College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > American Studies > About > Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight

American Studies major Peyton Lucey  has a concentration in Material Culture and the Built Environment and is minoring in Studio Art. She was drawn to American Studies for reasons that most majors have in common: a multitude of interests and a desire to mold their major. Peyton is from Denver, Colorado. She went to the Denver School of the Arts from 6-12th grade and majored in dance. She always knew that she wanted to pursue a career in the arts because she loved growing up in a liberal community, but did not want to continue in dance. When she was exploring ideas for undergraduate studies, she developed an interest in Art Therapy. She was told that DePaul had an Art Therapy program and was eager to explore Chicago since her mother often visited for business trips.

When Peyton was at her DePaul orientation, she found out that the Art Therapy program only applied to graduate students, so she had to explore alternate options.

Peyton remained Undeclared until her sophomore year. She dabbled in various courses including Psychology and Communications, but did not feel like she was thoroughly invested in her work. She visited her Academic Advisor who recommended she major in American Studies minor in Studio Art. He explained that the program engages extensively with all the students, and that it would provide her with a strong track toward her ultimate goal of attending graduate school.

Once she began taking courses, she realized that American Studies had the best of everything she was looking for: communications, history, and media.

The best part of AMS is the idea that you can look at everything analytically, in ways you can deeply and personally understand. I feel like your own context plays into this major more than others. How do all these things affect us?

After graduation, Peyton is planning on going to graduate school for Art Therapy. She is looking into different internship programs at the moment like “The Art Room.” She wants to focus on helping elementary school children cope emotionally through artistic expression.

American Studies Senior Daniel Potts (Dan) is finishing up his last quarter at DePaul. As a major with a concentration in Popular Culture and Media Studies, he has developed a rich appreciation for the critical approaches avail-able in the field. Dan grew up in Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago, where he attended Hillary Clinton’s old high school, Maine South. After his first year, Dan decided to transfer to St. Patrick High School, a private Catholic School on Chicago’s Northwest side, where he first became interested in analyzing American History from various perspectives. He remembers his favorite history teacher, Mr. Craine introducing him to Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen, a book that presents an alternate notion of U.S. history.

I really like how American Studies allows you to identify constructed meanings. For example, in a political debate, you can learn how to read both sides and see how they can either completely ignore an issue or misconstrue it without people noticing. You learn how to read between the lines.

Last Fall, Dan took the Senior Seminar with Dr. Amy Tyson where he worked on and later presented his thesis titled: “Go West, Young Man! Playing with the Past in Bioshock Infinite.” The Senior Seminar initially intimidated Dan given that it culminates in a 20-25-page essay and a 10-minute presentation. However, he learned how to effectively work through complex ideas and organize a cohesive argument by building an intellectual community with his American Studies peers. Throughout the quarter, they were all able to talk about their own work and contribute meaningfully to each other’s ideas.

Dan’s senior thesis provides a critical analysis of BioShock Infinite through the intersections of race and gender. Bioshock Infinite is a first-person shooter video game, part of the three-part series Bioshock, released in 2013 for a number of video game platforms. Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912, in a floating-air city recently separated from the U.S. called “Columbia.” The game deals with ideas of American exceptionalism and expansion, white supremacy, and institutional racism. Dan built his analysis by reading game developer comments, multiple game reviews, and through his experience of playing the game itself. He concluded that the game is a remaking of a fictionalized past that is made to appeal specifically to white men.

American Studies has changed how I view my whole life. It’s al-most like I always needed glasses but did not know. All of these things, like issues of race and gender, are out in the world but hard to pinpoint. I grew up in a suburban bubble, and some people believe things without even questioning them.

After graduation, Dan is planning on starting a blog in order to continue his work on media analysis. He thinks that it is urgent to produce this type of work given the ways in which media fundamentally connects people, contributes to their formation of identity, and shapes the way they perceive reality. He wants to bridge the gap between academic and public spaces and reach more people with this type of work. He is also planning on moving to Detroit with his girlfriend, where he will explore the job market and continue working on some musical projects he has been developing. Dan feels that he is prepared for any challenge in the future given his training in American Studies.

