Skip Navigation

UNL News Blog

Archive for January, 2013

Catching up with: Abby Miller, ‘03

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Abby Miller, a 2003 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, has seen her acting career take flight with her portrayal of Ellen May on the critically acclaimed FX drama “Justified.” We checked in recently (as in, one day after her character narrowly escaped a permanent exit from the series) with Miller, a native of Clay Center who now calls Los Angeles home, for a quick chat about the show, her character’s future, and what we can expect next from the actress.

UNL News: What a wild season for your character so far on “Justified.” In Tuesday’s episode, it was looking like Ellen May was done for. So we’re glad she’s still kicking so we can continue to see your work on screen. But it’s got to be stressful working on a show where your, um, time could come at any moment, doesn’t it?

Abby Miller: Yeah….I don’t think there’s been a single episode where I haven’t worried about Ellen May’s safety. This one was super exciting to work on though because we knew the audience was truly gonna think ’she’s a goner.’ It was so much fun to play those happy moments. For example, the scene in the car with Colt, because you knew the audience was in on the secret: Ellen May was gonna die. But then she didn’t! And that made me happy. This show definitely keeps me on my toes.

UNLN: Can you give us any hints of what happens next with Ellen May? Or will we get you in trouble with your show? We don’t want you to get written out because of something we said …

AM: Ha…well…eek! I really can’t say much without spoilers. And I wouldn’t want to reveal too much, so you’ll just have to watch! One thing I can say, though, is Ellen May is alive. And … nope, that’s all I’ll say. She’s alive and … she’s alive.

UNLN: OK, you can’t blame us for trying, though, can you? You’ve appeared in some notable shows – Gilmore Girls, Mad Men – but is this role the most fun you’ve had as an actress? Why?

AM: This is the most fun I’ve ever had as an actress — because, well, this experience is unlike anything I’ve done before. I love the crew, the cast, all the directors and writers. I feel as though I’m part of the family on this set. And that’s such a gift. Also, Ellen May is a character in the truest sense of the word. I get to play with her accent, the way she moves. She doesn’t feel like me, you know? Like, I’m playing Abby every day. And that’s really fun and exciting.

UNLN: We’re also big fans of your musical work as one-half of the group Jen & Abby. We’ll still hear people talk about that awesome Nebraska Rep concert the two of you gave back in July 2011. Any plans to get the group back together in your spare time?

AM: Not at the moment, unfortunately. Jen is doing some touring in Asia right now with another project, and — well, you know, I’ve got “Justified.” Maybe someday, but not right now.

UNLN: Hey, when’s the next time you think you’ll make it back to Nebraska? We think maybe Ellen May should take that car she stole at the end of the last episode and just drive up here to the Cornhusker State.

AM: Ha! We’ll see about that. That would be fun to see, though, huh? But in all seriousness, I come back to Nebraska at least once a year to see my parents and the rest of my family. I haven’t been back to Lincoln in a couple years, though. Hopefully soon.

UNLN: Do you still keep in touch with the gang at Hixson-Lied?

AM: I do! I’ve known Paul Steger for years. A lot of my professors are still there, like Virginia Smith and Harris Smith … my friend Todd who works in the office. It’s great. Feels like coming home.

UNLN: What would you say to a theater student on campus today? Got any advice for the next generation of Husker actors and actresses?

AM: Probably the biggest advice I’ve got, in this present moment, is just to have fun. It’s really that simple. If you focus on having fun you’ll be more relaxed, which will lead to more play time, and then more choices. It’s like following the rule of improv “say yes”…plus, you’ll remember why you fell in love with performing in the first place. It should be fun. Always…your life and your livelihood will be so much easier. I promise you.

UNLN: It seems like the sky’s the limit for you, Abby. In what roles can we expect to see you turn up next?

AM: I honestly don’t know. I did some wonderful indie features this past year that should premiere soon. I’d love to continue focusing on character work. All of my biggest actor influences are character actors. So we’ll see! I’d love to venture outside of Ellen May’s world for a bit. Hopefully revisit her next season? We’ll see. I have to survive this one first. :)

UNL’s Swearer on the road with Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

University of Nebraska-Lincoln school psychology professor Susan Swearer is riding the bus to work this week.

That’s normally not very big news — unless the mode of transportation is Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus, that is. And this week, the UNL professor is rolling with the bus alongside the U.S. leg of the pop icon’s current concert tour, which kicked off Monday evening in Tacoma, Wash.

