Arts & Sciences Grad Student Spotlight


Maria Mackas

Program:  PhD in Literary Studies, Department of English

Previous Education: BA in Journalism, University of Georgia (1977) and MA in Literary Studies, Georgia State University(2017)

Research/Professional Interest:  The immigrant experience in literature



What inspired you to attend Georgia State?

For many years, I have wanted to be a teacher. I started working with young people at my church in the late 1990s, and realized it was my passion. I helped lead a trip to El Salvador to build a school, and to the Yakima Indian Nation in Washington State to rehab homes. Working side by side with young people changed me profoundly. My grandmother was a teacher who touched many lives – including mine – and I want to follow in her footsteps. This, coupled with my life-long love of literature, led to my decision to earn a Master’s, and now a PhD. I knew Georgia State catered to non-traditional students, and that it was the place for me because I work full-time, and I’m older. GSU has been the perfect choice – I cannot imagine a more supportive, encouraging environment.

How has studying abroad impacted your personal, professional, and/or academic goals?

Thanks to study abroad (I’ll be going on my fourth trip during spring break in March 2019), I’ve been able to earn credits in flexible, accommodating ways. But it’s much more than that: I’ve formed connections with people who love the same things I love: reading, writing, and learning. You really get to know people when you’re with them 24/7. Honestly, I thought I would feel weird because I’m old. But I’ve not just been accepted, I’ve been embraced. The brilliant young people I’ve gotten to know are not just my classmates, they’re my friends. We share dinners, lunches – we text and talk. They have made me truly believe age doesn’t matter. Also, learning from our guides in other countries has helped me learn so much about our country; for example, last year, in Scotland, the overwhelming national pride and solidarity made me painfully aware of the destructive divisiveness in today’s America. Also, I’ve become fascinated and drawn to immigrant populations, and am researching the immigrant experience in literature as I work toward my dissertation.

What are some of the benefits of going to school after gaining experience in the work force?

So many! I am not afraid to ask stupid questions in class. As an undergraduate, I didn’t want to sound dumb, but now I don’t care. My main objective is to learn, and I’m not concerned about what my classmates or my professors think of me. Also, having run my corporate communications business for more than 30 years, I’m accustomed to managing my time, juggling many tasks, meeting deadlines, and burning the midnight oil. Mainly though, I appreciate school so much more now. I’m not just trying to get by – I’m savoring every class.

What are some of the challenges?

As the main breadwinner in our family, going to school while continuing to run my business has been tough. I pretty much have had to work seven days a week, with lots of late nights and early mornings, since I started grad school in Fall 2014. My career has been successful by any measure, but I want more: I want to give back, through teaching. That’s what keeps me going.

Can you speak a little about your MA thesis and the paper that evolved into your thesis?

I have always loved Willa Cather’s work and was excited to re-read My Ántonia in Dr. Audrey Goodman’s Fall 2015 Modern American Fiction class. A paper I wrote in that class – about the tenebraic qualities of Cather’s writing, and art’s profound influence on her work – evolved into my thesis. I was awarded the 2016 Louis Owens Award by the Western Literature Association for that paper.

LaValla Joyce Wilson

Program:  Religious Studies with a Concentration in Non-profit Management

Previous Education:PhD in Counseling Education and a Masters of Divinity

Professional Interest:  Recruitment, retention, and leadership development and training. My ministry interest is to establish a non-profit that serves homeless and at-risk youth.




What inspired you to design a resource for homeless and at-risk youth?

I was inspired by need and service. While working in higher education in residential life, I observed more and more residents arriving to college homeless or becoming homeless because they could not afford to remain in campus housing or in school. After retiring, my initial thought was to start a nonprofit to create a living facility to offer year-round housing for homeless students. My focus shifted as I began to do research on homelessness in Georgia. My research revealed that Georgia (2017) had a growing homeless problem, that 6.9% of homeless students were unaccompanied (youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian), and that many of these youth were living in rural areas. I reasoned that a mobile digital space with the capacity to store confidential documents and provide access to resources that would allow homeless and at-risk youth to stay on track to graduate high school, attend college, and pursue vocational training could change the trajectory of their life.

What is Dream Machine?

The Dream Machine is a mobile-first website that connects homeless and at-risk youth to educational, financial, and community resources that support high school graduation, college attendance, and vocational training to increases their opportunity for long-term economic stability to make their dreams a reality.

Have there been any changes or developments to your plan since 2017?

