I count myself extremely fortunate that, as an undergraduate at Brown University, I discovered the university ran a study abroad program at Addis Ababa University.
I spent my junior year at AAU taking classes in Amharic, African philosophy, Politics of the Horn of Africa, and a slew of art courses at the university’s art school, Alle School of Fine Arts and Design. I was in awe of the talented artists and professors there, and counted myself lucky to learn among them, with my courses counting towards my Art Semiotics degree back at Brown. During my time there, I conducted an oral history project on the legacy of the Italian Occupation (having studied for two years in Italy and never once learned of it there), and held a solo exhibition of my work in the university’s gallery entitled “What You Can See Through My Eyes.” Noting the lack of any film-making coursework, I made a promise to myself to learn film and return to teach it at Alle SFAD in the future. This set me on a course to focus on film production during my senior year at Brown, and I chose to make an honors thesis film, “At Home in the Valley” about the hopes and trajectories of youth from my rural hometown. Filming this documentary inspired me to return to the San Luis Valley and teach high school for four years, before pursuing my MA degree in film at American University. In 2012 I was awarded a Fulbright to fulfill my dream to teach film at Alle SFAD, which you can read about here. I then returned to American University to pursue my PhD in Communication, focusing my dissertation on the digitization of the Ethiopic script to support computing in Amharic and other Ethiopian and Eritrean languages. I was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to pursue my dissertation fieldwork, a fellowship that supports U.S. scholarship in under-studied languages and contexts.
I continue to focus my research on the digital vitality of Ethiopian languages. I also contribute to the all-volunteer leadership team of 4-H Ethiopia, developing new hands-on educational opportunities for Ethiopian youth. I also support the contemporary art scene in Ethiopia, and work in particular to bring the brilliant artist Abel Tilahun‘s art to the international stage.