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Popular Culture Class Popular with Students

When senior Lauren Piampiano registered for the special topics SOC 295 Popular Culture class, she thought she would find the material interesting.

Lauren Piampiano

Piampiano discovered that while her initial expectations of the class, offered for the first time last fall and taught by Assistant Porfessor of Sociology Athena Elafros, proved to be true, she learned more than she anticipated.

“I took this class because I wanted to be informed on the functions and critical theories regarding popular culture,” said Piampiano, a sociology major from Webster. “It can be important in a variety of career settings, namely the social service field. This class analyzed and helped me better understanding popular culture, a prominent aspect of our society. It also examined some deep topics that are often thought-provoking and introspective.”

Sophomore Kayla Kuntz agrees.

Kayla Kuntz

“I enjoy talking about current events, and popular culture greatly affects my age group,” said Kuntz, an exploratory major from Manlius. “But I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the meanings of these events. What I have learned has been much more in depth and analytic than I expected. This is a good thing.”

And that is exactly what Elafros intended.

“While most of the students in the class are sociology majors and have a solid background in sociological analyses,” she said. “I wanted to teach a class on popular culture to provide students with the analysis and problem-solving skills needed to be critical media consumers. Popular culture acts as a lens that reflects the changing norms and values in society and it also can be used as a tool to shape and promote social change in society.”

Samantha Yavorek

According to senior Samantha Yavorek, a psychology and sociology major from Canandaigua, the class focused on “learning about different forms of popular culture and how it is represented in the media, as well as how it shapes our society and the individuals in it. But we also learned about the endless genres of popular culture and how they are relative to society.”

Elafros covered a wide variety of popular culture topics in the class, including Miley Cyrus’ music video for Wrecking Ball; twerking; Riot Grrrl; memes; Bruce Lee films; and World Wrestling Entertainment.

“We also discussed Star Trek; The Walking Dead; bronnies; Fedoras; Pogs; sexism and advertising; women’s magazines; Public Enemy; the Eurythmics; trucker hats; skinny jeans; Ugg boots; Mardi Gras beads; Star Wars; Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines music video; and football, among many other examples.”

Karina Cochran

Senior Karina Cochran, a sociology major from Cortland, said “popular culture is one of those influences that affects everyone’s life, while going largely unnoticed. I think it is important to learn about factors that contribute to our culture and our sense of self. And, I have absolutely benefited from learning how to conceptualize and better understand popular culture.”

Because of this class, sophomore Thomas Fowler now thinks more about what he sees and reads and questions it.

“I no longer see something in the media and turn a blind eye and say ‘oh whatever’ or ‘no big deal,’” said the sociology and political science and history major from Batavia. “I believe it makes me a better person to question popular culture and try to better understand what I am being shown in the media.”

Thomas Fowler

And Fowler isn’t the only one in the class who now questions what he sees.

“Many of the students have mentioned that this class opened their eyes to the ways in which the mass media manipulate our desires and emotions,” said Elafros. “For example, many of the women in the class have told me they can’t look at women’s magazines without seeing them from a critical perspective. Once you understand the sociological perspective, it fundamentally changes how you view the world around you.”

And for Yavorek and Kuntz, the perceptions of popular culture they had before taking this class have changed.

Yavoerk is now “analytical of every ad I come across,” while Kuntz believes she has “a better understanding of current events and why they have the impact they do.” But Cochran’s perceptions “have not changed drastically, as I have always held somewhat of a feminist and critical outlook toward it.”

After taking this class, Elafros hopes “that students can become critical consumers of popular culture and the media. Given that we are immersed in popular culture on a daily basis, I want students to be actively engaging and critiquing it instead of passively consuming it. This was a special topics course and it is not currently being offered. If there is enough student interest, I would love to be able to teach the course again.”

According to Yavorek, this class was fun to complete work for because it consistently maintained her interest.

“It is one of the classes that I found most directly applied to occurrences in my everyday life for my generation at this time,” she said. “Sociology has done a great job of teaching me how to look at things through a critical lens, and understand as well as analyze how concepts such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and even personality are shaped through social interaction and socialization.”

