower bowl — the same space that held up “44” for Hank Aaron, “31” for Greg Maddux and “3” for Dale Murphy. Elliott doesn’t want to leave Georgia State’s football program as he found it, so he’s laying the foundation for collectible memories. Elliott understands the new stadium is an epic change, but he knows fundamentals and relationships will make sure there is something worth preserving once the shine has worn off.

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INSIDE INSIGHT CELEBRATING A CENTURY • The venue began as the Piedmont Theater in 1916, hosting vaudeville acts and silent movies. It became the Rialto at the end of the year, hosting its first performance on Christmas Day. Because of the Rialto’s start at the very end of 1916, Georgia State’s Rialto Center for the Arts is celebrating 2017 as the center’s true centennial year. Shown here in 1959 when it was downtown’s premier movie house, the venerable building today is a cultural center, a first-class performance hall and a crucial tie between the university and the city. Visit for a history of the Rialto Center for the Arts and discover what’s on tap for the centennial celebration.


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Georgia State Distinguished

Awards 2017

The Alumni Association is proud to continue its tradition, dating back to 1963, of recognizing the outstanding alumni of Georgia State University. Celebrating professional, philanthropic and personal achievements, the awards honor alumni who personify true leadership.

The 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at The Southern Exchange, 200 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta, Ga., 30303.






Retired Chief Operating Officer, United Way of Greater Atlanta Inc.

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Basis Investment Group

Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Health Initiatives

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, SunTrust Banks Inc.

For sponsorship and reservations, visit PANTHERALUMNI.COM/DA A2017.




Georgia State University Magazine Division of Public Relations and Marketing Communications P.O. Box 3983, Atlanta, GA 30302-3983

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