photo by Kyoko Takenaka
I grew up between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountain ranges in the breathtaking San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado. At 17, my passion for cultural understanding led me to leave my town of 800 for the United World College of the Adriatic, an international high school in Duino, Italy. I studied with students from more than 70 countries, and earned my International Baccalaureate diploma.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, I was preoccupied with the power of media. Having grown up without a TV, I had been impressed throughout my life at the ability of audio-visual material to shape people’s understanding of one another. I was particularly intent on understanding how U.S. media shapes Americans’ perceptions of “others,” as well as the impact of American media on people in other parts of the world. I chose to study Art Semiotics in the Modern Culture and Media department, a combination of theoretical media studies courses as well as practical production classes.
I spent my third year of studies at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, primarily at the Alle School of Fine Arts & Design. At that time I could not have predicted the profound effect this period of my life would have on my future. Upon my return to Brown, I wrote, directed, shot, and edited a feature-length documentary entitled “At Home in the Valley” as my honors thesis, an investigation into the aspirations and trajectories of youth from my hometown. This project was inspired in part by the lack of images of rural America in global media.
The film inspired me to return to the SLV, and I taught high school there for four years. Deciding to further my dream of filmmaking, I pursued my MA in Film and Video at American University, directing my thesis film “The Strong Force” about a rancher from Southern Colorado who despite the outbreak of war, refuses to leave his cows. The film played on the film festival circuit in 2019, and the “The Making Of: The Strong Force” is available online.
As a Fulbright student in Ethiopia in 2012-2013, I taught a digital video course with Art Education students at Alle School of Fine Arts & Design and workshops with youth. I collaborated with Whiz Kids Workshop and UNDP to turn my students’ one-minute films into Season 3 of the Involve Me TV show, which aired on Ethiopian Television in spring 2013. Additionally, in collaboration with my students at Alle School of Arts and Design, we interviewed around 20 influential Ethiopian artists and created a promotional video for this important school.
I began my PhD in Communication at American University in the fall of 2013, graduating in 2017. My research interests revolve around language & culture, media, and digital technologies in the global public sphere. My dissertation entitled “Digitizing Ethiopic: Coding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction” investigates the relationship between digitally-disadvantaged languages and patterns of mass extinction of language diversity. My dissertation approaches global concerns through a case study focused on the Ethiopian and Eritrean languages that utilize the Ethiopic script. It addresses the extent to which the script and its languages are supported in the digital sphere, including tracing the history of its inclusion in Unicode. It concludes with policy, governance, and advocacy recommendations to better support digitally-disadvantaged languages, in turn supporting their long-term survival.
I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, and split my time between New York City and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.