Should Elafros have the opportunity to teach the class again, she is not sure what material she would cover, because “whatever is current and happening within society will be the subject matter of the course. For example, if I was currently teaching the course, I would definitely focus on the Olympics. So it all depends on when I next get to teach the course and what new trends are happening.”

Hip Hop In a Whole New Light

On the surface, hip hop music isn’t something that would warrant serious scholarly investigation.

But when you dig deeper, as Athena Elafros did, it most assuredly does.

hip hop, sociology, illustration, flow, “The sociological study of hip hop culture teaches a great deal about culture and society in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world,” said Elafros, assistant professor of sociology at Keuka College

Her doctoral dissertation, Global Music, Local Culture: Popular Music Making in Canada and Greece, was completed at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  It featured 62 interviews, as well as song lyrics, in order to analyze how global cultural forms, such as rap music, are rearticulated within local contexts in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and Athens, Greece.

“Hip hop music began as a predominantly African-American, Puerto Rican and Latino youth culture in the South Bronx in the mid 1970s,” said Elafros, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. “The loss of good-paying factory jobs within the South Bronx contributed to the poor social and economic conditions within which hip hop culture developed.”

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Experiential Learners: Keuka’s Dynamic Dozen

Editor’s Note: The 2013 Experiential Learner of the Year award nominees will be recognized at a May 2 luncheon. The freshman and upperclass winners will be announced at Honors Convocation. May 4. Here is a capsule look at the nominees:

Josh Beaver

 Josh Beaver, a senior political science/history major from Terre Haute, Ind., nominated by Chris Leahy, associated professor of history:

Beaver said he has had numerous chances to explore potential career paths though Field Period, and he knows firsthand that it works.

“I came to Keuka knowing I wanted to be a doctor, but through coursework and Field Period, I figured out that was not the path for me right now,” said Beaver. “At the end of my junior year, I changed my major to political science/history, a passion second to science. What a difference. My grades are better, I feel less stressed, and have a smile on my face.”

Beaver completed his January Field Period at Vigo County Historical Society Museum in Terre Haute and it helped him realize he made the right choice switching his major.

“I was an assistant curator during my time at the museum” said Beaver. “I conducted research to help prepare for a new exhibit on the evolution of the transportation system in Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley in Indiana.”

He had the opportunity to work as an archivist, working to find photos, newspaper clippings, old documents, and selected items to go into exhibit.

“I also conducted grant research, and realized this Field Period solidified what I want to do with my career,” said Beaver. “In addition, I was able to design the cabinet layout and write the text to accompany the exhibit’s artifacts.”

Beaver participates in Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates, Spiritual Life Advisory Board (SLAB), the Multicultural Advisory Group, and spent three semesters as a member of Student Senate.

Lydia Watkins

Lydia Watkins, a freshman biomedical major from Springville, Pa., nominated by Andy Robak, assistant professor of chemistry:

Lydia Watkins has known since she was 10 that she wanted to be a large animal veterinarian. But for her first Field Period, she shadowed the vets at Southtown Veterinary Hospital in Montrose, Pa., a small animal clinic.

Watkins was able to watch several surgeries, including spays, neuters, ACL repair, bone surgery, and a splenectormy.

“I learned a lot of information about the veterinary field, and I cannot wait to have the V.M.D. in front of my name,” said Watkins. “The practice moved to a larger space and I went home for spring break to help them officially open the doors. While I was there, I was hired as a veterinary assistant.

“By watching the vets, I expanded my knowledge and fine tuned my interests,” she said. “And while I loved my Field Period, and now my job, at Southtown, I still want to work with cows.”

Logan Ackerley

Logan Ackerley, a junior political science major from Liberty, nominated by Sander Diamond, professor of history:

Like many students at Keuka, one of the reasons Logan Ackerley enrolled at the College was Field Period.