AMS [American Studies] really focuses on developing proper understanding of things through a perspective that is not just based on dominant constructed narratives. American Studies is a guide to analyzing everything. I can step out of my own perspective, and it has given me a much better understanding of the American society I am a part of every-day.

AMS Senior Joshua O’Connor (Josh) brings an international and critical eye to his studies at DePaul. Josh is originally from St. Charles, a western suburb of Chicago. He graduated from St. Charles East High School in 2005, spent two years at Elgin Community College, and then transferred to Columbia College in Chicago to study journalism for a year. After his first year at Columbia, he decided to withdraw from his studies for some time and in November of 2008 he joined the Marines. He was stationed at 29 Palms Marine Base in California as squad leader with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, where he was trained in small unit tactics and weapons employment. During his deployments he participated in interservice training missions with foreign militaries and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. Josh was able to travel throughout Southeast Asia - Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Josh’s senior thesis was titled “The War They Saw: Memory, Narrative, and the Veteran Authored Documentary,” and provides an analysis of veteran produced amateur documentaries, such as For the 25 and The November War. These documentaries are free on YouTube. New technology like GoPro cameras, internet access in combat zones, and media sharing sites like YouTube or LiveLeak have been a catalyst for this type of media.

These documentaries are not at all about the politics of the war, they are very much grounded in the individual narrative and the emotional consequence of combat. The easy argument to make is that there is a therapeutic quality to them; the filmmaker is not always on screen but the guys in his unit are and for them, to sit there in front of a camera and talk about their experience during and after the war is very emotional. There is a healing that happens there.

Josh is most interested in film and has taken various film courses. He recalled taking MCS 348 - Topics in Film Genre: Bromance with Michael DeAngelis earlier in 2015. Outside of that he has taken a lot of American Literature courses including ENG 265- The American Novel which focused on American groups that have been marginalized because of their race and/or gender. He also enjoyed AMS 298 – Topics in American Social and Literary Movements, an English course focusing on William Faulkner, AMS 380 – Television and American Identity with Dr. Allison McCracken, and AMS 301 – Senior Seminar with Dr. Amy Tyson.

There is a spot in American Studies to study absolutely anything you want as long as it has some role here in the United States. It is a small major, so you can get plenty of attention from the faculty. American Studies is important because we need to be critical of ourselves. It is easy to get swept into a very homogenous picture of America. You have to identify a flaw before you can ever fix it.

Luke Brunetti, a senior graduating this spring from DePaul, has taken advantage of the flexibility in our American Studies Program to cultivate a deeper understanding of art history and architecture. Luke is a double major in History of Art and Architecture and American Studies, with a concentration in Material Culture and the Built Environment. He became interested in American Studies after taking Discover Chicago: This Old Chicago House with Dr. John Burton, which focused on architecture throughout Chicago. They visited locations across Chicago like Oak Park and the Pullman District.

We would talk everyday a little bit more about American Studies. It just seemed interesting and almost a no-brainer because a lot of things I wanted to do overlapped; I was able to do more to understand the cultural significance of architecture instead of just the formal aspects of it. In American Studies, you can talk about the reasons behind everything. What’s the significance about a particular item or room?

Luke’s senior seminar project was titled “Frank Lloyd Wright: Redrafting Domestic Architecture,” and it focused on Frank Lloyd Wright and his vision of domesticity and family life through modern architecture. Wright was among the first architects to implement an open, family-centered plan into the home. Luke was able to take his knowledge of Art History and apply that to his American Studies research. He specifically looked at the way Wright’s Taliesin, a home he designed in Spring Green, Wisconsin, was influenced by his exchanges with a Swedish feminist, Socialist thinker named Ellen Key. Luke was able to engage with more recent articles about Frank Lloyd Wright that offer new frameworks for study that have yet to be fully developed by scholars. His thesis was the following:

“Profoundly influenced by his intimate relationship with his lover, self-proclaimed feminist Mamah Borthwick as well as his professional relationship with a Swedish feminist named Ellen Key, Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style of architecture not only aimed to achieve harmony and unity between his designs and their natural surroundings, but also sought to redefine domestic spaces to achieve a similar harmony nearly 30 years before the common conception of domesticity in architecture was formed.”

