Our Team: Professors, Practitioners, & Students

Kirsten gelsdorf - Director of the humanitarian collaborative (Batten School of Leadership and pUblic policy)

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As Director of Global Humanitarian Policy, Kirsten brings 19 years of experience working in the humanitarian sector; most recently serving as the Chief of the Policy Analysis and Innovation section at the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Her career includes long-term field postings and operational deployments to numerous emergencies including the international responses to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, the Ethiopian Famine, the South African Regional Food Crisis, the Liberian War, the Tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, the Pakistan Earthquake, the Timor-Leste Security Crisis, the Global Food Crisis and the Haiti Earthquake. She also served as a humanitarian advisor to President Clinton in his role as the UN Special Envoy for Haiti and as a policy advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the global food crisis in 2008. 

She has led major policy processes and authored numerous high-profile policy reports documents that have been implemented by Member States and adopted in key UN resolutions. She has been the guest editor of Journal special editions and a Senior Researcher for Tufts University. 

She has taught courses at UVA for the Batten School, Global Studies, and Liberal Arts Seminars. She has also taught as an Associate Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. 

Kirsten mildren – chief, public advocacy & campaigns, strategic communications (united nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs)


As Head of Public Advocacy and Campaigns for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), I lead communications efforts around the world to provide support for the 125 million people who need humanitarian assistance, mostly though global advocacy campaigns. UNOCHA has a unique mandate to speak out on behalf of the people worst affected by humanitarian situations. As the organization tasked with coordinating international humanitarian response, our ultimate goal is to save more lives and protect people in conflicts and natural disasters. Whether we’re mobilizing funds after a massive earthquake, ensuring vulnerable communities are protected, or raising awareness of forgotten crises, it’s our job to keep world attention focused on humanitarian issues.

In my role, I have introduced strategic communication planning designed to have more impact on the varied audiences, which include media, donors, governments and the affected people with a strong emphasis on digital media. Some of the most innovative campaigns include the World Humanitarian Day campaigns #HumanitarianHeroes, #ShareHumanity, #NotaTarget and the #WhatDoesItTake campaign for Syria, and the impossiblechoices.org campaign for the World Humanitarian Summit. I am passionate about mobilizing the digitally connected to drive policy change and throwing a stronger spotlight on the issues that are that a too tough to tackle.

I've worked for UNOCHA as a spokesperson for many emergencies including the Japan Tsunami and disasters in Somalia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Philippines and Indonesia. Before joining UNOCHA I was a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Derek Brown – Secretary and Co-Director (Peace Appeal Foundation)

Derek Brown serves as Secretary and Co-Director of the Peace Appeal Foundation.  In 2015-2016 he was a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C..   Prior to joining the Peace Appeal Foundation in 2005 , Derek was Vice President and Associate Chair of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, a global institution investing in leading social entrepreneurs in over 50 countries.  As a member of Ashoka's executive team for nearly a decade, Derek directed several key initiatives and helped lead the expansion of Ashoka's work in over 50 countries worldwide.   A strong internationalist with a deep commitment to social justice, he has worked in both his professional and personal life to nurture social and public innovations across the world by enabling innovators and changemakers in diverse societies. Derek holds an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a BA in History from Yale College.

Belinda gurd – campaign manager (united nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs)

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As Campaign Manager for the the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ( UNOCHA) in New York City, Belinda brings over a decade of experience leading and successfully delivering complex global communications projects for the Private Sector and United Nations.

After nearly four years with the United Nations, including time with the United Nations Office for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) in Paris, her  progressive immersion into the global advocacy arena has given her deep theoretical and practical experience utilizing the power of creative content, storytelling and disruptive digital marketing to galvanizes the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide in support of humanitarian issues. 

During her several years leading PR and Marketing for globally recognises brand Virgin Atlantic, Belinda developed a passion for understanding people’s behaviours and what drives them. Harnessing this passionate and knowledge, Belinda has delivered award-winning cause-related advocacy campaigns for UNOCHA; most notably the annual World Humanitarian Day campaign and the World Humanitarian Summit global campaign - compelling digital campaigns that highlighted the dire humanitarian situation to audiences never before reached, calling for citizen mobilisation around priority issues.

Belinda holds a BA in Design from the University of New South Wales and a Graduate Certification in Journalism from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. 