Yes, there has been one major change from the initial concept of the site. I wanted one of the key features of the site to be cloud storage for confidential documents needed for applying and remaining in high school, college, or a vocational program. My research revealed that there were legal issues with providing this feature and it also revealed that the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides homeless liaisons throughout the state within all public high schools that can address this need. The project shifted to centralizing resources and support services that encouraged high school graduation, college attendance, and vocational training.

How is the mobile-first website development going?

The project has moved into a second phase. Technical development is close to being complete and I am currently reviewing and editing the written content of the site. We are close to going live to test the site.

How did the Student Innovation Fellowship Program assist you in your goals to make an online resource for homeless youth?

The Dream Machine is a project of the Student Innovation Fellowship Program (SIF). SIF accepted my proposal for the Dream Machine during the 2017-2018 academic year. A team of six fellows were assigned to the project (5 undergraduates & 1 graduate student) to bring the proposal into reality. At the end of spring 2018 an extension was given to continue the project into the 2018-19 academic year to complete the work on the site.

What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?

I was seeking a program that would allow me to combine my interest in religion with my desire to develop and manage a nonprofit. Georgia State University Department of Religious Studies offered a Master’s in Religious Studies with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. This program had the basics of what I was seeking, there were no other programs like it in the state.

What are the benefits to having an interdepartmental degree & concentration? What are the challenges?

The benefit for me was the opportunity to take the theory, methods, and practices of religious studies and translate them into the more practical discipline of nonprofit management. In real time I was able to observe the impact of religion on public policy and social programs that impacted the lives of homeless and at-risk youth, a population that I want to serve.

Are you working on any other projects?

Yes, I currently work two days a week with United Youth of America, a nonprofit that runs a paid apprenticeship program in the culinary arts for individuals 18+. The program is in its first year of a pilot program with the state. I work in management and program development. I am also completing federal articles of cooperation for my nonprofit Mending Broken Pieces, Inc.

What is your advice to students who want to make an impact in their community?

You don’t have to wait until you “get your degree;” once you identify what you want to do for your community, share it, be open, let others know what you desire to do, seek opportunities to begin where you are, and be flexible.

I would like to thank all of my professors in Religious Studies and Nonprofit Management and Social Enterprise for their instruction, challenges, and support. I would also like to give special thanks the members of the SIF team, Mr. Spencer Roberts, Dr. Molly Bassett, and my faculty advisor for the project Dr. Monique Moultrie. Their support and skills help a dream become reality!


Asmita Karanjit

Program:  Master’s Program in the Department of Gerontology

Previous Education:  B.S. in Nursing from Kathmandu University, Nepal (2014)

Professional Interest:  I want to work for community organizations, creating community programs for the benefit of older adults and educating them on their healthcare needs.



How did you become interested in your field of study?

During my student life and when I started working as a health professional, I got to work with patients of different age groups. Working in a critical area such as the Intensive Care Unit, I got the opportunity to provide direct care to elders suffering from various acute and chronic disease conditions. I realized that I greatly enjoyed working with older adults. I enjoy listening to their life experiences, hearing their history, encouraging them to express their fears, and providing emotional support and reassurance. I was curious why some people aged healthier and more successfully while others face chronic disability and illness. With the success of scientific and medical advancements, people are living longer lives. I think the study of older adults and aging has never been as important as it is now.

What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?

After I decided to pursue my Master’s in gerontology, I researched universities offering the degree. There are not many universities offering this course in my country, so I started researching universities in the U.S. and found Georgia State. I found the courses and requirements very interesting. There were also various opportunities for students to be involved in volunteering, student organizations, and organizations in the field of aging. I was very fortunate to get offered a Graduate Research Assistantship, which I thought would be a great opportunity for me to learn and gain new experience.

How has being an international student impacted your educational journey?

Being an international student is a tough journey, especially when English is not your first language. Coming from a whole different culture and society, I became overwhelmed and intimidated with new environment and new education system. But the Gerontology Institute at Georgia State is like a family. The professors, staff, and colleagues are very understanding, helpful and supportive, making my journey a lot easier. After completing my first semester here at Georgia State, I now feel more comfortable with the system.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned?

At first everything surprised me because I was in a new environment. A surprising thing I have noticed would be classroom differences. In my country, the education or teaching technique is mostly lecture based, which is less interactive. Here, all the classes are interactive and discussion based, which I think is better. We are provided with the syllabus and readings beforehand, which help us prepare for the discussion in class.

