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Alumni Spotlight

DePaul’s American Studies Program welcomes students from a wide range of back-grounds and disciplines. Joann Pacheco (Jojo) was able to take advantage of American Studies’ flexibility to make the most of her undergraduate experience. Jojo graduated from DePaul in 2013. She majored in Biology and American Studies with a minor in LGBTQ studies. She is currently in the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (BVM&S) Graduate Entry Program (GEP) at the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She just started in August and is looking to graduate in 2019.

American Studies allowed me to think about the world in multiple and different ways because it forced me to understand how a psychologist vs. a sociologist vs. a historian vs. whoever else is framing their arguments. And then to synthesize that information in a way I couldn’t get anywhere else. And I think that’s the most valuable thing. For example, AMS helped me to think about more than just ‘this is going to make the cat better because this antibiotic works’ and instead consider additional factors in animal treatment that are social. Huge social factors regarding animal welfare are poverty, cultural differences in the ways that animals are cared for, and the need to provide education and access for the owner. One of the things that American Studies helped me to understand is that without addressing these issues you cannot effectively treat the problem. If the owner does not have the funds for treatment, then there is a limit to what you can do. I have often seen problems become worse (and therefore more expensive) be-cause of this. In addition, you need to pro-vide education to prevent these problems altogether.

After Jojo graduated she took a couple of gap years to work part-time in the field. She worked at Animal Ark, an animal hospital and veterinary clinic in Chicago and with Tree House Humane Society. Jojo also spent that year applying for graduate programs. She applied to four US schools (including her top choice – University of Wisconsin in Madison) and applied to the University of Edinburgh on a whim. Once she was accepted into the program, she had to decide whether she wanted to attend a school in the United States or overseas.

She decided to go overseas given that the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies is the top vet school in the UK and one of the top ten vet schools in the world. It is AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Foundation) approved and recognized in the UK and the EU; therefore, when Jojo graduates, she can work pretty much anywhere (something she would not be able to do with a US degree). Jojo’s passion for animals has motivated all of the work she does. After she finishes her program, Jojo wants to pursue shelter medicine, a field dedicated to the care of homeless animals. She also wants to provide low cost care for other animals who otherwise cannot afford veterinary care. She will have to decide whether she wants to practice in Europe or in the United States.

So far Jojo has enjoyed her time in Edinburgh by exploring the city and the area. She also loves theater and has attended a play at the Shakespeare Globe Theater in London in addition to those at the Edinburgh Festival, where she managed to squeeze in 28 shows in the month of August.

I felt that it was my duty as an AMS graduate to go to as many shows as possible. Also, all of the museums here are free which is kind of like candy for an American Studies student.

American Studies provides students with a multitude of skills thereby allowing them to pursue a variety of fields after graduation. This
quarter, we want to provide insight into the experience of AMS alumna who have moved into the teaching profession. Libby Massa graduated
from DePaul in 2012. She double majored in American Studies (with a concentration in Politics, Institutions, and Values) and
Women’s and Gender Studies (with a concentration in Social Justice and Public Policy). She is now participating in a two-year Teach for
American program. She responded to a few questions included below:

How did you know you wanted to pursue a career in teaching?

When I was a sophomore at DePaul, I participated in a Service Learning internship through the Women’s and Gender Studies department’s program Take Back the Halls. Over the course of the year, I planned and facilitated lessons on violence prevention and restorative justice as part of an after school program at a Chicago Public High School. This experience was eye opening to me because I worked with so many talented and driven students who were not given the opportunity to realize their full potential. Around the same time I found out about each for America and knew that it was what I wanted to pursue when I graduated because it would allow me the opportunity actively provide those opportunities to students. After graduation I was accepted into Teach for America and taught Kindergarten at a St. Louis Public School for two years.

What are you up to currently, and what are your plans for the future?

Currently I work for St. Louis Public Schools in the Office of Institutional Advancement. My responsibilities comprise mainly of volunteer coordination, partnership facilitation, and teacher recognition. Ideally I will continue to work for a public school district in St. Louis to advance the resources for our students.

How do you feel American Studies prepared you for your teaching career? 

As an AMS and WGS major I was prepared with the right mindsets and research, but not necessarily technical teaching skills. Still, having the right framework to understand institutional inequalities and systematic oppression that influenced the lives of my students daily was invaluable in the classroom. Additionally, as an AMS major I made sure to research the history of public education- particularly pertaining to St. Louis and the political landscape that influenced the current state of education in St. Louis and trends nationally.

