Department News, Fall 2020

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights
Department Kudos
Class Notes
Donor Recognition

Message from the Chair


Tad Zawidzki


Tad Zawidzki
Chair, Department of Philosophy



Despite the pandemic, we had some amazing accomplishments in 2019-2020. Our second ever alumni conference was a resounding success, attracting numerous alumni, faculty and current students. We also held our first ever graduating student career workshop, featuring four alumni talking to graduating students about how they used their GW philosophy degrees to help craft successful careers. Deepest gratitude to our most prominent alum supporter, Michael Thacher, BA ’70, whose generosity made both of these events possible. We also launched our new—and much improved—department website.

On a bittersweet note, our dear administrator, Hyehmi Nolan, departed, first on maternity leave, and then permanently, starting in September 2020. The good news is that she and her husband Martin have a beautiful new child, Benen Hiro Nolan. Fortunately, the transition to Hyehmi’s temporary replacement, Ashley Denney, went off without a hitch, and we feel very fortunate to be in Ashley’s competent hands; she even has a philosophy degree!

On a sad note, our longtime friend and colleague University Professor Emeritus Peter Caws passed away on April 20, 2020. Peter was dearly loved by everyone in the department, and his parting leaves a huge void. A full obituary appears on our department website.

Let me end by stressing how immensely proud I am of our faculty, students and staff for their resilience in the face of the unprecedented challenges we have faced due to the pandemic. When the quarantine took hold in D.C. in March, the philosophy faculty expertly and seamlessly moved all teaching online in one week, during spring break. And, although we did not know that the fall term would be all online until mid-August, everyone adjusted professionally, with nary a word of complaint from students or faculty.

Tad Zawidzki

Department Chair

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Department Spotlights

Cultural Factors in Neuropsychiatric Disease: An Interdisciplinary Analysis


picture of a transparent blue human head showing the brain, with an electric current laid on top of the brain





The Philosophy Department co-sponsored an extremely successful and well-attended, one-day interdisciplinary conference on campus in December titled “Cultural Factors in Neuropsychiatric Disease: An Interdisciplinary Analysis.” We managed to attract extremely prestigious experts on this topic from GW and other universities and institutions.

Career Workshop


Philosophy majors, minors and alumni sit at a table at a February 2020 career planning event.


From left, alumni Brian Wlcek, Rostam Assadi, Chelsea Murtha and Niels von Deuten.



The Philosophy Department Career Workshop was held on February 20, 2020. We invited four alumni in successful careers to lead a discussion of career prospects for graduating undergraduates and graduates—Brian T. Wlcek, MA ’18, Rostam Assadi, MA ’19, Chelsea Murtha, BA ’14, and Niels von Deuten, BA ’06, JD ’11. The discussion was extremely helpful, and students attending were able to make important contacts in industries that are good fits for their degrees. We look forward to hosting another Career Workshop in 2021.

Philosophy Department Alumni Conference


Alumni congregate during the department alumni conference


Alumni congregate during the department alumni conference



The Philosophy Department Alumni Conference was held on October 12, 2019. It was a one-day conference with panels discussing contemporary philosophical research, including the ethics of artificial intelligence, truth and logic in public discourse, self-knowledge and self-deception and the philosophy and technology of human enhancement. It was a great success at reconnecting alumni with the current department, exposing students to alumni contacts as well as potential career paths and helping foster an extended scholarly community

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Department Kudos

Avery Archer has had two journal articles appear in print since the fall 2019 Newsletter: “Are Desires Beliefs about Normative Reasons?” in Analytic Philosophy and “Agnosticism, Inquiry, and Unanswerable Questions” in Disputatio. He is on research leave for the 2020-2021 school year while he continues working on a monograph discussing the topic of agnosticism and its relationship to inquiry.

Jeff Brand was thrilled to return to the department in September 2019, after serving for five years as associate dean for graduate studies in CCAS. He served on the Steering Committee of EthicalGeo, a fellowship competition sponsored by the American Geographical Society to support research on the ethical dimensions of geospatial technology. You can read more about Jeff at his professional website, launched this year.

