Success Stories

Samira Omarshah, SIS/MA ’20

Samira Omarshah, SIS/MA ’20

While playing soccer for Zambia's national team in high school, Samira Omarshah developed an appreciation for sports diplomacy and international exchange programs. Studying intercultural and international communications at AU allowed her to learn the language of public diplomacy from ambassadors like The Honorable Earl "Tony" Wayne, SIS’s distinguished diplomat in residence, whom she credits with introducing her to opportunities to practice public diplomacy outside the Foreign Service. Omarshah has now secured her "dream job" at the US State Department, screening grant proposals submitted by alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative. "It blows me away how innovative the participants are, the way they think about problems, and how they come up with solutions to global challenges," she says.

Published July 2020

Jake Andrejat

Jake Andrejat, SPA/BA ’20

First-generation college student Jake Andrejat’s experience as a field organizer for the successful 2018 campaign of Wisconsin governor Tony Evers validated his decision to major in political science, where he studied under real-world practitioners like SPA professor of government Susan Glover. Now he’s a paid intern for MDW Communications, a Washington, DC-based national political consultancy founded by Michael Worley, SPA/BA ’12. Andrejat is working on campaigns for MDW clients ranging from city council and mayoral races to congressional contests. He credits Worley with helping him learn the business side of running a consultancy—an experience not all graduates are lucky enough to have in their first internship out of school. “I really feel like I’m in my element,” he says.

Published May 2020

Chledina Jean

Cheldina Jean, CAS/BA ‘20

Since middle school, Cheldina Jean would see a problem in need of solving, study it, then act—like in high school when she constructed composting toilets after witnessing the devastating effects poor sanitation had on people’s health during a visit to her native Haiti. The environmental science major brought that passion to AU, where she pursued helping marginalized communities by improving the environment. She interned with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and worked with AU faculty like AU chemistry professor Matthew Hartings, who provided space in his lab for her research. Jean is pursuing her PhD in environmental and chemical engineering at Yale University, where she will develop filtration technology that purifies polluted water in developing countries.

Published May 2020

Roel Ayala Peña

Roel Ayala Peña, CAS/BS ’20

Public health took on a new meaning for Roel Ayala Peña once he resolved to work in his native Phoenix. As a public health major, Ayala Peña calculated infectious periods, analyzed medical records, and discussed high-risk populations, knowing he would one day take that knowledge home. While finishing up his final semester at AU remotely, he started as a communicable disease investigator for Maricopa County, Arizona, specializing in tuberculosis. Ayala Peña now tests and traces the disease and translates for Spanish-speaking patients not far from where he grew up. “Health is the No. 1 way to empower people. My goal is to make my community better, so I feel a lot of pride and happiness in doing that.”

Published May 2020

Annelise Straw

Annelise Straw, SIS/BA ‘18, SIS/MA ‘19

From ballerina to pastry chef, Annelise Straw has traveled a winding professional road. She came to AU to study the complicated access issues surrounding the food she had been preparing while at a restaurant located on a sustainable farm. Straw’s research included spending a summer examining food access and procurement in Dickenson County, Virginia, where her mother grew up. Her next stop? The University of Kentucky, where she will pursue her PhD in geography studying the racial injustices of the food system. "I'm working to expose and bring to life the stories of farmers, farmworkers, and consumers so that entrenched food inequities are not perpetuated for another generation."

Published May 2020

Sam Sheline

Sam Sheline, SOC/MFA ’17

National Geographic associate producer Sam Sheline has gone to great heights for his job, joining the team that scaled Mount Everest in 2019 to install the world’s highest weather station. The structure helps scientists study the subtropical jet stream and better understand the impact of climate change on extreme high-altitude environments. Sheline spent six weeks at Everest’s base camp shooting video of scientists conducting fieldwork. As a student, he worked with AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, which gave him the technical know-how to shoot amid hurricane-force winds and dangerous cold and helped him hone soft skills like teamwork. “Nothing can prepare you for seeing an avalanche come a little too close for comfort,” Sheline says, “but SOC prepared me well for the rest of the job.”

Published May 2020

Daniel Marks

Daniel Marks, SOC/BA ‘16

Daniel Marks broadened his perspective of racial justice while attending American University as a Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar (FDDS). Now a legal assistant at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he strives to impact societal change with racial justice as a framework. As a public relations major, he interned with a national public affairs firm, The Raben Group, and was a PPIA fellow at the University of California–Berkeley. He also led two AU Alternative Break trips to South Africa, where he learned leadership and administrative skills that helped him take the next step in his career. “It allowed me to take every theory, every concept I learned within the sociology department and apply it to real-world settings and learn from people on the ground,” Marks said.

Published July 2017

Davina Durgana

Davina Durgana, SIS/PHD ‘15

Davina Durgana, a statistical analyst at the Walk Free Foundation (WFF), landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30: Science list in 2017 for her work combatting modern slavery. After attending the funeral of a child trafficked by an international gang in El Salvador, she resolved to learn everything she could about it. That led her to AU, where she pursued a PhD in international affairs. Now, her team at WFF is developing the first joint global human trafficking estimate for WFF and the International Labor Organization. She plans to continue her path of public service by running for office someday. “There's no real purpose to all of the work we do than to help design a world you would want to live in,” Durgana said.

