Georgia State University Magazine, Summer 2017

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Q2. 1 7 M A GA Z I NE.GS U.E DU


OF ) PH ILI P DID O (B. A. ’02


Law students join the fight to overturn wrongful convictions COMEBACK KID

Recovered from a horrific accident, Angela Riley (B.A. ’12) spreads goodwill IN THE LEAGUE

Anonymous in high school, Robert Davis (B.A. ’17) is now in the NFL

ke s an d tu mb les ta ke s pu nc he s, ey e po fo r so me of Ho lly wo od ’s lea din g me n.

An d oc ca sio na lly, he ’s

se t on fir e.



CONTENTS 7 Jazzman Joe Gransden (B.Mu. ’94) teaches a new generation to love big band music. 9 No Exit Assistant professor Joseph Hacker explains the aftermath of the I-85 collapse. 11 Culture Curator Emily Pidgeon (B.F.A. ’10) is the creative force behind TED Talks.


Teaming up with the Georgia Innocence Project, law students are discovering new purpose in the fight to free guiltless people from prison.

Kianna Chennault (J.D. ’17)

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HUMAN TORCH Hollywood stunt man Philip Dido (B.A. ’02) reveals his feats and capers as one of the toughest dudes in show business.

GOOD SERVICE Four years after a drunk driver nearly killed her, Angela Riley (B.A. ’12) is repaying the kindness that made her recovery possible.


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FROM THE PRESIDENT In response to the changing needs of today’s artists, the college also combines first-rate instruction with training in entrepreneurship and the latest digital technologies.



T’S TIME TO UNVEIL yet another signature achievement for Georgia State University. The new College of the Arts begins operations on July 1. With dean Wade Weast at the helm, the college joins the university’s 10 other degree-granting colleges, schools and institutes to become a premier destination for students seeking a serious arts education in a vibrant downtown setting. By establishing the college, we are fulfilling another key goal in the university’s long-term vision by elevating Georgia State’s creative achievements to a new level. The College of the Arts includes the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design; the Center for Collaborative and International Arts; the Center for Educational Partnerships in Music; the School of Film, Media and Theatre; and the School of Music. Offering 20 top undergraduate, graduate and non-degree programs in art, design, music, film, theatre, digital media and more, the College of the Arts connects students with Atlanta’s thriving arts scene, cultural organizations, and


GEORGIA STATE IS POISED TO BECOME THE PREMIER CENTER OF CREATIVITY IN THE SOUTHEAST. booming film and music industries. In the leading cultural and economic center of the Southeast, students and faculty enjoy direct access to opportunities with the city’s nonprofits, galleries, museums, alternative art spaces, businesses and growing $7 billion film industry. In response to the changing needs of today’s artists, the College of the Arts also combines first-rate instruction with training in entrepreneurship and the latest digital technologies. Setting Georgia State apart from most other schools, this blend of craft and business ensures students have everything they need to pursue dynamic, successful careers in the arts, whether as artists, performers, creative specialists or savvy business and management professionals. Few schools can match the College of the Arts’ extensive connections either. With links to arts communities and institutions across the U.S. and around the world, our renowned faculty and alumni artists create myriad opportunities for students and the university at large, not just in Atlanta but in New York, Los Angeles and beyond.

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Drawing from Atlanta’s eclectic culture and rich supply of award-winning ensembles and institutions, students and faculty team up with countless organizations, such as the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, High Museum of Art, Living Walls, Theatrical Outfit, and Woodruff Arts Center. Along with its own Kopleff Recital Hall and Welch School Galleries, the college also works closely with the Rialto Center for the Arts, downtown’s leading venue for arts performances and independent film screenings. The arts have always been a vital and important element of our university. With the establishment of a new college, we are giving them even greater prominence, celebrating their contributions to our cultural and artistic vitality, and opening a dynamic new community gateway to the university. Sincerely,

Mark P. Becker President


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I enjoyed reading about Georgia State’s acquisition of Turner Field and its surroundings. It’s great to see the university continue to adaptively reuse Atlanta’s building infrastructure, and I have no doubt the deal will benefit Georgia State, its students and the surrounding community. I hope the university and its partners will learn from the Braves’ mistakes and ensure the new Georgia State Stadium is utilized year-round and for more than just sporting events. Karen Rugg (B.B.A. ’03) FROM THE END OF THE EARTH

Digital Home

Introducing the new Georgia State University Magazine website. Jump online and check out the new and improved magazine website where you’ll find all of the top stories in the print issue. You’ll also find some fun extras, like a behind-the-scenes video of our cover shoot with stunt man Philip Dido (B.A. ’12). Spoiler alert: He sets himself on fire.

VIA TWITTER Lee Eltzroth @GalPix • Jun 1 Excellent issue @gsumagazine!

Chris Reese @BryanChrisReese • Mar 27 @gsumagazine GSU is so blessed to have Mark Becker as President. He’s innovative, AND personable! He responded to my msg on LinkedIn!

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

Brilliant piece by Charles McNair! I love it! Such a good summary of the mood and challenges we experienced. Better story than I could ever tell. Bernhard Fleck, Project Scientist, the European Space Agency Really a great article. I saw it on Facebook! Francesco Berrilli, associate professor of physics, the University of Rome Tor Vergata Editor’s Note: Georgia State physics and astronomy professor Stuart Jefferies made an appearance on CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (“Antarctica,” June 4, 2017). He’s featured three seconds into the segment titled “I feel like I live on a space station.” Watch it at ExplorePartsUnknown. com/destination/antarctica. GO GREEN If you’d like to stop receiv-

ing a print issue and read the magazine online only, send an email to magazine@, and we’ll take it from there. You’ll get an email notification every time a new issue is out.

Summer 2017, Vol. 8, Number 2 Publisher Don Hale Executive Editor Andrea Jones Editor William Inman (M.H.P. ’16) Assistant Editor Benjamin Hodges (B.A. ’08) Contributors Abby Carney (B.A. ’12), Ray Glier, Sarah Marshall, Charles McNair Creative Direction & Design Metaleap Creative Contributing Illustrators Edward Carvalho-Monaghan, Adam Cruft, Andy Friedman, James Fosdike, Tim Peacock, Thomas Porostocky Contributing Photographers Ryan Hayslip, Josh Meister, Gregory Miller, Ben Rollins 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 LIFT OFF State Farm donates $14.5 million to student success at Perimeter College. Georgia State President Mark Becker and State Farm Chief Executive Officer Michael Tipsord recently announced a firstof-its-kind public-private partnership aimed at addressing graduation rates at the university’s Decatur Campus. State Farm has committed $14.5 million to support Learning, Income and Family Transformation (LIFT), Georgia State’s latest student success initiative. LIFT combines data-driven academic advisement with scholarships, employment opportunities, leadership training and more to help students from every background stay on track for graduation. Featuring the university’s pioneering data analytics work, LIFT will track student progress to identify and provide the help students need to overcome educational obstacles. Through LIFT, deserving Perimeter College students can compete for scholarship packages featuring up to $4,000 per year and valuable job experience mentoring local high school students. LIFT will award grants to 50 State Farm Scholars every year. LIFT will expand staff in Georgia State Student Success offices, support emergency grants to help students cover life’s necessities, fund a mentoring program to allow students who have succeeded help others and support financial literacy programming for students and families in south DeKalb County. BILL GATES VISTS GEORGIA STATE Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist comes to campus. Bill Gates and representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CONT’D ON P.9



GEORGIA STATE EARNS TWO AWARDS FOR LEADING ATLANTA’S TRANSFORMATION. A-TOWN LAURELS: Thanks to the nonstop growth of its campuses and student population, Georgia State took home Central Atlanta Progress’ Marcus Downtown Economic Impact Award for its “ongoing, significant and catalytic impact” on the city’s core. PANTHER COUNTRY: The Atlanta Business Chronicle declared Georgia State’s re-

development of Turner Field the Best Overall Deal among the publication’s Best in Atlanta Real Estate Awards. The university is turning the former home of the Braves into Georgia State Stadium, a 30,000-seat venue featuring new facilities for athletics, academics and events, while its private partners redevelop the surrounding area into housing, retail and office space. Featuring strong amenities and inclusive design, the project is the largest in university history and is expected to transform southeast Atlanta for generations. BOOM TOWN: The accolades come amid further campus improvements. Reno-

vations are complete at 58 Edgewood Ave. NE, which houses a work space for students, the CollabTech business incubator and LaunchGSU, a venue for business startups. Less than a block away, the Creative Media Industries Institute plans to open its doors this fall at the former SunTrust Bank building at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Park Place.

