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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.”


  • Adrienne Frank 2:39 pm on June 9, 2014 Permalink  

    good sports 

    Though I’m an editor and writer, I love a photo shoot. It’s exciting to develop a vision and execute it—or rather, have our talented photographer, Jeff Watts, execute it. I would guesstimate that about 90 percent of the images you see in the magazine are original, not stock, photos.

    When our friends in Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) decided to profile Loren and Jamie Danielson for the April issue, we knew exactly where we wanted to photograph the Bethesda couple. Loren, Kogod/BSBA ’80 and Jamie, CAS/BA ’81, are generous, longtime supporters of the AU wrestling program (Loren wrestled for AU). What better place to photograph them than the new Bender Arena locker rooms, surrounded by the wrestling team?

    When we went to scout the locker room before the shoot, it looked like a hurricane had come through. The guys were at practice, so there were shoes, clothes, and wrestling gear everywhere. (It was a good preview of what my son’s room will look like when he hits the teenage years.) A few days later, however, when we met the Danielsons, DAR staff, and the coaching staff for the photo, the room was spotless—as were the wrestlers, all decked out in their warmup gear.

    We tried several combinations before settling on the fourth photo below. The students were great sports (no pun intended). I know being photographed can be a little uncomfortable, but they did everything we asked with a laugh and a smile. And, like our wrestling squad, the final photo is a winner.


  • maria 1:21 pm on June 2, 2014 Permalink  

    ugly duckling 

    Cameo_Joy-of-ChemestryWe knew exactly how we were going to illustrate “Joy of Chemistry” about CAS professor Matthew Hartings’s class on the science behind food. It was going to be easy as pie.

    Adrienne and I hit up five different stores looking for the best jumbo blueberry muffins we could find. They needed to have round, sky-high tops with crumbles, and fat blueberries. Starbucks was the clear winner.

    We waited until the day of the shoot for peak freshness. We didn’t know that we needed to buy them before 7 a.m. if we wanted to be that picky (annoying) customer behind the glass pointing at the specific muffins we wanted. We had to take what we got. We bought the last three—the third one being our “just in case” muffin as it was, frankly, ugly.  Its top was amoeba shaped, flat, and had a skimpy crumble covering. When we met our photographer, Jeff Watts, in the studio for the shoot I left it in the paper bag in my office thinking I’d take it home for my son to enjoy.

    This shoot should have been quick—maybe a half an hour. But food stylists we are not. We quickly discovered that we shouldn’t have used the most beautiful muffin first. We pinched off part of its perfect top to simulate how one might begin to eat such a lovely, fluffy muffin. Though we could picture it in our heads, we spent 15 minutes trying to style a mangled mess into something attractive—to no avail. We moved on to our second best-looking muffin and spent even more time to get worse results.

    123We only had the ugly muffin left. We decided to go Seinfeld and “break free” the muffin top from the stump. This was definitely the better way to go but the irregularity of the muffin top was pronounced in Jeff’s images. Our stomachs dropped. We were resigned to the fact this photo illustration was not going to be our best. We were ready to call it quits when I thought to lift up the muffin top to the same level as the muffin bottom. In a feet of engineering (if I do say so myself), I propped up the top with stray blueberries. After strategically placing some crumbs, Jeff took a few shots and ta-da, we had our picture. Our ugly duckling came through.

    blueberry-stiltsI will never look at or eat a blueberry muffin the same way again.

  • Adrienne Frank 3:43 pm on May 26, 2014 Permalink  

    fire in the hole 

    FB_paintballThe photo of filmmakers Michael DeChant Jr., SOC/MFA ’05, and Doug Gritzmacher, SOC/MFA ’05, in the current issue of American looks pretty simple. The duo behind the documentary, Soldiers of Paint, about the world’s largest paintball game—a restaging of D-Day in tiny Wyandotte, Oklahoma—are posed with their camera gear in front of a wall splattered with paint.

    Truth is, hours of planning, three trips to the Ranger Surplus store, and lots of heavy lifting went into that single shot.

    wall-before-paintball_iphoneMaria knew she wanted to photograph Doug and Mike outdoors, covered in paint. (No easy task, given the nasty weather we endured this winter.) Since we couldn’t shoot up a wall—fun as that would’ve been—we stripped and painted two of the 10’x5′ boards from AU’s holiday card shoot in our parking garage (special thanks to our work study, Tiffany Wong, for all the elbow grease), then transported them to Maria’s house in upper Montgomery County where we could paintball without scaring the neighbors. There we met up with Doug and Mike to have a little fun.

    paintball_2_iphonepaintball-wall_iphoneMike-propping_D14_387_010group_D14_387_097xThis was a particularly enjoyable shoot; not only were our subjects game for anything, the final image is fantastic. Also, I love when I have the opportunity to work with Maria, Mike, and Jeff all at once, as they’re incredibly creative and talented.

    Oh, and it turns out, firing a paintball gun is great way to relieve stress.

  • maria 1:08 pm on May 12, 2014 Permalink  

    Esty and me 

    linedrawing_brownstonesI am not an illustrator, but sometimes I have no choice. This usually happens when a portrait of the subject doesn’t tell enough of the story, and there’s no time or money to hire a professional illustrator. Although I may be smiling on the outside when I find myself in this position, I’m usually filled with self-doubt and, frankly, fear.

    “The Writer’s Block” came in very late. Twelve days before we were to go to press, actually. Another story didn’t pan out, but writer Mike Unger was able to tap into an interesting alumna, Julia Fierro, author of the forthcoming Cutting Teeth and founder of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop in Brooklyn. Mike didn’t know how the story was going to flesh out so I couldn’t do any pre-planning. I had to wait for the story.