Published July 2017

Becca Peixotto

Becca Peixotto, CAS/MA ’13

Becca Peixotto and her colleagues on the Rising Star Expedition made worldwide headlines when they excavated the newly discovered fossil of an early human ancestor, Homo naledi, whose existence could change the way scientists view human evolution. Peixotto chose AU for graduate school in 2011 because of the public anthropology focus of the department—and its commitment to do research to affect positive change—and she was chosen in 2013 to join the team that made this discovery. Now an adjunct instructor at AU, she is completing her dissertation on resistance landscapes in the Great Dismal Swamp between 1660 and 1860. “The information and artifacts will help us better understand the landscape of the maroons and how they made their lives in a seemingly inhospitable area,” she said.

Published May 2016

Enrique Benavides

Enrique Benavides, SIS/BA ’15

Enrique Benavides, a native El Salvadoran, came to the US at the age of 14 to reunite with his mother. With the goal of obtaining a college degree, he was determined to learn English and earn top grades. After obtaining permanent residency and completing two years at a community college, he transferred to AU, whose DC location was the perfect fit for his interest in US foreign policy. While at AU, he was a teaching assistant, held an internship at the Embassy of El Salvador, and volunteered at the Latino Student Fund. By mid-2015, Benavides had completed his bachelor's in international studies and landed a part-time position with the World Bank Group. He also landed an internship with the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank focused on Latin American policy.

Published April 2016

Loren Miller

Loren Miller, CAS/MA ’10, CAS/PHD ’15

Loren Miller chose AU for graduate school because of its public history program’s excellent reputation, its warm and welcoming professors, and its strategic location in DC that allowed her to intern at the National Park Service and volunteer at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. Today, she apprentices at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where her work includes research, acquisitions, inventory, and writing. She is also a part-time history contractor at the National Library of Medicine, collaborating on numerous projects and serving as head curator for a public exhibition about physician assistants. “I believe the connections AU provided me with through opportunities for practical work experience were very important to helping me land my two current positions,” Miller says.

Published April 2016

Alexis Dobbs

Alexis Dobbs, CAS/BS ’14

Alexis Dobbs earned distinction at AU as captain of the women’s basketball team, a three-time Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year, President’s Award recipient, and Dean’s List student. Now, Dobbs is using her degree in public health (with a biology minor) to pursue her master’s degree in health science and professional certification as a physician assistant from Cuyahoga Community College/Cleveland State University. Her goal is to help patients achieve and maintain their desired quality of living. She credits her academic and athletic endeavors at AU with providing both career preparation and a solid background in hard work: “Time management, teamwork, dedication, and passion are among the many qualities that being a student-athlete has taught me over my four years.”

Published July 2015

Christina Koch


Christina Koch became the professional relations manager for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) one week after graduation. As an advocate for school psychologists, Koch supports NASP’s public policy agenda by speaking to people on Capitol Hill and monitoring state and federal legislation. Koch credits SOC faculty for providing course work with real-world relevance. Internships at the US Department of Education and National Geographic Channel encouraged Koch's love of digital communication and her passion for education policy and mental health issues. Koch knew she wanted a job in which she could help others, which made her role NASP a great fit: “The fact that our organization helps children across the nation to thrive in school makes it a pretty great thing to be a part of.”

Published July 2015

Sara Rubinstein

Sara Rubinstein, CAS/BS ’14

Before completing her statistics degree, Sara Rubinstein held an internship with the National Association of Community Health Centers, joined the national co-ed honors fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, and studied in Australia. Each experience played a role in her development. The internship taught her professional project management skills, the fraternity gave her connections and increased her confidence, and going abroad developed her courage. Rubinstein also recognizes the support of her faculty advisor and AU’s emphasis on career development. Today, she is a research assistant at market research firm Greenwald & Associates, where she analyzes statistical significance and coordinates focus groups, quality-checks surveys, and reports. “I enjoy my role because I get to dip my toes into many different projects,” Rubinstein says.

Published July 2015

Deon Jones


Deon Jones became the youngest elected official in Washington, DC, history as a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. As a political science major at AU, he was the first African American to receive the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, and he also started a development program to send formerly incarcerated teenage boys to four-year universities. Today, Jones is a special project assistant to the president at Be the Change, a social entrepreneurial organization that creates national issue-based campaigns. Previously, he was the national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, dedicated to ending youth incarceration in the adult criminal justice system. Jones was recently appointed to the National Council of Youth Leaders and has been invited to speak at the United Nations.

Published November 2014

Brieanna Samples-Wright

Brieanna Samples-Wright, CAS/MAT ’12

Now in her fourth year at DC Scholars Stanton Elementary School, Brieanna Samples-Wright is a kindergarten teacher and grade-level lead with a passion for innovative education. As a CityBridge Foundation 2014 Education Innovation Fellow, Samples-Wright has the opportunity to visit schools in California and Detroit that are exploring new models of blended, personalized learning, work with leaders in the field, and develop her own pilot programs. She is also an instructor for the Developing Young Writers program through the DC Area Writing Project. While earning her master’s degree at AU, Samples-Wright says her work with adjunct instructor Katie Keier was especially influential: “She really pushed me as an educator to develop in my use of technology to teach and share my teaching experiences.”

