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Master of Liberal Studies Students Selected for Annual Symposium

Just-graduated USC Dornsife students will present their research at a summer symposium with colleagues and alumni in Vancouver, British Columbia.

From left, Class of 2011 Master of Liberal Studies graduates Shelly Hacco, Alan Kita, and Tiffany Miller prepare for their presentations at the Fifth Annual Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium at Simon Fraser University. Photo credit Jie Gu.
From left, Class of 2011 Master of Liberal Studies graduates Shelly Hacco, Alan Kita, and Tiffany Miller prepare for their presentations at the Fifth Annual Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium at Simon Fraser University. Photo credit Jie Gu.

As an actress and fan of Daphne du Maurier’s literary works, Shelly Hacco gravitated to the curriculum she undertook in the Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) course “Acts of Interpretation: Literature, Film, and Methodologies” taught by Tania Modleski, Florence R. Scott Professor of English in USC Dornsife.

Inspired by this course and her other courses in MLS, Hacco undertook for her summative master’s project an examination of why du Maurier novels and short stories have lent themselves well for adaptation for film and television. Hacco assessed the film adaptations of du Maurier’s works Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, The Birds, and Don’t Look Now for their contribution to the Female Gothic genre. As a pièce de résistance, Hacco also produced her own adaptation of du Maurier’s short story “A Border-Line Case” into a full-length play, which, to her knowledge, has not been attempted before.

Hacco (MLS ’11) will present her analysis — and read from her play — at the Fifth Annual Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium to be held June 24-26, 2011 at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Fellow MLS Class of 2011 graduates Alan Kita and Tiffany Miller also have been selected to present their research at the symposium. 

Like Hacco, Kita and Miller based their research topics on deep personal interests which they developed into MLS summative projects. Kita investigated his roots in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the most popular religious denomination in Japan at the end of the 19th century which Japanese immigrant men brought to the United States. Through research on the history of Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temples in the U.S., interviews with the first American-born descendants of the Japanese immigrant men, and materials of Jodo Shinshu ministers and scholars, Kita tested out a theory that the immigrant men sought to maintain their connections with their families back in far distant Japan through their religious observances. Kita concluded that this connection felt by the first-generation immigrants through Jodo Shinshu Buddhism with Japan has not been passed down to subsequent generations, and suggested theories as to why not.

Miller became intrigued with the West Adams neighborhood adjacent to the USC campus during her time as an MLS student. Through historic records, photos, and interviews, she traced the evolution of the West Adams neighborhood from its establishment in the 1880s to today.

Initially known for its wealthy and influential residents and the architecturally significant homes and civic buildings, the neighborhood’s prominence in the 1920s subsequently declined due to changing demographics, increasing automobile traffic, and the Great Depression. Miller detailed how the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway fundamentally and irrevocably split the neighborhood in two and how, by the 1960s, West Adams became known more for its crime, violence and drug issues. Although West Adams continues to be characterized as one of the most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Miller concluded that crime statistics belie the community commitment to resurrecting one of the city’s most significant areas.

“Shelly, Alan, and Tiffany are to be congratulated for having been selected by the symposium organizers in a competitive process,” said Susan Kamei, USC Dornsife associate dean of advanced and professional programs and MLS program director. “For the fourth year in a row, USC Master of Liberal Studies students have been selected to present based upon the quality of their theses and the appeal of their topics to show the breadth and scope of graduate liberal studies.”

“These presentations also are great examples of how MLS students integrate concepts and material from many courses into their summative projects,” Kamei added. “For example, Tiffany’s ‘If West Adams Could Talk’ project incorporates analysis she developed in the cultural studies course with Professor Judith Halberstam, the American West course with Professor William Handley, and the ‘Great Cities’ course with Professor Paul Knoll.”

Students, alumni and faculty from eight graduate liberal studies programs worldwide are gathering for this year’s symposium. In addition to the USC program, representatives will participate from Dominican University of California, Maastricht University, Marylhurst University, Mount St. Mary’s College, Reed College, San Diego State University, and Stanford University.

In preparation, Kamei and Jim Kincaid, holder of the Aerol Arnold Chair in English, professor of English in USC Dornsife and chair of the MLS faculty board, are conducting a mock symposium for the presenting students.

“I was thrilled to hear that I will get to give this presentation and participate in this symposium with my classmates. The travel support that the MLS Program provides makes this incredible opportunity possible,” Hacco said.

“I’ve heard so much about the value of attending this symposium from past USC participants, and I know we all will gain so much from this experience,” Kita added.

The USC Dornsife Master of Liberal Studies program, which is housed in USC Dornsife, offers multidisciplinary graduate studies for professional development or personal enrichment. Evening seminar-style classes once a week are designed for the working professional. MLS students also receive individual mentoring from USC Dornsife faculty and enjoy camaraderie with diverse classmates. To learn more about the MLS program, visit, e-mail or call (213) 740-1349.