Spring 2016

Message from the Dean

Providing opportunities for our students to work directly with faculty and in the community has been a hallmark of the experiences and education we offer here in the College of Arts and Sciences. In this issue you will read about three projects involving students: 1) a faculty-student research in the importance of policy narratives to shape public opinion around climate change; 2) the first-hand experience of a student intern working in the office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray, and the 3) a student gaining insight into the design and implementation of a major art installation. These experiences are rare for undergraduates, and we greatly appreciate the support we have to continue making these opportunities available.

We are also embarking on a new program with the College of Arts and Sciences to meet the growing demand for elementary school teachers. Under the administration of the Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies Program, students will have the opportunity to earn a Washington State Elementary Teaching Credential after completing more than 700 hours of field work in classroom.

The spring is always busy with events and special activities, and this year is no exception. I am very proud that we have three members of our College of Arts and Sciences family who are receiving awards for their achievements at the 31st Annual Alumni Awards event. I hope you can join us on April 29 as we celebrate with Cheryl Sesnon, MNPL ’03, Community Service Award; Hollis Wong-Wear, ’09, Outstanding Recent Alumna Award; and Professor Sean McDowell, Distinguished Faculty Award.

For a complete list of upcoming events, art exhibits, theatre presentations, and lectures, check out our full list of upcoming events here and like our Facebook page.

I hope to see you soon.
David Powers,

Awards Ceremony Recognizes Arts and Sciences Faculty and Alumnae

Please join us as we celebrate the achievements of these outstanding College of Arts and Sciences faculty and alumni at the 2016 Alumni Award Ceremony, set for 6 p.m., April 29, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle.

Outstanding Recent Alumna Award: Hollis Wong-Wear ’09, History major with minors in Philosophy and Global African Studies. A Sullivan scholar, she went on to become a poet, songwriter, creative producer, and lead vocalist in the electronic R&B band The Flavr Blue. In addition to her creative accomplishments, she is a manager, community leader, and businesswoman. A dedication to education, the arts, youth, social justice and empowerment issues have led her into public service. She currently serves on the boards of the Seattle Center Advisory Commission, the Seattle Music Commission and 4Culture, King County’s public art agency. Read more about Hollis Wong-Wear here:  http://www.seattleu.edu/alumni/community/Outstanding-Recent-Alumnae-2016/

Community Service Alumni Award: Cheryl Sesnon, MNPL ’03, in recognition of her 20 years of transformational leadership in nonprofits. After volunteering at Common Meals, an organization supplying meals to homeless shelters and serving on their board, she became acting director. Under her direction, the agency’s mission was transformed into a culinary program providing job training opportunities for the homeless and was renamed FareStart. After earning her Master of Nonprofit Leadership in 2003, she directed Washingt CASH, a microfinance and microenterprise training organization. She is currently the director of the Jubilee Women’s Center, an organization providing support services and affordable housing for homeless women. Read more about Cheryl Senson here:  http://www.seattleu.edu/alumni/community/Community-Service-2016/

Distinguished Faculty Award: Sean McDowell, PhD, associate professor of English and director of the University Honors Program. Teacher, poet, screenwriter, and novelist, McDowell joined the English Department faculty in 2002, and four years later began directing the Writers’ Workshop in Ireland in 2006, a summer program in Ireland for students. Fascinated by the creative imagination, McDowell has extensively researched Renaissance culture and how it is perceived today. Most recently honored by being elected to membership in the International Association of University Professors of English, McDowell is the executive director of the John Donne Society, vice president of the South Central Renaissance Society, past president of the Andrew Marvel Society, a founding member of the George Herbert Society and editor of the John Donne Journal. Read more about Sean McDowell here:

To attend the Alumni Awards Celebration on April 29, please register at this link.

New Specialization Addresses Teacher Shortage

When Washington State Governor Jay Inslee highlighted a statewide teacher shortage in December, the College of Arts and Sciences had already in place a new degree program specifically designed to fill that need.

