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Humanities and Social Sciences
Shea O’Neill helps rebuild communities. But he’s not constructing new homes or upgrading old infrastructure. Instead, he uses geographic data to identify trends and patterns in how people live, work, and spend money in a community, and then he proposes recommendations based on that information to help revitalize neighborhoods.
Shea’s work is done in partnership with “anchor” institutions such as universities or hospitals whose administrators understand that their organization’s relationship to the community is more complex than simply existing within it. It’s a lesson Shea learned early on at Ithaca College.
“I think IC’s greatest asset is the fact that it’s in Ithaca. The best classes I took, the best experiences I had were from professors and people who made that connection [between institution and community],” he says.
Shea credits history professor Michael Smith as a professional influence. “I remember from his classes that, yes, history is of the past, but the past is constantly connecting to the present. Michael was always having us do service learning projects that would connect us with what was going on in Ithaca.”
As a geographic information systems analyst at U3 Ventures, Shea looks at complex data and interprets the meaning behind the numbers. His minor in environmental studies may have helped prepare him for the work he does now, but he also places great value on the skills he learned as a history major.
“If you truly engage with a liberal arts degree, you learn a number of skills that are invaluable for any profession. You learn how to form your argument, how to compose your thoughts, how to compose your narrative. You’re surrounded by people who encourage you to think critically.”
Shea knows how transferable those skills are. “You don’t have to keep a liberal arts background just in the liberal arts. The manner in which you think critically can be applied to science, engineering, architecture—all the fields you tend to think of as more fact- or statistics-based.”
Shea currently teaches part time as an adjunct faculty member in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment at Philadelphia University. To his surprise, he has discovered a passion for teaching and hopes to grow professionally in that role.
NASCAR events are a thrilling part of the American experience. But while fans root for their favorite drivers, not many consider the work that takes place long before the first engine revs. That’s where Jusan Hamilton ’13 is in the driver’s seat.
As an account executive for industry operations at NASCAR, Jusan is part of a team responsible for keeping races on track—managing communications, working with sponsors, and traveling to events around the country. But long before his first trip to Daytona, Jusan was racing around a dirt track in upstate New York.
Jusan’s talent led him to compete in go-kart and stock car races up and down the East Coast throughout his high school years. As graduation approached, Jusan set his sights on professional racing—but he was thinking outside the lanes.
“After I realized I wouldn’t be able to race in the top series in NASCAR, I decided that I wanted to work on the business side of the sport,” says Jusan.
His search for a college that would help him reach his goals led to Ithaca, where he worked toward dual degrees in sociology and integrated marketing communications (IMC).
“My two degrees showed me completely different aspects of the business world and of life in general. They really prepared me to make my own path in my career,” Jusan says.
“Sociology allows you to better interpret what you’re putting out there—how it’s going to affect different groups of people, and how they’re going to see it. From a public relations standpoint, sociology is really useful.
“Marketing and advertising are a big part of what makes the sport go ’round. There are communications aspects with the sponsors, the race teams, the track teams, and the corporate side. The IMC major encompassed everything I hoped to do.”
Jusan’s drive to work in professional racing—along with an education that combined skills and knowledge specific to his career goals—led to three internships in the industry followed by a full-time position in communications at NASCAR soon after graduation. Already rising through the ranks, Jusan is on the inside track toward his career goals.
“I love working for NASCAR; I love working in the industry. My goal is to continue to work my way up.”
Born in Ghana, West Africa, Piko Ewoodzie ’06 began learning about vastly different social structures when his family moved to the United States—first living in a small town in the Midwest and then in the South Bronx in New York City.
“My life’s story has been trying to understand different kinds of worlds,” says Piko. “Every time we went to a new place, it was a new chance for me to try to make sense of a new social world—new friends, new hierarchies, new definitions of what is cool and what is not cool.”
Knowing he wanted to study sociology, Piko discovered the opportunity to understand how different societies work on an even deeper level at Ithaca College. As part of the pioneering class of IC’s Martin Luther King Scholar Program, Piko was given the chance to travel, research global issues, and make an impact on how others see the world.
