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Fall 2017 Speaker Biographies

Sara Goldrick-Rab

 Sponsored by the Office of the President and the Honors Program.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology at Temple University, and Founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s only translational research laboratory seeking ways to make college more affordable. She is the author, most recently, of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (University of Chicago, 2016), an Amazon best-seller that has been featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, the New York Review of Books, and CSPAN’s Book TV, among other venues.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab considers herself a scholar-activist whose work aims to reduce socioeconomic and racial inequalities in general and to ameliorate inequities in college attainment in particular. Her commitment to scholar-activism is evidenced by her broad profile of research and writing dissecting the intended and unintended consequences of the college-for-all movement in the United States. In more than a dozen experimental, longitudinal, and mixed-methods studies, she has examined the efficacy and distributional implications of financial aid policies, welfare reform, transfer practices, and a range of interventions aimed at increasing college attainment among marginalized populations. She provides extensive service to local, state, and national communities, working directly with governors and state legislators to craft policies to make college more affordable, collaborating with non-profit organizations seeking to examine the effects of their practices, and providing technical assistance to Congressional staff, think tanks, and membership organizations throughout Washington, DC.

Many professional organizations and foundations have honored Dr. Goldrick-Rab for her work. In 2013, she was invited to testify before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Senators Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander. In 2014, she received the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association, and in 2015 she graduated from the William T. Grant Foundation’s five-year-long Faculty Scholars program. In 2016, POLITICO Magazine named her one of the top 50 people shaping American politics.

In addition to Paying the Price, Dr. Goldrick-Rab is the co-author also of Putting Poor People to Work: How the Work-First Idea Eroded College Access for the Poor. She is widely published in venues such as Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Sociology of Education, Review of Educational Research, and Teachers College Record, and she co-edited a Harvard Education Press volume, Reinventing Financial Aid: Charting a New Course to College Affordability.

After beginning her studies at the College of William & Mary, Sara Goldrick-Rab earned her B.A. from George Washington University and her M.A and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.


Sylvester James Gates, Jr.Sponsored by the College of Science, the Office of Diversity, the African/African American Studies Program, and the Honors Program.

Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr., (born December 15, 1950) is an American theoretical physicist bestowed in 1973 with two B.S. degrees (math & physics) and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the latter in 1977. His doctoral thesis was the first one at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. Gates was formerly a University System Regents Professor, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Director of the String and Particle Theory Center, Affiliate Professor of Mathematics, and served on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, National Commission on Forensic Science, and on the Maryland State Board of Education.

After 33 years at the University of Maryland, he retired in 2017 to assume the position of the "Ford Foundation Professor of Physics" at Brown University. His involvement in public policy continued with service on the  Forensic Science Standards Board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His public policy writing on diversity and education were cited in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a rarity for a theoretical physicist.

He is scientifically known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. In 1984, working with M.T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, W. Siegel, Gates co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry.

In 2006, he completed a DVD series titled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality for The Teaching Company composed of 24 half-hour lectures to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to non-physicists. In 2012, he was named a University System of Maryland Regents Professor, only the sixth person so recognized in the system’s history. He is a past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, and is a NSBP Fellow, as well as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Physics in the U.K. He also is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African-American physicist so recognized in its 150-year history. On November 16, 2013, Prof. Gates was awarded the Mendel Medal by Villanova University “in recognition of his influential work in supersymmetry, supergravity and string theory, as well as his advocacy for science and science education in the United States and abroad.” President Obama awarded Prof. Gates the National Medal of Science, the highest award given to scientists in the U.S., at a White House ceremony in 2013. During 2014, he was named the Harvard Foundation’s ‘‘Scientist of the Year.’’

In 2015, he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Achieve, Inc and the Board of Councilors for the Boy Scout of America’s STEM National Council. He continues to broadly engage video documentaries with appearance or cameos in the following in 2015 and 2016:

He currently continues his research in supersymmetry in systems of particles, fields, and strings.

Julissa ArceSponsored by the Department of Languages, Cultures and Humanities, the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work, the Office of Diversity, and the Honors Program.

Julissa Arce is a political commentator, speaker, writer and the author of My (Underground) American Dream (Entre Las Sombras del Sueño Americano). She has become a leading national voice in the fight for social justice, immigrant rights and education equality. A contributor for CNBC and the Huffington Post, her writing has been featured also by CNN, The Hill, Refinery29, CNN en Español, and Fusion, among other national outlets. Arce is the chairman and co-founder of the Ascend Educational Fund (AEF), a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrant students in New York City, regardless of their ethnicity, national original or immigration status. She made national and international headlines when she revealed that she had achieved the American Dream of wealth and status at Goldman Sachs while undocumented.

