Class Notes

NASA writer Kasha Patel has performed science-themed comedy in cities such as Washington, DC, Boston, New York and San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Kasha Patel

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Stand-Up for Science

NASA journalist Kasha Patel is helping build an unusual niche—science-themed comedy

By Julie Butters

“A recent survey showed that about 80 percent of adults say science has made life easier for most people. Apparently, the other 20 percent are PhD students.”

Science and stand-up might seem an unlikely pair, but Kasha Patel unites them through jokes like this in her comedy routines. Patel (’14), whose day job is writing features about earth science for, became interested in performing comedy as a COM grad student, when she attended a show at ImprovBoston. In 2014 she launched DC Science Comedy, singlehandedly organizing science comedy shows in the capital; she performs alongside fellow science writers, comics and scientists. Patel, also the president of the DC Science Writers Association, spoke with COMtalk about how journalism helps her write jokes and why comedy can tackle the complex.

Patel at a NASA launch in Virginia in 2013. Photo courtesy of Kasha Patel

What’s the toughest thing about performing science-themed comedy?
One tough thing is finding the right audience. My science jokes tend to need more time for the premise, which requires an audience with more patience. At general open mics, you might not find the ideal crowd for science-themed comedy. This is one of the reasons that I created Science Comedy night. If the audience is expecting—and excited about—science jokes, then the night goes much better.

You’ve said you want to use science comedy to get the public interested in science.
When I’m at general open mics, I have noticed that sometimes people do appreciate the thoughtful scientific premises and jokes. People give me positive feedback after my set, sign up for the Science Comedy mailing list or connect with me to put on science-themed gigs. The goal is to increase my audience through different platforms and vehicles, perhaps through articles, podcasts or TV. I think it’s completely plausible to create a show like The Daily Show that’s all about science, which is my dream.

Does your journalism background help you write jokes?
Because of my job and interest in science, I read a lot of science news that I often use as premises for jokes. Sometimes writing a premise feels like writing a lede for a story because the premise needs to be quick, informative, but also keep a person’s attention. I have noticed that my end goals of writing an article and writing a joke are similar—I want the audience to learn something or be exposed to a different perspective.

“A recent survey showed that about 80 percent of adults say science has made life easier for most people. Apparently, the other 20 percent are PhD students.” —Kasha Patel

What’s one of your favorite science jokes that you’ve not written?
A popular joke that I like, probably because of my chemistry background, is: “How can you tell the difference between chemists and plumbers? Ask them to pronounce the word ‘unionized.’ ”

Have you ever been able to include a joke in your NASA writing?
I have not included one of my jokes in my NASA articles yet, although I do have a fun time brainstorming ideas for videos or article headlines. I did participate in NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center open house, where I performed my science comedy onstage for people visiting our center.

What’s your goal for your science writing and comedy?
At the moment, my goal would be to combine the two to make science fun and accessible in the media. In 2016, I’m cohosting a new mini NASA TV series that focuses on NASA Earth science research such as studying Greenland’s melting coastline and surveying coral reefs. I feel like this is a great way I can help make complex science fun and accessible. Outside of NASA, I hope the science comedy I and others perform can get younger people interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), provide a fun medium for scientists and probably a whole slew of things I haven’t yet thought about.

Watch the preview for Patel’s NASA TV miniseries, Earth Expeditions.



Robert Levy (DGE’61, COM’63) received his certification from the International Public Management Association as a certified professional in human resources. Levy is in his third four-year term as a member of the city council of the City of Plantation, Fla., and in his 26th year as town manager of the Town of Pembroke Park, Fla.

Phyllis Zagano (’70) published In the Image of Christ: Essays on Being Catholic and Female. She is the author—and sometimes editor—of 18 other works in religious studies. A former faculty member at COM and STH, she holds a research appointment at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.

Robert Miller (’73) is the bassist, leader and composer for Project Grand Slam, a Grammy-nominated jazz fusion band. PGS’ third album, Made in New York, includes the singles “New York City Groove” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” along with five original songs Miller composed. Learn more at

Helene Solomon (CGS’72, COM’74) was honored by the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership for her contributions to affordable housing during MBHP’s Eighth Annual Founders Celebration. Solomon is the CEO of Solomon McCown & Company.

Gary S. Betensky (’75) was reappointed to serve on the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee. His three-year term began July 11, 2015.

William Bailey-Gonzalez (’81) published Sketching Yaomachtia Man, a novel about a 17-year-old superhero in Mexico City who is in search of yaomachtia, an Aztec mixed martial art. The book is available at

Thomas M. Savino (CGS’83, COM’85) was appointed interim CEO for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA). He has served as a NSHMBA board member and was a former chapter leader.

