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Speaker Biographies: Spring 2015

Tali Sharot

Cognitive Neuroscientist and Author of The Optimism Bias

Tali is a neuroscientist. She is the author of The Optimism Bias, and the director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London. The Affective Brain Lab studies how motivation, emotion and social interaction determine our expectations of the future, our everyday decisions, our memories and our ability to learn. By understanding these basic cognitive and neural processes the Affective Brain Lab aims to identify ways to encourage behavioral change that enhance well-being. Tali’s papers on the neuroscience of optimism, emotional memories and cognitive dissonance have been published in top scientific journals including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience and Psychological Science. She has also written essays for the popular press which have been published in The New York Times, Observer and Time Magazine. She is a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual, and Brain Sciences at University College London and a Wellcome Trust Fellow. She received her Ph.D in psychology and neuroscience from New York University and a BSc in economics and psychology from Tel Aviv University. She has conducted research at the University of California, Harvard University and the Weizmann Institute for Science.


Angela Onwuachi-Willig

Charles and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law at the University of Iowa and Author of According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family

Angela Onwuachi-Willig is the Charles and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law at the University of Iowa. She joined the Iowa Law faculty in 2006 after three years on the tenure track at the University of California, Davis School of Law. She graduated from Grinnell College, Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in American Studies, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was a Clarence Darrow Scholar and a Note Editor on the Michigan Law Review and an Associate Editor of the founding issue of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law. After law school, she clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver, now Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Karen Nelson Moore, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a labor and employment associate at Jones Day in Cleveland, Ohio and Foley Hoag in Boston, Massachusetts.

Her articles have appeared in or are forthcoming in many prestigious law journals, including the Yale Law Journal, California Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, and Vanderbilt Law Review. Professor Onwuachi-Willig also has published numerous newspaper opinion-editorials. Her book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family (Yale University Press) is forthcoming in the spring of 2013.

Professor Onwuachi-Willig is frequently invited as a speaker for law faculty workshops, conferences, and symposia. For instance, she gave the Brigitte M. Bodenheimer Lecture on Family Law at the University of California, Davis School of Law and the inaugural Lutie A. Lytle Lecture at Seattle University School of Law. She also served as the Scholar-in-Residence at the Thelton Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
Professor Onwuachi-Willig has received many accolades for her work. In 2006, Professor Onwuachi-Willig was honored by the Minority Groups Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) with the Derrick A. Bell Award, which is given to a junior faculty member who has made an extraordinary contribution to legal education, the legal system, or social justice. In December of 2010, Professor Onwuachi-Willig was elected to the American Law Institute and she was selected as a finalist for the Iowa Supreme Court. In 2011, she was named one of America’s top young legal professionals by the National Law Journal, which placed her on its “Minority 40 under 40” list. In 2012, she won the Marion Huit Award, a University award given to a tenured faculty member in recognition of outstanding teaching and assistance to students, exceptional research and writing, and dedicated service to the University and the surrounding community.

Professor Onwuachi-Willig is a past Chair of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Minority Groups Section and the AALS Law and Humanities Section, a past Chair of the AALS Committee for the Recruitment and Retention of Minorities, and a former member of the Board of Governors for the Society of American Law Teachers. She currently serves as Chair-Elect of the AALS Employment Discrimination Section.


Geri Jewell

Award-Winning Actress, Comedian, and Author

Geri Jewell is best known as Cousin Geri on the NBC sitcom, The Facts of Life. She was the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time series. She began her career doing stand up comedy at the Comedy Store in 1978. In 1980 she performed at the 2nd Annual Media Access Awards, where she was introduced to Norman Lear by producer, Fern Field.

After her ground breaking role on Facts she has appeared on such shows as The Great Space Coaster, the Emmy award winning movie Two of a Kind, Sesame Street, 21 Jump Street, The Young and the Restless,Strong Medicine and the HBO hit series, Deadwood, which she also received Emmy consideration for. She also co-starred in the independent film "Night of the White Pants" and was featured on the FOX series, Alcatraz.