“My first two Field Periods were disappointing, and I began to dread having to look for a place for my third one,” said Ackerley. “But then I took Europe in the World with Dr. Diamond, which reminded me why I chose my major. It made learning interesting again, and I once more began to see Field Period as the opportunity it was meant to be.”

So Ackerley thought of possible Field Period sites and found the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City.

“I assisted a museum educator with activities for special needs high school students,” he said. “I was nervous because I had never worked with special needs students, or any students older than elementary school. But this became one of my most significant tasks, especially because I was asked to take over that program while I was there.”

This experience gave Ackerley “great knowledge about how a museum department works. My Field Period allowed me to develop not only professionally, but personally as well. It made me think critically, solve problems creatively, and gave me a level of motivation I’ve never had before. It also confirmed my career goal to become a museum administrator.”

Ackerley is involved with the Arion Players Drama Club, serves as treasurer of the Political Science and History Club and C.H.A.O.S. Club, and performed a monologue from The Diary of Anne Frank during Keuka College’s Fine Arts Night.

Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, a junior biology major from New Berlin, nominated by Andy Robak, assistant professor of chemistry:

According to Alex Morgan, Keuka College takes the ideas of experiential learning and amplifies its importance with Field Period.

“As a biology major with a concentration in biomedical studies, I plan to become a doctor,” said Morgan. “I have taken the opportunity of Field Period as a path to explore different areas of the medical profession so I can narrow down which I’d like to pursue.”

Morgan spent his Field Period at the Bassett Clinic, a family medicine clinic in Sherburne with Dr. David Haswell, who Morgan said would often quiz him on information pertaining to a patient.

“I was able to see ordinary medical cases, as well as cases of walking pneumonia, Necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease, infantile projectile vomiting, flu, prostate and testicular exams, suture removals, and pap smears,” said Morgan. “I was also able to listen to a patient’s carotid artery through a stethoscope.”

Morgan serves as president of Rotaract, and is a member of the President’s Leadership Circle, Keukonian, and Chemistry Club.

Crystal Billings

Crystal Billings, a sophomore social work major from Groton, nominated by a former Follett (College bookstore) employee:

Crystal Billings worked at the Red Cross Homeless Services Program in Ithaca for her January Field Period, and said the fast-paced, multi-faceted environment gave her the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of clients.

“Going into the Field Period, I was not quite sure what to expect,” admitted Billings, who worked at the shelter and Friendship Center, a place where people could drop in during the day. “I thought I would serve food and answer the phone, and learn how a homeless shelter operates and what resources it provides.”

However, the experience was “so much more than that,” she said.

“I did different things each week, including covering for my supervisor in the office, helping with the children’s Christmas party, and working with parolees, including a man who had murdered three people,” she said. “I also provided direct client services, interacted with shelter residents and the chronically homeless, and dealt one-on-one with several clients who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.”

Because Billings learned she was able to work with those on parole, she now wants to try a Field Period working with adolescent parolees at a school near her hometown.

During her Field Period, Billings saw the great need at the Red Cross, and wondered what she could do to help. An active Zumba participant on campus and at home, she thought a Zumba-thon would be the perfect idea.

“I organized and promoted the Zumba-thon, and I hoped to make $50, but realized $115,” she said. “I was proud of myself and excited to give back.”

Billings said working at the Red Cross Homeless Services Program helped her help others, “which is what I truly want to do with my life. This was an amazing experience and I wish I could have stayed longer.”

An active participant in the Association of Future Social Workers (AFSW), Billings has also been a member of the Arion Players Drama Club.

Courtney Ray

Courtney Ray, a junior social work major from Cato, nominated by Stephanie Craig, associate professor and chair ofsocial work:

Ray has always known she wanted to help people, and why she chose social work. But she was unsure which area of the field to pursue until her January Field Period, when she worked at LCSW Counseling Solutions under Stephanie Gregory, a counselor.

“I believed I would gain more knowledge about counseling, and I did, but the entire Field Period went above my expectations,” said Ray. “Stephanie asked for my opinion and feedback on several functional behavioral assessments, a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. I was also able to sit in on evaluations, counseling and therapy sessions, as well as gain intervention knowledge.”