Gayle Klinger-Gradess (CGS’87, COM’89) is executive producer and founder of Anything Is Possible (ProjectAIP), which beat out MTV, USA Networks and other companies for the 2014 Cynopsis Social Good Award for best Social Campaign/Initiative in March 2015. To inspire millennials to overcome life obstacles, ProjectAIP creates video interviews with celebrities who’ve struggled with personal challenges. Former New York Giants player Michael Strahan, singer Charice and ballerina Misty Copeland are among those who have participated. Learn more at

Jessica “Jessie” Garcia (’92) published her second nonfiction book, No Stone Unturned: A Brother and Sister’s Incredible Journey through the Olympics and Cancer. Her third book, Going for Wisconsin Gold: Stories of Badger State Olympians, will be released in summer 2016 by Wisconsin Historical Society Press before the Summer Games in Rio. Garcia, who teaches journalism at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also cowrote the documentary Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration, which premiered on PBS in October 2015.

To Stage a Mockingbird

Alum’s film follows two Alabama high schools—one predominantly black, the other mostly white—as they stage Harper Lee’s first novel together

By Amy Laskowski

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1950s and ’60s, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter Sandra Jaffe witnessed both Jim Crow racism and the nascent civil rights movement. As a child attending a predominantly white school, she says, Harper Lee’s story of racism in 1930s Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird, had a huge impact on her. Jaffe (CGS’72, CAS’74, COM’86) has spent eight years creating a documentary film, Our Mockingbird, using Lee’s debut work to explore issues of race, class and justice then and now.

Filmmaker Sandra Jaffe, who grew up during the civil rights movement, documented the making of a joint production of To Kill a Mockingbird by two racially distinct Alabama high schools. Photo by Diane Faulkner

Jaffe’s original plan for the film, which broadcast on PBS in 2015, was to delve into the influence of Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1960 novel on American politicians, civil right activists and celebrities. The book is required reading for most US students, and she wanted to explore why it remains so influential. But the documentary took a turn after Jaffe learned two high schools in Birmingham—one largely black and the other mostly white (her old high school)—were collaborating on a stage production of Lee’s novel. Jaffe decided to feature interviews with celebrities—such as Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, TV reporter Katie Couric (Hon.’11) and actors from the 1962 film adaptation—and footage of students at the two schools working on their play. “I know that interacting outside the bubble of my [white] community would have had a significant impact on me [growing up],” she says. “So I was happy that these students had this experience and that I got to see it.”

“The film reminds the audience how far we still have to go on matters of race and justice in this country.” —Sandra Jaffe

Jaffe, a screenwriting instructor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, said a pivotal moment in planning the film happened while she was observing a Boston high school class that was studying To Kill a Mockingbird. One student, she says, told her he could relate to the character of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, “because when he was a child, the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened and he was falsely accused by his peers of being a terrorist just because he was from Saudi Arabia, and he would go home at night and cry. So that moment confirmed to me that I needed to make this film.”

Jaffe says audiences have been moved to tears by the documentary. “I think when that happens, it’s because the film reminds the audience how far we still have to go on matters of race and justice in this country.”

Adapted from BU Today.


Martin “Marty” Langford (’95) wrote and directed the documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. When he wrote to COM, the film was expected to have a limited theatrical run in January 2016, followed by release on DVD, Blu-Ray and video on demand by Uncork’d Entertainment.

James Aliberti (’96), who goes by the pen name Drats, published his second novel, Three Days of the Animal Olympians (Exaggerist Edutainment, 2015). The book is a “wild action-adventure novel” that “follows the exploits of a young woman who must fight to save the lives of the US Olympic Team with the help of the creatures of Yellowstone National Park.”

Amanda Dubin (’98) has written the book Last Stop, Earth, for ages 7 to 12. It is available on digital formats including Kindle, Nook and Google Play.

Cait Reynolds (’98) published her first young adult novel, Downcast (Booktrope Editions, 2015), and has several other books in the works. Find out more at

Daniel Chaparian (’07) has been appointed director of growth at The Information, a San Francisco-based company that publishes articles on the technology industry.

Alyson Sheppard (’08), a contributing editor for, married Joe Pappalardo, a contributing editor for Popular Mechanics magazine, in April 2015 at Orange Beach, Ala. BU alums also in attendance included Dennis Dizon (’08), Vera Pfeiffer (CAS’08), Alexander Taylor (’08, CAS’08) and Lauren Wells (CAS’08).

Gabriella “Gaby” Grossman (’13) was named project coordinator at Buzzfeed Motion Pictures in its Branded Video department.

Brianna Vieira (’16) is a junior associate strategist for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global brand experience agency. She is “responsible for helping identify patterns, trends and insights to help develop solutions for clients including Subway, Intel, Fidelity, Liberty Mutual and Eaton Corporation,” she told COM during an August 2015 interview.