“Every year [in the MLK program] you design a project. You think about a research question, you go out of the country, you talk to people, you find answers, and then you come back and present to the school.”
With the MLK program, Piko went to Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica to learn what issues people face in other parts of the world. In a particularly eye-opening experience in Costa Rica, Piko spent a week with kids who were playing together at a gym. The children were from different areas, but they had a common connection. “Toward the end of the week we realized that these kids know each other because they live on the only land their families can afford, and every six months their houses get flooded. It just blew us away.”
Since graduation, Piko has continued to research sociological issues as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. For his dissertation, Piko went to Jackson, Mississippi, to examine how African Americans of different socioeconomic backgrounds acquire, prepare, and consume what they eat. He lived with people to discuss and experience their relationships with food firsthand—doing the same type of work he did as an MLK scholar at IC.
In addition to his research, Piko is teaching sociology at Kenyon College, inspiring a new generation of students to examine global issues. “I think both in the classroom and outside the classroom—really all of what I’m doing now—is just a continuation of the things I did at Ithaca.
“I want to teach college students how to get excited about the complications of the world.”
>> More on this story: The Martin Luther King Scholar Program
Life after graduation can take a lot of twists. Julie Perng’s degree in organizational communication from Ithaca College is a long way from the Ph.D. in agricultural and applied economics she’s pursuing. But her journey into that field began as a member of the Martin Luther King Scholar Program at IC.
“The MLK program changed my life and who I am profoundly,” Julie says. “It was a huge part of my college experience.”
Julie’s path began with a journey to Brazil, her first international trip as an MLK scholar. Her social justice research—a key part of the MLK program—was on homophobia; from there she took a broader interest in social issues. As a sophomore, she received funding to attend a conference on LGBT issues. At that conference she met some people concerned with fair trade, which became a new passion.
Julie went on to found a fair-trade club on campus, and she focused the final two years of her MLK program research on trade. The next major twist in Julie’s route to her Ph.D. was a Fulbright scholarship to study in China.
Julie spent three years in China, first researching rural-to-urban migration and ecotourism and then working for the Nature Conservancy—making use of her communications degree. Later she moved back to the United States and began working with various federal agencies as part of a project management and consulting firm.
“My company funded graduate work, so I started taking classes in applied economics because I knew that’s where I wanted to go.” She is focusing her thesis on ecotourism and recently conducted exploratory research in Costa Rica, a country she had visited before with the MLK program.
“I really need to understand the history of tourism in Costa Rica. I also need to understand other aspects of the country that will be important for my analysis and the methodologies I want to use.”
Julie credits the interdisciplinary focus of the MLK program—and Ithaca College—with providing perspectives that come in handy despite the fact that economics is perceived as being all about numbers.
“In the end, even though I’m doing economics, math, and statistics, I still have to explain the human element to my stories.”
And though her academic background isn’t the same as others in her new field, she doesn’t see that as a setback.
“Ithaca College began my road to where I am today. I had a winding path to get where I am, but I’m tackling everything, even when I have limitations. I’m prepared in terms of doing research and writing and independent thinking.”
>> More on this story: Ithaca College recognized as a top producer of Fulbright students
Ithaca College offers more than 100 academic programs. When Dan Leibel listed the ones that attracted him, he came up with 18.
“I wasn’t undecided,” he said. “I just had too many things I wanted to do. I needed to expand my boundaries and see what I really liked.”
Because the Exploratory Program allows students to take courses in any of IC’s five schools before declaring a major, Dan had the chance to investigate his varied interests.
“The Exploratory Program relieved my anxiety about not knowing what to study because it let me pick classes earlier, and that kept me on track to graduate. Being an exploratory student at IC is way different from being undeclared somewhere else.”
During his first year—as he took classes in biology, politics, literature, philosophy, and general psychology in addition to the required freshman seminar—Dan discovered another Exploratory Program feature: a dedicated advising staff.
“At the end of my first semester, I was leaning toward politics but still thinking of speech pathology, so my advisor suggested two speech-path requirements: Communications Disorders and Developmental Psychology. As it turned out, those two courses fit me better than any of the others because they studied how people work. So I decided to major in psychology, which wasn’t on my original list.”
