Past Religion and Public Life Fellows

Justin Howell: 2015-16

JustinHowell3crop300375Justin Howell (BA ’97, MEd, ‘03), of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Atlanta offices, will serve as the Department of Religious Studies 2015-16 Religion and Public Life Fellow. Justin is currently the Director of Development for the IRC, and he served as the IRC Education and Learning Manager for two years before assuming the development position. In 2013, Justin was recognized with the IRC “Employee of the Year” award. Justin earned his BA in philosophy and sociology and his MEd, with a focus on science education and pedagogy. In addition to his education at Georgia State University, Justin earned a Certificate in Grant Writing from Emory University (2014). Before joining the IRC, Justin was an educator. He helped establish two non-traditional public schools in the Philadelphia area, and he served as an ESOL/science teacher at the DeKalb International Student Center. In that position he worked with refugee and immigrant communities. He is currently a school board member for the International Community School in Decatur, Georgia.

The IRC is an international organization with several offices in the United States. It supports refugees who have been invited by the U.S. government o seek safety in the United States, offering practical, educational, and economic assistance as these refugees transition to independence and self-sufficiency. For more about the IRC, go to

Juanita and Greg Baranco: 2014-15

Baranco205256Mr. and Mrs. Baranco, co-owners of Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead, are highly successful business leaders in the Atlanta community, and they have offered years of service to numerous state and local government offices, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations in Atlanta and Georgia.

Mr. and Ms. Baranco both grew up and attended college in Louisiana. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Greg Baranco’s work in the automobile industry began when he was a teenager, as an “outside salesman” — at that time, African-Americans weren’t permitted to sell inside the dealership Later, in college, he interned for Ford Motor Company. The couple established the first Baranco car dealership in 1978, the former Smith-Johnson Pontiac dealership. After that, they operated Lincoln-Mercury and Acura dealerships, eventually opening the Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead dealership in 2003.

Prior to owning the car dealership, Juanita Baranco served as the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Georgia. She has also served on the boards of numerous companies in metropolitan Atlanta (e.g., the Board of Georgia Power Company, John H. Harland Company, and Cox Radio). She also served on the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Board for several years. Ms. Baranco has also offered her time and expertise in several volunteer capacities. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Clark Atlanta University and as a Director of the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia. Ms. Baranco is a past Chair of the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia and for the Board of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia.

The Barancos will join the Department throughout this academic year. Their first event will be on Thursday, Nov. 20th, at 11 a.m., to discuss religion and corporate life with GSU students. This event is free and open to the public — for details contact or

Greg and Juanita have four children, two of whom have attended or are currently attending Georgia State University.

Jason Lesandrini: 2013-2014

LesandriniIMG_4516_205273Mr. Lesandrini is the Ethicist at Grady Health System where his role involves clinical ethics consultation, ethics-based organizational policy analysis, ethics infrastructure development and support, and ongoing ethics education and programming. Mr. Lesandrini has worked at numerous health institutions across the country including the Veterans Health Administration and St. Johns Mercy in St. Louis, MO. He has served as the ethicist for the Mass Fatality planning commission for the State of Georgia and currently holds an adjunct faculty appointment in the Physician’s Assistant program at Mercer University. Mr. Lesandrini has conducted numerous workshops and presentations on issues of ethics for academic audiences and to health care administrators, providers, patients and the lay public. His academic background is in health care ethics and philosophy. He holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from Michigan State University, and he will soon receive his Doctorate in Health Care Ethics from St.. Louis University. His research interests include decision making for incapacitated patients, ethics at the end-of-life, health care resource allocation, and the work of ethics resources in clinical and organizational ethics.

Rev. Joanna Adams and Rep. Kathy Ashe: 2012-2013

Rev. Joanna Adams
JoannaAdamsRev. Joanna Adams is a founding member of The Higher Ground Group, a multi-faith group including Imam Plemon El-Amin, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, and Rev. Joseph Roberts. Joanna is a retired Presbyterian minister, who has served as pastor of Morningside and Trinity Presbyterian Churches in Atlanta. As part of the Higher Ground Group she works with the other members of the Higher Ground Group to explore how religious communities and individuals can be productively involved in addressing the issues that challenge Atlanta. She is particularly active in organizations that combat homelessness. For further information see the following sites.

Rep. Kathy Ashe
KathyAsheRep. Kathy Ashe (Democrat, District 56) has been the representative for District 56 I(the district in which GSU is located) since 1992. She sits on several committees, including the Higher Education Committee. She recently announced her retirement, so she will step down from the state legislature in January 2013. For further information, see the following sites.




Dan Gilgoff: 2011-2012

???????????????????Academics and journalists need each other. Without scholars to call on to bring them up to speed on complex issues, reporters would often be lost and left to the devices of partisans and interested parties. Without journalists, academics would be stuck talking largely to one another, locked out of the national conversation. But the relationship between academia and the news media is fraught with tension, sometimes even acrimony. Scholars say journalists care more about meeting deadlines and getting clicks or viewers than getting at the truth. Journalists accuse scholars of being too sanctimoniousness to supply usable soundbytes. Dan Gilgoff, Religion Editor at and Georgia State University’s 2011-2012 Religion and Public Life Fellow, takes a step back to explore what the worlds of scholarship and the news media can learn from one another, and how the two might forge more fruitful relationships.

Since January 2009, Dan Gilgoff has overseen all religion coverage for CNN. He launched and manages CNN’s Belief Blog, which receives over 6 million hits per month. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, and U.S. News & World Report. He is the recipient of several awards, including the 2010 Templeton-Cambridge Fellow award for science and religion journalism.

Dan writes, “Georgia State’s religion department is boldly expanding the conversation around religion’s role in society, which is a big part of what CNN has been doing over the last year. I’m excited to help shape that increasingly relevant discussion at a moment when there’s growing recognition of religion’s role in the headlines.

I’m honored to be stepping into this fellowship at a university that is helping lead a global discussion that few would have predicted we’d be having in 2011, about religion’s huge and growing influence in world events.

I’m planning to bring Georgia State students to CNN to provide an insider’s look at how a major news organization covers religion and to facilitate conversations on campus that critically examine that news coverage and explore its implications.”