While Ray was an observer during the counseling sessions, she and Gregory would process what went on after they ended.

“This allowed me to connect and understand what the client may be going through,” said Ray. “It’s what I liked most about my Field Period because it felt like this is where I belonged.”

The process of therapy has always interested Ray, and she said being able to “connect with a complete stranger by helping them through whatever is going on in their life is meaningful. After sitting through these sessions, I can see myself going into the marriage and family side of counseling.”

Ray is active in Peace Club, Up ’til Dawn, Association of Future Social Workers (AFSW), Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and serves as a peer advocate.

Shane Devlin

Shane Devlin, a sophomore childhood studies education major from Manchester, nominated by Pat Pulver, professor and chair of education:

Shane Devlin spent his January Field Period in a self-contained special education classroom of nine students in grades 3-5 at Kelley Intermediate School in Newark. After working with teacher Kristen Nardozzi, he realized one of his Field Period goals: what it’s like to work with students with special needs.

“They don’t always get the right answer the first time, so it takes more time and a better explanation to get those key ideas,” he said. “I found I liked working with smaller groups, as I was able to gain a better understanding of the disabilities each student had. The spectrum ran from ADHD to autism, to speech and hearing impairments.”

He was able to work with students on math assignments, and one particular student with ADHD.

“I worked one-on-one with him and while I found the lessons challenging because he couldn’t sit still for long, I remembered it was not his fault and I learned to be more patient,” said Devlin.

A resident assistant, Devlin also serves as a Student Senate representative, and is a member of the cross country team.

Ashley Larimore

Ashley Larimore, a senior organizational communication major from Horseheads, nominated by Anita Chirco, professor of communication studies:

One of the reasons Ashley Larimore chose Keuka was because of the Field Period experience.

“I trusted that completing an internship five months into my freshman year would give me the opportunity to see if organizational communication was indeed right for me,” said Larimore. “Little did I know at the time that my first Field Period would do much more than reveal I had chosen the right major. It led me to a job offer in the admissions office, three months before graduation.”

Four years later, Larimore’s other three Field Periods have equally had a major impact on her. For her final Field Period, she split the required 140-hours into two 70-hour Field Periods, one in the College’s marketing department and one with Java-Gourmet, a local small business that sells coffee, spice rubs, marinades, and chocolates.

“As a student ambassador in admissions, I am familiar with the arsenal pieces the College sends to interested students,” said Larimore. “But they are outdated and need to be revamped. While in Keuka’s marketing department, it became my job to help create these pieces, both in print and digitally. I learned the importance of editing and developed my design skills as I revamped some marketing pieces. This Field Period experience enabled me to refine my writing skills, and develop my familiarity with InDesign.”

“Working at Java-Gourmet allowed me to refine my social marketing and media skills, as well as learn webpage management and networking skills,” said Larimore. “I also was able to take some of the products home to use in recipes and document my success on social media, as well as update the company website.”

Larimore is involved in Sigma Delta Tau, the international English honor society; Sigma Lambda Sigma, the service, leadership, and scholastic honor society; is president of Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication honor society; and is a member of the President’s Leadership Circle, Students Helping Students, and Center for Spiritual Life. She is also a member of the Student Judicial Panel and mentor.

Erica Ruscio

Erica Ruscio, a senior English major from Middlesex, nominated by Allison Schultz, international student adviser in the Center for Global Education:

During the fall semester, Erica Ruscio sailed around the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Semester at Sea program on board the MV Explorer, an 836-passenger floating classroom.

Ruscio said the philosophy of the Semester at Sea program and Keuka College are one in the same—it all comes down to experiential learning.

“I went to 12 countries, took classes, attended seminars, navigated through unfamiliar cities and new experiences, and discovered new understandings of what it means to be human. It was the coolest thing I have ever done,” said Ruscio.

Through co-curricular involvement, community service, and exploring the world, Rusico said she has taken learning far beyond the traditional four-walled classroom.