Published November 2014

Hannah Hankins

Hannah Hankins, SOC/BA ’11

In her four years at the White House, Hannah Hankins moved steadily up the ranks, currently serving as the communications director for the Domestic Policy Council. Previously, she worked for US senator Amy Klobuchar and spent three-and-a-half years as a White House press assistant. As a liaison between the White House Press Office and the media, she wrangled the White House press corps aboard Air Force One and around the world. She credits the range of experiences she gained as an undergrad to her success, including six internships in press offices. Her internships, together with coursework in public communications and international relations, set her up to hit the ground running in the fast-paced world of politics.

Published November 2014

Joseph Vess

Joseph Vess, SIS/MA ’10

For Joseph Vess, a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution from AU’s School of International Service was a natural complement to his career in gender-based violence prevention. While pursuing his degree, Vess worked as a staff assistant at the War Crimes Research Office, a community organizer at the DC Rape Crisis Center, and director of training and technical assistance at Men Can Stop Rape. Since earning his degree in 2010, Vess has joined Promundo, an international organization where he coordinates programs with men and boys in conflict and post-conflict areas to ensure sustainable, gender-equitable peace. As senior program officer, Vess works with local partners to help strengthen, develop, evaluate, and scale up their interventions.

Published November 2014



From DC to New York to Asia, Gabrielle Kuey’s path is defined by global reach and innovation—something many Kogod School of Business grads have in common. Kuey has parlayed her studies at AU into positions with major international marketing/branding firms: Calvin Klein, Kate Spade Saturday, and now the bohemian and lifestyle brand Free People. Based in New York City, Kuey is an international marketing associate. Her responsibilities range from international business development to ensuring the international social media front rolls out smoothly. At Kate Spade Saturday, Kuey managed brand consistency for the Japan and Singapore partnerships. She worked on interactive window displays and an eBay partnership that brought pop-up shops to five city storefronts.

Published November 2014

Ahmad Toure


When Ahmad Touré was a senior in AU’s Kogod School of Business, he set a goal of putting his marketing education to work at a socially responsible organization. That, plus his lifelong interest in nature, made the National Park Service a perfect fit—especially since he interned there as an undergrad. Today, Touré is a ranger at Great Falls Park in Virginia. He leads tours to educate visitors about the park’s history, maintains visitor safety, and coordinates a volunteer trail crew. He views his duties as a special kind of marketing that connects people to the park and inspires stewardship for its natural resources.

Published November 2014

Daniel Maree


After graduating from AU, Daniel Maree founded the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, a national nonprofit working to protect and empower young people of color. His work landed him on the 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Social Entrepreneurship—and the grand prize of the 2013 Do Something Award. His dedication to making a difference was evident as a student when Maree founded the AU chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive policy nonprofit, and it still drives him today as a filmmaker, social entrepreneur, and communications strategist. He leads a strategic communications consultancy, M-PWRD; is completing a documentary about his father, a US track Olympian and a national South African hero; and consults on an HBO documentary about stand-your-ground laws.

Published November 2014

Joseph Vidulich

Joseph Vidulich, SPA/BA ’08

As a student in AU’s School of Public Affairs, Joseph Vidulich, BA ’08, served as Student Government president, a resident assistant, and founder of the AU Blue Crew, a spirit squad for student-athletes. Those experiences, combined with a congressional internship and his political science degree, led to a series of positions with progressive responsibility. Vidulich’s experience includes working as a paralegal, as manager of public policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and as vice president of government relations for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, he continues to provide service to the AU community as a member of the AU Alumni Board and the AU Business Practices Social Responsibility and Service Committee.

Published November 2014

Nick Reksten


Now a guest professor of economics at Sarah Lawrence College, Nick Reksten had such a positive undergrad experience at AU that when it came time to choose a PhD program, his alma mater quickly rose to the top of the list. Reksten, who earned a bachelor’s in international studies and economics, was an AU Honors program member and a Presidential Scholarship recipient. As a doctoral student, he served as a graduate advising fellow in AU’s Office of Merit Awards and an adjunct instructor. The former consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank won several honors at AU, including the James H. Weaver Prize for Teaching Excellence, a Department of Economics dissertation fellowship, a graduate fellowship, and a Mellon Travel Grant.

Published November 2014

Fanta Aw

Fanta Aw, KSB/BSBA ’90, SPA/MPA ’94, CAS/PhD ’11

Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence at American University, Dr. Fanta Aw has spent 25 years in higher education administration. A “global nomad” who grew up in several countries, Aw is a well-regarded expert in international education. She has provided training to the US Department of State and Institute of International Education, among others, and has been interviewed by major global media outlets such as CNN and the Chronicle of Higher Education. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from AU, Aw returned for a doctorate in sociology with concentrations in transnational migration, international education, and social stratification. The 2013 recipient of the University Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Appointment is also the School of International Service’s Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer.

Published November 2014