Additional researchers include top row: Elizabeth Ndolo, Dhan Subba, Man Rai, Maryam Yousefi, Front row: Andrew Blunk (project coordinator), Josephine Kanyamukenge, Sanchi Gurung, Nar Gurung, Bhudhi Subba.  Photo: Maryam Yousefi

Additional researchers include top row: Elizabeth Ndolo, Dhan Subba, Man Rai, Maryam Yousefi, Front row: Andrew Blunk (project coordinator), Josephine Kanyamukenge, Sanchi Gurung, Nar Gurung, Bhudhi Subba. Photo: Maryam Yousefi

IRC New Roots Research Team (International Rescue Committee):

The IRC New Roots Research Team is a collaboration between IRC staff and eight community members participating in the New Roots gardening and farming programs.  Together this team developed a participatory research project to explore program impacts through the eyes and values of its participants. The team is led by Brooke Ray (left), Senior Manager of Food and Agriculture Programs for the IRC in Charlottesville. Brooke has worked in food systems and community development for 20 years. She is a founding leadership representative for the Charlottesville Food Justice Network, a founding board member of City Schoolyard Garden, and co-facilitator of CharlottesvilleSOUP.

Hannah entwisle Chapuisat – co-founder and curator (displacement: uncertain journeys)

Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat is director of the art organization La Fruitière, co-founder and curator of DISPLACEMENT: Uncertain Journeys, and a doctoral candidate at the University of the Arts London, Chelsea College of Arts. She is also a lawyer with over a decade of experience working with the United Nations and NGOs on issues related to humanitarian affairs and the protection of displaced people. Hannah’s practice-based doctoral research aims to propose potential strategies for artists seeking to contribute to international efforts to improve legal protection for disaster displaced people. In particular, she explores art’s interdisciplinary capacity to reflect emotion and affect to prompt critical and reflexive thinking as important contributions to policy debates. She holds a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College, a JD in Law from the University of Toronto, and an MA in Critical Curatorial Cybermedia Studies from the Geneva University of Art and Design. Hannah continues to work as an independent researcher with the United Nations and NGOs, and has taught at the university level.

Jennifer Rubenstein (Department of Politics)

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Jennifer Rubenstein is an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia specializing in political theory. Her interests include the political role and ethical responsibilities of non-governmental organizations; global justice; non-ideal theory; democratic theory (especially theories of non-electoral representation and advocacy that attend to global inequalities); theories of office, and the role of imagination and experience in politics.

She has published or has forthcoming articles in Journal of Politics, Journal of Political Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, and the British Journal of Political Science, as well as chapters in several edited volumes. She is currently finishing a book manuscript about the political ethics of international non-governmental humanitarian organizations, entitled “Between Samaritans and States: the Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs.” Before coming to UVa she was the Cotsen-Link post-doctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows at Princeton University. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago.

Adrienne Ghaly (College Fellows Program)

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I work on the modern novel in British, Anglophone and European contexts, and its philosophical and cultural tasks in twentieth-century thought; the interplay of ethics and literature; and cultural responses to global manmade species extinction. My research spans the period from the later nineteenth century to the contemporary. I work both within the field of literature and beyond it, for my scholarship addresses what ‘the novel’ is and the migration of novelistic modes into other media, particularly contemporary art, and asks how literature and visual art respond to and think about the age of extinction as a modern phenomenon. My interests are a reflection of my interdisciplinary training at New York University and the University of Chicago and exist at the intersection of literature, philosophy, critical theory, history and the environment.

I came to the College Fellows program and the engagements courses for three key reasons. First, aesthetic and ethical problems are intertwined in my work and I wanted to teach courses that encourage creative connections across disciplines and media. Second, the engagements lay the foundation for university-level thinking: to question the concepts we use to approach, categorize and reflect on ways of looking at the world, and to invite us to consider new and radical perspectives. Third, the role of the humanities in public life is crucial to the questions I ask in my teaching and research, and to the urgent challenges - such as manmade extinction - facing us now.

Sophie Trawalter (Batten School of Leadership and public Policy and Psychology Department)

I’m an Associate Professor of Public Policy and Psychology. I study phenomena related to social diversity. Specifically, I examine how people navigate intergroup contact and intergroup contexts. I am especially interested in how people develop competencies and learn to thrive in diverse spaces.

In one line of research, I investigate stress and coping responses to interracial contact. Within this line of research, I examine people’s short-term behavioral and physiological responses to interracial contact as well as longer-term, health-relevant physiological changes in response to diversity experiences. Other lines of research explore people’s ability to detect discrimination accurately and the social ecology of privilege. Ultimately, the aim of this work is to develop constructive strategies to cope with the challenges of diversity in organizations, public arenas, and private spaces. In time, such strategies may reduce intergroup tensions and improve outcomes for both traditionally stigmatized and non-stigmatized group members.