When Geri is not working in television, she is a highly sought after motivational speaker and trainer in the areas of diversity, disability and GLBT issues. Her training has taken her to such companies as Hewlett Packard, Master Foods, Johnson Wax, AT&T, Amgen, Mass Mutual and Raytheon. She has also trained such government agencies as The C.I.A., The U.S. Treasury Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Army.

She is famous for her uncanny ability to captivate the hearts of her audiences by using humor to facilitate attitudinal change. Geri brings to her presentations her personal experiences in life, which in turn allow people to gain insight into the prospect of seeing disability in a totally different light, creating hope where there is none, and joy where there is pain.

She has never forgotten her roots in comedy. She has appeared on many of cable comedy shows, including Evening at the Improv on A&E, and Stand Up Spotlight on VHI. She has opened for Paul Anka, Robert Goulet, and Judy Collins. She has been featured on Entertainment Tonight, E! Hollywood True Story, and ABCs 20/20, and A&E’s Biography.

All in all, Geri enjoys a thriving career. She has been the recipient of many awards, including the 1992 Founders Award, the 2005 Independent Living Legacy Award, and the 2006 Victory award. Her NEW autobiography, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can received the 2012 Gold Award by the Independent Publishers. She also received the 2013 Golden Halo Award, and the 2013 UCP Life Without Limits Award.


Peter Kraska

Professor and Chair of Graduate Studies and Research in Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies

Dr. Pete Kraska is Professor and Chair of Graduate Studies and Research in the School of Justice Studies. He has distinguished himself as a leading scholar in the areas of criminal justice theory, police and criminal justice militarization, and research methods. He has published seven books including Criminal Justice and Criminology Research Methods, Theorizing Criminal Justice: Eight Essential Orientations, and Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police. Dr. Kraska’s research has also been published in a number of leading journals, including the British Journal of Criminology, Social Problems, Justice Quarterly, and Policing and Society.

His recent research interests include making theoretical sense of the emergence of underground cage-fighting, the trend to legalize through medicalization the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), and a continuation of study into the blurring distinction between criminal justice and the military in the wars on drugs and terrorism.

Dr. Kraska’s work has received national and international attention; it has been featured in media outlets such as The Economist, Washington Post, BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, National Public Radio, Peter Jennings’s World News Tonight, and the PBS News Hour.


Ralph D. Sawyer

President of Sawyer Strategic Consultants and Leading Scholar in Chinese Warfare

Dr. Ralph D. Sawyer did undergraduate study in philosophy, the history of science, and electrical engineering (AI/computers) at MIT. His graduate studies were in history and Chinese language at Harvard University; further Chinese language study at the Stanford Center in Taipei.

Dr. Sawyer then continued private study in classical Chinese with noted professors such as Chin Chia-hsi and Ts'ai Mao-t'ang. He followed the Chinese tradition of private scholarship while maintaining a consulting practice for more than 25 years in the Far East, initially in Taiwan but eventually throughout Asia, though anchored in Korea and Taiwan.

For the last decade, Ralph Sawyer has increasingly focused on study and writing, but continue to consult with certain conglomerates and government agencies. He is a very popular author with readers, and his familiar red-cover Art of War book published in 1994 remains among the highest ranked Sun Tzu translations of all time.\

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Michael S. Roth

President of Wesleyan University and Author of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

Michael S. Roth '78 became the 16th president of Wesleyan University on July 1, 2007. Formerly president of California College of the Arts, Roth is known as a historian, curator and author.

A professor in history and the humanities since 1983, Roth was the founding director of the Scripps College Humanities Institute in Claremont, Calif., a center for intellectual exchange across disciplines. He developed a reputation as a leader in the arts community through his accomplishments as associate director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and his success as President of the California College of the Arts in enhancing that institution’s academic quality, national reputation and financial strength.

