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alumni spotlight Kennedy Healy

When Kennedy Healy, originally from Omaha Nebraska, was considering where to go after high school, accessibility in Chicago drew her to the city and DePaul’s social justice mission drew her to the university. As a student in the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program in LAS, gaining an intersectional lens on identity and social justice was crucial to her education. Kennedy even crafted her own concentration in Disability Studies after being encouraged to do so by Professor Ann Russo (Interim Chair and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Director of the Women’s Center), who was a key figure of Kennedy’s experience at DePaul. Since Kennedy was already writing a thesis about disability movements, participating in other related independent study with LAS faculty, and working off-campus in the disability advocacy space, creating her own concentration in Disability Studies simply made sense in the context of her interests and goals. She said that combining the WGS program curriculum with the custom concentration “shaped my understanding of myself and disability in the context of all the variety of experiences that come with disability and intersecting identities.” Kennedy still partners with Dr. Russo to this day.

After graduating from LAS, Kennedy went into nonprofit and consulting work, but over time grew to be more interested in media and representation, especially during the pandemic.

Now, she runs Crip Crap, a disability-focused media platform that she founded in 2021. Through Crip Crap, Kennedy initiates and facilitates conversations about disability “in a way that pushes the needle forward and considers a systemic perspective.” The scope of the platform includes a podcast about disability issues, a blog about disability representation in media, and a consulting branch to help art media and theatre outlets create disability friendly media. Kennedy also makes art and writes characters for various projects. She shared: “thinking about how to contextualize my work in a larger political discourse and public consciousness and challenge people’s perspectives” is an important aspect of the work she does with Crip Crap and beyond. Most recently, she organized and hosted a Crip Pride Beach Day in July 2023 in Hollywood Beach, Chicago, to celebrate Disability Pride Month.

Kennedy shared the following words of wisdom for current LAS students: “be creative with your goals and allow yourself to figure out how to do the things you most want to do.” After graduating college, Kennedy took the first job offered to her because not doing so would have felt too high stakes, but “there’s lots of opportunity and potential for creative work that can have a bigger impact,” she said. “It can take time, but it’s worth learning how to financially navigate what you really want to be doing.”

Amanda Licastro is an alumna of our MA in English Literature and Publishing program and the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Swarthmore College. In this role, she supports digital scholarship across the college, working on faculty, student, and grant-driven projects, and teaches a year-long course called Lib Lab, where students learn about the digital humanities and then work on a digital project for the library.

Prior to working at Swarthmore, Amanda received her doctorate degree from the City University of New York, worked as an Assistant Professor at Stevenson University, and was an Emerging and Digital Literacy Designer at the University of Pennsylvania. In her current role as both a librarian and an instructor, she gets to combine her love for teaching with her passion for digital humanities, both of which she developed as a student in the MA in English Literature and Publishing program at LAS. The unique opportunity to train as a teacher within the Literature program, as well as faculty mentoring and connections that introduced her to the then-emerging field of digital humanities, planted the seeds of interest that propelled Amanda through her career, now landing in a role that encompasses both. These experiences were “essential in helping me shape my career and find future jobs,” she said.

Not only were faculty connections meaningful to Amanda, but the DePaul alumni community impacted her as well. In fact, it was thanks to the rave reviews she heard from DePaul students on a study abroad to Rome as an undergraduate student at Loyola University (Maryland) that she decided to look at DePaul for graduate school. Once in Chicago, the same DePaul students from study abroad, now alumni, adopted her into their friend group. As she started getting settled into the program, she heard about a DePaul Alumni Board member who was looking to hire an assistant in her fashion design studio. Amanda got the job and started working full time in fashion – thanks to the DePaul connection – while completing her masters.

Now as an alumna, Amanda never turns down the opportunity to mentor DePaul graduate students and is always happy to take time out of her day to advise students interested in “alt-ac” (alternative academic) roles such as hers. “I don’t think humanities students hear this often enough: network! We feel awkward about it, but it’s absolutely needed...get on social media, make connections with scholars or professionals you admire, go to events, read their work,” she said, “networking has helped me so much.”