How would you recommend AMS to undergraduates?

I would recommend it to all students who are self-motivated and naturally curious. I was very indecisive about which major to declare - I went between Political Science, History, Sociology, English, Geography, Film Studies, and many more, unable to commit to any. Once I stumbled upon AMS I realized that it would give me the opportunity to pursue all of my interests. I think any student who has a variety of interests and loves learning for learning’s sake would benefit from majoring in AMS.

Andrew Boyko graduated from DePaul in 2011 with a Double Major in Political Science and American Studies and a concentration in Politics, Institutions and Values. He is originally from Cleve-land, Ohio where he attended Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. Andrew loved visiting his older sister on DePaul’s campus and wanted to move to a big city, so he made the choice to attend DePaul.

I was interested in policy, law, and political theory. American Studies was a great complement to fill in the relevant political and popular culture at the time. I was able to look at the political climate through a different lens which really helped me out in my political science classes. It was a great interplay between the two majors.

Andrew’s senior thesis focused on the influence of the bicycle on the American transportation system. He was a bike messenger during his time in Chicago, and transportation law was one of his favorite aspects of law. He carried those interests into law school, as well as an abiding concern with how alternative transportation and energies depend on political funding from a municipal to a federal level. His thesis analyzed the ways in the bicycle changed American culture and its viability as a formidable means of transportation. He analyzed the inception of the vehicle in general and read a lot about the streets as a social landscape.

He started studying law at John Marshall Law School and after his first year he transferred to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. After graduating with a law degree, Andrew started working for Jefferson County in Colorado as a Legal Professional. The position is similar to the in-house counsel for a corporation, but functions as internal counsel for a government office. He was part of a litigation team and handled lawsuits ranging from child support payment enforcement, and transactional contract review for the Department of Health and Hu-man Services. One of the biggest cases he worked involved an inmate in the county operated jail that had a seizure, and was bringing forth a suit for damages that he received while in jail. After working for Jefferson County for a few months, Andrew moved to Montrose on the west side of Colorado to start working as Assistant City Attorney.

He started his current position as the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Montrose in January of 2015. In this capacity Andrew works on land use and planning, employment, real estate law, and criminal enforcement. He is also the Lead Prosecutor for Municipal Court dealing with traffic tickets, shoplifting, theft, disorderly conduct, and other misdemeanors.

AMS [American Studies] helped in a myriad of ways. It definitely helped in law school. I had a major leg-up in my writing abilities just given all the writing I had to do on various topics throughout my whole program at DePaul. But one of the actual ways you wouldn’t immediately think of is during prosecution. I have to hear the defendant’s side of the story, the police, the witnesses, and of course everyone has different renditions of the event. AMS helped me with the ability of seeing things from different people’s perspectives and understand the totality of the situation. AMS is also one of the most diverse majors you can choose at De-Paul. It provides an opportunity to double major; the integration of another fields of study into AMS definitely makes it an even more robust option for a major. I’ve had some of the greatest discussions with some of the best professors I’ve ever encountered during my time in the AMS program.

Megan Ashley always felt at home in the American Studies Program and created her own, unique college experience. Megan majored in American Studies with a concentration in Popular Culture and Media Studies, and she had two minors, one in Journalism and another in Indus-trial and Organizational Psychology. She is originally from LaSalle-Peru, in Central Illinois, where she went to the town high school with a graduating class of 300. When she was applying for colleges, she knew she did not want a state school experience and preferred a bigger environment with more challenges. Once she visited DePaul’s campus, she realized it was the perfect fit.

Megan worked on two internships while she was at DePaul. Her sophomore year, she interned with a nonprofit literacy program called Open Books. They provide reading and writing programs for students and adults across the Chicago area. Megan also interned at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Physician Services Department throughout the Spring Quarter of her senior year. The Physicians Services Department focused on creating advertisements for their physicians. Northwestern offered her a contract position, but she chose to leave in August of 2011 and instead took a new internship with her current employer, Red Frog Events.