What is your advice to other international students considering Georgia State?

Moving to a different country for further studies is a huge change. Georgia State University provides a warm and friendly environment. There are lots of opportunities for students to be involved in organizations, volunteering, scholarship, and assistantships, which can help in your future career. Professors and staff are supportive and helpful, making the transition to new culture and environment easier. The International Student and Scholar Service Office and international student organizations can provide any advice you need.


Akshaya Parthasarathy

Program: Master’s Program in the Department of Gerontology

Previous Education:  M.A. in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India

Research Interests:  Caregiver experiences and challenges with respect to persons with dementia, the aftereffects of disasters on the mental well-being of the elderly, and elder abuse



How did you become interested in your field of study?

During my time at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, I interned at an organization called Dignity Foundation in Mumbai where I worked primarily in two fields pertaining to the elderly: dementia care and elder abuse. My work with the Dignity Foundation as well as my subsequent dissertation which was inspired from my field experiences made me think about further qualifying myself with skills required in the vast multidisciplinary field of gerontology. Though I have had inspiration from the professional field, I also have an inspiration in the form of my grandmother whom I am dearly attached to. I got to witness the dismal state of senior care homes in India, and the various challenges that the elderly could face in terms of inadequate policies for the elderly in India. The main driving factor was the lack of awareness regarding the importance of the elderly as a category of population in India and the wide practice of ageism in India.

What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?

I chose Georgia State University due to the amazing curriculum that they had designed for graduate students. Georgia State University is also one of the top 8 universities for Gerontology in the world, which factored as a major reason!

What class have you enjoyed most? Why? 

“Death, Dying and Loss” is a very refreshing subject (contrary to the grave vibes it might give out) as near-end-of-life communication in hospice care is a neglected field in India that needs more work and awareness.

What is your trick for getting through finals or a big assignment?

My trick for getting through finals or a big assignment would be music. Music is something that gives my brain an automatic trigger of never-ending thoughts while trying to come up with ideas and composing an array of words for big assignments. Music also acts as an active form of de-stressing that lets me sit at big assignments for a longer duration. My big trick for getting through big assignments or finals is also actively voicing out my stress to my fiancé, who is my biggest stressbuster and harbinger of smiles! Catharsis while actively talking about stress lets us handle tasks with renewed optimism and spirits.

What is your advice to other international students considering Georgia State?

Georgia State is an amazing campus with heartwarming faculties who are ever present to make one feel at home. Feeling at home is an important factor when a student leaves their home country to go to a different country to study. So, I would encourage all international students to apply to Georgia State, which has an accepting and friendly atmosphere for people coming from all races, ethnicities, religions, and approaches. And while being at it, I would also strongly encourage other international students interested in the field of gerontology to apply to the department at GSU, for a very warm and hospitable family awaits you!

Do you know a graduate student deserving of the spotlight?   Email Annie Latta and let us know!


Suzanne Litrel

Program: Doctoral Program in Department of History

Previous Education:  B.A. Economics, University of Michigan & M.A. Chinese Studies, University of Michigan


How did you become interested in your field of study?

I actually backed into history by accident. With the exception of APUSH (Advanced Placement United States History), I hated social studies in high school—at my school we had World Civilization I (9th grade) and II (10th grade). Basically, all we did was copy down what the teacher wrote on the board and memorize everything for the tests. We learned about “significant events” which basically focused on battles fought by European men. It was easy, because all I had to do was memorize the notes, but I didn’t take one history class as an undergraduate, and I only took one graduate history course (when I earned my M.A.).

Later, I made a career transition from business to teaching public high school, which I loved. At first, I hoped to become an English teacher, as I originally set out to be a literature major in college. But when I took my transcripts to the state board certification office, I was told the fastest route to teaching was through social studies because of my economics degree.

I was originally hired to teach economics, and I did for my fourteen years as a public high school teacher in New York—I taught on-level (with an inclusion class) and honors, with a heavy emphasis on microeconomics, which was a lot of fun. But as a public high school teacher, I also had to be ready to teach any course my chair gave me. That meant 9th and 10th grade global history, then within a few years, AP world history and eventually IB 20th century. I was terrified, especially with APWH’s low national pass rate. The teacher I replaced told me not to worry, most of the class would fail. That was unacceptable to me! So as with all my preps, I spent hours in the library looking for interesting material to capture my students’ imagination and puzzling over how best to engage them. I also had an incredible APWH Summer Institutes instructor, the late Michelle Forman. Because of her, and because of the challenge of teaching APWH, I had to really think about what it meant to “do” history. There was no way my students would pass if I didn’t. So out of total fear of failure as a world history teacher, I fell in love with the subject!

