In Memoriam: Kia Hays


The USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research mourns the death of former staff member, close colleague, and friend Kia Hays, who passed away on January 20, 2024 after an unexpected and brief illness.

Kia Hays earned her bachelor’s degree in English and International Relations at Hawaii Pacific University in 2010 and a master’s degree in Public Diplomacy from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism in May 2013. Shortly after earning her Masters, Kia joined the USC Shoah Foundation. After the founding of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research in April 2014, she worked with Center Director Wolf Gruner supporting the Center’s early events and conferences.

Kia then transitioned to a new role assisting and eventually managing and producing the day-to-day operations and growth of USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program and other immersive interview collections. In that capacity, she regularly participated in and presented at conferences the Center organized or co-organized, including the “Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies” conference in 2017 and the “The Future of Holocaust Testimonies V” conference at Western Galilee College, Israel, in 2019. (See videos of these presentations below.)

“She embraced the interest of scholars in the Dimensions in Testimony program,” Center Associate Director Martha Stroud said. “She saw the profound research potential of these deeply-researched interviews and understood scholars’ curiosity about the technology behind the interactive biography format. She was generous with sharing her perspective, expertise, and resources to support scholars.” Noah Shenker, Dan Leopard, Todd Presner, and Center fellow Sanna Stegmaier were among the scholars who benefited from her expertise and enthusiasm.

In February 2019, Stephen Naron, Director of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, invited Kia to Yale University for an event entitled “A Demonstration and Critical Examination of USC’s Dimensions in Testimony” where she demonstrated the interactive biography of Pinchas Gutter and participated in a panel discussion with Dan Leopard and Noah Shenker. “Kia loved dispelling misconceptions about these testimonies and debating with scholars,” Stroud remembers.

When she became Interim Director of Collections at USC Shoah Foundation in November 2020, in addition to her duties managing Dimensions in Testimony, Kia assumed responsibility for directing the recording of new interviews, including the Last Chance Collection, and developing partnerships with organizations holding interviews with Holocaust and genocide survivors. Throughout her tenure at the USC Shoah Foundation, Kia attended the events of the Center for Advanced Genocide Research and sought the Center’s input and expertise on collections-related questions, decisions, and dilemmas.

In November 2021, Kia left the USC Shoah Foundation to join StoryFile as its Senior Vice President of Studio and Content.

“Kia was a critical and creative thinker. Her mind was collaborative, cultivating the strengths and drawing from the talents of those around her. She was instrumental for the Center’s work in the early days and later graciously offered time and expertise to our scholars, conference participants, and audiences. When I think of Kia, however, it’s her smile I remember the most,” Center Founding Director Wolf Gruner said.

“She brought tenacity and commitment to her work and to doing justice to the stories survivors shared,” Stroud said. “She was also incredibly funny and light-hearted. We had many laughs together. She has left a mark on the world and on all who knew her. We are heartbroken by her untimely passing, and we will miss her dearly.”

Prior to the USC Shoah Foundation, Kia worked and interned in various capacities for the Wende Museum of the Cold War, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Los Angeles-based non-profit Youth Policy Institute. At the USC Center for Public Diplomacy, she was the associate editor for the online publication PDiN Monitor and the editor-in-chief of the academic journal Public Diplomacy Magazine.

The Center offers our deepest condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and everyone touched by her life and work.

Kia Hays (right) with Martha Stroud
at the “Future of Holocaust Testimonies V” conference in 2019

Kia Hays (right) with Sandya Maulana (center) and Shefali Desphande (left) at the “‘Singing in the Lion’s Mouth’: Music as Resistance to Genocide” conference in 2015