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THE JAZZMAN A storied trumpeter and crooner, part-time instructor Joe Gransden (B.Mu. ’94) is one of Clint Eastwood’s favorite musicians. BY BENJAMIN HODGES (B.A. ’08)



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oe Gransden and his custom-made Monette trumpet played 348 jazz gigs in 2016, sometimes as many as four per day. “I might record a TV commercial in the morning and play a cocktail party in the afternoon, a wedding in the evening and a concert late that night,” Joe said, his baritone rich and mellow. “It was a great year — an exhausting year — but as a freelance artist, I don’t know how to say ‘no.’ When opportunities come, I’m going to take them.” Since starting his music career in 1993, Joe has released 16 records and now leads one of the few genuine big bands in the country (Joe Gransden and His Big Band), keeping the classic genre alive and well in Atlanta and beyond. While he performs mainly throughout the southeast, Joe takes his band on the road about six times a year, especially for one gig in particular. For more than a decade, he’s been playing at a private golf club in California called Tehàma, which belongs to renowned actor, filmmaker and jazz enthusiast Clint Eastwood. Many years ago, Joe balked when a friend suggested he send Clint one of his records. “Man, you can’t just mail a CD to Clint Eastwood,” he demurred. But he did. Weeks later, someone claiming to be Clint’s wife called him. Joe thought it was a prank until, in the background, he heard an unmistakable rasp and growl: “Hello, Joe.” Clint invited Joe to play golf and perform in front of Tehàma’s exclusive membership the next month. The gamble had paid off, and Clint and Joe soon cemented a lasting friendship. Clint penned a stellar endorsement of Joe that describes him as a “great new talent” with an “old soul” and “classic voice” who “plays a hell of a trumpet” — big words from a man with gospel-like clout in the jazz world. “Yeah, it’s been hip,” Joe said. After studying trumpet at SUNY Fredonia for two years, Joe tried out with the Tom-


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my Dorsey Orchestra, one of the great big band ensembles, who were about to embark on a global tour. He won the audition and put school on hiatus to play all over Europe and South America. After a year on the road, he moved to Atlanta, transferring to Georgia State and studying under Gordon “Doc” Vernick, professor of jazz studies. “He knew what he wanted to do,” Vernick said. “I just pointed him the right direction.” At Georgia State, Joe secured the chops and connections he’d need to grow into a rich career. Now 46, Joe wants to see a new love for jazz catch fire with the new generation. That’s why he hosted the first Joe’s Jazz Camp in June at Cambridge High School in Milton, Ga. “I’m at a point where I want to start giving back,” he said. “I want to spread the knowledge I got from Dr. Vernick and keep this music alive through our youth.”

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The College of Law’s ranking among National Jurist’s “Best Value Law Schools.” visited the Atlanta campus in June to learn more about how the university has leveraged technology and data to eliminate achievement gaps and become a national model for student success. Gates spoke with Timothy Renick, vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success, Allison Calhoun-Brown, associate vice president for student success, and a group of students and recent graduates who shared personal stories from their time at Georgia State. While students were told in advance they would speak with officials from the Gates Foundation, they didn’t know Gates himself was the special guest. With just a few minutes to compose themselves, students relished the opportunity of a lifetime to take selfies with the Patents issued since entrepreneur and 2010 to university humanitarian. researchers. “It was an honor to have Bill Gates spend an afternoon on campus to learn about our student success efforts,” Renick said. “For him to take the time to learn from us and listen to our students’ inspiring stories is further evidence that something very special is going on at Georgia State.” The Gates Foundation has been a major funder of Georgia State student success initiatives.


TOP PERFORMER Georgia State is the nation’s No. 1 institution for African-American students. Georgia State continues to lead the nation in conferring degrees to African-Americans, according to a new report from The Education Trust, a nonprofit education research organization. The report examined graduation rates among black students and achievement gaps between black and white students at nearly 700 public and private nonprofit institutions, as well as four-year, for-profit institutions. CONT’D ON P.10



A CRUCIAL INTERSTATE 85 VIADUCT COLLAPSED AMID A RAGING BLAZE IN MARCH. ASSISTANT PROFESSOR JOSEPH HACKER EXPLAINS THE AFTERMATH AND DIGS DEEPER TO ADDRESS AN EVEN MORE EXPLOSIVE DILEMMA. Is there anything good can we take away from the collapse? While 250,000 vehicles couldn’t take I-85 in and out of town every day and traffic delays inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people for months, we should be pleased that the rest of the transportation network, both roadways and transit, was able to accommodate the collapse. The alternatives may not have been ideal, but people adjusted and made it work because there were other ways to get around.

But it has been a terrible ordeal. Why? Suburban Atlanta, both

inside and outside the Perimeter, is home to a lot of very bad land-use planning. Countless subdivisions, each with only one or two access points, empty into an astounding number of unwalkable four- and six-lane collector roads, which in turn empty into interstates. But without a street grid or dedicated transit, collector roads and interstates become necessary because such poor circulation design forces everyone into cars for even the smallest tasks.

This could only happen in Atlanta, right? The I-85 collapse should have been little different from a transit strike in a

northeastern city, the 1989 Los Angeles earthquake, the 1996 fire outside Philadelphia on I-95 or routine maintenance bridge closures in Portland, Ore. Unfortunately, suburban Atlanta has grown almost exclusively on an automobile and road network without regard for transit or duplicative street design. The suburban dream forces lots of cars into limited road choices, and this collapse shows how delicately that dream is held together — how easily it can be undermined by a single crack in the funnel that directs all our traffic. • Read more at

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IN THE CITY As one of only 10 universities in the U.S. where black students graduate at rates equal to or higher than white students, Georgia State ranked first among the nation’s “top performing institutions for black students.” Conferring more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans than any other public, nonprofit college or university in the U.S., the university has more than doubled the graduation rates of its black students over the past decade. “Georgia State University is committed to the idea that students from all backgrounds can graduate at high and comparable rates,” said Timothy Renick, the university’s vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success. “As the latest research confirms, we can achieve this goal. At Georgia State, race no longer is a predictor of who graduates and who does not.”

DISCOVERY CURB THE CONTAGION Georgia State is developing a drug to thwart the transmission of the Ebola virus. Christopher Basler, professor and director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, has received a $4.1 million federal grant to develop a drug targeting the Ebola virus. “The Ebola virus remains a significant concern because we still lack approved drugs to treat the infection,” said Basler, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Microbial Pathogenesis whose pioneering research on emerging viruses has earned global recognition. The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa from 2014–16 was the largest known occurrence of the disease and resulted in more than 28,000 infections and 11,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. History shows that Ebola virus reemerges periodically. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Basler’s research will target the


viral machinery that Ebola uses to make new copies of its genome, a critical function for the virus to grow and spread. The goal is to find drug compounds that block the virus’ growth. In collaboration with researchers from biomedical institutions across Degree programs the U.S., Basler’s ranked among the team will identify top 100 in the U.S. inhibitors of Ebola’s viral machinery, determine how drugs can block that machinery and develop drugs that can inhibit the growth of not only the Ebola virus, but other deadly pathogens as well. “Dr. Basler’s research has the potential to protect us from the world’s most threatening viruses,” said Michael Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Research Alliance. “We are pleased to have participated with Georgia State University in recruiting him to Georgia and to have this important work take place in our state.”