Parked outside venues during Gaga’s new tour, the bus provides a space for 13- to 25-year-olds to learn more about local resources on anti-bullying, suicide prevention and mental health services.

BTWF co-founder Cynthia Germanotta (left) and Swearer on Monday.

Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network headquartered at UNL, was chosen to head the Research Advisory Board for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation in October. In a Monday interview with Seattle FOX affiliate KCPQ, Swearer said that she hopes the bus tour can provide resources for and help reach struggling youths.

“Being brave is recognizing your strengths,” Swearer told KCPQ. “It’s about recognizing your limitations or things that you need to work on, knowing where to get help, helping others, bravery really encompasses not only your own self development, but being brave in terms of helping others who may need some support.”

Swearer also is tweeting about her experiences this week and sharing photos from the tour. The Born Brave Bus will continue to make stops across the country through the end of the Born This Way Ball tour in March.

Contact: Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology, sswearernapolitano2@unl.edu.

Study: Generational changes cause drop in school-prayer support

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

There’s a saying that goes, “as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.” At one time, that likely reflected a fairly uniform view about school prayer: that despite what federal law said about the practice, religious Americans by and large approved of it.

A new study, however, paints a more complicated picture of attitudes toward school prayer over the last four decades, finding sharp differences in school-prayer support between different generations and their religious denominations.

Forthcoming in the journal Sociological Forum, the study maps a general decline in advocacy for school prayer starting in the mid-1970s and accelerating as skeptical Baby Boomers became ascendant through the 1980s. According to the study’s findings, school-prayer support remains markedly lower today among Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants yet unwaveringly high among their evangelical counterparts.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel modeled data from the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans’ support for prayer and reading of religious scripture in public schools over the decades. The results tracked the impact of religious affiliation and generational differences on the role of religion in public education, he said.

“Social and cultural changes have led to greater opposition to state-sanctioned prayer and reading religious materials in public schools among some segments of the population,” Schwadel said. “Specifically, there’s growing opposition among non-evangelicals but not evangelicals, and these changes manifest across generations.”

While these generational shifts have spurred changes among some denominations, evangelical Protestants have remained staunchly pro-school-prayer over the years, Schwadel said. As other religious denominations faced generationally influenced fluctuations on the topic, evangelicals persisted – more than 70 percent of evangelicals expressed support for school prayer, regardless of what generation they came from.

“What we see in these results is that there’s a very clear, unwavering perspective in the evangelical community on the role of prayer in public life,” he said. “While younger evangelicals seem to be more open to some issues, such as environmentalism, when it comes to key issues, they simply do not change across generations. There seem to be some bedrock issues they won’t budge on.”

There once was very little difference between Catholics and evangelical Protestants on the topic, particularly among those born in the early 1930s, Schwadel said. The findings also showed a relatively small difference in opinion between evangelicals and mainline Protestants for those born during that same time period.

But differences grew tremendously across generations – so that by the time those born in the 1960s and 1970s came of age, a large gap had emerged between evangelical Protestants and both mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Why? According to Schwadel’s findings, the drop was related to both “period effects” and “cohort effects” – the events of the times, highlighted by several high-profile court cases on the subject, likely began to affect opinions among people of a certain age; at the same time, the general disposition of the generation going through those times was playing a major factor.

The start of the time frame in the study – the mid-1970s – were a time of high levels of support for prayer in schools compared with the following three decades, Schwadel said; at the same time, Baby Boomers began to make up more of the population. Known for their skepticism for organized religion, the Boomers likely contributed to a consistent, decade-long drop in support of school prayer to a lower overall level that remains today.

Schwadel said he had anticipated the decline among mainline Protestants; however, he was surprised to see a parallel slide in support for school prayer among Catholics, who began the 1970s virtually tied in their level of approval with evangelicals.

One possible explanation, Schwadel said, is that over time, Catholics have become more “mainstreamed” than they were in the first half of the 20th century, when they either attended parochial schools or public schools that were predominantly Catholic. Their integration into public schools may have cut into their support for school prayer because that prayer was not exclusively Catholic, Schwadel said.

The study also found:

– Highly educated and younger respondents in the study were relatively unlikely to support prayer and reading scripture in public schools.

– African Americans and Southerners registered the highest levels of approval.

– Jewish respondents indicated the lowest levels of support, at 24 percent. Those who said they are unaffiliated with an organized religion were at 37 percent.

“These results are relevant to debates regarding the social impact of religious affiliation, generational differences and Americans’ views of the role of religion in the public sphere,” he said.

Contact: Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology, 402-472-6008, pschwadel2@unl.edu