Juliet Trail (Contemplative Sciences Center)

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Juliet Trail, PhD, is the Director of Education for the Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC). In this role, she oversees CSC instruction of academic and co-curricular classes, retreats, events and programs, as well as efforts related to student flourishing in the residential domain. Juliet teaches contemplative courses, such as “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally & Professionally” (NUIP/RELB 3030) and "The Art & Science of Human Flourishing" (RELG 1400). She also manages center research on higher education topics. Finally, she has a particular focus on faculty engagement programs designed to connect faculty and classrooms with contemplative and reflective pedagogies. Activities of the CSC Education Division thus constitute a wide variety of efforts that span the 11 schools of UVA and involve research, learning and practice, and that seek to positively impact undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty, as well as the broader world beyond the UVA grounds.

Juliet holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the UVA Curry School of Education. Her dissertation, “Network Enablers: An Exploratory Study of High Goal-Enabling Professionals in Higher Education,” investigated the behaviors, skills and perspectives of these “NE” professionals using socio-emotional intelligence, organizational network analysis, and emergent themes to develop a grounded theory about the NE disposition (read more here). She also holds an M.A. in Vocal Performance & Pedagogy from New Mexico State University (2002). She holds Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Music (Piano Performance) from Guilford College (1996).

Juliet previously designed and taught “Everyday Shamanism: Towards Walking in Harmony and Balance,” a course merging principles of art therapy with reflective approaches from traditional Native American Medicine Wheel teachings, with co-creator Kim Yarbray. She has taught this eight-week class in Virginia, North Carolina and New Mexico. Juliet trained in Rites of Passage work involving Vision Quests following the Lakota Sioux Tradition, completing this training in 1999. Today she continues to walk a path of integration of the arts, sciences, and contemplative traditions. She is a long-time practitioner of yoga and Pilates, and still an active musician in the Charlottesville community.

Prior to joining CSC in October of 2016, Juliet served as the Director of Assessment and Special Assistant to the Dean of Arts & Sciences (A&S) from 2012-2016. In this role, she helped to develop and launch the Directors of Diversity & Inclusion initiative, involving the creation of a new faculty leadership role across the more than thirty departments and major programs of A&S. She also served as Research Assistant Faculty and director of K-12 outreach programming for the Center for Diversity in Engineering at UVA’s School of Engineering & Applied Science (2010-2012; 2004-05) and as Dean’s Office Special Assistant in the UVA School of Medicine (2005-2010), where she focused on faculty development and leadership programming, strategic planning, team and collaboration facilitation, and administrative operations.

Rebecca Schoenthal (McIntire department of art – art history)


Rebecca Schoenthal earned her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Virginia and received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Connecticut College. She taught classes in contemporary art for the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia over the past seventeen years, largely focusing on the 20th century. Her vast background combines academic instruction with curatorial experience in for-profit and non-profit museums and galleries. Most recently, Schoenthal served as both Curator of Exhibitions and Interim Director of The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. Previous to that, she spent five years as the curator of Charlottesville’s Second Street Gallery, known for its focus on contemporary art. She is currently working as an independent art consultant and is known as an expert on the Art of the Twentieth Century.

mona el khafif (UVA school of architecture)

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Mona El Khafif, Dr. techn. is an Associate Professor at UVA School of Architecture, co-author of the award winning publication ‘URBANbuild: Local/Global’ (with Ila Berman) and author of ‘Staged Urbanism: Urban Spaces for Art, Culture and Consumption in the Age of Leisure Society’ (German edition). Her research operates at multiple scales, examining the interdisciplinary aspects of urban design, temporary urbanism, urban prototyping, and strategies for the smart city. At UVA El Khafif serves as the RCN director of the recently funded NSF Grant entitled “MainStreet21” supporting a network of small and midscale cities in Virginia and co-directs the school’s initiative on Smart Environments.

El Khafif started her academic career 2000 in Vienna, Austria at the Institute for Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, where she taught urban research and design studios and lead the urban core studio for 5 years. 2006-2007 she joined the URBANbuild HUD grant at Tulane University in New Orleans dedicated to the rehabilitation of 4 neighborhoods in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. From 2008-2013 she was an Associate Professor at CCA California College of the Arts in San Francisco where she lead the division’s URBANlab and chaired the college's new 2 year post-professional Master of Architecture in Urban Design and Landscape program. From 2013-2016 El Khafif taught at the University of Waterloo, Canada where she co-directed the school’s DATAlab. Recently from 2016-2017 El Khafif was a guest professor at the TU Dortmund, Germany at the Institute of Urban Design. At UVA she teaches the graduate urban architecture studio, urban research and design studios as well as urban elective seminars investigating networked systems of urban mega regions.