In My (Underground) American Dream, Julissa used her own inspirational story to change the conversation around immigration, by exploring the polarizing question: for an undocumented immigrant, what is the true cost of the American dream?

In the heady days of the most astronomical stock-market rise in Wall Street history, Julissa Arce climbed the corporate ladder—a rare Hispanic woman in a sea of suits and ties. In 2005, against all odds, she landed one of the most coveted jobs as an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Over the course of the next six years, even while the financial markets crashed, she continued to climb the corporate ladder—riding a series of promotions to become a Vice President, complete with a high six-figure salary and all of the perks that come with living the Goldman Sachs life. What none of her colleagues knew was that she wasn't just a young woman who broke through ceilings in a cutthroat male-dominated field: she was also an undocumented American from Mexico. My (Underground) American Dream challenges our perceptions of what it means to be an undocumented immigrant. During the current political climate where immigrants seeking refuge are at America’s doorstep and on our minds, Arce’s personal story of sacrifice, pain and suffering seeks to add a new perspective that will echo the stories of millions living here without a voice.

Arce has used her success and her platform to help shift the conversation around immigration and other social justice issues. Arce has given talks at TEDx and the Forbes Reinventing America Summit (alongside Nancy Pelosi, Jessica Alba, and Gayle King) and has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox Business News, Telemundo, Bloomberg TV and Univision. She serves on the board of directors of the National Immigration Law Center and College Spring. She was officially sworn in as an American citizen in August of 2014.


Sally RubinSponsored by the Appalachian Studies Program ,the Department of Communication, Film Techniques & Technology, the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work, and the Honors Program.

Sally Rubin (co-director) is a documentary filmmaker and editor who has worked in the field for more than 15 years. Her mother is from Calderwood, Tennessee, a hollow in the Smoky mountains. She grew up visiting Appalachia and has been spending time with family and friends in the region for many years. Sally recently completed Life on the Line, a documentary about a teenage girl living on the border of the US and Mexico -- a Fledgling Fund recipient that premiered in 2014 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and across the country on PBS.

Her previous film, Deep Down (co-directed by Jen Gilomen), was an ITVS, MacArthur, Chicken and Egg, and Fledgling-funded feature-length documentary about two friends in eastern Kentucky who find themselves divided over mountaintop removal coal mining near their homes. The film was part of the 2010-2011 Independent Lens Emmy-winning PBS series, and has reached almost 1.5 million people through its broadcast, distribution, and outreach campaign. It was nominated for an Emmy for its Virtual Mine outreach project, in the category of New Approaches to News and Documentary.

Sally's other credits include The Last Mountain, a film about her father's death in a hiking accident that was broadcast on PBS, Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers, (Editor), and the television series "The Freedom Files" (Editor), as well as David Sutherland's 6-hour Frontline special Country Boys, about two boys in Floyd County, Kentucky (Associate Producer), and "Riverwebs" (Editor), which broadcast nationally on PBS.

She recently completed a short that aired in conjunction with David Sutherland's Kind Hearted Woman on Frontline in 2013. In 2004, Sally founded the groundbreaking Straight Outta Grrrlville Film Festival in San Francisco, and continues to produce local events and benefits for artists and filmmakers, in conjunction with her own continued work.

Sally is also full-time documentary professor at Chapman University and a graduate of the M.A. program in Documentary at Stanford University.

About the film: …this film is for anyone who is a hillbilly or anyone who knows one…

Appalachia is as old as it is complex. Made up of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, the region and its people are home to a mountain range and a history that make it an undeniably special - and even quintessentially "American" - place. Due to a century-and-a-half of reliance on coal as its core industry, one of its defining characteristics has been a "boom and bust" economy that has also made Appalachia a region of poverty and a frequent focus of national attention. From these mountains and circumstances have emerged a complicated, often problematic, and enduring American archetype: the hillbilly.

Hillbilly: Appalachia in film and television is a documentary film that examines the iconic hillbilly stereotype in film and television. The film explores more than a hundred years of media representation of mountain and rural people, reveals how the hillbilly icon reflects America's aspirational self-image over the decades, and offers an urgent exploration of how we see and think about poor, white, rural America.