PAIN IN THE BRAIN Women’s own immune systems may be hindering pain relief. Statistics show that women suffer from more pain conditions, including fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, than men. However, opioids, the primary drugs used to treat severe or chronic pain, are frequently less effective for women. “Clinical and preclinical studies report that females require almost twice as much morphine as males to produce comparable pain relief,” said Hillary Doyle, graduate student in the laboratory of Anne Murphy, associate professor in Georgia State’s Neuroscience Institute. In search of an explanation, Murphy and her team investigated the differences between immune cells in the brains of males and females. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, their study found that the immune cells in a female’s brain are more involved in pain processing than a male’s. When researchers blocked these cells, called microglia, female responses to opioid pain medication improved to match the levels of relief typically seen in males. “The results of the study have important implications for the CONT’D ON P.12

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CULTURE CURATOR As creative producer for TED, Emily Pidgeon (B.F.A. ’10) is the force behind the visuals for the influential talk series. BY ABBY CARNEY (B.A. ’12)



ome people navigate life with quiet determination and purposefulness. They heed every detail. If they let you in on a secret, they’ve planned in advance to share it with you. Emily Pidgeon is one of those people. She makes dotting I’s and crossing T’s appear effortless. As the creative producer for the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) visual team, Pidgeon is an integral part of the nonprofit’s esteemed conferences. At any TED conference — whether the annual flagship or any of the thousands of offshoot TEDx events around the world every year — vivid screen designs flank the speakers amid a meticulously designed space. Pidgeon and her creative team dream up every aspect of this visual environment. Pidgeon puts her fine arts degree to work every day. Just a year after graduating, she struck out for New York where she landed an internship at TED. Four years later, Pidgeon hunts down the best illustrators and photographers, and coaches writers and editors to develop visual messaging for TED’s online stories — messages that are daring, pointed and subtle. She moved back to Atlanta because she believes in Southern culture and moxie. “In Atlanta, there’s a foundation of support for one another’s art that’s very powerful,” she said. “There is certain loyalty within the arts community here, and I think it’s important to be supportive rather than purely competitive.”

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IN THE CITY treatment of pain and suggest that microglia may be an important drug target to improve opioid pain relief in women,” said Murphy, co-author of the study.

CREATIVITY RISING STARS Innovative alumni take home top arts prizes. Two alumni artists from the university’s Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design have earned recognition and support for their work. Tori Tinsley (M.F.A. ’16) is one of just 25 artists from across the U.S. to receive the prestigious $25,000 Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, an artist-endowed nonprofit that supports the development and recognition of contemporary artists for their contributions to society. “I was completely surprised to be selected for this grant,” Tinsley said. “It is beyond encouraging to know there are people out there who believe in what I’m doing and want to support my development as an artist.” With countless exhibitions throughout Atlanta over the past few years, the Atlanta native has established herself as one of the city’s most prominent young artists. Represented by the Hathaway Contemporary Gallery, she also recently won the Emerging Artist Award from the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. In the fall, she’s taking her work to Brooklyn’s Sweet Lorraine Gallery for her first outof-state solo exhibition. With work that’s known to break the mold of traditional sculpture, Andrew Boatright (M.F.A. ’13) has won the 2017

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Public or nonprofit university in Georgia to confer degrees to African-American, Asian and Latino students.


Forward Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Conferred by the Forward Arts Foundation and the Swan Coach House Gallery, the award recognizes Atlanta’s most outstanding new artists. Boatright will receive $10,000 and a solo exhibition at the Swan Coach House Gallery to showcase his work. Boatright specializes in sculptures of the human form. His installations use cast-off materials to capture a humorous and conceptually striking perspective on the flaws of the human condition.

Longobardi’s work will be on display at Atlanta’s Hathaway Contemporary Gallery starting July 22. In partnership with Lesvos Solidarity, a camp for some of the island’s most vulnerable refugees, Longobardi is also promoting sales of “Safe Passage” messenger bags, which too are stitched together from Lesvos’ limitless supply of life vests. The bags are available for purchase through the Hathaway Contemporary Gallery. Proceeds support Lesvos’ refugees and the people working to help them. For more information, visit

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM Faculty artist finds creative way to bring attention to refugees from many nations. Pam Longobardi, Distinguished University Professor and professor of art, has started a new project to support refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. An Atlanta artist of local and international renown, Longobardi’s work often addresses the relationship between humans and nature. Since 2015, as many as one million refugees from Syria and other countries throughout the Middle East and Africa have sought sanctuary in Lesvos, according to estimates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Countless Research centers at others have died Georgia State. trying to get there, due in part to inadequate safety gear, such as counterfeit life jackets and arm floats designed for swimming pools and not the waves and gales of the Aegean Sea. Washed up in the surf or discarded by refugees and residents upon arrival, much of this gear ends up on the island’s shores. Since founding the Drifters Project in 2006, Longobardi has cleaned beaches all over the world and turned pollutants into sculptures and installations to raise awareness about the environmental repercussions of plastic pollution. Now she’s sewing these discarded life jackets into flags for a project she calls “Flags of Lesvos.” “The discarded life vests are heavy things, burdened with the hardships of refugees and locals alike,” she said. “I’m trying to turn this loaded material into symbols of hope and resilience for everyone, irrespective of national boundaries.”

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ATHLETICS RECORD BREAKER Georgia State’s first All-American track athlete vies for her first national title. The greatest track and field student-athlete in university history, junior LaPorscha Wells has earned another honor. She is now Georgia State’s first track and field All-American for her performance in the weight throw at the 2017 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships. No stranger to victory, Wells is a sixtime Sun Belt Conference champion and 10-time All-Sun Belt honoree, the most titles in each category for a student-athlete in Georgia State history. The conference’s Most Outstanding Field Performer in 2015 and 2016, she holds the conference record in the weight throw and university records for the indoor shot put, indoor weight throw and outdoor hammer throw, occasionally breaking her own records as her abilities continue to grow. A native of Augusta, Ga., Wells has been playing track sports since elementary school but credits Georgia State Assistant Coach Ricardo Page for teaching her to love and excel at them. Wells’ dominance stretches back to 2014 when Page started coaching Georgia State’s throwers and jumpers. “When we were walking to our first practice session,” Page said, “LaPorscha asked me, ‘Coach, I’m close to the school’s

• Scraps of Hope Want to read more about the refugee crisis on Lesvos, Pam Longobardi’s

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indoor weight throw record. Can you help me break it?’ I knew right then I had a true, driven athlete.” Wells competed June 7–10 in the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., where she placed 13th in the hammer throw. TWIN TITLES Men’s tennis and golf teams win conference championships and earn NCAA Tournament trips.


THE ONLY PROGRAM OF ITS KIND IN GEORGIA, THE PREMED CONCENTRATION EXPOSES UNDERGRADS TO THE RIGORS OF MEDICAL SCHOOL WELL BEFORE THE COMPETITION. Most aspiring doctors apply to medical school without any hospital experience. They’ve likely never seen a cadaver either, much less dissected one. Thanks to senior biology lecturer Carmen Eilertson, Georgia State’s premed undergrads are different. In partnership with Atlanta Medical Center, Eilertson sends top undergrads to Dr. Steven Kane, the hospital’s director of orthopedic surgery residency. At his training lab, students open cadavers by hand and learn surgical anatomy in the flesh. A select few of these students are then chosen


for clinical internships, where they follow and assist doctors on rotation. It’s an opportunity so rare and unique that students hopeful to participate contact her from across the nation every day. “Our interns take spots otherwise offered to thirdyear medical students,” Eilertson said. “They’re treated like residents and get to see everything. They go through surgery, clinics and conferences. They’re part of the medical team in every aspect.” Since the partnership began, 74 percent of students who completed the surgical anatomy class

were accepted into medical school. That’s 34 points higher than the national average. Students with a clinical internship are at 100 percent. No other university in Georgia offers these opportunities. And when medical schools everywhere are seeking more diversity, Georgia State, with its preeminently diverse student population, has become a reliable feeder institution. “We’re providing highly trained students from all sorts of backgrounds, helping produce physicians who better represent this nation,” Eilertson said. “Most other schools can’t do that.”