    Freelancer Amanda Stevenson Lupke took some wonderful portraits of Julia but when I read Mike’s story I knew we needed to tap into Brooklyn, which is a major character in Julia’s story. We had to get a brownstone image and it had to be whimsical. It was Friday. I needed the layout done by Monday.

    istock_brownstonesI searched my go-to stock image websites feeling a little sick until I came across a row of typical brownstones on iStock.com. I could use it as reference. All I needed was a light table—which, of course, I didn’t have. I may not be an illustrator, but I am resourceful. I took a flat lantern we had in our basement and glass from a frame hanging on our hallway wall to create a small, primitive light table. I purchased the iStock image and went to work. I found myself getting excited as the drawing was coming together. The iStock image only had two stories, but I could make three! I started to feel confident. I wanted to create matching art—street sign, crumbled paper, pencil, envelope, and Julia’s book—for the layout. The New Yorker popped into my mind and I decided to put my little black and white “doodles” in the text. I was pumped. I’d draw a frame for Julia’s portrait!

    When I came into work on Monday, I showed my coworkers the drawings. I was so tickled and ignored my usual M.O. to lay low. One of my coworkers looked at the iStock image and my drawing and said, “You Etsy-fied it!”

    I love Etsy so I took that as a compliment.

  • Adrienne Frank 1:11 pm on May 5, 2014 Permalink  

    back to school 

    FB_teacherI know I shouldn’t play favorites, but “Unpacked” has a special place in my heart. It’s such a fun page to work on and, if I do say so myself, a really cool concept. How do the items in your bag speak to your profession, personality, and passion? (At the moment, I have a copy of Real Simple, my toddler’s fire truck, and a bag of jelly beans in my purse—you can draw your own conclusions.)

    The fact that our subjects get so involved in the “Unpacked” process also makes it a lot of fun. Perhaps it’s because we touch all their stuff, but by the end of the shoot, it always feels like the subjects are old friends.

    unpacked_iphonepixSince we launched the redesigned magazine in late 2012, we’ve been hankering to feature an elementary school teacher. “Imagine all the crayons and glue sticks!” I said to Maria. Brieanna Samples-Wright, CAS/MAT ’12, a kindergarten teacher at Stanton Elementary School in D.C. was game for letting us rummage through her floral tote.

    upacked_D14_407_001In order to accommodate Brie’s school schedule, we did the shoot in her classroom, which turned out to be a blessing. (We have to get on our hands and knees for this one, and the colorful rug provided some extra padding.) I knew I wanted the background to look like an elementary school bulletin board and Maria got the dimensions just right (after five issues, we’ve perfected the process). I loved all the color and texture in Brie’s items; she’s a cheery, devoted teacher and that enthusiasm for education and her students shines through in her objects.

    What’s in your bag? If you want to give our readers a peek inside, email magazine@american.edu.

  • maria 1:13 am on April 28, 2014 Permalink  

    where’s Waldo? 

    Untitled-1It’s hard to believe we’ve produced five issues of the redesigned magazine—enough to start seeing patterns in our work. Adrienne and I didn’t intend to be in all the Metrocentered photographs. In our first Metrocentered (Gallery Place-Chinatown), I was crossing the street behind our subjects, who made loop after loop around the intersection. Adrienne is with her 3 month old baby, Owen, waiting until the shoot was finished to thank the subjects with a $5 Starbucks card. If you look closely you can see them in the background.

    xgalleryplaceWhen shooting the second Metrocentered (Columbia Heights), we thought balloons would be a cheery touch (we saw a woman with balloons when we scouted the location weeks before the shoot), so Adrienne attached some to Owen’s stroller. We knew she would be in the shot.


    By the third (Dupont Circle), we decided it would be fun if both of us were in the photo but in the final image Adrienne is blocked by a subject. In the fourth (Union Station) I had to stay back to watch the subjects’ belongings.

    xdupontxunionFinally, as planned, for the fifth and latest (Georgia Ave.-Petworth) we are both visible. (Though Adrienne thinks it’s pretty neat that she can document Owen’s childhood through these photos, he didn’t attend this particular shoot.) Can you spot us?

    xgeorgia D14_296_048We’d love to feature your Metro stop in an upcoming issue. Email suggestions to magazine@american.edu.

  • 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.

  • Adrienne Frank 1:09 pm on April 21, 2014 Permalink  

    helping hands 

    eagle talesHere’s the thing about pulling old photos from the AU archives: most of the images don’t come with captions identifying the who, what, where, and when. But sometimes you get lucky.

    Case in point, this issue’s Eagle Tales image. We knew it had to be old (check out the car in the background) and we were hoping archivist Susan McElrath could narrow down the time period for us. So, I was absolutely tickled when Susan emailed me not only the exact date, but all five names, to boot (they are, from left: Ella Harllee, Margaret Snavely, Margaret Warthen, Florence Yeager, and Ruth Hudson).

    The photo of the plaid-clad, pickax-packing coeds building a new stone walk on campus was taken during AU’s Arbor Day celebration, April 14, 1937. Green thumbs gathered every year for AU’s Arbor Day festivities from 1933 to 1945; students got the day off from classes to help build bridges, fireplaces, and walks.

    cbd_1The Arbor Day celebration was the precursor to Campus Beautification Day, which has become an April tradition at AU. Tomorrow, hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and friends of AU will fan out to 17 sites across campus to plant, prune, and beautify during the 21st annual festivities. Learn about how you can get involved here.

  • Adrienne Frank 4:38 pm on April 15, 2014 Permalink  

    next stop: King St.-Old Town 

    Old-Town-Alexandria“Metrocentered” is heading to Virginia. We’re hopping on the blue/yellow line to King St.-Old Town for the August issue of American magazine.

    If you live, work, or hang in Old Town Alexandria, we want to hear from you. Share your connections: email magazine@american.edu.

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