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Conversation Center

Our People



Benjamin Hassman, Ph.D: Ben is Director of the Conversation Center and a lecturer in the Rhetoric Department. Directing the Conversation Center builds on his experience with peer-leadership programs like the Berwick Boys Foundation, formative time advocating for Service-learning at Onondaga Community College, and teaching for Gen-ed Rhetoric and the Rhetoric Minor, including Speaking Skills, Advanced Speaking Skills, and the Conversation Center’s own RHET 2090 Conversation Practicum. His Ph.D. in Philosophy of Language studied paradoxes, and their implication for how we understand the relationship between our sentences and the world. Current interests include informal and intercultural communication especially as a lynchpin to learning.


Justin Cox

Justin is a Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has worked as a tutor in the Writing Center at the University of Iowa, as an editorial assistant at Canarium Books, and was a 2017 Fellow at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, New Zealand. Some of Justin’s interests include baseball, running, reading, and camping/hiking. Justin is engaged in the Conversation Center because he believes that individuals and communities thrive as a result of the kinds of interpersonal interactions facilitated by the Center’s programming. 



Sonja Mayrhofer

Sonja Mayrhofer received her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa’s English Department and is a Lecturer in the Rhetoric Department. Her scholarship is often interdisciplinary and is informed by her interest in comparative literature and the health humanities. Her dissertation focused on how humoral psychology influenced representations of bodies in medieval literary texts. Emotional complexity and its rhetorical expressions in any age and/or context continue to fascinate her and influence her teaching and writing. In the Rhetoric Department, her teaching explores many of her interests: the rhetoric of self-hood (both in advertising and memoirs), forensic rhetoric (how we use the past to make arguments), and intercultural experiences. She’s excited to co-teach the Conversation Practicum and contribute to fostering intercultural empathy on campus.



Peer Leaders

Hunter Andresen

Hi my name's Hunter! I am a sophomore majoring in Cinema and love meeting new people! Some of my hobbies include watching movies, creating and editing films, playing table tennis and eating ramen noodles. I also love learning about new cultures, as well as learning about the unique foods that are seen within the area the culture exists. I also love talking about my own culture and experiences, and would love to share them with you.

Sam Bakeris

Sam is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Ethics and Public Policy with a minor in Rhetoric and Persuasion. Following undergraduate school, he plans to attend law school and become a licensed attorney. In his free time, Sam likes to bicycle, workout, play sports, cook, and spending time with friends. He is bad at sitting in one place for long no matter the time of the day and is constantly doing something. Other things Sam is interested in are skiing, adventuring, and yoga but is always open to trying new things.

Sylvia Dean

Sylvia is a junior at the University of Iowa, studying linguistics/TESL. Growing up in a town as diverse as Iowa City, she has cultivated a deep interest and appreciation for other cultures. Other than English, she speaks Mandarin and Spanish. She loves to travel, and spent summer of 2016 in Taiwan studying language and culture. She currently works as a volunteer English teacher for Friendship Community Project, a local non-profit organization that aims to serve adult immigrants from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, practicing her saxophone, or playing with her birds to relax

Darby Drenzek

Darby is a junior majoring in Interdepartmental Studies with minors in Rhetoric and persuasion as well as human relations. Originally from Bozeman, Montana, she enjoys being outdoors, traveling, and any and all adventures! She has been to around 10 different countries and loves meeting new people! She loves being active and has even run 2 marathons! 

Cyrus Mansouri

Cyrus is a chemistry major pursuing the dental field here at the University. When he's not cramming for an exam he loves to rock climb, lift at the gym, skate around, and discover new places on the weekend! Cyrus enjoys learning about different customs in cultures, hobbies, or anything new to him. Come talk to him about anything on your mind!

Addi Martin

Addison Martin (Addi) is a junior at the University of Iowa with studies in English and Anthropology, and a minor in Portuguese. She's always interested in people's stories, and learning about new cultures. In her free time Addi loves reading and binge watching Netflix, as well as exploring new places in Iowa City. She loves new music and animals, and is always down for a coffee.