Two Georgia State teams ended the season with Sun Belt Conference titles and NCAA Tournament bids. Tennis coach Brett Ross earned the Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Southeast Region Coach of the Year award for leading the Panthers to a 19-7 season. Georgia State also recorded a No. 30 ITA ranking in February, the highest ranking in program history. In the NCAA Tournament, Georgia State fell to No. 32 Kentucky. For a fourth straight season, men’s golf qualified for the NCAA Regionals. On a tough course at the Baton Rouge Regional, the Panthers finished ninth, missing out Degrees conferred on advancing to each year. the NCAA Championship for the sixth time in program history. The team returns four of the five starters in the lineup next season.


ALUMNI READY TO PIVOT Alex Membrillo’s (B.B.A. ’08) adaptability has helped him become one of Atlanta’s top young entrepreneurs. Google Alex Membrillo (B.B.A. ’08), and you’ll find the founder and chief executive officer of Cardinal Web Solutions has plenty of bragging rights. CONT’D ON P.15

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FROM UNWANTED TO THE NFL Robert Davis (B.S. ’17), Georgia State’s recordbreaking wide receiver and latest NFL draft pick, barely got a look coming out of high school. BY RAY GLIER



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n 2013, just five days before the socalled National Signing Day, Robert Davis didn’t have a single Division I football scholarship offer. Davis caught a measly four passes his senior season as a wide receiver for Northside High School — a rock-em, sock-em run-first team in Warner Robins, Ga., that didn’t throw the football. He’s a freakish athlete: 6-foot-3, terrific speed and leaping ability. But he was anonymous in high school, vigorously blocking like an offensive lineman instead. Five days before scholarship offers could be officially extended, former Georgia State football coach Trent Miles was in Warner Robins to firm up a commitment to one of Davis’ teammates, and watched Davis play basketball. It was February, the last day college football coaches could be off campus to recruit. It was basketball season. Miles said Davis “exploded off the floor” from under the basket and jammed the ball through the rim. Miles’ eyes went as wide as a satellite dish. He looked at Davis’ frame, watched him blow past other players on the floor and saw the future. Davis got Georgia State’s last available scholarship that year. In April 2017, Robert Davis the unwanted was drafted by the NFL’s Washington Redskins in the sixth round. While the third Panther to be drafted by the NFL, Davis is the university’s first draftee with a degree. “I had a lot of sleepless nights wondering if anybody was going to give me a chance to play football,” Davis said. “The last thing I wanted was my parents paying for me to go to school. But I had the mindset I was going to play.” So how did Davis’ college career turn out? He was a two-time first-team, All-Sun Belt Conference selection. He holds the Georgia State records for most receptions by a receiver (222) and most yards from scrimmage (3,391). “It’s hard to offer a scholarship to a guy with eight whole catches in high school,” Davis said. “That’s why I appreciate Georgia State. I have so much love for this school.” His love is even deeper for his parents, Robert and Mizell Davis. Mr. Davis is a sheriff, and Mrs. Davis is a prison warden. “I appreciate all the morals they put in me at a young age — not being late, being accountable, holding your peers accountable, staying out of trouble,” Davis said.

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He was named a 2016 Small Business Person of the Year by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, 2015 Digital Marketer of the Year by the Technology Association of Georgia and a Top Entrepreneur by TiE Atlanta. Cardinal Web Solutions has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing, privately held U.S. companies. The company’s clients include Cox Media Group, Papa John’s Pizza and Mizuno. As for the secret of his success, the humble and affable Membrillo attributes it to “pivoting,” a subject he raised when he spoke to students at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business’ Honors Day Celebration. “Most of my talk The Andrew Young was about pivotSchool’s ranking ing and how many among the nation’s pivots it took me top economics to get where I am,” research schools. Membrillo said. “I [discussed] the point of running a successful company [as well as] all the hiccups along the way.” The first hiccup for Membrillo’s fledgling company came fairly quickly, when he and his partner realized their company’s initial direction didn’t play to their strengths. “We started as a Web design company and then quickly realized we were bad at that,” he said. “So, we pivoted to digital marketing, which worked, and we were able to grow. It’s not the strong who survive. It’s the most adaptable.”

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No. 4

BEATO’S TRAVELOGUE Food and travel writer Sucheta Rawal (B.B.A. ’02, M.S. ’04) goes global with a series of kids’ books starring her pet cat. Sucheta Rawal has been to nearly 70 countries. Travel is essential work for the founder of Go Eat Give, the nonprofit that organizes cultural immersion trips across the world for travelers to get authentic eating experiences and also take part in volunteer projects and community service. Fitting, then, that Rawal, a native of India who left her job as an investment banker to see the world and write, would want to introduce children to her experiences in faraway places. She’s published a series of books for kids, “Beato Goes To,” that follows Beato the cat as he makes his way across the globe. Beato meets kids in other


SUCHETA RAWAL (B.B.A. ’02, M.S. ’04)

“We live on such a big planet and don’t often come to know how different our lives may be from someone else’s in the same hemisphere.” countries who become his tour guides. “Beato is my real-life, 20-pound Norwegian Forest cat,” Rawal said. “He’s a constant companion when I’m writing and working from home.” Rawal, who has been writing about travel for more than a decade, was working on a story about children’s books and discovered that very few teach children about places and cultures around the world. “I took a stab at it not only to educate kids about other countries,” she said, “but also to start conversations about diverse cultures living in peace, what different religions signify, and protecting endangered animals and the environment.” Rawal is working on an augmented

reality app based on the books that brings Beato to life with interactive sound and motion. Beato’s travels are based on her own, she said. “I picked Greenland as the first book because of the impression left on me by Ina, a 7-year-old girl I met on a sheep farm in southern Greenland,” she said. “We live on such a big planet and don’t often come to know how different our lives may be from someone else’s in the same hemisphere.” Visit for more on Rawal and her books. 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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JESSICA CINO associate professor of law


AT THE STATE PRISON in Reidsville, Ga., associate professor Jessica Cino leads two law students to the visiting room to meet Devonia Inman. Incarcerated since 2001 for the murder of a Taco Bell manager, Inman has always maintained his innocence. His case has caught the attention of the Georgia Innocence Project. When the students sit at the booth and lift the receiver, he flattens his hand against the glass. “I’m so glad somebody took a chance on me,” he says, “because I feel like I’m gonna die in here.” For Cino, this is the moment her students understand the power they wield and, as a consequence, their responsibility to society. “That crystallizes it,” she says. “That’s when the lightbulb goes on: ‘Somebody’s depending on me.’” For most law students, a legal education comes in two distinct components: learning how law is supposed to work and learning how it actually works. This spring, a handful of law students encountered this divide head-on when they worked on cases like Inman’s with the Georgia Innocence Project, an Atlanta nonprofit dedicated to securing the release and exoneration of men and women imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The students worked under the guidance of Cino, professor Russell Covey and Georgia Innocence Project Interim Director Clare Gilbert. This was the university’s first collaboration with the Georgia Innocence Project, the brainchild of Jill Pollster (J.D. ’01) and September Guy (J.D. ’01), who grew passionate about wrongful conviction as Georgia State law students. They founded the nonprofit in 2003 and hired fellow alumna Aimee Maxwell (M.Ed. ’83, J.D. ’87) as its first executive director. Since then, the Georgia Innocence Project has proven the innocence of six men serving time for the misdeeds of other people. Inman is one of the lucky. Every year, the Georgia Innocence Project receives

