2019-2021 Truck Fellows
Dan KerrHumanities Truck Director | Associate Professor of History
Mary Ellen CurtinDirector of American Studies
Ludy GrandasSenior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures
Laura Waters HinsonAssistant Professor of Film | Director, Community Voice Project
Benjamin StokesAssistant Professor, School of Communication
David RamosProfessorial Lecturer in Graphic Design at the Department of Art
Melissa HawkinsSr. Professorial Lecturer and Director of the Public Health Scholars Program
Naoko WowsugiProfessorial Lecturer in Studio Art at the Department of Art
When he dreamed of being a truck driver as a child, Kerr never envisioned himself driving the Humanities Truck. But who knew how much fun that could be? Working alongside other visionaries at American University, Kerr, an associate professor of history at AU, spearheaded and now directs the Humanities Truck Project. He is an active community and oral historian committed to the democratization of knowledge production. Since his earliest work with the Cleveland Homeless History Project, he has sought out ways to bring the oral histories he has collected back to the communities they originated from. Through community workshops, participants in his projects have collectively reflected upon and interpreted the gathered stories. He is currently working on a project to document the past, present, and future of the Federal City Shelter in Washington, DC.
Mary Ellen Curtin
Mary Ellen Curtin has a Ph.d from Duke University and is a historian of modern African American and women’s social and political history. Her first book Black Prisoners and Their World documented the experiences of black convict laborers in the South after emancipation. Her next book on the life of Barbara Jordan, the first first black woman from the South elected to Congress, will be published with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her review article on recent books in prison history will appear in the upcoming edition of the journal Labor and she also has an article in a new anthology entitled The Problem of Punishment. She worked as a consultant, and was interviewed for, the upcoming (Spring 2012) PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name, a history of African Americans and forced labor in the South.
Ludy Grandas is a senior professorial lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Her teaching focuses primarily on nation and state formation in Latin America, Studies of Culture in Latin America, the Studies of Culture in Hispanic populations in the US, as well as Spanish Language. Her research interests include labor, immigrant labor, cultural studies as practiced in Latin America. For the last few years she has been collaborating with Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC, a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower day laborers, low income workers as well as immigrant workers in DC. She has led two Community Based Learning Courses which connect AU students to these specific populations.
Laura Waters Hinson
Laura Waters Hinson is an award-winning filmmaker and Assistant Professor in the Film and Media Arts Division of the School of Communication. Laura serves as the division’s social impact coordinator and director of the Community Voice Project. Her first feature documentary, As We Forgive, about Rwanda’s reconciliation movement, won the 2008 student Academy Award for best documentary, the Cinema for Peace Award in Berlin, and was broadcast nationally on public television. Since 2009, Laura’s films have been screened at the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art and at dozens of international film festivals such as the Santa Barbara International Film Fest, Austin Film Fest, Seattle Human Rights Film Fest, Manchester International Film Fest, among many others. Her latest documentary, Mama Rwanda, is about the new generation of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda transforming their nation after genocide and was supported by the National Geographic All Roads Film Project. She partnered with the Akilah Institute for Women, using the film to promote women’s education in East Africa and beyond. Laura is passionate about stories of hope coming out of seemingly hopeless places, and her work is dedicated to giving voice to those not often heard. Most recently, Laura directed her first narrative short called Moving Violation, which starred Milana Vayntrub and won Best Narrative Short at the DC Independent Film Festival. During the Spring of 2019, Laura served as the director’s shadow on the set of Showtime’s Homeland. Prior to this, she spent SY 2019/2019 as a Filmmaker-in-Residence within SOC where she re-launched the Community Voice Project (CVP), which partners American University student filmmakers with DC-based non-profits to produce a short film series capturing voices of marginalized community residents.
Benjamin Stokes is a civic media scholar and designer at American University with the Game Lab and in the School of Communication (SOC). His designs for cities have introduced neighbors through play, and retold local history with rebuilt payphones. Previously, Benjamin co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for advancing social change with games. Benjamin’s publications include research on participatory design, neighborhood storytelling, and urban mapping by bicycle.
David Ramos is a designer, developer, and design educator based in Washington, D.C. He teaches in the graphic design program at American University and co-organizes Knowledge Commons DC. His research and creative practice looks at using products of design—maps, interactive systems, images, and in-person events—to help us imagine landscapes past, present, and future. David holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Melissa Hawkins is a 15 year resident of DC and an epidemiologist with an interest in translating data to improve community health. Her current research focuses on community-based interventions to reduce chronic conditions, with particular interest in the integration of community health workers (CHWs) to bridge the gap between communities and access to health care services. Recent work has examined the role of CHWs in community-based teams and the effectiveness of CHWs as change agents in improving health equity. She serves as the research director for Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0 intervention study, a 5-year USDA-funded project, to improve nutrition literacy and prevent obesity among elementary school children in Wards 7 and 8 in DC.
Naoko Wowsugi is a community-engaged artist of Korean-Japanese descent. Using combined practices of visual art, local research, and community participation, Wowsugi’s projects highlight and fortify everyday communal and interpersonal identities.
2020-2021 Graduate Fellows
Alexis ZilenMA Student, Public History
Laura SislenMA Student, Public Anthropology
Kai WaltherMA Student, Public History
Alexis is a graduate student in the MA Public History program at American University. She received her BA in History and Anthropology with a concentration in Public History from Gettysburg College. Her academic interests include museum studies, cultural history, and gender history. Alexis is passionate about pursuing social justice initiatives through the humanities. Her research will document and interpret the stories of people experiencing homelessness throughout Washington.
Laura is pursuing their MA in Public Anthropology. Their undergraduate research examined the experiences and history of people who use drugs in America, including an ethnographic approach to understanding the roles of social narratives and embodiment of recovery from drug addiction in sober living homes. Their research will examine how power dynamics, policy, and ideology affect drug use, treatment, and recovery narratives, thus affecting access to care and the embodiment of “recovery”, health, and well-being. In 2019, Laura was also involved in the organization and programming of a large annual community health conference; their responsibilities included speaker selection and the development of novel workshop formats and topics.
Kai Walther is an MA student in Public History. Their research interests include memory and identity in the former Eastern bloc states, history as a tool of social activism, and formations of race and gender through time and space. As an undergraduate they contributed research for and helped plan the Humanities Truck’s 2019 Pride event and conducted oral histories with former DC AIDS activists for a faculty fellow. They look forward to continuing to build relationships with and learning from community partners in the DMV.