In partnership with the College of Education, the B.A. in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies now offers undergraduates a Specialization in Elementary Education (K-8). The degree includes a clinical internship, proficiency requirements in science and math, and an English language learning component. Through field experiences, the specialization also embeds an emphasis on understanding how to serve special education students.

“Students completing the specialization meet the competency requirements of the Professional Educator Standards Board,” said Professor Sven Arvidson, director of Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies. “They can go directly into teaching in Washington after graduation.”

Students in the K-8 specialization benefit from the strong foundation of the rigorous interdisciplinary studies degree.

“The Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies degree prepares our students exceptionally well to work in K-8 education,” Arvidson noted. “Now with specific education components, particular the English language learning and special education coursework, our students are job-ready when they graduate.”

Faculty-Student Research: Influencing Public Opinion on Climate Change

Although most scientists and policymakers believe that climate change is real and is caused by human activities, almost 30% of the electorate are not convinced. Institute of Public Service Professor Jonathan Pierce used a form of storytelling called “policy narratives” to determine best ways to explain climate change. The study, “Effects of Narratives on the Beliefs of the U.S. General Public about Climate Change,” found that policy narratives that use members of the oil and gas industry as heroes as well as villains elevate the credibility and persuasiveness that climate change is real.

“The lesson to be drawn is not simply to demonize and blame the oil and gas industry for climate change,” said Pierce. “Rather, we should embrace and endorse the industry’s recognition of the human causes of climate change. People should be aware that BP and Exxon, among other major energy corporations, agree that humans are causing climate change and that government action is necessary.”

One strategy to better inform the general public about the existence, causes, and potential harms of climate change is the use of stories or narratives.

“The purpose of our research was to determine how to develop or write a narrative that would persuade climate change deniers,” he emphasized.
Key findings from the research found that policy narratives influence beliefs of respondents about climate change and increase support for the federal government to take action to mitigate climate change.

“More than the news media or the government, the survey found that scientists and environmental organizations are believed as reliable sources of information about climate change,” Pierce said.

Thanks to a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Research Fellowship program, Professor Pierce hired Public Affairs student Samantha Garrard to be his research assistant. Working with Pierce and graduate students, Garrard helped design the survey, write the final report, and present the conclusions to students and outside agencies.
“The experience taught me about the process of research and its challenges--how we start with a question and answer it, where do you even start,” she said. “I had no idea what was really involved until I worked directly with Professor Pierce and his team of graduate students.”
As much as gaining insights into research, Garrard welcomed the opportunity to expand her writing skills, fine-tune her presentation skills, and achieve greater understanding of how policy narratives can change beliefs.
“I’ve always been surprised that climate change is such a debated issue in the U.S., and that’s why I was really intrigued by this project,” she said. “Now I know not only what can work to persuade those who deny climate change, but I can see how this type of research can carry over into other areas.”

Pierce, who focuses his research largely on environmental issues, sees his work as important especially for scientists.

“Too often the scientific community has difficulty talking about controversial issues,” he said. “Using narratives in addition to facts and figures gives them a powerful tool to make their case.”

Watch the video:

Faculty Profile: Naomi Kasumi, Digital Design

Creating a new sacred space in one of the largest Buddhist training monasteries in Japan was challenging and humbling for Digital Design Professor Naomi Kasumi. In the fall of 2015, hundreds of thousands of people experienced “Sarit: Flow of Compassion” when they entered Soji-ji Temple in Yokohama during a month-long commemoration of the 650th anniversary of Daihonzan Soji-ji’s Second Abbot, Gasan Joseki Zenji.

For centuries, Soji-ji has been a Buddhist training monasteries in Japan. When Digital Design Professor Naomi Kasumi was commissioned by the monks to design a sacred space for the 650th anniversary of Daihonzan Soji-ji’s Second Abbot, Gasan Joseki Zenji, she visited the Soji-ji Temple in Yokohama three times to check out possible locations for an art installation. Following much deliberation, Kasumi and Temple leaders reached a consensus to install Sarit along the corridor in the main building, which measures 100 x 20 feet, once the site of a makeshift morgue following a train accident.