Amanda further advised current students: “take risks and go out of your comfort zone; if something interests you and seems under-studied, under-valued, experimental, or new, explore that. Explore your interests even if it means swimming upstream…DePaul will support that.” She also emphasized the importance of taking opportunities presented by faculty and alumni, as they may “open up paths and broaden opportunities for new growth in areas you might not realize you were interested in.”

alumni spotlight Amanda Licastro
alumni spotlight Charles Hawkins

Charles Hawkins graduated with his bachelor’s in political science from LAS in 1992. After pursuing a successful career in business, he is most recently embarking on a new adventure as a founder and entrepreneur of Chicago-local, mission-based luxury sneaker company Hawk & Sole. Charles’ professional forays into political science, corporate finance, business entrepreneurship, fashion, and social responsibility are a fascinating illustration of the multifaceted career journeys an LAS degree can catalyze.

When Charles first arrived at DePaul to study political science, he was most interested in eventually becoming an attorney. He was not only in school full time, but also working full time at three part-time jobs: a work-study position at the campus gym, a clerkship at a law firm downtown, and a weekend job at Jewel-Osco. When he wasn’t busy studying or working, he participated in the DePaul intramural basketball league. While his plate was clearly full, Charles still made time to develop socially and make lifelong friends he says he is still in touch with to this day.

After graduation, Charles pivoted into the finance world. Charles says his LAS degree helped him tremendously in business. “One of the things I learned at DePaul, primarily through Political Science, was critical thinking,” he said. In college, the practice of “writing and reading a lot helped me in the business world, where I had to confidently and effectively communicate my opinions in front of clients.” Charles had a 30-year career in finance before shifting once again, this time into fashion entrepreneurship.

Originally passionate about representing the poor as an attorney, after pivoting into finance and doing it for three decades, Charles was ready to “come back to what I can do to help other people,” he shared. At his luxury sneaker company, Hawk & Sole, Charles is not only dedicated to designing and manufacturing quality shoes, he is also committed to paying living wages and allowing employees to own part of the company. In fact, he is currently in the process of applying for B-Corps status. His sneakers are made in the USA, currently out of a small town in Maine, but he eventually plans to bring the manufacturing back to Chicago. His goal is to hire young people who love sneakers and teach them the process of shoemaking. Above all, Charles wants to provide economic opportunity in the city: “I’m all about giving back…I want to have a lasting impact in Chicago.”

Check out Charles’ company Hawk & Sole at their website and on Instagram and Facebook!

Kekoa Erber, BA ‘18, is a phenomenal example of how DePaul’s interdisciplinary education can lead to interesting and fulfilling careers in different fields. Kekoa has used his LAS major in Political Science and minor in Global Asian Studies, combined with a double major in Psychology (College of Science and Health) to forge a career in policy in Washington, D.C. As a Government Relations Associate at the Association for Psychological Science (APS), Kekoa blends these disciplines as an advocate for science at the federal level.

In addition to coursework in Political Sciences, International Relations, Global Asian Studies (GLAS), and Psychology, Kekoa took full advantage of extracurricular opportunities at DePaul. He was president of the Psychology honors society, Psi Chi, and a member of the Political Science honors society, Pi Sigma Alpha. He also had the opportunity to participate in two short term study abroad programs during December term, one to China and another to Japan.

Kekoa’s biggest takeaway from his LAS education is “to keep learning new things,” even after college. He is currently finishing his master's degree in security policy studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He has found that “DePaul laid a lot of the groundwork for me to be prepared for pursuing more education” and that his graduate studies are continuing to build on his academic work at DePaul.

As a Government Relations Associate at the APS, Kekoa utilizes his mix knowledge from the Political Science and Psychology programs. He interacts and builds relationships with Congress, reaching out to offices and explaining what areas should be funded and why. He is also involved with sending letters of support or concern for different bills depending on the APS’s agenda, as well as joining with other science groups and their advocacy.

In addition to his graduate studies and full-time work at APS, Kekoa also shows a steadfast commitment to his involvement with the U.S.-Japan Council, a connection that first began while still a student at DePaul thanks to the guidance of political sciences and GLAS Professor Kathryn Ibata-Arens.

“I enjoyed taking a variety of classes at LAS; I got a well-rounded education and explored a lot of areas that I normally wouldn't have...even if it doesn't seem to have significance in the moment, certain skills become relevant later on,” Kekoa shared. “DePaul also pushed the idea of identifying where we can help the community, getting involved, and giving back.”