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hundreds of letters from inmates pleading for help. Because of limited resources and the high hurdles that must be cleared to take on most — and mostly cold — cases, the Georgia Innocence Project is highly selective of its clients. From the beginning, Pollster and Guy, both of whom have gone on to lead distinguished careers as public defenders, struggled to convince people an innocence project was a worthwhile investment. Pollster says the innocence movement “did not have the same notoriety or track record it has today.” According to her estimation, the national total for DNA exonerations back then was in the “low double digits.” Just 15 years later, the National Registry of Exonerations has tallied around 350. Countless Americans now know not only what an innocence project is, but why their community might need one. And yet, Pollster says exoneration remains a herculean task. “Defense law is a tough sell,” she says, “and indigent defense is always a tough sell, particularly with people who have already exhausted their appeals. I’m glad we didn’t feel that way.” Even when innocence work catches the public’s imagination, Pollster says, we tend to focus on the happy ending and not the years of painstaking work that made it possible, often undertaken with few resources and little hope of success. “People want to hear that story about a guy walking free after 20 years,” she says. “What did he eat? Where did he sleep? What did he wear? That’s what’s exciting. How you get to that point — I don’t know people are quite as interested.” T H E CA S E O F TO M M Y B A S S

orking with the Georgia Innocence Project, law students Allison Parham and Alli Whitfield took on the case of Tommy Bass, convicted of rape in Alabama in 1978. Nothing in their legal education could have prepared them for the case. “This man had a seven-and-a-halfhour trial, and the jury deliberated for 45 minutes,” Parham says. “And that very same day, he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. There was no physical evidence presented at the trial, only eyewitness accounts. I don’t think anybody cared about making sure they had the right person.” Their greatest difficulty was not handling the case, but how little they could do. “In our opinion, he’s obviously innocent and has been in jail for almost 40 years,” Parham says. “And it’s just sad that he’s finally getting people to look at his case, but there’s really nothing anyone can do because it’s just too late. There wasn’t much for us to do except make some Hail Mary phone calls.” The students searched for untested DNA evidence but found none. Yet Parham still hasn’t given up on Bass and remains hopeful that, someday, she can help secure a compassionate release. “He’s elderly now, and he’s sick,” she says. “They have a medical furlough act in Alabama, [and] he’s obviously not a danger to society. I don’t think there’s any way to get his actual innocence in front of a judge, but at least we can let him live out the rest of his days with his daughter instead of in jail. So, I’ll definitely be staying in touch with the Georgia Innocence Project and would like to do some pro bono work after I graduate.”



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When her students study successful exonerations, Cino reminds them to consider the context. “Let’s look at how long it took to get him out,” she says. “Because once you get lawyers involved who are pursuing actual innocence on a case, you’re talking three years at a minimum. But I’ve seen some that go on 10, 12 years.” She directs students to “look behind the rah-rah ‘somebody-got-exoneratedand-vindicated’ story and ask, ‘What did it take to get them there? And how many [other] people get lost?’” These questions linger in the minds of the students this spring — not just of what it takes to exonerate an innocent client, but of how many innocent people remain behind bars despite the dedicated efforts of their (often self-appointed) defenders. “It impacted all of us emotionally,” Parham says. “You hear about these stories [in the news] and think, ‘Well, maybe they’re innocent; maybe they’re guilty. Who am I to judge?’ “But then, when they ask you to judge, and you get to read the background and the trial transcripts and the letters from these people who are begging for help because they swear they’re innocent, it changes your perspective. It makes you wonder how many people are sitting in prison who shouldn’t be? And how many people are still out there who should be in prison?” Her work with the Georgia Innocence Project not only helped Parham understand the issues and institutional failings these clients face, but also shed light on law itself — especially the dangers of assuming the infallibility of the American legal system. Because, as Parham describes it, the system is made up of “human beings with human desires, urges and flaws.” And this human fallibility is painfully visible in the cases she and her classmates worked on. Popular narratives of wrongful conviction often suggest that these stories, too, have discernible villains: that, in order for an innocent person to end up in prison, someone must have decided to send him there with full knowledge of the grave injustice being undertaken. But Parham says the reality is more complicated, and the forms of injustice that lead to wrongful conviction are far more insidious and en-

demic to the American legal system than any individual perpetrator. If you look at the agencies that contributed to the wrongful convictions of the Georgia Innocence Project’s clients, Parham says you’ll find “prosecutors and police officers and people that are getting pressured from the community because they’re up for re-election. You come across good intentions turned into something totally different from good intentions.” SYS T E M FA I L U R E

t has been a scant 28 years since DNA testing has been able to corroborate innocence claims with objective, scientific evidence too clear for courts to ignore, or at least too clear to ignore in every case. DNA evidence can still be excluded on a procedural basis because judges have no ethical or professional obligation to consider new evidence in a case that has already been decided, and because the convicted have already been found guilty and have no constitutional right to an appeal. After all, the law has already found them undeserving of full citizenship. For the most part, the American legal system is policed, managed and upheld by people who base their decisions on the fundamental premise that the system does not make mistakes. But a new generation of Americans — including attorneys — is growing up in a nation that can no longer pretend that wrongful conviction is anything but a systemic issue. This painfully visible reality cannot help but shape the perceptions of citizens who want a justice system that’s truly just. And for people who make it their business to confront these difficult truths, the impact can be profound. Cino says exoneration work has been in her own DNA since before she began law school. “I read a book about wrongful convictions when I was a junior in college,” she says. “I was a science major, and the plight of innocent people who needed the assistance of science to demonstrate their innocence resonated with me. “I got really lucky,” Cino adds, “because I came from a poor family, my par-


Indigent defense is always a tough sell, particularly with people who have already exhausted their appeals. I’m glad we didn’t feel that way. — JILL POLSTER


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You don’t often have two good attorneys with similar resources on both sides. And that’s why we fall into wrongful convictions and mass incarceration.


ents didn’t pay for college, and they certainly weren’t going to pay for law school. My parents didn’t even go to college. But I got scholarships and opportunities I wouldn’t have received if a lot of people hadn’t taken chances on me. So, I absolutely view this as the way I give back. The same chances people took on me, I need to take on others and bring students along with me so they get to share that experience. Being able to see what it’s like to give back at the very beginning of your career is tremendously important and sets the tone for how you view yourself as a lawyer going forward.” J U S T I C E F O R A L L

or Kianna Hawkins Chennault (J.D. ’17), who graduated this spring with plans to work as a criminal defense lawyer, the Georgia Innocence Project practicum shed light on an adversarial system that can be fair, but only under the right conditions. “If you have two good attorneys, and if they both have resources, I think the system favors justice,” Chennault says, “which is a stretch because you don’t often have two good attorneys with similar resources on both sides. And that’s why we fall into wrongful convictions and mass incarceration.” Chennault speaks passionately about the challenges of advocating for a client within a justice system hopelessly weighted toward the interests of the state. In the absence of resources, of money, of time, it seems the only factors that can help ensure the defendant’s rights are the skill, dedication and indomitable will of an individual defense attorney. But Chennault is up to the challenge. Litigating is an “adrenaline rush,” she says. “I love being on the spot and having to think on my feet. I love getting a case and just getting the facts. It’s like a puzzle you have to put together to tell a story.” But no matter how thrilling the practice of law may be, the students’ most lingering feeling after this work is profound sadness. The cases they worked on were often frustrating because of how little could be done: how long it took even to request a trial transcript from a county



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clerk, how slowly the wheels of bureaucracy turned, how often DNA evidence had been destroyed or inexplicably lost, or how little legal recourse a client had even when evidence suggested their innocence. “These people’s lives were destroyed,” Chennault says. Many of the Georgia Innocence Project’s cases — wherein racial bias has abetted prosecutorial tunnel vision — strike closer to home for Chennault. “As an African-American woman with a five-month-old son,” she says, “I pay attention to every single step I take. Like, what school, what preschool — no, what nursery am I going to send him to? I feel like I need to be super careful. “What is he even going to wear once he gets to a certain age? Just things other races take for granted. I have to make sure his hoodie’s not too big. Can he even wear a hoodie? How should I teach him to walk? I get scared reading about some of these cases because just one accusation can send you down a total spiral that’s almost impossible to get out of.” Chennault decided to go to law school after witnessing an event that, for her, illuminated how differently the law functions depending on who’s in charge. “I decided to go to law school after watching the Trayvon Martin trial,” she says. “Well, it was the George Zimmerman trial, but unfortunately we call it the Trayvon Martin trial because he was on trial, too. I was blown away that someone — a child — could be walking down the street, get followed, attacked and killed, and have his killer go free because of [Florida’s Stand Your Ground] law. And I thought, ‘What law is this? This can’t be right.’” According to Cino, her students’ opportunity to learn these sobering lessons through courses like the Georgia Innocence Project practicum is one of Georgia State’s greatest gifts, not just to students but to the community as well. “It’s great to be at a school where you can get creative in how you teach and bring law into the classroom,” Cino says, “because there aren’t many places you can do that. The school is intensely supportive of the practicum, and it benefits the students greatly. Given income disparities and the nature of our society, more and more people will need access to lawyers. That’s why it’s fundamentally important that, as lawyers, we’re cognizant of our duty to make sure there’s access for all.” Fifteen years after founding the Georgia Innocence Project with little assurance of success, Polster gets to witness passionate students from her alma mater work on the cases that first inspired her. “Talk about having an impact,” she says. “And not only on that one person you’re fighting for. It’s a ripple on a pond. It’s amazing to set things right.”