This year, David DeGrazia has published four journal articles, a couple of book chapters, a newspaper op-Ed and a co-authored book, Principles of Animal Research Ethics. David has given four professional lectures this year, including one for the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. He pays his respects and says goodbye to his longtime colleague and friend, Peter Caws, who was a tremendous presence in the Department of Philosophy and at the university.

Since January 2020, Michèle Friend has temporarily joined the UCCS laboratory (Unité de Catalyse et Chimie du Solide) in Lille, France. She is writing a book on a new methodology for decision making and running projects of regional evaluation for the region of Hauts-de-France for implementing bio-conversion processes at the industrial level.  

After taking a sabbatical in spring 2020, Laura Papish is back teaching for the department. Just this past month, Laura served as a panelist at the congress of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Philosophie at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Mark Ralkowski currently serves as a mentor for GW's 4th Posse cohort; Posse is a national scholarship foundation that aims to identify, recruit and train diverse groups of students with exceptional leadership potential. You can learn more about Posse in this inspiring video.

Chris Venner, adjunct professor of philosophy, published Everything's the Same, Just A Little Worse at the online film journal Off/Screen.

Gail Weiss recently published 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology.

This past year, Tad Zawidzki had two articles published in the philosophy of science journal Synthese and has another single-authored paper forthcoming in the journal Philosophical Topics. Tad is teaching his first ever synchronous online course, Mind, Brain, Artificial Intelligence.

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Alumni Updates/Class Notes

Spencer Bracey, BBA ’20, is continuing his education at George Washington University in the one-year Master of Science in International Business program. In his off time, Spencer is working with GrassRoots Campaigns as a campaigner, and training for a marathon.

Tom Crean, BA ’20, started a fully-funded master’s program at Georgia State University.

Marissa DeShon, MA ’20, is a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton with the Civil Services Group.

Michael Fox, BA ’95, lives in the Bay Area with his wife Anissa Fox, nee Dampog, BA ’95, a fine arts alumna, and their two children. He is the CEO of California Olive Ranch, the largest domestic grower and producer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Allie Geoca, BA ’18, is attending the George Washington University Medical School.

Joseph Gurrola, MA ’20, was recently accepted into the PhD program at University of Maryland, College Park.

Alexandra Inman, BA ’14, completed her law degree and passed the California Bar Exam. She is now working in intellectual property law, specializing in sports and entertainment in the Southern California-area.

Esha Jain, BA ’19,  is currently attending Medical School at the George Washington University.

Natalie Mathes, BA ’18, is entering her second and final year of the City University of New York Graduate Center's MA program in philosophy. Over the summer, she worked as a public relations and advocacy associate on behalf of national political and non-profit organizations.

Jenna McAllister, BA ’19, was accepted into the PhD program at Fordham University.

Raj Patel, BA ’11, MA ’13, defended his PhD dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania this year and has started as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Department at UPenn.

Rosanna Picascia, BA ’07, started a new position as visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Swarthmore College.

Sophie Rickless, BA ’20, is researching the philosophical continuities between Victorian and Modernist literature as she commences her English PhD studies at UCLA.

Jacob Ziontz, BA ’20, started a two-year, post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Institutes of Health’s Department of Bioethics.

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Donor Recognition

The Philosophy Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the department from July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020.

+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend

Chevron Matching Gift Program

George Mason University


Alexander Engber, BA ’16

Thomas Goutman, BA ’76

Ross Harrison, BA ’99

Marissa Mangini, BA ’17

Beverly Packer *

Randall Packer, BA ’90 #

Dr. Randall Packer +

Wendy H. Packer #

Dr. Laura Papish +

Rhonda Rundle *

Andrea Stewart, BA ’70, MA ’92

Michael Stewart *

Alexandra Straus, BS ’19

Michael Thacher, BA ’70

Monique Van Landingham, MA ’96

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