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  • Mike Unger 6:48 pm on July 30, 2014 Permalink  

    more stories about storytelling 

    For the latest issue of the magazine, I had the pleasure of soliciting personal stories from SOC faculty, alums, and students. The stories could be about anything – the only common thread was that they held significance to the teller.

    I got such great feedback from the SOC community that, predictably, we didn’t have enough room in the magazine to run them all.

    Enter this blog. Online there are no such space restrictions, so over the next few weeks, I’ll be running additional stories in this space. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did hearing them.

    Pat Aufderheide, professor and codirector, Center for Social Media

    “I had a chance encounter with a well-placed alum of our graduate program in film production. He had been poorly served by his undergraduate university and lacked some basic compositional skills. I taught a required class in film theory that he struggled heroically with, and that I worked hard to help him with, but ultimately he got a D. In the end it didn’t stop him from succeeding in the program, as he had enormous dedication. I thought I’d never see him again.

    “It must have been 10 years later when I ran into him in the hallway. He stopped me and said, “Professor Aufderheide! I have something to tell you. For years after I left the program, I hated you. I really hated you. But I also found myself asking about my work, what would Professor Aufderheide say? Would this be good enough for Professor Aufderheide? I think I couldn’t be here now if I hadn’t asked those questions. So I can finally say, thank you. Thank you.”

    “I was completely floored.”


  • Mike Unger 2:12 pm on April 22, 2014 Permalink  

    boston strong 

    FB_marathonDickson Mercer, SOC/MA ’12, who is featured in the current issue’s “This I Know,” yesterday completed his second Boston Marathon. He finished in an impressive 2 hours, 38 minutes, 37 seconds—good for 254th place.

    Here are his observations from a remarkable day in Boston.

    “This year was really all about ‘Boston Strong,’ about reclaiming an amazing tradition and celebration of running and the human spirit. And I would say, from the very beginning—individual race goals aside—there was definitely a very palpable we’re-all-in-this-together feeling. Everyone involved—runners, spectators, race support, law enforcement, first responders—wanted this to be a success, and it was. It was amazing, and I was honored to be a part of it.

    “I was really focused on my own race, keeping my eyes ahead and soaking up the energy from all the people lining the streets cheering for us. One of the few times I did look over was around the halfway point where there were all these kids jumping on mini-trampolines just having the best time. There was music blasting; it was just this awesome street party atmosphere.

    “Around 16, though, things got pretty tough for me; I went from being on pace for a personal best to really just having to gut it out and get across the finish line. I developed a really bad blister early on that just got worse and worse, and I started to feel the effects of dehydration. Most of my friends and family were in the 20s, and it was hearing my name every mile or two that got me through it and across the finish line. Then, to be walking through the finishers chute to the family meet-up area and to hear that Meb Keflezighi, one of my heroes, had won the race, becoming the first American to win since 1983—that was actually when it really sunk in: what an amazing reclamation of the Boston Marathon I had just taken part in.”

    Congratulations, Dickson, on an incredible accomplishment.

  • Mike Unger 2:03 pm on April 3, 2014 Permalink  

    march madness 

    It may not feel like it around here, but we are still in the midst of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s been almost two weeks since AU lost its opening game to Wisconsin, a talented team that will take the floor Saturday in the Final Four.

    I had the opportunity to follow the Eagles during their brief stay in Milwaukee, where I tweeted about everything from the smells on the street outside the arena (think grilled pork products) to the action on the court. (Follow us @AU_AmericanMag)IMG_2840It was a festive atmosphere (for everyone except, perhaps, the team) in the cold and windy city on the banks of Lake Michigan. Most fans I spoke with, while holding out hope for a shocking upset, were simply proud of the team’s accomplishments this season and happy to have made the tournament. In the end, Wisconsin was just too tough. They’re a versatile, well-coached team with more offense this year than in years past. They’re underdogs to Kentucky on Saturday night, but I’m picking the Badgers to pull the upset (and then lose to Florida in the title game Monday night).