“I have done a lot of memorial work in Japan,” Kasumi said. “I knew that the hallway was the place I had to do a memorial not only for the Zen master but also for the victims of the train accident.”

Kasumi, who grew up in Kyoto, understands the traditions of the Soto Zen School. A continuous cycle of teaching, from generation to generation for hundreds of years, became the metaphor behind her installation, “Sarit: Flow of Compassion.” Sarit is Sanskrit for thread, stream, ocean, and the flow of time.

After months of researching and designing, in the winter of 2014 Kasumi began the lengthy process of making the elements that would be boxed, shipped, built, and installed on site in Japan in the summer of 2015. The first step was making more than 50,000 triangles out of dryer sheets.

Junior design student Mandy Rusch recalls standing in her dorm room ironing triangles and rounding the edges to make them lie flat.

 “Professor Kasumi figured out that when the fibers in the used dryer sheets were coated with wax, they would reflect black light,” Rusch said. “She found the right ink so she could write on the triangles and tried out different types of fishing line to get the right effect when they were hung.”

In August 2015, with some pre-made segments shipped ahead and carting several boxes with her, Kasumi left Seattle to begin a 33-day residency at Soji-ji Temple to install Sarit. She worked with novice monks and community members to build frames, assemble the triangles, hang drapes, and install the segments.

“I needed to create a spiritual space different from everyday,” she said. “A black curtain functions to shift the emotional state when you enter and when you come out into the sun.”

The result was overwhelming. A deep blue color derives from black light that lets the fiber glow in the dark. Wax makes the white pigment shine whiter. There’s no sound in the space, just the hanging triangles gently touching each other when the air moves.  

“That is a very important and very spiritual aspect of the artwork,” she emphasized. “You contemplate. You center yourself and something magical happens.”

Before leaving Yokohama, Kasumi talked with novice monks about the process and asked them to protect her work: “It was at that moment I felt really connected. It wasn’t that some artist came from the United States just to put a little crazy artwork in their building, but it was their work too. They were going to be responsible to protect it. It was a truly moving moment.”

For Rusch, the experience of working closely with Professor Kasumi opened a world of possibilities: “I realized how much art can be used in graphics besides just what you lay out with type or images digitally. As a digital design major you get used to using the computer so much and you want things to be efficient and fast, but for me the process behind creating something out of such a labor-intensive process was fascinating. The experience pushed me to take design outside the classroom in a lot of ways, and not only to think about the ways I want to look at a career in the future but the ways I want to apply art and design to my life.”

For Kasumi, sharing the creative process with students offers them insight into the discipline that is necessary for artists to succeed.

“To be an artist is a commitment, and we need the determination to complete artwork that inspires many other people,” she said. “I am proud to be an artist who completed a huge commission, but more than being proud, I am extremely grateful to have people and students who participated in my creative process and who are remain part of my life.”

Watch the video:

Student Profile: Megan Rahrig, intern for U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Working for the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the 12th most senior member of the United States Senate, Political Science and Film Studies senior Megan Rahrig sees first-hand how Senator Patty Murray addresses concerns of constituents and handles national issues.
Rahrig first came into contact with Senator Murray when, as a volunteer with Population Connection, she traveled to D.C. to encourage officials to support women’s rights and family planning. When Murray’s office came to SU’s internship fair, Rahrig put in her resume, was hired, and began interning in Murray’s downtown office.
“The senator has a team who respond directly to constituents,” Rahrig explained. “I spend most of my time helping with Social Security, VA, and immigration and visa issues,” she said.
Rahrig had no clear idea of what actually went on day-to-day in a senator’s office, and she was surprised at how many constituents look to the staff for help.
“At any one time, a staff member may be handling hundreds of cases,” she said. “It’s very gratifying when we can help a person or family through the maze of federal rules and regulations. This is an up-close look into the real workings of a senate office. You just can’t get that in the classroom.”
Rahrig, who spent time in Belize, based a short documentary on the tourism industry and its impacts on the economy and culture. When she graduates in December, she plans to use her background in filmmaking and advocacy to influence policy.