Jane Nguyen

Jane Nguyen is a senior at the University of Iowa aspiring to attend medical school. She is currently majoring in Biochemistry and constantly promotes leadership, service, and continuous improvement in herself and in others. To keep herself sane from intense studying, she immerses herself in student organizations such as alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Dance Marathon, and other student organizations. In her free time, she volunteers at her local hospital and loves assisting people in reaching their own goals.

Alexa Oleson

Alexa is a freshman and is currently studying statistics, with a minor in rhetoric. She loves to read, especially from the fiction and fantasy genres and takes pride in her collection of books. She has never had a chance to leave the United States so she is curious about life in other countries. When she isn't in class she is usually working, reading, or with her family. She loves coffee and tea, and has a major sweet tooth



Undergraduate Conversation Pairs


Maica Avila

Maica is a freshman at the University of Iowa with open major while minoring in Rhetoric. Despite not selecting a major, she has interests in psychology and political science. Maica enjoys listening to other's stories about their different lives and cultures. Currently, she is involved with the Slater Hall Association and the Walk it Out Fashion Show. Working, studying, watching movies, and walking around campus takes up most of her other free time. 

Christina Behrens

Christina is a senior majoring in Psychology with a Certificate in Leadership Studies. When she is not studying, she is running outside or playing a pick-up game of basketball. Also, she is heavily involved with her co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Alternative Spring Break, and On Iowa! In the future, she hopes to attend graduate school and work in Higher Education. Come talk to her about living an active life or how to become more involved on campus.

Amanda Burrell

Amanda is a senior studying Entrepreneurial Management. She is involved in Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, the Founder's Club, and the Salt Company here at Iowa. She loves to talk about starting a growing small businesses as she is a small business owner herself. She is excited to meet new people this semester and have good conversations!

Cho Cho

My name is Michael Cho, I go by my last name because there are too many Michael's in the world. I study Psychology and Accounting, so I can listen to your problems then do your taxes. I believe life is about being happy, altruistic, and calm. I think that a better future exists. I enjoy conversations that break social barriers, while being intellectually stimulated. I love meeting other Koreans. And I'm here to try and help others live happier life. 

Irene Enlow

Irene is a Junior, majoring in English and minoring in Rhetoric. She enjoys reading all kinds of things, ranging from novels for her literature classes to the latest fantasy and science fiction series. When not studying, she spends a lot of time with her two rescue dogs, whom she is trying to teach some funny tricks—although she has not had a great deal of success so far. Otherwise, Irene enjoys finding new music to listen to, food to try, and people to meet.

Katy Garbacz

My name is Katy and I am a Senior at the University of Iowa. I am currently studying Health and Human Physiology with an emphasis in Occupational Therapy. I am especially eager to learn about new cultures and enjoy listening to other people’s stories. I love anything that has to do with Chicago, spending time with family and friends, playing the flute, hiking, and discovering new places. My passion is being able to help others by maintaining an open-mind, but most importantly, by embracing and supporting the help of those around me. 

Haylee Himel

Haylee is a senior English major and minoring in Rhetoric and Human Relations at Iowa. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and is very family oriented. Her sister also goes to The University of Iowa, and she is very happy to have a piece of home here with her! In her free time, she is usually hanging out with friends, playing with her new cat, or binge watching whatever she hasn't seen on Netflix. She is very interested and excited to talk and get to know more people on this campus.

Korina Justiani

Hello Everyone! My name is Korina Justiniani. I’m a mediocre swimmer, pro-procrastinator, and often socially awkward. I am a part-time Microbiology student here at the university with aspirations to pursue emergency medicine. I also work full-time at Rockwell Collins and although I have no electronics background, I love my job (and school) and have always looked forward into learning new things, most of which are outside of my comfort zone. I was born and raised in the Philippines and is in love with this country. I have picked up hiking and backpacking and is slowly checking off the National parks- and yes, I had once made a poor choice to pack my bags and camped out in a 15°F weather. Good times. I am learning how to speak Japanese, likes telenovelas, kdramas and love a great deal of sappy mangas (Japanese comics). I tend to be shy when first meeting people, but do enjoy conversations from all walks of life. I look forward to meeting you.