Patricia Sullivan - Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UVa

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Patricia Sullivan is an Assistant Professor of English on the General Faculty in the Department of English at UVA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing and pedagogy and directed the Writing Center from 2013-2017.  Before that the taught at Northeastern University and directed the first-year writing program there. Her research interests mostly gather around aesthetics, rhetoric and writing pedagogy. Her most recent book is Experimental Writing in Composition: Aesthetics and Pedagogies. Her current interests include words and images, posthumanist composition theory (people, plants, animals and things) and a memoir with the working title entitled 1979. She has an MFA in fiction and a PhD in English and Cultural Studies with a concentration in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Matthew Shelton - Mcintire Department of Art (Studio art)

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Matt Shelton is an artist, writer, and teacher who grew up in rural northwestern North Carolina. 

Matt's artwork has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally, most recently in contested bodies, a collaborative exhibition with Trinidadian artist Nikolai Noel at Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA, in January 2017. His series of photographs titled The Revenant was published in “Remembering the Civil War,” the Fall 2013 issue of Southern Cultures, the journal of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for the Study of the American South, and he was interviewed for Southern Cultures’ web series, “Loose Leaf.” Matt was a member of the inaugural cohort of the RVA Critical Art Writing Program in 2017, and his art criticism has been featured in Ext.1708Richmond Arts Review and the international art journal Art Papers

Matt received his BFA in Studio Art from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He currently teaches studio art at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. Find more about him at his website.

Chandler collins – public policy research assistant (Frank batten school of leadership & public policy)


Chandler Collins is a third-year student studying Public Policy & Leadership and Global Development Studies. He has created a documentary on long-distance running in Japan, worked to document news and events in Charlottesville for UVA’s Cavalier Daily, created personal documentary photo projects, and he now manages the website and graphic design for the Humanitarian Collaborative. He serves as a research assistant for Professor Kirsten Gelsdorf, and he is fascinated by the intersection of storytelling with global issues.

Liza Pittard (MCInTire Department of Art - Studio Art)

Liza Pittard is a University of Virginia Art History and Studio Art graduate. She worked at the Fralin Museum of Art as the Curatorial Research Assistant from 2015-2017. From 2017-2018, she was an Aunspaugh Fellow in the Studio Art Department. She currently works for the McIntire Department of Art as the Visiting Artist Coordinator for Ruffin Hall. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and runs a experimental art / music platform. Liza is working closely with Rebecca Schoenthal on the Issue H campaign for the initiative.

leon yacoubian (Civil Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science)

Leon Yacoubian is a Civil Engineering Ph.D. Fellow in the Behavioral Science for Sustainable Systems program at the Convergent Behavioral Scientist Initiative at the University of Virginia. He is a UVA SEAS Dean’s Scholar. For the past four years he has been working on the Tuff Armenia Project which focuses on designing an earthquake resistant community with the community itself in Gyumri, Armenia. He received his BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering with minors in Urban and Environmental Planning as well as Global Sustainability from UVA in 2018. He's interested in using participatory action research to help communities move towards a brighter future.

Laurie findlay – “compassion v. empathy” research assistant

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Laurie Findley is a fourth year student studying Foreign Affairs and Biology. Through her work surrounding human trafficking, environmental sustainability, refugees, renewable energy, youth education and empowerment, and cross cultural connection, Laurie has grown passionate about systematic and holistic approaches to addressing global humanitarian crises. From the refugee camps of Lesvos to the rural villages of Siem Reap to the clinics of West Virginia to inner city Los Angeles to the halls of the UN, she has witnessed the power of storytelling and holistic problem solving approaches in eliciting change. She serves as a research assistant for Dr. Juliet Trail, and she is intrigued by the neural basis and social manifestation of compassion and how such sentiments can be fostered. She is also very interested in the use of storytelling to evoke compassion and create change in terms of policy and how humanitarian aid is conducted.  

Hyeonjin bak (psychology)


Hyeonjin Bak is a PhD student in Social Psychology at the University of Virginia. Her research interests include intergroup relations, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. With Professor Sophie Trawalter, Sara Medina-DeVilliers, and Jessica Mazen, she is currently conducting research aimed at helping internally displaced people (IDPs). Specifically, the team is investigating psychological factors associated with increases in prosocial behavior such as donations.

Gabriela Corredor

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Gabriela is a fourth year international student from Venezuela studying Economics and Global Development Studies. Although she has been out of Venezuela for the past ten years, during her time at UVA, raising awareness about the Venezuelan crisis has been one of her main focuses, a cause she keeps close to her heart. At the University she has been actively involved in the student run organization Towards a Better Latin America (TBLA), and now as president she has made it her priority to find a common core that can create a vibrant conversation about Latin America within TBLA members as well as within the UVA community. One of the first examples of this goal was the recent exhibit at Peabody Hall,  Venezuelan Journey: The Search for a New Home.  With over 30 committed members, the group was able to design and build a multi-sensory and dynamic exhibit about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, reaching the UVA community and beyond.