Photo by Jackie Riccardi

“Sometimes, we choose our challenges and dreams, and if we’re really lucky, we can reach them. But there are other times in life when the challenges simply choose us, and it’s what we do in the face of the challenges that defines who we are.”—Travis Roy

On October 20, 2015, exactly 20 years after the accident during a BU hockey game that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Travis Roy (’00) celebrated that his foundation had raised more than $6 million to help those with spinal cord injuries lead independent lives by providing accessibility through wheelchairs, computers and vehicle lifts. The Travis Roy Foundation also funds research with the hope that it will lead to a cure. During a gala that evening at Agganis Arena benefiting the foundation, Christopher Moore, dean of the College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, announced a $2.5 million gift from anonymous donors that will establish the Travis M. Roy Professorship in Rehabilitation Sciences at Sargent. “Sometimes, we choose our challenges and dreams, and if we’re really lucky, we can reach them,” Roy said. “But there are other times in life when the challenges simply choose us, and it’s what we do in the face of the challenges that defines who we are.”

—AL, adapted from BU Today


In the News

Kevin Merida (’79), who has been with the Washington Post for more than two decades, stepped down from his role as managing editor in October 2015 to become editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, an ESPN website covering sports, race and culture. “He sees journalistic possibilities when the rest of us are blind to them,” wrote Martin Baron, executive editor at the Washington Post, in a memo to staff. “He is a wise and trusted counselor to legions of Post journalists—and journalists throughout the country.”

Chris Koch (CGS’84, COM’87) is director and executive producer of the FOX comedy show Grandfathered, which premiered in September 2015. John Stamos stars as a 50-year-old bachelor and restaurant owner whose life is thrown into upheaval when he discovers he has a son—and a granddaughter. Koch has executive produced and directed TV shows including Modern Family, Galavant and The Neighbors.

Kerstin Emhoff (’90) is the cofounder of PRETTYBIRD, which launched in 2007 and was named Production Company of the Year in 2015 by Advertising Age. The honor is given to “companies that lead the way in compelling and groundbreaking storytelling.”

Nancy Dubuc (’91), president and CEO of A+E Networks, accepted the Television Academy’s 2015 Governors Award at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. The award was given to A+E Networks in recognition of its corporate social responsibility programs. “Television is a powerful medium,” Dubuc said, “and we are proud to be able to use our networks and platforms to shine a light on important social issues.”

Bill Simmons (’93) relaunched The Bill Simmons Podcast, “the most downloaded sports podcast of all time,” in September 2015, and will host a weekly talk show on HBO in 2016. reported that the show is “expected to feature guests from the worlds of sports and culture.” Simmons—a former ESPN writer and a 2014 recipient of COM’s Distinguished Alumni Award—said in a statement, “It’s no secret that HBO is the single best place for creative people in the entire media landscape.”

Jolie Hunt (’99) was one of six recipients of the 2015 New York Women in Communications Award, “which recognizes the extraordinary talent of emerging leaders making significant contributions in the changing landscape of communications.” Hunt is the founder and principal of Hunt & Gather Inc., a marketing and communications agency.

Casey Sherman is a bestselling author whose books include The Finest Hours (released as a film in 2016), Boston Strong, Search for the Strangler and the forthcoming Above and Beyond. Photo courtesy of Casey Sherman

Casey Sherman (’93) is an internationally bestselling author whose 2014 book, The Finest Hours: The Story of the US Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue, was released as a film by Walt Disney Studios in January 2016. Sherman gives this advice for aspiring writers looking to follow his career path:

Read everything. Read nonfiction. Read fiction. Read fantasy. Read children’s books. You will learn from every writer that you read, and eventually you will find your own voice through the techniques that you adapt from them.

Network with as many people as you can, professionally and socially, because that’s where the opportunities lie. Many of the book deals and movie deals that I’ve secured over my career are because I’ve put myself out there. Don’t be shy. If you have a lot of confidence in yourself, that confidence will spread to others.

Adapted from an interview by Jonathan Gang (’16)

Joshua Weinstein (CGS’03, COM’05) directed and shot the short documentary Lullaby, about young mothers in a Bronx homeless shelter who write lullabies to connect with their babies. The documentary was featured in Op-Docs, a section of the New York Times about documentary filmmakers. Weinstein collaborated on Lullaby with editors Kyle Graffam (CGS’03, COM’05) and Lucien Flores (’14). Watch the documentary at (search “lullaby”).

Michael Gunn (’07) wrote the script for The Virginian, a period action movie about George Washington that was acquired by the production company New Line, reported.

Josh Safdie (’07) and Benny Safdie (’08) will direct Good Time, a caper about a bank robber that will star Robert Pattinson (Twilight, Water for Elephants), according to the Hollywood Reporter. Josh Safdie cowrote the script. The Safdie brothers’ most recent project, Heaven Knows What, was a critically acclaimed and award-winning film exploring the lives of young, homeless heroin addicts in New York.

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