Tiara Kane

My name is Tiara Kane and I am a senior here at the University where I major in English and minor in Rhetoric. I plan on becoming a lawyer some day! In my free time I love sleeping in, spending time with friends, traveling, and watching my favorite TV shows: The Office, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones. 

Dan Krajewski

My name is Dan Krajewski and I am currently a Junior studying computer science. I have a spread of interests ranging from sports, music, video games, archery, black smiting and drawing and am always looking to learn something new. Feel free to schedule any of the times I have available or email me if non of those work so we can pick a time. I look forward to talking to you!

Hillary Long

Hillary Long is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is majoring in international studies with a minor in Korean. Hillary loves to travel, she has visited South Korea twice for vacation, and hopes to get the chance to study abroad there. In her free time, she enjoys learning about different cultures (especially Korean culture), playing tennis, and watching K-dramas. Hillary is always up for a good conversation along with a great cup of coffee.  

Micah McClurg

Micah McClurg is a junior transfer student who is majoring in Linguistics with a Spanish minor. She has volunteered at various ESL groups in the surrounding communities, and enjoys meeting new people from other cultures. After graduation, she hopes to work with people who are learning English as their second language. Micah likes cats, and all other small furry creatures. She enjoys going on outdoor hikes with her family and friends. Some of her other interests include: watching musicals, reading novels, playing basketball, taking Zumba classes, and doing craft projects

Alyssa Michel

Alyssa Michel is sophomore majoring in linguistics with minors in both international studies and Italian.  She is pursuing a career in teaching English as a second language.  She enjoys learning about different languages and cultures and loves to travel.  When she has free time she also enjoys many creative hobbies, such as painting, sewing, and drawing.  Alyssa is a native to the Iowa City and is involved in OASIS (Organization for the Active Support of International Students) which is a student organization on campus dedicated to bridging the divide between domestic and international students.

Grace Milroy

Grace Milroy is a sophomore majoring in Electrical Engineering at Iowa. She is involved in undergraduate research and running club. In her free time she enjoys baking, reading, playing soccer, and being outdoors. Grace is from a small town in eastern Iowa and enjoys hearing about different cultures and views on the world.

Elizabeth Moore

Elizabeth is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is currently majoring in Political Science with a minor in History. She grew up in Iowa. She loves to travel, and has traveled to Germany for school and the Philippines to visit family. She works at the University of Iowa Hospital in the food and nutrition department. Some of her interests are: movies, sleeping, and mostly getting to know people.

Subbi Namakula

Subbi Namakula is a freshman at studying Creative Writing with aspirations of going to law school. When she is not writing or studying for the famed LSAT, Subbi debates for the University of Iowa debate team. Subbi enjoys learning about cultures that are not her own but that doesn't mean she does not appreciate cultures that resemble hers. She joined the African Student Union in order to further explore her African Heritage. Subbi is a Cat person and looks forward to turning her future conversation partners into cat people too. 

Anna Nguyen

Anna Nguyen is a Sophomore at the University of Iowa and majoring in Radiation Sciences. She enjoys learning more about different customs in culture and always wants to learn new things. She loves to play tennis, dance, and try new things. 

Paige Noble

Paige is a Junior Biochemistry Major with aspirations to go to medical school. Activities she is involved in include undergraduate research, the Biochemistry Majors Club, Global Buddies, Friends Without Borders, and Book of the Month Club. In her free time, she enjoys adventure and trying new things- food, activities, places, cultural events- and playing with kittens. 
Other life goals: learning to cook food that doesn't come from a box and watching every Star Trek episode ever made.