We moved to the Atlanta area in 2012 for my husband’s career. I have also written historical fiction, and thought I’d stick with that while we settled in. But I was restless. The summer of 2013, I walked into the GSU History Department and met with Dr. Perry. I thought I’d take a few classes so I could teach at the college level. But he encouraged me to apply for the Ph.D. program, so I did – and here I am!


What challenges have you faced adapting to a new culture and environment?

As a returning graduate student, I’ve had the challenge—and joy—of navigating through digital world! I earned my M.A. in the early ‘90s, and much has changed about doing research since then!

I have also had a very steep learning curve with regards to what it means to become a historian. My M.A. thesis advisor was a sociologist; my secondary reader was an economist from Michigan’s business school. Also, it’s one thing to teach high school history—it’s another to become a student of history at the graduate level, with nothing but self-taught methods. I knew I’d have to work very, very hard to catch up to my peers. I have taken the long road to find my disciplinary home, and I’m grateful for the support and advice I’ve received along the way.


What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned? 

That it’s never too late to return to school. GSU has been wonderful in that regard. I did not think that anyone over 40 was a candidate for graduate school—I’m so glad that’s not true!


What is your trick for getting through finals or a big assignment?

I have a long commute and a family at home, and until recently have also taken on outside work, too. So my trick to getting through finals and/or a big assignment is to set fake deadlines— usually two weeks ahead of a final deadline. I don’t believe in handing work in late. It only makes everyone miserable.


What is your favorite place to study on campus? 

Library North, 5th floor—it’s nice and quiet. The cafeteria at the Student Center has cozy booth that are almost always available in the morning—it’s a great place to eat breakfast. And lately, I like Ebrik’s new place—the second floor.


Anh Dao

Program: Master’s Program in Department of Communication

Previous Education: Bachelors of Economics from Foreign Trade University in Vietnam.

Professional Experience: TV Presenter & Editor at the Department for Youth (VTV6); Television Producer and Host




How did you become interested in your field of study?
Watching television as a child in Vietnam, I wanted to become a host myself, and that was my very first step into the television industry. All these years, the passion has been tested multiple times, but I still see myself coming back to work related to mass communication. I’ve been able to learn new things along the journey, which makes it even more challenging and worth discovering.

What project have you enjoyed working on most?
Well, so far at GSU, Return to Vietnam is my first project. In mid-March, I coordinated a trip for Professor Judson, Managing Director of GSUTV, to travel to Vietnam, work with Vietnam National Television, attend the 50th Remembrance Ceremony of the My Lai Massacre, and talk with journalism students in Vietnam. Professor Judson has been making it a very meaningful and knowledgeable project to be a part of. I am very excited to dig deeper into the production of it.

Return to Vietnam is the follow-up to an earlier project, Remembering Vietnam, which can be viewed at


What kind of work are you doing as a research and lab assistant?
As a lab assistant, I work at the Langdale Video Check Out Lab where I am responsible for inventory and checking out media equipment to digital journalism students. It’s actually a very interesting job where I get to assist students and learn about their recent projects in digital journalism classes. As a research assistant for the Mobilizing Media project at the Global Studies Institute (GSI), I am working on a storyline for GSI on GSUTV.

How has being an international student impacted your educational journey?
This has been a wonderful educational journey for me so far. Since I majored in something totally different from my work experience, the M.A. program at GSU Department of Communication is a great chance for me to reflect back on my practical experience and also discover a broad range of issues and perspectives in communication.

What challenges have you faced adapting to a new culture and environment?
The imposter syndrome is always there. I’m always afraid I won’t be good enough for the classes. I also feel that with the opportunities I have been given here at out department, I need to try harder to not let myself, as well as our dedicated professors and staff, down.

What is your advice to other international students considering GSU?
GSU and the Department of Communication are great places to be an international student. The courses are diverse; the professors I’ve had classes with are very learned in their fields, and they try their hardest to passionately pass on their knowledge and experience. And you never have to worry about opportunities— there are tons of them. It’s just up to you to grasp at those opportunities and excel. Best of luck!