Clarence Harrison, wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 18 years, was the Georgia Innocence Project’s first exoneration.


Sarah Marshall was a Georgia Innocence Project intern in 2016. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, The New Republic and Buzzfeed.

25-year-old woman was viciously attacked as she walked to a bus stop in Decatur, Ga. She was punched in the face, dragged down an embankment and raped three times. The assailant also robbed her of her wristwatch and money. Police investigated a tip that a man named Clarence Harrison, who lived near the site of the abduction, had a watch for sale. Even though they didn’t find the watch in his house, police included Harrison in a photo lineup, and the victim identified him as her attacker. Harrison maintained his innocence, but a DeKalb County jury convicted him on March 18, 1987, of rape and robbery. During the trial, a forensic analyst testified the rape kit showed blood group markers consistent with Harrison when, in fact, the evidence had been compromised. Harrison was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. In February 2003, the Georgia Innocence Project began to review his case. They were told all the evidence had been destroyed in the 1990s, but their investigation discovered that one slide containing evidence from the rape kit still existed. New DNA samples were taken from Harrison, and the results showed that Harrison could not possibly be the same man whose DNA was in the rape kit. “I remember sitting in the district attorney’s office,” Polster recalls, “and he just picked up the phone and said, ‘You need to pull [Clarence Harrison], put him in protective custody and ship him back to Atlanta.’” Harrison was released from custody August 31, 2004. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Polster says. “The system can move efficiently when it wants to. It was unbelievable.”

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N C O FE OI NS F O A T S UN T N As the cameras roll,


D ID O ( B

.A . ’0 2 )

rolls with the punc hes.


By C har les McN air

ike s Fosd Jame y b n atio Illustr




S U. E D


In Touch With His Inner Ham “I’VE ALWAYS LIKED ENTERTAINING PEOPLE,” Dido confesses. “I love

making people laugh. I’m a performer, for sure. It’s in my blood.” Proof? Dido can pull out an “embarrassing” video of he and his adolescent brother reenacting skits from “Saturday Night Live.” Dido’s elementary school voted him “class clown,” and Druid Hills High School voted him “friendliest.” (On high school Stunt Night, Dido roller-bladed onstage in tight bike shorts as Fabio, the Italian male model — and then skated straight off the edge.) Naturally, Dido enrolled at Georgia State to pursue a degree in theatre. The antics continued. “I performed in the play ‘Noises Off,’” he says. “Part of the reason I was cast was because I liked to screw around and let a friend of mine, Matt Shapiro, pretend to beat me up, push me down stairs and so on.” Shapiro (B.A. ’99) now writes for mOcean, a Los Angeles advertising agency. “Phil used to let me throw him down this giant spiral staircase in one of the school buildings,” he recalls. “It still makes me laugh just thinking about it, especially considering Phil had no professional training at the time.”



Cameras rolling, Philip Dido was jerked sideways through the air on a wire, dropped to the ground and slammed into a door jamb. Mid-stunt, Dido saw he might hit the jamb with his head. Trained in martial arts, he acrobatically maneuvered his arm to cushion the impact, touched his head against the wall … and then snapped it back to sell the hit. He lay very still. Someone yelled “Cut!” The concerned face of a camera operator hovered. Dude? “With that, I knew we’d gotten a good take,” smiles Dido. “Happy director. Happy stunt coordinator. And I was okay.” Philip Dido has an unusual line of work. He turns into a blazing zombie on “The Walking Dead.” For the MTV series “Teen Wolf,” he gets hit by a speeding SUV — three times, three takes. He stands in for Hank Azaria on “Brockmire,” throwing punches after the actor picks a fistfight with an inflatable air man — one of those twisting, dancing advertising apparitions you see in front of car washes. “I always imagined the entertainment industry would be fun,” Dido says. “But stunts were not something I considered. It’s still a little weird to say I’m a professional stunt man, but that’s my job. “I’m still surprised I actually get to do this for a living. I get to play like a kid, wear costumes, shoot guns, fall down, get blown up, get set on fire and lose a lot of fights. And if I do it right, nobody gets hurt.”


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HIT PARADE With more than 80 stunt credits to his name, Philip Dido’s taken punches, eye pokes and tumbles for some of Hollywood’s leading men. Here are just a few.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” Stunt double for James Marsden and Paul Rudd

“Careful What You Wish For” Stunt double for Dermot Mulroney

“Dirty Grandpa” Stunt double for Robert De Niro

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” Stunt double for Woody Harrelson

“The Following” Stunt double for Kevin Bacon

“The Three Stooges” Stunt double for Larry David

Practice made perfect. In “Noises Off,” Dido’s character tumbles down a stairway in act one. “I still remember the dead silence in the audience after I hit the bottom of the stairs and how they erupted with cheers when I started moving again about five seconds later,” Dido says. “That was a really great night.” Frank Miller, senior communication lecturer at Georgia State, taught Dido in two classes and directed him in “Noises Off.” He says the fall was difficult. “Philip had to plan before he entered the stage, cross a long platform leading to the steps and then fall,” says Miller. “Mastering a physical skill like that takes a lot of dedication, so I’m not surprised at his success as a stunt performer.”

“Lord of the Rings for Food” clearly pointed toward a career making people gasp. But … how, exactly? “My path to stunts was not a straight line, but looking back, I can trace it clearly,” Dido says. “It’s got as much to do with the friendships I made as who I am and what I’ve done.” He attended Georgia State on the “seven-year plan,” he says, leaving classwork behind several times for odd jobs and joyriding to California. When he heard director Peter Jackson would soon be shooting “Lord of the Rings” in New Zealand, Dido bought a plane ticket. He stood outside the movie’s production facility with a handTHE PHYSICAL COMEDY OF DIDO’S YOUTH


lettered sign: “WILL WORK FOR LORD OF THE RINGS FOR FOOD.” He got neither work nor food. Back in Atlanta, he earned pizza money working in a computer lab at the College of Education and Human Development, a gig that indirectly led to the world of stunts. A friend in the computer lab took a video production job at Georgia Tech. After graduation, Dido followed. “It was my first real job,” Dido says. “I hope I never have one of those again.” On the new job, he made a new friend, a student of martial arts. They bonded. Dido had taken Tang Soo Do in high school (“about six months until my instructor murdered his father”); Wing Chun Kung Fu (“about three months until I wrecked my motorcycle and didn’t have transportation”); and Aikido, Tai Chi and Jiu-Jitsu at Georgia State (“an incredible deal, so cheap, and all great instructors”). Dido knew his way around a dojo, and his friend wanted his opinion about a certain martial arts school. “I got a good feeling [about the place] right away,” Dido says. “Soon I trained there seven days a week, and I earned a black belt.” The door to the stunt world opened when the school’s head instructor, an ex-performer with film experience, created a stunt team. Dido auditioned, got on, and worked a few independent films and shorts. “It was fun, occasionally brutal, and it paid very little to nothing at all,” Dido says. “But it eventually brought me into contact with folks working professionally.” The film industry in Georgia had not yet exploded, and no one knew if it would. Still, Dido began to consider stunt work as a career. “I was finally exposed to the professional Screen Actors Guild side of things,” he says. “The stunt team kind of fizzled out, but a handful of us adapted to the professional film world. Eventually, we built up career momentum.” Today, Dido makes more than $900 a day for stunt work, and he can pull down extra bucks for certain stunts. Getting hit by a car, for example, can ring up $1,000 bucks … per take. Even so, stunt work isn’t for the financially faint of heart.