As a piece of advice to current students, Kekoa recommends reaching out to alumni. “DePaul has so many alumni doing cool things in cool places, don’t be afraid to reach out and connect.” While certain fields like business have networking built into their culture, Kekoa advocates for students and alumni of the liberal arts and social sciences to embrace networking and making professional connections early on.

alumni spotlight Kekoa Erber
alumni spotlight Myles Castro

Myles Castro has used his Master of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Practice from LAS to effect real change in the city of Chicago. As a Program Manager at the Sinai Urban Health Institute, he manages community health programs, projects, and research that directly impact communities all around the city.

He learned to value a community-centric approach to public health research and programs during his time in the MPH program at LAS.

Coming from a background in molecular and cellular biology, Myles knew that he wanted his graduate studies to marry his love of science with his desire to make a real-time, practical impact on the world. “I wanted to make a positive difference in the world, working with other cultures and communities. DePaul was the obvious choice because of its focus on community, social justice, and helping others.”

One of the most impactful assignments during his MPH experience was a tour activity where the class went into different communities and made observations. As a first-generation Filipino American, the activity helped Myles expand his horizons and understand the heterogeneity of the city of Chicago. “Not everyone is facing the same problems, and each community is unique.”

Although it was only one assignment, the emphasis on addressing community needs assessments—and identifying both community needs and assets—was the jumping off point in developing his approach to public health. “You can’t fully understand a community need without being inside of the community; as a researcher, this has become really important to my philosophy.” Rather than settling for the traditional separation between researchers and community members, Myles aims to “be part of, and integrated with, the communities and people I’m working with.”

Myles' focus on keeping community at the center of public health research led him to his current work at SUHI. At SUHI, his main area of focus is public safety. “Violence is an outcome of multiple community health inequities driving the symptom of violence. It’s such a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional challenge,” which drew Myles to want to be part of the solution. He has used the values and tools learned at DePaul to maximize the impact of this work at SUHI, ultimately aiming to “transform traditional research methods into more consequential research results and research activism, leading to community mobility, lifting community youth voices, and more.”

One of the programs Myles works with is the Chicago Gun Violence Research Collaborative, a multi-institutional collaborative currently housed in LAS, that works to address gun violence and better understand root causes. Myles began his work with CGVRC during his time as a DePaul student and has continued to help lead the collaborative in his capacity at SUHI.

Only five years out of his degree, Myles is part of real community change in the city of Chicago. In fact, he has been selected onto the Chicago Changemakers Honor Roll, part of an inaugural award that honors recent graduate alumni who are emerging leaders for good in the Chicago community and award highlights the power of the liberal arts and social sciences to create positive, lasting change in the world.

“Change isn’t easy, it takes a collaborative effort from different disciplines,” he shared. “One person alone can’t address the issues that have been impacting communities for generations, it takes a multitude of individuals to come together and do this work.”

Kendall Rallins always knew they wanted to pursue academia. That’s precisely why they chose the MA in Women’s and Gender Studies at LAS. “DePaul felt like a place where I could really grow as a scholar,” more so than other programs they were exploring. “And you can’t beat the faculty here,” they said.

One of her favorite professors was Dr. Anne Mitchell. “I have never seen someone more dynamic in class...she was incredibly engaging.” Dr. Mitchell’s course on Black Women’s Lives and Experiences made a lasting imprint on Kendall as a person and a scholar. “Being taught by a Black queer woman, in a class with all Black students, I learned by example what kind of educator I want to be.”

Although they always knew they wanted to go into academia, Kendall’s time at DePaul helped them refine their scholarly voice and research interests. “There’s a certain form that academia in general tries to push on you, and in each discipline has its own form as well...[but] really good writers craft a voice that is distinctly theirs.” At DePaul, “I learned how to find my own voice as an academic writer,” they shared.

Kendall appreciated the space that the WGS gave her to explore different scholarly interests. “It’s perfectly fine to not have it 100% figured out.” Kendall’s initial research interests was not women in sports, but she wrote a sports-related paper as a one-off. Or so she thought; eventually, several faculty members pointed out that she seemed to be most passionate about that topic. “They told me, you seem excited about this, so you should write about this...this is your project.”

Kendall is currently pursuing a PhD in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their feminist sports studies research focuses on Black queer athletes creating their own spaces. While the trajectory of their work is still developing, they are interested in examining the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in sports and sports media. They are exploring topics such as the Black queer basketball aesthetic and the performance of politics, especially in the WNBA. This interest began as an examination of herself and her own experience as a Black queer women's basketball player. Kendall was awarded the UCSB Racial Justice Fellowship to fund this work.