The “fit” Dan discovered led him to blend the science of the mind with human behavior. He took courses in neuroscience to gain a better understanding of the brain’s biological processes while also doing research about peoples' personality characteristics.
As part of the psychology department’s Humor Research Team, Dan investigated self-reflection and humor by studying two types of people—those who enjoy being laughed at and those who fear it—to identify personality traits that help predict the differences between the two groups.
“Humor’s something we use in all ranges of our social interactions, but there are people who don’t like it and who don’t function well around it. That made me realize there’s so much out there we don’t know, especially about the way people operate.”
As a senior at IC, Dan was accepted into a Ph.D. program in human services psychology at the University of Maryland to pursue a dual concentration in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology.
“I want to find out all the things that people don’t yet know about themselves—about the way they talk to each other, the way they think, the way they behave. I want to keep exploring,” Dan says.
As an Academic Enrichment Services tutor, writing center tutor, and teaching assistant at Ithaca College, Julia Becker has enjoyed helping other students on their paths to success. Her plan after graduation is to become an English teacher—but when she came to IC, she was unsure about her direction.
Julia entered Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program, which gives students up to four semesters before declaring a major to take courses across IC’s five schools, receiving focused advisement and mentoring along the way. “I’m an organized person, so not knowing what I wanted to do was kind of stressful,” Julia says. “The Exploratory Program at IC gave me a direction and a plan to get me going on a path that felt right.”
As a sophomore, Julia explored English as a possible major. “I took Intro to Poetry and [Approaches to] Literary Theory, and it just clicked. I hadn’t taken an English class since high school, and once I settled into it I realized that’s where I was supposed to be.”
As part of the Ithaca College Honors Program, Julia took her newfound love for English to the source with a semester abroad in London, England. Through an independent study course of her own creation, Julia collaborated with IC professor Robert Sullivan on his literary work. She spent weeks in the Rare Books Reading Room of the British Library, transcribing an original work by Renaissance-era humanist Sir Thomas Elyot. Julia and Professor Sullivan will eventually create a modern critical edition of the 16th-century book.
“Having the chance to work on something so unique that will result in a publication credit to my name is a valuable experience that I never imagined I could have as an undergraduate.”
Discovering her passion for English made Julia realize she wants to share it with others. She was accepted to the educational nonprofit Teach for America, and will be teaching English to secondary school students in a disadvantaged area after graduation. She also plans to pursue an English Ph.D. to become a professor.
“Working closely with students at Ithaca to help them excel and teach them important skills has been a rewarding experience. It has helped prepare me for the teaching that I’ll be going on to do in the future.”
Computer science and history are not commonly paired in the classroom. But at Ithaca College, professors Ali Erkan and Michael Smith have begun a collaboration that may help improve the way students learn.
The project began because of computer science professor Ali Erkan’s curiosity. He wanted to look at how students use wikis—websites developed collaboratively by a community of users who can add and delete information—so he could research and create a visual map of the way the students make connections between ideas. He asked himself, If students produce things that can be visualized as structures, will that allow us to understand understanding itself?
“I think computer science allows you to develop the tools to work on that question—but then you need a context,” Ali says. “I thought the humanities would be the best context to explore, and I had to find the right person to work with.”
Ali had just the person in mind—a history professor he had met during a bus ride in Ithaca a couple years earlier and had since interacted with on the IC campus. He emailed Michael Smith to share his idea.
“The fact that Ithaca, both as an institution and a community, is small enough that you can have these kinds of interpersonal connections that can then become more formal collaborations is something I really value,” Michael says. “In some ways I’m an odd choice because I’m a little bit of a digital skeptic, but when Ali approached me with this idea of using wikis as a way of representing knowledge—that you could kind of lift up the hood and see some structures in there—I was intrigued.”
Ali and Michael have been working with students in both their fields to further explore the project’s questions. They created a grant proposal and received a digital humanities start-up grant from the National Endowment for Humanities. They hope that by gaining understanding of how thought connections are formed, they can eventually help students improve how they research and learn.