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Assignments come and go, the hours are long, and the work physically demanding and risky. Every stunt man knows one wrong move can end a career. Or worse. In 2002 on Halloween Day, a stunt man was killed in a skydiving scene for a Bruce Willis film, “Tears of the Sun.” Stunt men have died falling off horses, wrecking cars, crashing planes, plunging from buildings, drowning in lakes, running motorcycles off cliffs and in even more unfortunate ways. “As performers,” Dido says, “we need to be on top of our game. If things go wrong, we must have the ability to make rapid decisions with life-or-death consequences — for ourselves and others. “There are processes in place to keep everyone safe,” Dido adds. “It is always better to have clear communication, a plan and level-headed, skilled people to execute it. “The stunt people I admire aren’t daredevils. They are skilled professionals. The job is a lot of fun, but it’s no joke.”

Stunting Growth GYMNASTS AND ACROBATS have entertained

audiences for centuries, from royal courts to circus crowds. Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” shows popularized stunt riders in the 19th century, and Vaudeville employed colorful stunt talents, including Harry Houdini. In early Hollywood, actors like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton performed their own stunts. (“Keaton is incredible,” Dido says. “He did stuff that most folks wouldn’t dare to try these days, and he did many of his gags in one long take.”) Eventually, though, sophistication in movie-making — and the rising box-office value of stars — created roles for standins and stunt men. John Wayne could certainly ride a horse. It was another thing entirely for him to leap from a balcony into a waiting saddle and gallop into the sunset. Now with 12 years in the craft, Dido has a solid resume. He’s a dependable pro on set. This is how his job works. The cellphone rings, and a stunt coordinator calls him to a shoot. (Many shows have this professional on crew making sure stunts happen safely and cost-effectively.) Dido always shows up an hour early with his gear — an assortment of protective pads to wear under costumes. He goes to wardrobe. He goes to makeup. (Becoming a zombie for “The Walking Dead,” Dido


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says, takes an hour of latex and fake blood application.) “It’s weird when you go to lunch, and you have this grotesque zombie makeup and blood all over you,” Dido says. “You’re eating sandwiches with half your face falling off. You can spot people who haven’t been on the set very long. They look at you funny.” After makeup, Dido patiently waits his call. He meets a director or coordinator, who explains the scene, and the cast and stunt team walk through the action. They have a safety meeting with the department heads, cast and crew to review standard safety protocol. Sometimes, a stunt is rehearsed. If not, the action gets tweaked, take by take. Much of a scene’s vitality — and believability — depends on the professionalism and invention of the actors. Consider Dido’s battle with the inflatable air man in “Brockmire.” The actor Azaria took a first swing. The director yelled “Cut!” And in stepped Dido. “They gave Philip no direction or blocking whatsoever, just ‘fight that thing and make it funny’ or something like that,” says




fellow stunt man Andy Rusk. “Most stunt men would’ve been more scared by that than a high fall — an unrehearsed comedy bit by yourself in front of the crew. “But Philip crushed it,” says Rusk. “He got it in one take. I believe he just went out and fought the thing until he could hear the crew laughing, and then he fought it some more. And he lost the fight, which was a bold choice. Many image-conscious stuntmen might not choose to lose a fight with an inanimate object. But it became one of the best, funniest scenes in the whole series. “It takes real guts to be silly.”


For a fire scene in “The Walking Dead,” Dido, Rusk and another actor — all made up as zombies — waited inside a steel dumpster. The stunt men had soaked their Nomex underwear in fire retardant gel and ice for six hours. That night, the weather was so cold that the underwear felt warm when they put it on. “About four minutes later,” Rusk says, “in that steel dumpster full of propane flame bars, kerosene dripping down our backs, we were hotter than we’d ever been in our lives. I mean, we were hot before we even got lit up. The special effects guys had those propane fires roaring in there, and the steel dumpster held all that heat and reflected it. “Cold. Hot. Cold. Hot. Never once did Philip utter a discouraging word,” Rusk says. “He just took it, part of Charles McNair the deal. In fact, he joked all night.” publishes In the scene, Dido catches fire first. He nationally and stumbles into zombie two, lighting him, and internationally. that zombie bumps and ignites Rusk, the third. The author of two “We had extinguishers outside,” Dido says. novels, “Pickett’s “If one of us got into trouble, that person Charge” and would exit to a predetermined spot to be put “Land O’ Goshen,” out. The remaining performers worked in the McNair was books shot until they got too hot or cut was called.” editor at Paste Take one, the second zombie failed to ignite. Magazine from His wardrobe was wet. 2005–2015. He Take two (with more accelerant added to lives in Bogota, the clothing), everyone ignited. Dido, in zomColombia. bie character and fully ablaze, staggered from

the dumpster. The second gentleman? “He bailed out on the take,” Dido says. “He got too hot.” Decision time. “I remember watching the second gentleman leave and pausing a second to assess whether I could continue the shot,” Dido says. (Remember, he’s a walking zombie bonfire at this point.) “I decided that I was warm but could keep going, so I remained in the shot. We were all juggling quite a bit of stuff — monitoring our own heat level and safety, timing things to bump into the next guy long enough to ignite him while not flashing him in the face with fire, backing off to give each other space, making sure we were spread out to fill the frame, listening to instructions from the stunt coordinator and performing.” Performing … as burning zombies. “The unusual added thing,” Dido says, “is that the director requested we not react much to being on fire. That’s tough.” Tough. That’s Dido’s calling card. “In a business where tough dudes are everywhere, Philip is one of the toughest dudes I know,” Rusk says. “And he’s tough because he can not only absorb punishment but laugh through it, too. “I once saw an actor kick him in the ribs, over and over, maybe 40 times in a single take because the director changed the shot without telling anybody and wouldn’t call cut. When he finally did, all we could do was laugh. We laughed about that for days.” Dido sets a high standard for dedication — and durability. “With Phil’s stunt work,” says Shapiro, “I think he lives at the studio, literally. I think he eats, drinks and breathes stunts ... and then occasionally pees blood.” Stoicism is second nature to the specialty actors who make stunts such an exciting part of film and television. For all his inner ham, Dido says, the standard stunt man approaches work understanding that anonymity is part of the profession. Stunt men are born to make those around them look good. Sometimes, they even make them look like superheroes. “That’s the core of the job,” Dido confirms. “It’s not splashy or anything. We all want to do good performances and good stunts. And we want everybody to go home with all their limbs and eyes and toes intact.” Even the zombies.

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B Y A B B Y C A R N E Y ( B. A . ’ 1 2 ) . P H O T O G R A P H S B Y G R E G O R Y M I L L E R .

A hit-and-run by a drunk driver during her friend’s bachelorette party nearly killed Angela Riley (B.A. ’12). With a little help from her friends and an assist from The Giving Kitchen, she’s recovered and repaying the favors.


A gaggle of buoyant young women exit a bar in Nashville just before 2 a.m. and begin to cross Broadway on their way to another honky-tonk. They’re dressed in ’80s workout attire — leotards, scrunchies, neon lipstick and so much shimmer glitter that it’s clearly visible in the grainy surveillance video from 2013. They’re giggling across the street when a drunk driver plows through the crosswalk, striking one of the girls and throwing her onto the hood of his car before speeding off. Screaming and crying, the others scramble to help their friend, 25-year-old Angela Riley, who just broke a windshield with her head and fractured her spine in two places. One of the young women attending to Riley is wearing a white tulle veil. Her name is Amelia York, Riley’s childhood friend and roommate, and she’s out tonight celebrating her bachelorette weekend with her bridal party. An occupational therapist, York is the situation’s first responder as it transitions from barroom karaoke to medical emergency in a flash.


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“You can see it’s her because she’s running around, and her veil makes it look like she’s flying,” Riley says. “It’s like I’m Sleeping Beauty, and she’s one of the little fairies.” She’s describing the surveillance footage, which she’s had on DVD since the court subpoenaed it for a civil suit against the driver. She’s replayed the worst night of her life so much the disc is heavily scratched and worn. When York sees Riley is bleeding from her nose with no facial abrasions, she knows right away her friend has suffered a traumatic brain injury. It takes a few minutes for passersby to take them seriously. “We were bedraggled in smeared, excessive makeup,” York recalls. “Glitter mascara was all over our faces from crying. We looked like complete nut jobs.” Riley soon arrives at Vanderbilt Trauma Center, where the bridal party hovers in the waiting room for the next 36 hours without a single word from hospital staff about Riley’s condition. They don’t know if their friend is dead or alive.