Red Frog Events is an event production company that organizes large entertainment and fundraising events like Firefly Music Festival, Warrior Dash, Chicago Beer Classic, and ShamrockFest. Megan initially worked as an event coordinator during her four month internship; she was a member of about six to eight teams (all of which were dedicated to different projects) and was able to travel to Missouri, Ohio, and D.C. Her internship with Red Frog ended in January of 2012, and they offered her a full time position as an Event Director. Ever since then, she has had a number of other official positions, including Senior Manager of Communications, Director of Permitting, and her current position: Director for Staffing Strategy. She has been able to travel all over the US, and even to Australia.

Megan received a number of academic awards due to her outstanding work at DePaul and the American Studies Program. Some of these include: The DePaul Presidential Scholarship, American Studies Outstanding Senior Award, American Airlines Global Leader Scholarship, and Richard deCordova American Studies Prize. She was also a featured presenter at DePaul University Student History Conference. She won the Richard deCordova Prize twice; the first year for honorable mention, and the second year she received the full prize for her American Studies Senior Thesis regarding Jackie Kennedy’s second marriage and the media’s demotion of Jackie Kennedy in 1968.

Megan believes that an interdisciplinary field like American Studies gives students an opportunity to challenge themselves and their intellect in a number of ways. She could not imagine having a linear college experience and thinks that American Studies is unique insofar as it allows students to create their own paths.

In college, you’re supposed to study what you love, find something that you’re challenged by, and open up your eyes. I think that American Studies is fantas-tic for that. It breaks my heart to see people pick a major primarily to get a job rather than because they’re interested in the subject; I think that makes them miss out on a huge portion of the college experience. I’m doing some-thing in my job that does not have any direct correlation to AMS and my company was not looking for that. I left college able to articulate my thoughts, think critically, write well, and be an adult with opinions. American Studies taught me how to connect the dots.

Stephanie Lash, a “Double Demon” (she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from DePaul) as well as an American Studies alum, has always been motivated by her love of education and public service. She graduated in 2009 with a major in American Studies (concentration in Cultural History and Literature) and an Art History Minor. The American Studies Program fed Stephanie’s passion for history. She was particularly interested in cultural movements and the ripple effect these movements had on people and US history. She focused her coursework on literature, art, history, popular media, and film. She declared her Art History minor during her junior year and feels that this combination gave her a broader background in world history and provided a much needed balance.

Stephanie won the Outstanding Senior Award in American Studies. She wrote her American Studies Senior Thesis on the effect Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day had on US popular culture; the essay was titled: “The 40-Inch Bust and the 40-Year-Old Virgin: The Exploration and the Dichotomy of Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day.” After graduating, Stephanie spent some time applying to graduate programs for museum studies. She also applied for, and was accepted to the National Civilian Community Corp (NCCC). When Stephanie finished with Ameri-Corps, she went back home and spent some time saving money. She missed Chicago and decided to come back to DePaul to attend graduate school. She immediately noticed the new Arts and Letters building upon her return.

Stephanie completed her Masters in Education and received her certification to teach middle and high school social studies. Then she started working at a summer program in Baltimore called the Civic Education Project. The Civic Education Project is part of a larger umbrella corporation called the Civic Leadership Institute. While she was working in Baltimore, she got the interview call from her now principal at The STEM Academy at Bartlett in Savannah, Georgia.

The STEM Academy at Bartlett is a public middle school that aims to provide students with a rigorous curriculum focused on science, technology, and other areas of scholarship. “STEM” refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject areas. Stephanie started her position teaching 7th grade social studies last year. This school year she has been teaching 8th grade. The 8th grade curriculum focuses on Georgia Studies, or American History through the lens of Georgia. Stephanie gained crucial skills during her time with the American Studies Program at DePaul that fostered her love of education and encouraged her to pursue this line of work.

I think it made me really open minded. I met a lot of very diverse people in AMS and at DePaul in general. The American Studies Program is a little amalgam of everything DePaul has to offer. It gave me a passion for that seminar-style type of education. Learning is on you, and if you put in that work it can be so much more than just learning from a lecture. It was also great to work at such a deep level with Dr. McCracken and Dr. Burton.

I was able to be the student representative on Dr. McCracken’s tenure committee. “American Studies is inter-curricular American history with a twist. It can be whatever you want it to be. It is not prescribed. You can study politics, government, films, or trends, and that’s okay. It’s freeing in that. It really gave me a way to explore different avenues of literature and history when I was not sure what I was passionate about. I would be an AMS major for the rest of my life if I could!
Marlene Chojnowski recently uprooted her career as a speech-language pathologist in the States for an opportunity to live abroad in Prague. While in the Czech Republic, Marlene works as aTeacher Trainer and Observer for The Language House and instructs “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” certification courses. She wanted to temporarily relocate to Europe to gain experience and perspective outside of speech pathology’s concentrated field. Marlene’s time at DePaul and in the AMS Program instilled within her a value for interdisciplinary perspectives, and informs her decisions as a multifaceted professional. 