Guia Nueva Espana

I am a junior studying Finance and Accounting at the University of Iowa. I love being involved on campus. I was the Vice President and President of the Accounting Club as a freshman and sophomore and I am currently a second year Resident Assistant with many stories to tell. I love being outdoors. I am a certified scuba diver and I am an avid snowboarder. I was born in the Philippines and I am a passionate traveler of the world with 11 countries under my belt and counting. I'm a strong believer that the best way to learn about one's culture is through food as it is the way to the heart. 

Oluoma Obi

My name is Oluoma, here at the University, I am a freshman studying Public Health and Pre-Medicine. I work as a Nursing Assistant, and I absolutely love taking care of my memory care residents. In my free time, I enjoy reading (I particularly love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books), watching Grey’s Anatomy, and watching K-Dramas. I grew up in Nigeria(I speak Igbo), I spent 5 and ½ years in Kansas City, KS, and now I’m here in Iowa City! Moving to a new place, with a new culture is a terrifying experience, and as someone who has gone through it and in some ways, is still going through it, I seek to connect with others and help them integrate.

Taren Vacanti

Tarentino Vacanti is a junior at the University of Iowa.  Tarentino grew up in Council Bluffs Iowa and was vary involved in his community.  At the University of Iowa, Tarentino is majoring in ethics and public policy while specializing in sociology, and is on track to achieve a criminology minor as well.  While not studying, Tarentino enjoys learning about new cultures, spending time with close friends, attend hawked athletic events, and watching TV.  Tarentino is a member of the University Iowa Mock trial program and travels with the team to compete every few weekends.  After undergraduate studies, Tarentino intends to attend law school and become a litigator.  Until then he is looking forward to this upcoming semester, and all the opportunities it will bring. 

Kris Yambao

Kris Yambao is a Senior International Relations major at the University of Iowa. When not keeping up with the latest news, Kris enjoys cooking, reading and learning wacky-yet-useful skills! Everything from card tricks to knitting to scrapbooking, Kris has learned a bit about each. Kris values the connections he makes with those he meets, so reach out and spark up a conversation with him! 



IC Leaders: The Orignial Undergraduate Co-founders

ProfileJonathan Chang: Jonathan Chang is a Pre-Physical Therapy sophomore studying Human Physiology at the University of Iowa. He enjoys encouraging others and uncovering the nuances of different cultures in hopes of opening new thoughts for others.  He roots for all things Chicago, designing calligraphy, discovering new golf courses, and dancing to the beat of any drum. His passion is to lead others in the areas of fellowship, scholarship, and service.


ProfileMingfeng Huang: Mingfeng Huang is a Sophomore who is studying Finance & Accounting at the University of Iowa.  This is his fifth year studying abroad in the United States.  He is actively involved in all kinds of student orgs. including UISG, President’s Leadership Society, and Greater China Business Association.  When he is not studying or busying with extracurricular, he enjoys playing the piano and playing basketball.


ProfileAbigail Miller

About: Abigail Miller grew up near Miami, Florida. She attends the University of Iowa as an undergraduate with experience in writing and mentoring. She currently studies English and Art and minors in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. When she’s not writing, she enjoys listening to other UI students discuss things she doesn’t understand.


ProfileJane Nguyen: Jane Nguyen is a senior at the University of Iowa aspiring to attend medical school. She is currently majoring in Biochemistry and constantly promotes leadership, service, and continuous improvement in herself and in others. To keep herself sane from intense studying, she immerses herself in student organizations such as alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Dance Marathon, and other student organizations. In her free time, she volunteers at her local hospital and loves assisting people in reaching their own goals.


ProfileAkshaya Warrier: Akshaya Warrier is a sophomore double majoring in Microbiology and Human Physiology with aspirations of going to medical school. She is deeply attached to her Indian roots, and loves to learn about all cultures. Her passions include dancing, learning, and serving others.