THE 2:30 A.M. CALL


usan Riley, Angela’s mother, remembers well her early morning conversation with York. “We just needed to get there as fast as we could,” she recalls. “That’s all the doctors would tell the girls about her condition.” She and her husband immediately jumped in the car and drove through the night to Nashville, stopping periodically to let Susan vomit on the side of the road. She was so worried about Angela that she’d become physically ill. Arriving at the hospital, however, she exuded complete confidence despite her fears. All the girls had known Susan for years. She’d worked at Decatur (Ga.) High School for nearly two decades, and they all grew up under her wing. “Susan is the most positive, angelic person on the planet,” York says. “She got there and hugged us. She has this great southern accent. She was like, ‘Oh, baby dolls, it’s gonna be okay.’ She was the one comforting us. She’s always had this great strength and positivity, and everyone loves her for it.”

The doctors told them Riley might not survive — or might instead wake up unable to recognize her own mother and best friends. One of the doctors described surviving a brain injury like groping around from floor to floor inside a dark 10-story building just trying to find a light switch. When Riley woke up amid a tangle of tubes and tape, however, she immediately found her parents’ faces. “She’s got wires everywhere,” Susan describes the scene. “She looks up at her daddy. She looks at me. And this is what she says — it got me through everything — she said, ‘Let’s go.’ So, from that moment, I thought, ‘She knows us. She knows I’m the one who’ll get her out of here. It’s gonna be okay.’” After a week in intensive care, Riley was flown back to Atlanta to begin intensive rehabilitation. That summer, Susan drove Angela to rehab every day, waiting outside her daughter’s room from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. while she regained her strength and relearned how to walk and talk. “The first time we went to the rehab room where they eat, Angela dropped her face in her grits and eggs,” Susan says. “It took her quite a while just to be able to hold her head up.” Riley’s entire family, including her four brothers, organized their schedules to take shifts staying with Riley at her apartment, where they believed she should remain so she could still feel like an adult. “They kept saying I was young and I was healthy,” Riley recalls. “And if I worked hard enough, I could return to a normal life if I just kept trying.” At 25, Riley was back at square one. The girl who moved out at

18 and fiercely fought for her independence, working in restaurants and interning at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business while pursuing her undergraduate degree, would have to learn once more how to feed and bathe herself, hold objects, speak — all of it. For a time, she required 24-hour supervision. There was no promise she’d pull through, recover fully or recover at all. “It started slow, and it felt like forever,” Riley says, “but it took about six months for the main part of recovery and another six months for me to regain executive functions like being able to balance a checkbook and understand what I was saying. I didn’t know what not to say, so I’d say really inappropriate things to the wrong people.” “She felt really derailed,” York says. “At the time in life when people start their careers and settle down, her slate got wiped clean. She couldn’t focus on career. She had to learn to tie her shoes. She has had to come so far, and I think people who don’t understand brain injuries don’t know how difficult that is.”



ord spread after Riley’s accident. Her Decatur community, where she was born and raised, even sold hair scrunchies to raise funds for Riley: “Scrunchies for Angela.” Around that time, chef Ryan Hidinger and his wife Jen had just started The Giving Kitchen, a charitable organization that

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financially assists Atlanta restaurant workers with grants to help them get back on their feet when unanticipated crises arise in their lives. A server at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur at the time of the accident, Riley had been working in local restaurants since she was a teenager. The Hidingers heard Riley’s story and wanted to help. Ryan Hidinger was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer just before Christmas 2012. The chef at Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna, Ga., was given six months to live. After his diagnosis, the Atlanta restaurant community rallied around the Hidingers, and the couple were overwhelmed with the support they were given. In fact, they were showered with a surplus of donations and decided they wanted to help others in need, too. “After that first team meeting to raise funds for Ryan, we started to hear stories of others in our community. Angela was the very first one,” recalls Jen Hidinger. “We heard the story and immediately said, ‘Let’s help her out.’” Their grant helped Riley pay her rent and living expenses through her first year of recovery. The Giving Kitchen helped Riley before it even had its bylaws in place. She was the prototype for their mission: to financially assist Atlanta restaurant workers like Riley who have had their worlds turned upside down by an accident, sickness or other crisis. “The Atlanta restaurant community is a close-knit place, and everyone looks after each other,” Riley says. “Finding my own community was extremely important to me and made me feel like I belonged somewhere.” Ryan Hidinger died in January 2014. Shortly thereafter, and as soon as she was able, Riley became a full-time volunteer with The Giving Kitchen. Four months later, she was hired on as the nonprofit’s communications manager. On social media and the website, in emails and all other communications, Riley has been the voice of The Giving Kitchen from the very beginning. She’s essentially one of the founding members. “When we hired her, we thought it was kind of amazing,” Jen says. “She was our first grant recipient, and ultimately, we were able to give her a job matching her skills, and here she is growing and growing.”

“ It’s crazy to look at the worst thing that ever happened to me and also think it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Though Jen didn’t meet Riley until after she got out of the hospital, she’s seen Riley’s progress firsthand. “You can see drastic growth from many different angles,” Jen says. “She’s a bright, vibrant, young lady. She’s smart and incredibly driven. I recognized what the accident did to her, to her motor skills, but she had this intense drive to help.”



iley is back to her old wit, creativity and way with words. Her friends say her talent remains sharp as ever despite a few symptoms common with brain injury survivors. She must take care to avoid becoming overstimulated in loud, busy places, for example, and can’t rely on her short-term memory as she once could. However, Riley has learned to adapt with compensatory strategies, such as writing everything down and making meticulous lists. Susan says she’s seen her daughter change since the accident. “She’s always been awesome,” she says, “but she has a different approach to life. When you come that close to losing everything, it just makes you different. She said not too long ago, ‘A lot of my friends are getting married, and some are having children, and I’m trying to figure out who I am again.’” Riley left The Giving Kitchen last year to become the brand storyteller for Wild Heaven Brewery back home in Decatur. Since that first donation to help Riley pay her bills, The Giving Kitchen has given financial assistance to 650 people and awarded more than $1 million in grants. “Angela was a driving force between our very small initial staff that gave a voice to this organization,” Jen says. “To be part of that very first team, to give this organization its first legs from crawl to walk, is really amazing.” Riley still often visits York and her husband — just as if the accident never happened. “She’ll bring over a bunch of her good Wild Heaven beers, and we’ll sit on the back deck,” York says. “She indulges us by being homebodies with us.” It’s been four years since that wretched night in Nashville, but Riley doesn’t hold a grudge against the driver who put her life on hold. A percentage of what she was awarded in a civil suit was donated back to The Giving Kitchen. She’s at peace, almost thankful for what happened. “I don’t know I would have found my place or my voice without it,” she says. “It’s crazy to look at the worst thing that ever happened to me and also think it was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Riley’s long journey of self-discovery started soon after the wreck, even before The Giving Kitchen heard her story. As part of her rehab exercises during her recovery, Riley had been trying on her bridesmaid Abby Carney dress and practicing for York’s big day. is a Brooklyn“She was preparing to regain her indepenbased journalist dence,” York says, “but with the specific goal from Atlanta. of being at my wedding.” Follow along On June 15, 2012 — just 35 days after the acwith her cident — Angela Riley walked down the aisle as @abbymcarney. her friend’s bridesmaid.

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INSIDE INSIGHT PROCESS THIS • In 1965, DeKalb College, now Georgia State’s Clarkston Campus, unveiled a

state-of-the-art computer called the “Super Memory.” Here, Ray Bass, data processing instructor, tells Peggy Moore (B.A. ’67) (left) and Leila Evans how to use a 2,400-foot reel of magnetic tape to feed the computer 20,000 characters of information per second. Computers on campus are a little different today. At the Petit Science Center, a high-performance computing cluster named CARINA sustains research in chemistry, physics, biology, neuroscience and more. Its processor runs at 14.1 teraflops, meaning it can calculate 14.1 trillion operations per second.


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

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