Ithaca College has given them the support they need to make the project a success. “It is a teaching-oriented institution, so we’re encouraged to be innovative and emphasize teaching excellence in all sorts of ways. So this is a way to remain active as scholars and at the same time improve what happens in our classroom,” says Michael.
“There’s no quota for the amount of papers you have to write or the amount of money you have to bring in. Those things are in place at other institutions so that there’s more research productivity, but I think it ends up being a hindrance on the research,” Ali says. “We both feel liberated by not operating under those constraints, so we can simply follow our curiosity, and that becomes our optimum point of operation. Because we are curious, we are productive.”
>> More on this story: Untangling the Web
Some day in the not-so-distant future, as cities expand and climate change continues, Andreas Jonathan will be working to strike a balance between urban growth and environmentalism. “We’re living in a world that is very quickly urbanizing. There are a lot of mega-cities continuing to grow, and I think cities will be the battleground for sustainability in the future,” Andreas says.
As a freshman at Ithaca College, Andreas was drawn to the environmental studies program. “There was a course called Environmental Sentinels, where the purpose was to discover what you’re trying to save. We had class at night in the natural lands where we were blindfolded and had to get back to campus just by listening. It made me think about my place in the natural world.”
Andreas also felt a calling he hadn’t yet fully identified. “I needed something to complement what I was learning, so I could channel my desire for a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive society.”
Luckily at Ithaca he had mentors to help him find the right program. "It’s been very easy for me to find people who care about my future. I learned about architectural studies by speaking with professors in the art history department.”
As a sophomore, Andreas secured an internship with the Institute for Urban Design in New York City. He joined the institute’s project team for the Venice International Architecture Biennale, an event where architects and designers from around the world showcase themed designs. The U.S. theme was “spontaneous interventions”—designing to solve urban problems and create new opportunities for the public.
“What I love most about architecture is that it's so much more than building and construction. There’s history, theory, stakeholder relations, and social and environmental consequences,” Andreas says. “It struck me that anyone working in design professions must constantly be balancing, learning.”
For Andreas, learning to strike that delicate balance began with the conversations he had with mentors at IC. He plans to extend his knowledge of design beyond graduation as he pursues dual master’s degrees in architecture and city planning followed by a Ph.D.
“When I was little and was asked, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ I didn’t really know. But I knew there was this scar on the world that needed to be fixed. Then I started falling in love with architecture, city design, and social justice. It was what I always planned on doing before I even knew what it was.”
Adeesha Ekanayake grew up in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the coast of India. When political tensions closed the university he was attending, he wanted a more stable educational environment. So he flew 9,000 miles away from home to go to Ithaca College.
“Sri Lanka is a small country,” he said. “Getting off the plane at JFK, I’d never seen such scale. I felt cut off from my moorings.”
Fortunately, he’d enrolled in Ithaca College’s HOME program, a multicultural housing arrangement for international students. “The best thing I did was keep my door open. I met a lot of international students as homesick as I was. Plus, we were serious about our studies. We clicked. We got over our culture shock.”
A computer science major, Adeesha and three other students came up with an idea for an app that can scan garments in clothing stores to show negative environmental impacts regarding how the clothes were made. The team decided to enter their idea in the Business Idea Competition held by the college’s School of Business—and finished first in the software category. The team enjoyed splitting the $5,000 prize, but it was the “idea” part of the competition that sparked Adeesha’s passion for research.
“I helped a faculty member with her research, and she encouraged me to start projects of my own. At a lot of larger institutions, you wouldn’t get a chance to spend time with your professors and get to know them personally. At IC, that’s a given.”
Another one of Adeesha’s projects is a video game for physical therapy patients. Exercises recorded by the therapist are performed by a virtual figure on a Microsoft Kinect system. Appearing as a second figure, the patient is challenged to mimic the virtual one. The more accurately the exercise is performed, the more points the patient earns.
Adeesha also worked with assistant professor of computer science Doug Turnbull on MeUse, an Internet radio recommender. When a listener uses MeUse to search for an artist, it recommends three Internet radio stations and provides information to help the user choose. A paper on the project was accepted for presentation at the 14th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference.
“I’d originally planned going back to Sri Lanka after graduation, but there are too many employment and research opportunities in the U.S. to pass up, and IC opened my eyes to them.”