    While the Eagles will be watching the Final Four at home with the rest of us this weekend, one national publication still has AU very much in the spotlight. Mother Jones published a fascinating piece on its website titled “What If Spending More on Women’s Sports Meant NCAA Tourney Wins?

    Hint: It would be a very different Final Four.

    Enjoy the games this weekend.

  • Mike Unger 5:59 pm on December 5, 2013 Permalink  

    our latest new American 

    DullahDullah Hassan is America’s newest citizen.

    Well, almost (more on that later).

    Hassan, the 20-year-old freshman who graces the cover of the latest edition of the magazine, passed his citizenship test Monday. He originally was scheduled to take it in October (before the magazine came out), but it was postponed due to the government shutdown.

    On a chilly morning in a nondescript office building in Fairfax, Virginia, Hassan passed the reading, writing, and civics tests that turned out to be much easier than he anticipated. In the car on the way to the Washington field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he crammed in some last-minute studying on his iPhone.

    He wasn’t particularly nervous or anxious. Hassan has lived in America for nearly a decade now. He speaks English fluently, and he’s well versed in the country’s history. He was confident.

    After going through a metal detector to enter the building (belts had to come off, but shoes could stay on), Dullah had to show his official test time and date notification, his green card, and provide scans of his fingerprints (actual ink prints had been taken months earlier). Following a short wait in the DMV-like waiting room, he was called into the office of a test administrator and placed under oath.

    Aida Hernandez, the USCIS official who interviewed Dullah, had him sign an attorney waver, then mentioned that there was a slight problem. Applicants are required to be residents of the area in which they’ll be sworn in for at least 90 days before filing their official citizenship application. Dullah grew up near Atlanta and didn’t come to Washington until August, meaning he didn’t meet the D.C. area residency requirement.

    Hernandez told him that if he passed the test, he’d have to take the oath in Atlanta. Hassan, an unflappable kind of kid, took the hiccup in stride.

    The first set of questions Hernandez asked Hassan included:

    • Are you a member of a terrorist organization?
    • Do you owe taxes?
    • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
    • Have you ever sold or smuggled narcotics?
    • Have you ever helped assist in smuggling anyone into the country?

    “No,” Dullah (thankfully) replied to them all.

    His reading sample was straightforward: “Who elects Congress,” he said with no problem.

    Hernandez asked him to write the sentence “Congress meets in Washington,” before moving on to the civics test. Six questions were selected from the 100 possible ones Hassan studied. He went six-for-six, correctly answering:

    • Name three of the 13 original colonies
    • Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
    • Name one state that borders Mexico
    • Who is the commander in chief of the military?
    • What are the two major political parties?
    • Which party is the president a member of?

    “You passed, congratulations,” Hernandez said. And that was it. No balloons, no music, no fanfare. Hassan’s technically not a citizen until his swearing in, but during the walk back to the car he smiled and said he was “relieved.”

    He planned to celebrate by eating a big lunch on campus, registering for classes next semester, and perhaps taking a nap. When you’ve experienced as much as Dullah has, nothing seems like too big of a deal.

    His newfound status is, perhaps, more exciting to his girlfriend. Samantha, who attends Emory University, texted him: “I’m going to be dating an American!”

  • Mike Unger 7:26 pm on October 22, 2013 Permalink  

    Cuba in photos 

    It’s hard for me to believe that six months—almost an entire baseball season—have passed since I returned from a week-long trip to Cuba with 15 AU students. The story I wrote about their alternative spring break in the current issue the magazine details their experiences on the island, where they studied access to higher education.

    The students and I took thousands of photos (even though my camera broke after the first day!), only a handful of which ran in the article. So we decided to assemble some more into our first-ever magazine slideshow, narrated by yours truly. I tried to include to some interesting information, facts, and observations about the country that I couldn’t get into the story.

    After more than one take, this is what we came up with. I hope you enjoy it as much as people seemed to like the story.


    View the slideshow

    Many thanks to Nadia Trowers, Jel Montoya-Reed, and Jeff Watts of University Communication and Marketing, all of whom helped with this project.

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