Rebecca Newberger GoldsteinSponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religion and the Honors Program.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher, novelist, and a MacArthur Fellow. Growing up in White Plains, New York, Goldstein graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, where she received the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, before heading to Princeton University, where she earned her Ph.D. in philosophy and was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship. When Goldstein became a MacArthur Fellow, receiving the prize which is popularly known as the “Genius Award,” the MacArthur Foundation described her work in the following words:

Rebecca Goldstein is a writer whose novels and short stories dramatize the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling. Her books tell a compelling story as they describe with wit, compassion and originality the interaction of mind and heart. In her fiction her characters confront problems of faith: religious faith and faith in an ability to comprehend the mysteries of the physical world as complementary to moral and emotional states of being. Goldstein’s writings emerge as brilliant arguments for the belief that fiction in our time may be the best vehicle for involving readers in questions of morality and existence.

Dr. Goldstein’s most recent book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away (2014), has been a critical and popular success, garnering overwhelmingly positive reviews and generating feature articles in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Times Higher Education Supplement, Prospect, and The Atlantic, with The Washington Post citing it as one of the best books of the year. Plato at the Googleplex alternates between expository chapters, which attempt to place Plato in the context of his extraordinary culture, and modern-day dialogues, which feature Plato himself engaging with the issues of the 21st century. So, for example, when he visits the Googleplex, the headquarters of Google, in Mountain View, CA, he discusses whether ethics can be crowdsourced with his media escort and a software engineer. He also debates a tiger mother on how to raise a child, goes on Fox News to speak about the importance of reason, and has his brain scanned, engaging two neuroscientists on the question of whether free will and moral agency are compatible with the findings of neuroscience.

After earning her Ph.D., Goldstein returned to her alma mater, where she taught courses in philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and philosophy of mathematics, and pursued an interest also in the history of philosophy. It was some time during her tenure at Barnard that, to her own surprise, she used a summer vacation to write her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, published by Random House to critical and popular acclaim. More novels followed: The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, which received the Whiting Writer’s Award; Mazel, which received the 1995 National Jewish Book Award and the 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award; and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories, Strange Attractors, received a National Jewish Book Honor Award. Goldstein’s latest novel, Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, published in 2010, was named the best fiction book of the year by The Christian Science Monitor and among the top eleven of that year by The Washington Post.

Having been approached to contribute a book to Norton's series on great scientific discoveries, Dr. Goldstein decided to write about Incompleteness Theorems. Her 2005 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, was featured in articles in The New Yorker and The New York Times, received numerous favorable reviews, and was named one of the best books of the year by Discover magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Sun. Her next book, part of a series on great Jewish thinkers and themes, was Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity, published in May 2006; it won the 2006 Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought.

Goldstein is an elected member of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal (2015). In 2006 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Radcliffe Fellowship. In 2008, she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Emerson College, where she gave the commencement address. Goldstein has been designated Humanist of the Year 2011 by the American Humanist Association, and Freethought Heroine 2011 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In that year she also delivered the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Yale University, entitled "The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature," which was published by University of Utah Press.

In addition to Barnard College, Goldstein has taught in the Columbia MFA writing program and in the department of philosophy at Rutgers, has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, and taught for five years as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 2006-2007, she was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and a Guggenheim Fellow. She was the Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute in 2011, a Franke Visiting Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University in 2012, and the Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College in 2013. She was appointed a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities in London, U.K. in 2011, and continues to lecture there. As of 2016 she has been a Visiting Professor at New York University. She serves on the World Economic Forum's Council on Values.



Jonathan Webb Sponsored by the Department of American Sign Language, the Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Committee, and the Honors Program.

Jonathan Webb, PhD, educator, social justice activist, and author of KG: The South, is currently co-owner and President of Sign Enhancers, Inc. In August 2017, he began teaching interpreting in the world’s oldest Deaf Studies department, located at California State University-Northridge. Prior to taking this position, Jonathan was lecturer in the Department of World Languages & Cultures at Iowa State University, where he was invited to create and build a program in American Sign Language, as well as foster greater inclusion for Deaf students across campus. In July of 2017, Jonathan was an invited Plenary Speaker at the 2017 RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) annual conference.

As an ASL interpreter with over three decades of language and two decades in the field, and a Deaf Educator trained in counseling and American Sign Language acquisition/development, he provides interpretation in often high stakes situations and in particular with monolingual ASL Deaf people. Working within national non-profits, higher education, and local associations, Jonathan is recognized for his ability to not only foster critical consciousness around complex issues, but to catalyze that consciousness into effective action and measurable outcomes. He welcomes eager, open-minded, questioning, inquisitive participants to the workshops he facilitates, and aims to inspire individuals and groups to live and work in and towards their most expansive, liberated and conscious form possible.