When Susannah Faulkner came to Ithaca College, she knew she was interested in politics. She didn’t know that a food allergy would lead to a passion for activism.
“As a freshman, I came into Ithaca having a severe intolerance to gluten,” Susannah recalls. “Eating in the dining hall is such a social experience, and it was really hard for me because I’d have to bring bread in the dining hall and worry about cross-contamination.”
Through her frustration, Susannah saw an opportunity to help other students. She successfully ran for Student Government Association senator for her class. “My main platform was promoting celiac awareness and food allergy awareness on campus, except I literally had no idea it would turn into my calling of some sort.”
Susannah worked with IC staff to change the menu, with supportive professors to encourage her along the way. “My academic adviser, Kelly Dietz in the politics department, was the most incredible mentor a young, passionate, driven student could ask for. Any time I threw a crazy idea at her, she would tell me how to make it happen.”
In November 2009, the gluten-free pantry opened in the Campus Center Dining Hall. “Because Ithaca is such an inclusive community, it’s so welcoming, and it’s so open to change, I was able to put forth this idea and actually see results.”
Her political path did not end there. As a senior, Susannah was elected vice president of campus affairs and co-founded the Food Allergy Awareness Club. Thanks to her efforts, there is now a gluten-free pantry in every dining hall on the Ithaca College campus. “I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else. I was in the perfect place at the perfect time in the perfect community to make a change that was really needed.”
After graduation, Susannah was recruited by Udi’s Gluten Free Foods as their university outreach specialist. The passion she found at IC has become her full-time career—leading a gluten-free revolution on campuses across the country.
“I work with interns who remind me so much of myself during my time at Ithaca,” she says. “They’re this little army of gluten-free warriors.”
>> More on this story: Student Organizations at IC
When Karlita Bleam first began to research colleges, she had a few important factors in mind. She wanted a school with a top film studies program and one that also gave students the flexibility to pursue multiple interests.
“An important thing to me was being able to come to a school and not need to transfer if I decided to change focus,” she says.
When she arrived at IC, Karlita planned to study film and marketing, but during her sophomore year her horizons began to broaden. “I was taking this documentary film class at the same time I was taking a sociology class, and they just paired so well,” she explains.
Thus her new path was born: a dual major in sociology and cinema, with plans to eventually teach sociology at the collegiate level and present her research in documentary form.
“Once I figured it out, I was like, ‘Yes!’ Everything just clicked,” Karlita says.
Karlita has tailored her college experience to reflect her extracurricular interests, too. She is a tour guide for both the College and the Roy H. Park School of Communications, a residential adviser, cochair for a new peer mentoring program and, most recently, a teaching assistant. All of these positions have given her invaluable experience with time management, working with groups, mentoring, and teaching.
“This is what I was looking for: a school where I’d have multiple opportunities,” Karlita says. “One thing led to another and then another, and then to something that you never imagined.”
“I describe Ithaca as a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience,” says Alex Moore ’07. His own Ithaca College adventure has taken a winding and rewarding path.
When Alex decided to add a writing minor to his politics major, his father suggested (as fathers do) that a grant writing course might make him more employable. Alex took his father’s advice and during the course, he read a book about nonprofit organizations. Its author, Robert Egger, was president of a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that helps the homeless. Alex emailed Egger, Egger emailed back, and shortly afterward Alex was on his way to intern at Egger’s organization, DC Central Kitchen, to write grant proposals.
“It’s one of those Ithaca chain reactions where you start in one place and wind up someplace very different,” Alex says. “What motivated me was the question of poverty—how does it happen and what can we do about it?”
Questions of poverty, human rights, and social justice continue to shape Alex’s career. He has completed a master’s degree, and now he’s working on his Ph.D. in political science, focusing his studies on humanitarian intervention in international relations. His goal is to become a college professor. “I want to have the kind of impact that my Ithaca professors had on me,” he says.
And just what was that impact? “Ithaca taught me the value of examining the unquestioned ground I stand on,” Alex says. “It’s social change. It’s changing the way people think. It’s asking big questions about the world and yourself.”