In addition to his academic work, Luke has participated in the DemonTHON at DePaul every year (a year-long fundraising organization, benefiting Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, that culminates in a Dance Marathon every spring) and he has been a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He is mostly occupied with working three jobs while juggling his course work, one of which is working part time at Minibar in Boystown as a bottle server, hence his interest in the Boystown neighborhood.

Much of what students do in AMS overlaps with the work they are doing in their other courses, and AMS helps you build more critical thinking and research skills. It gives you more life experience and practical knowledge than most other majors. For example, during our Senior Seminar, a representative from the Career Center came to our class to discuss options we could explore after graduation. I have not had that offered in any other of my courses. AMS is perfect as a Double Major or a Minor because it really strengthens an understanding of any liberal studies program.

Rae-Anna Sollestre is one of our wonderful AMS alumni that graduated this past summer. She is a double major in Political Science and American Studies with a concentration in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. She is originally from Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb right off of Detroit’s city limits. Throughout her time at DePaul she has focused on analyzing issues of diversity through a historical and political lens, which is important to her in part because of her experiences growing up in largely homogenized spaces. Rae-Anna declared a Political Science major as an incoming freshman. She knew she wanted to pursue another major or minor and found exactly what she needed in American Studies. She was first exposed to American Studies when she took her freshmen focal point about JFK with Dr. Brask. She started investigating the American Studies major online and emailed Dr. McCracken for more information. She then chose to concentrate in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies.

Last fall, Rae-Anna participated in a semester-long internship with Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, through Georgetown University’s Semester in Washington, D.C. Program. The Georgetown program provides undergraduates with a unique opportunity to study political science while developing professional skills in the nation’s capital.

She worked with the Continuing Studies Program and lived in NYU dorms near the business district in D.C. It was a couple of blocks from their train system and only fifteen minutes away from the White House. All students were required to take three courses within a specific track. Rae-Anna focused on the “Public Policy and Law” track and took a public policy course, a research seminar and an internship course. She attended her courses every Monday and Friday, and worked in Nancy Pelosi’s Leadership Office every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Her administrative tasks varied according to Pelosi’s events and schedule. She often had to write memos for specific issue-based meetings, and she feels like American Studies really prepared her for this type of work.

Throughout her time in D.C., Rae-Anna attended meetings regarding a large variety of issues within the US, such as males facing sexually assault in the military, opioid abuse, poverty in the veteran community, and demographic disparities in STEM fields. She also attended a number of important events like the Susan G. Komen Gala and After-Party, National Press Club lunches, the reception for the approval of the Iran Deal, the Bicentennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Women’s Coalition of Common Sense Domestic Violence Awareness Summit, and Pope Francis’s visit to the Capitol. Two of her most memorable experiences were Pope Francis’s visit and the day she met Minority Leader Pelosi.

Rae-Anna learned a tremendous amount about the structure of the US government and professional skills from her internship at the Capitol. She developed close connections with her colleagues. Most importantly, she learned that it takes a special kind of person to be involved in our bureaucratic government, and that she is not that kind of person. However, she now has a much better idea of what areas she wants to pursue professionally. After graduation, she is planning on taking the LSAT and applying to the University of Southern California to study civil rights in sports law. She also wants to take some time to visit her family in the Philippines.

Rae-Anna is integrating the knowledge she has gained in the American Studies Program with her passions and professional experiences in making her plans for the future. She shared her ideas about what has made her time with American Studies so crucial in this planning process:

American Studies allows you to go beyond history to understand how it applies to daily life. That was a huge draw for me because a lot of times we’re just taught “this happened twenty years ago and it’s not relevant now.” But that’s not true. There are so many complicated intersections that make history relevant to everything else. AMS also teaches different methods of analysis. Even if you’re given a data set, you have to be able to analyze the data and think about it in different ways. We have to look at it from a diagonal angle or even backwards. American Studies keeps you sharp.