Marlene’s career development from a Secondary Education major to an American Studies Major to a Speech Pathologist to a TEFL certification instructor reflects the diverse professional opportunities available to AMS students. Marlene’s journey also serves as a reminder that students come to the AMS Program at different points of their DePaul experience. Marlene joined AMS as a senior and quickly translated her Education coursework to an interdisciplinary degree in American Studies. 

Marlene’s time in graduate school fully immersed her in speech pathology studies with a focus in neurological disorders. She identifies a stark difference between her time at Northwestern and her years at DePaul. Graduate school necessitated an intense academic specialization that contrasted with her undergraduate liberal arts education. Marlene appreciates DePaul’s diverse liberal arts requirements and claims DePaul challenged her to take a variety of courses. 

“Northwestern was speech pathology twenty-four hours a day. There wasn’t a part of the program that encapsulated the rest of the world. I was just so focused on speech pathology, and that’s what I went on to do for the next six years. I loved it and I still love the profession, but it’s one of the reasons that I’m here in Prague, because I needed to get out of the speech pathology ‘bubble’. DePaul made sure that from our freshmen year we took a plethora of classes outside of our main area of study. Through the American Studies Program and through the other classes that I took, I was exposed to many philosophies and ideas. I’m glad that I went to a school that promoted not just focusing in on your major.”

DePaul alum Alexandra (“Alex”) Meda always wanted to work in politically engaged theater. She graduated from DePaul in 2007 with a double major in Non-Profit Theater Manage-ment and American Studies. She is now the Executive Director at Teatro Luna, the first Chicago based, All-Latina, Non-Profit Theater Company. It was founded in 2000 by Coya Paz and Tanya Saracho. Teatro Luna aims to represent the diverse experiences of Latina, Hispana, and Pan-Latina women while providing a safe artistic, social, political, and educational community. Luna has developed from being a small and locally based company to performing internationally. Alex has made tremendous contributions to the growth of the organization.

Alex traveled to many states and countries as a child and attended a Theater Magnet High School in Orlando, Florida right across the street from Universal Studios. Her sophomore year, she was able to go to the Edinburgh Arts Festival and this visit cemented her desire to pursue a career in the Arts. She moved to Chicago to attend DePaul as a BFA Non-Profit Theater Management Major.

Alex consistently sought to challenge herself academically and would often take 24 credit hours at a time. Her first exposure to an American Studies course was AMS 380: Television and American Identity with Allison McCracken, which led her to explore more American Studies courses and eventually declare it as her double major. She feels being an AMS major was one of her most rewarding times at DePaul:

The American Studies program at DePaul gave me the skills and curiosity to build a life of inquiry and it provided me a critical lens on culture and the status quo.

Alex describes Teatro Luna as destined to be ever-changing because of its mission as an activist, politicized, and safe space for women. In order to decide how they should move forward as an organization, she had to reflect on her experiences with Teatro Luna. Their shows based on real life stories had a profound impact on their audiences, especially those stories that represented women of all types. Also, the process of creating and performing these stories had an effect on the performers themselves. Alex explained that every show gave the women of Teatro Luna an opportunity to transform their own conceptions of gender and subjectivity. She experienced moments of ideological enlightenment with several of their auto-biographical and ethnographic projects, particularly one called Machos.

Machos originated in 2006 and was based on interviews with 150 men from across the country regarding what is means to be a man. Eight women in drag played these men. It was an incredibly self-reflective process for the women who were working on the project.

And we realized, “What is our own role in the promotion of machismo, or aggressive masculine pride?” Although I had loved our previous work and it was all transformative, I think that is what really connected me to the idea that theater is a powerful tool for social change. It was through that project that I realized what this company can do is my calling. I had a vision that the company could exist as more than just a platform for play production. It really needed to build and be for community, and if it could do that here, in Chicago, it can and should do that in other parts of the country. I wanted Teatro Luna to be a national organization. It was necessary. We all came to the table without ego saying “We are going to give to this company and to this community more than we take.” And I think that is key. That is the most fulfilling kind of work.