Jonathan’s work in seeking social justice is born out of lived experiences that started in his home community of Jennings/Ferguson, Missouri. Currently living in Southern California with partner and three kids, he continues to write, teach, and facilitate incorporating themes of spirituality, consciousness, and social justice. Weaving together a love of stories, storytelling, and psychology, Jonathan often works with activists and students on their individual and collective mythoi as a way of meaning-making in the world, relying heavily on the teachings and practices he's been honored with from various indigenous communities. Using this unique approach, Jonathan has been invited to campuses around the country to teach on systems of oppression and navigating them through the use of visioning and conscious dialogue.


Kelli CarmeanSponsored by the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work, the Department of History, the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the Honors Program.

Kelli Carmean is EKU Foundation Professor 2017-19 and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work. She joined the EKU faculty in 1993, served as Anthropology Coordinator from 2003 to 2010, and as department chair from 2009 to 2015. She currently serves as faculty liaison for the University’s Education Abroad program and is active in the Kentucky Institute for International Studies, teaching and directing programs in Peru and Barcelona.

Carmean earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and her Ph.D. degree in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation investigated differing residential architectural labor expenditures as an expression of social structure at Sayil, a major Maya site in the Yucatan Peninsula. Before coming to EKU, she was a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2002, Dr. Carmean published a scholarly monograph entitled, Spider Woman Walks This Land: Traditional Cultural Properties and the Navajo Nation, which was recognized by The American Indian Quarterly as a “noteworthy success… not just as an anthropology or archaeology textbook but also as a study of Navajo cultural geography, history, and religion.” Dr. Carmean’s scholarship led to her selection to present the EKU College of Arts and Sciences Roark Distinguished Lecture in 2010; and she was a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute participant in 2011 Revisioning the Maya World: New Directions in Scholarship and Teaching.

Dr. Carmean has also pursued an active literary career by writing novels that connect to aspects of her research and expertise. Her first such work of archaeological fiction was Creekside: An Archaeological Novel, which alternates between the present and life on the early Kentucky frontier. Her newest work, House of the Waterlily: A Novel of the Ancient Maya World, tells the long and turbulent life story of fictional Lady Winik. Through Winik, readers experience the luxury of palace life, and an era engulfed in ever-increasing turmoil. Winik paints a time of ambition and greed, of courage and survival, and a profoundly different perception of the universe. House of the Waterlily portrays Maya women and men of differing social class as they sought to navigate their rapidly changing world. It is a story of the steadfast persistence of culture, and one that brings alive a people and an era remote from our own, yet recognizably human all the same.

From the jacket cover:

House of the Waterlily is an excellent introduction into the world of the Classic Period Maya in large part because Carmean is a fine storyteller who weaves her narrative as beautifully as a ‘fine-spun’ huipil. This book would be an excellent addition to the course reading list for undergraduate students who are studying the ancient Maya.” ~ Scott Simmons, UNC Wilmington.

“Although fiction, House of the Waterlily is a powerful platform from which to begin a discussion of vast catastrophic events in the context of daily life in the late Classic period of this fascinating pre-Columbian civilization.” ~ Rob Swigart, author, Xibalba Gate: A Novel of the Classic Maya.

Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, Sociolology, and Social Work, the Department of History, and the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences.


Pamela SoltisSponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences, the College of Science, the Office of Graduate Education and Research, the Kentucky Native Plant Society, and the Honors Program.

Pamela S. Soltis is Distinguished Professor of Botany at the University of Florida, Principal Investigator at the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics, Curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Director for Research Activities for iDigBio, Director of the Biodiversity Institute, a former president of the Botanical Society of America, and a recently elected Member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in Botany at the University of Kansas in 1986. Her research interests include molecular systematics of plants, especially angiosperms, morphological and molecular evolution of the flower, and conservation genetics of rare plant species.

Pam Soltis works alongside her husband, Doug (also a distinguished professor at the University of Florida), and together they study the origin and evolution of flowering plants, plant genome evolution and conservation genetics. They use genomic methods and computational modeling to understand patterns and processes of plant evolution and identify conservation priorities. They have also initiated outreach projects to help increase public understanding of biodiversity, using the “tree of all life” as a metaphor for the importance and connectivity of all species.

Dr. Soltis has authored or edited 11 books, including Molecular Systematics of Plants, Developmental Genetics of the Flower, and Plant Systematics: The Origin, Interpretation, and Ordering of Plant Biodiversity. She has authored or coauthored several hundreds of articles, served as an editor on over a dozen journals, acted as a reviewer for the National Science Foundation and other organizations, and received numerous fellowships, awards and recognitions for her work, including scores of grants from the NSF, a Mellon Faculty Fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution, and most recently being hailed (in 2014) as one of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters.


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