Kendall’s time in the WGS program helped her prepare for her current work at UCSB. “My professors created an environment where I could grow as a scholar and carve out a space for myself in academia.”Kendall also credits her WGS cohort for helping her navigate academia and feel comfortable with her work. “We truly respected each other as colleagues, scholars, and people, and were invested in one another’s work.”

alumni spotlight Kendall Rallins
alumni spotlight Jordan Wright

As an artist, scholar, and researcher, Jordan Wright exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit characteristic of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) at DePaul.

Studying in The Art School, Jordan earned their B.A. in Art, Media, and Design with a minor in Creative Writing and was a member of DePaul POETS and the DePaul Black Artists Network. Their artistic practice focused on the Black diasporic experience and social and ecological exploitation in the Midwest.

Jordan made the most of The Art School and the College of LAS. In the classroom, they drew connections between and across disciplines, a practice that would benefit not only their schoolwork, but also their art. “Some of the best classes I took for my art were the ones that were not strictly art classes,” they said. “I was thinking about what I was doing in other classes all the time, and each class informed the other.” In a class on art and artists in contemporary culture, housed in The Art School, Professor Matthew Girson changed the way Jordan developed ideas and wrote academic essays for the rest of their college experience. Through their interdisciplinary education, they gained “a critical thinking lens, a way to process a text even at first read…not just what it’s staying, but why or how they’re saying it.”

Outside of the classroom, Jordan was a student worker at the Special Collections and Archives at the DePaul University Library, where they refined their data entry, metadata, and archival description skills. They also gained valuable professional experience as the Archie Motley Intern at the Chicago History Museum. Their projects included enriching metadata for the Raeburn Flerlage Collection of Chicago Blues and Jazz photography and researching Chicago blues, jazz, and folk venues, musicians, and scenes in the 1960s and 1970s. The learning and connections they gained through these professional opportunities helped them land their current job as a Reader Services and Administrative Assistant at the University of Chicago Library, Special Collections, where they help others feel confident using the archive and doing research.

Jordan recently returned to DePaul for the opening of The Art School’s Fall 2022 Recent Graduates Exhibition, where they were one of five artists showing their work. Sharing advice for future LAS students, Jordan said: “Branch out and take a class in another topic in LAS. It might come back to you in 3 or 10 years and lead to something more holistic and thorough than if you were to narrowly focus on one specific discipline – it’s going to do wonders for your work.”

When Alyssa Hernandez first stepped foot on DePaul’s campus, she knew it would be a perfect fit. She remembers her tour guide saying that any student who comes to DePaul, regardless of their background, will leave a better person.

“That’s the beautiful part about DePaul: there’s you the student, and you the person,” Hernandez added. Ultimately, she came to agree with what she first heard from her guide: “DePaul made me a better person and leader, on top of excellent academics.”

Hernandez has certainly embraced the values she shaped at DePaul in her career as a public servant specializing in urban policy: “It has been foundational to who I am.”

Beyond the personal growth and values she honed during college, her academic formation at LAS has been key to her success in the field of urban policy. “My job right now is perfect for what I studied in college, and I didn’t know that at the time.”

Her academic focus on urban policy was informed not only by the classmates, professors, and assignments in Public Policy and Geography, but also by the setting of these experiences – the city of Chicago. “Chicago is your playground, your classroom, and to be studying urban policy in a city like Chicago...” was an amazing experience.

“In a Geography course with [Professor] Euan Hague, he assigned us to ride public transportation from one point of the city to downtown.” Students used what they had learned in their textbook and in the classroom about concentric rings in a city and applied it to what they were seeing on Chicago Transit Authority transportation during this experiential assignment. “You don’t forget assignments like that.”

Alyssa’s academic journey didn’t stop at Geography and Public Policy, though she loved those core courses. “I took classes in communications, through the theatre schools, and a whole host of religion courses that set me up to be a more informed global citizen,” she said. “I loved exploring outside of my programs because I got to follow the topics that were of interest through many different lenses like sociological, philosophical, and geographical.”

After graduating from DePaul, Alyssa attended graduate school at Florida State University, where she studied education policy. She worked at several agencies in the Florida state government before relocating to Cleveland, where she currently serves as the Director of Community Development for the City of Cleveland, overseeing a staff of 90 people. She spends hours in front of the City Council, advocating for more housing, community support, and a wide range of programs in her area.

The through-line of Alyssa’s career has been policy, service, and helping those most in need. “For me, policy is always exciting. I’m a doer.”

alumni spotlight Alyssa Hernandez

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