Josephine Misaro


Program: Master’s Program in Gerontology

Previous Education: Master’s degree in Sociology

Professional Interest: I am a university lecturer in my home country, Kenya. I will continue teaching in a research institution and engaging in research activities aimed at improving quality of life for elders in my society.

How did you become interested in your field of study?
I am a sociologist, and gerontology is a field that focuses on sociology of aging. I have passion for elders/older adults. However, Gerontology program is not taught in Kenya. I want to give back to my society and to elders in particular by impacting to my students through the classroom knowledge I acquire in my current program, towards improvement of quality of life for elders in my society.

What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?
I researched several universities’ websites and picked on Georgia State because the core values here are excellent coupled with the good climate of Atlanta.

How has being an international student impacted your educational journey?
The exposure thus far is priceless. I have learned so much in so little time. Apart from the classroom, Georgia State has many activities for students to indulge in and enjoy cultural diversities. I have participated in several programs outside the classroom including voluntary services.

What class have you enjoyed most? Why?
I look forward to each and every class because instructors are patient with students and teaching here is about sharing and exchanging ideas. At the gerontology institute, there is no wrong or right answer. Instructors encourage participation of all students and pay particular attention to contributions from different cultural backgrounds. I enjoy listening to other students discuss their cultural beliefs.

What is your favorite place to study on campus?
The library is great, but I prefer the private labs in Gerontology Institute. It is quiet with no distractions. The Director is very supportive and allows students to use available rooms for private study. Again, the institute Director is always available for consultation. Students have unparalleled support from staff.

What is your advice to other international students considering Georgia State?
Grab the opportunity without thinking twice. There are no regrets in choosing Georgia State. This is home away from home.




Kallol Kumar Bhattacharyya

Program: Master’s Program in Gerontology 

Previous Education: Medical Graduate (Family Physician) from Kolkata, India




How did you become interested in Gerontology?

In my professional practice, the majority of my patients were older adults suffering from chronic diseases, and a large number had dementia. They were mostly neglected and helpless. As a clinician, I was serving the poor in India with dedication, but coming towards the midpoint of my career, I realized that as just a clinician I can’t make major changes in society. I want to have the education needed to reach beyond medical model treatments and give older adults a complete management that maximizes their life while living with dementia. This is why I took the chance to come to the United States and in many ways, have just begun to learn the subject gerontology.

What do you hope to do with your degree?

I’m particularly focused on person-centered care and taking a leadership role in the management of dementia, for both the care receiver and the care partner. I’m also interested in some alternative therapeutic interventions on Alzheimer’s and related dementias with cross-cultural experiences.

What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?

I selected Georgia State because I’ve been influenced by the way this state is undergoing a revolutionary progress in the management of aging and dementia. In selecting Georgia State University, I’ve been influenced by the way their research programs are addressed. Also, the availability of public transport, the comfortable weather, and pre-admission encouragement from Georgia State people influenced me a lot in my decision making.

How has being an international student impacted your educational journey?

Being a doctor, I always wanted to create a new pathway to help older adults and people living with dementia. Therefore, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in gerontology at Georgia State University. This step was a huge gamble for me, as I’m a family man and I did not have that much in savings to support us during this educational program. But, I have a strong desire to experience graduate school in the United States, and a motivation towards professional responsibility for older adults, so I took that risk.

What challenges have you faced adapting to a new culture and environment?

I’m a medical doctor practicing for nearly two decades in India, so this was initially a big problem to adjust to the transition from a physician’s life to a student’s life. Georgia State’s multicultural environment helped me a lot in this transition. But still today, the U.S. medical system is a complex structure for me.

What does your family like about Atlanta?

My son is very much enjoying his elementary school here, and we are enjoying MARTA and the comfortable weather of Atlanta. There are plenty of places for a short weekend tour also.

What class have you enjoyed most? Why?

The class I’ve enjoyed most so far was the seminar in gerontology. On one hand, I got an overview of the subject through this class, and on the other hand, the way our instructor Professor Burgess (Director, Gerontology Institute) guided us in the class was totally a new experience for me. It was an involving class in both ways, as I’ve shared many thoughts from Indian culture and tradition (and realized Indian traditional culture is still under-represented to the Western world in many issues).

What is your advice to other international students considering Georgia State?

In my opinion, there are many more options to start, adjust, and lead a comfortable life in Atlanta (the students coming with family also), and the Georgia State multicultural environment (including staff, students and professors) make it easier to feel that we’re not very far from our home.


– Rebekah Shaw, Office of Graduate Services, College of Arts & Sciences