“As an English major, I love books, but they only tell half the story,” she said. “The concrete experiences can’t be replicated, and can’t be doubled in a book.”

For example, Ruscio said she didn’t just read in a book what South Africa was like, “I explored it myself and made friends there. I didn’t just see a picture of the native people of the Amazon; I spent the night in the jungle with them. I didn’t just read a statistic about poverty in Latin America; I played with the kids in the Argentine slums.”

Ruscio said that she now has more faith in the opportunity to try, take chances, make mistakes, and try again.

“Experiential learning, which embraces the whole person, is what I received from Keuka College and the Semester at Sea program,” she said. “I haven’t just ‘done’ this experience, I’ve become it.”

An active participant in the Arion Players Drama Club and the Women’s Center Advocacy Club, Ruscio also serves as a TeamWorks! facilitator, editor of Red Jacket, and is a writing tutor. She also lends her time and talents to the Literacy Volunteers of Ontario and Yates Counties.

Amanda Markessinis

Amanda Markessinis, a freshman organizational communication major from Albany, nominated by Anita Chirco, professor of communication studies:

Amanda Markessinis spent her January Field Period at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, and said the hands-on learning experience she acquired from this Field Period went beyond what she expected.

“By being immersed in the journalism industry, I learned how it works, the different jobs at the paper, and whether or not I believed I fit in this job,” said Markessinis. “I worked with Jennifer Gish, a features editor and sports writer, who wanted me to experience the journalism career to the fullest. So every day she would present me with new tasks.”

Gish had Markessinis craft interview questions, write blog posts, work with other reporters on stories, and set up interviews for her own stories.

“I wrote a ‘dos and don’ts’ for exercise in the health section of the paper during my first week,” said Markessinis. “Working and being treated like a professional made me want to do my best, and gave me insight into what I can expect if I were to pursue a career in journalism.”

She said her experience at the newspaper taught her more than just the basics of journalism—it shaped her future.

“Now, not only am I a better writer, I am also more familiar with my strengths and weaknesses,” said Markessinis. “I have not only added to my resume, I have reevaluated my goals and the directions of my career path. This Field Period taught me that while I like aspects of journalism, I don’t want to go into the field.”

Markessinis participates in Enactus, For the Kids, and was a leader at the Center for Spiritual Life’s winter retreat.

Sierra Lynch

Sierra Lynch, a junior psychology major from Watervliet, nominated by Athena Elafros, assistant professor of sociology:

Lynch completed her January Field Period at Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Service Office Center for Intensive Treatment (CIT) in Tupper Lake.

Lynch’s activities included observing people with anger management issues, attending training sessions, writing lesson plans for the sessions, and witnessing the behavior of those on the CIT unit, including sexual assault perpetrators, who may also have been victims.

“This experience taught me about psychiatric examination, the field I wish to pursue, by forcing me to see another perspective,” she said. “I want to work with inmates who have mental health problems, and this Field Period gave me that opportunity.”

She said she came to realize her potential through her experience, which she has used in and out of the classroom.

“I learned about different perspectives and ways to handle situations I came across, and will come across. And, I learned to clearly communicate my ideas,” said Lynch.

But she admits she had a hard time hearing the personal stories of the consumers, which are what those at CIT are called.

“During my last week there, the consumers started to open up and tell me about themselves,” said Lynch. “Some of the stories ripped me apart because of the terrible things they had been through. Even still, this Field Period confirmed I do want to pursue a career in psychiatric examination.”

An Academic Success at Keuka (ASK) notetaker, Lynch also works in the ASK Center, is a member of the Arion Players Drama Club, Psychology Club, and Sociology, Criminology, and Criminal Justice Club.

Thanh Thi Hoang Do

Thanh Thi Hoang Do, a senior management major from Hanoi, Vietnam, nominated by Patricia Speers, ESL academic skills counselor in the Center for Global Education:

The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., served as a classroom for the month of January for Thanh, who served as an intern in the human resources department for the Court.