Roth describes his scholarly interests as centered on "how people make sense of the past." He has authored six books: Psycho-Analysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud (Cornell University Press, 1987, 1995); Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth Century France (Cornell, 1988); The Ironist's Cage: Trauma, Memory and the Construction of History (Columbia University Press, 1995), Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, with Clare Lyons and Charles Merewether (Getty Research Institute, 1997), Memory, Trauma and History: Essays on Living with the Past (Columbia University Press, 2012) and Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014).  Irresistible Decay stemmed from the exhibition of the same name that he co-curated for the opening of the Getty Museum. He also curated the blockbuster exhibition Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture, which opened at the Library of Congress in 1998 and garnered praise for its balanced and wide-ranging view of Freud's intellectual and cultural heritage. The exhibition traveled internationally in subsequent years. Roth has edited and co-edited numerous journal issues and books, including Looking for Los Angeles: Architecture, Film, Photography and the Urban Landscape and Disturbing Remains: Memory, History, and Crisis in the Twentieth Century (both Getty Research Institute, 2001), and he regularly publishes essays, book reviews, and commentaries in national newspapers, scholarly journals, and The Huffington Post. He continues to teach undergraduate courses, and through Coursera has offered MOOCs, the most recent being “How to Change the World.”

A native of Brooklyn and in the first generation of his family to attend college, Roth entered Wesleyan in the fall of 1975. He designed a university major in "history of psychological theory" and wrote a thesis titled Freud and Revolution, which began the exploration that would become his first book and the basis of the Library of Congress exhibition. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years, graduating with University Honors, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and went on to earn his doctorate in history at Princeton University in 1984.

Roth began his teaching career in 1983 at Scripps College, becoming Hartley Burr Alexander Professor of the Humanities there in 1989. He was also the director of European Studies at the Claremont Graduate University, where he helped to found the Ph.D. program in Cultural Studies.

In 1994 Roth was invited to participate as a visiting scholar in the Getty Research Institute's year on memory. Two years later, he was asked to lead the scholars and seminars program at the Getty. Roth focused research there around such topics as the history, architecture and arts of Los Angeles, the representation of traumatic events, and the role of the humanities in public culture. He also built partnerships with cultural organizations in the East and South Central sections of the city, as well as with international centers of research.

In 2000 Roth became President of the California College of the Arts and led an effort to revise the school's curriculum to emphasize interdisciplinary work and liberal learning. The school added new academic programs, including undergraduate degrees in community arts, creative writing, visual studies and animation, as well as masters programs in curatorial practice, visual criticism, design, writing and architecture. His legacy there includes the development of the Center for Art and Public Life, which fosters community partnerships in the San Francisco Bay area and models ways art can benefit underserved urban neighborhoods and their schools, and the strengthening of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, which has developed an international reputation for its exhibitions and public programs. In 2006 the San Francisco Chronicle noted that, CCA had evolved into “one of the most progressive arts education institutions in the country.”

Since becoming President of Wesleyan, Roth has increased grant support for its students who receive financial aid and has overseen the launch of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, and four new interdisciplinary colleges emphasizing advanced research and cohort building: the College of the Environment, the College of Film and the Moving Image, the College of East Asian Studies and the College of Integrative Sciences.


Barbara L. Fredrickson

Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Author of Positivity and Love 2.0 On Positivity

Barbara Fredrickson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research reveals how positive emotions, fleeting as they are, can tip the scales toward a life of flourishing.

Winner of several awards for her research and teaching – including the American Psychological Association’s inaugural Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology’s Career Trajectory Award – Barb created her broaden-and-build theory to describe how positive emotions evolved for our human ancestors and how, today, they vitally shape people’s health and well-being.

Barb’s scientific contributions have influenced scholars and practitioners worldwide, in disciplines ranging from education to business and beyond. Her research has been featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, CNN, PBS, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Oprah Magazine, and elsewhere. In May 2010, she was invited to brief His Holiness the Dalai Lama on her research.

Barb lives with her husband and two sons in Carrboro, North Carolina, where she continually seeks out new ways to raise her positivity ratio.

For more on her research, visit the PEP Lab website at UNC-Chapel Hill.


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