“Human resource management will require me to deal with many different types of people in my career,” said Thanh, “and luckily, the U.S. is an excellent place for me to get that experience because of its diverse population.”

While she didn’t have much to do with the court cases, Thanh completed research and created a training session with her supervisor’s guidance. In addition, she co-facilitated the session with another intern. She also created and updated personnel files, screened resumes, and scheduled interviews.

“I believe Keuka College has prepared me with the knowledge to help discover the outside world, and I am impressed by the Field Period program,” said Thanh. “It helps me combine my class lesson with the work environment. My last Field Period made me more mature, professional, and experienced. Applying the knowledge that I received at Keuka in the business setting was a great opportunity for me.”

Thanh has a work study position in the Center for Global education, was in the fashion show, serves as treasurer of the International Club, participated in Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates, and is a transfer student mentor.

Meet New Faculty: Athena Elafros

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members who have joined the Keuka community.

According to Athena Elafros, sociology is most relevant when it engages students’ personal and professional interests in the society around them, and when it develops their analytical tools for criticism.

The assistant professor of sociology says “the opportunity to facilitate students’ engagements with sociology—as they break down sociological concepts and theories and apply them to situations in their daily lives—is one of the most rewarding and intellectually stimulating aspects of academia.”

In fact, teaching is one of the things that excites the Toronto native most as a sociologist. Prior to arriving at Keuka College, Elafros taught courses at McMaster University (Canada) and Alfred University. At Keuka, she teaches Introduction to Sociology and Ethnic Diversity.

“As a first-generation college student born to immigrant parents, I welcome the opportunity to work with, and educate, other first-generation college students,” said Elafros, who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology from the University of Toronto, master’s degree in sociology from Queen’s University (Canada), and doctoral degree in sociology from McMaster University. “They are a delight to teach and possess a wealth of first-hand knowledge about the social world. The challenge is to teach them how to draw on this knowledge in a way that promotes critical thinking in the classroom.”

One way she meets that challenge is by employing a variety of popular cultural examples in the classroom, including YouTube and movie clips, memes, music videos, and documentaries.

For Elafros, the biggest draw to Keuka is its students. But she also “likes the College’s small classroom sizes, the impressive employment rate, the excellent student to faculty ratio, and the College’s commitment to accessibility.”

Elafros is also “deeply impressed” with the experiential education opportunities offered to students.

“I believe that the emphasis on experiential education makes Keuka College unique and I am excited to be part of a college that encourages lifelong learning in and out of the classroom,” said Elafros.

For example, Elafros has taken advantage of the TeamWorks! program.

“I have been in contact with [Assistant Manager of TeamWorks!] Molly McGuigan ’11 and have invited her to come to my classes,” she said. “I look forward to further developing and refining a TeamWorks! program for all of my sociology courses, so that students can develop skills in team building, as well as interpersonal and leadership skills that will benefit them regardless of their career path.”

“I am also drawn to Keuka College because of the quality of life in the region,” said Elafros. “The Finger Lakes region is one of the most beautiful areas in New York state and I welcome the opportunity to be able to live and work here. Additionally, my husband is a historian at Alfred University, so it is wonderful to be able to settle down in the region.”

 One thing Elafros wants her students to remember from her classes is how to empathize with others.

“We all have different backgrounds and experiences that shape our personal world views,” said Elafros. “What I teach my students is how to try and connect with others whose perspectives might be quite different from their own. This allows them to effectively communicate with others by understanding their motivations.”

Elafros says this does not mean that you have to agree with those motivations, “but you must be able to see their perspectives so that you can effectively work with them. By empathizing with others, understanding their perspectives, and communicating with them, you will be able to thrive and succeed in a variety of diverse work environments.”

She has published on a variety of subjects, including hip hop culture, popular music magazines, and gay-straight alliances in such publications as Popular Music and SocietyCanadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie, and Cultural Sociology.

Her research has also been published in Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music and Culture, and Race/Gender/Class/Media 3.0: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers.