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  • maria 1:12 pm on April 14, 2014 Permalink  

    click, color, and learn 


    There are exactly 3,141 counties in the United States and I colored in every single one of them for “Beyond Red and Blue,” including the 11 that I have lived in so far: Hampshire, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Montgomery, Maryland among them. I have only lived in very blue, liberal counties and, prior to this story, felt I couldn’t live in or identify with any red state. I now realize that was very narrow-minded.

    The map on SPA’s American Communities Projects (ACP) site is nice. I thought I would just enhance it by highlighting characteristics of the 15 community types that ACP director Dante Chinni identified. Unfortunately, ACP’s map was created for the web and not suited for print so I was going to have to recreate it. Argh.

    I had a key. I had the colors. And I had plenty of time set aside for my task. The West Coast was a breeze with fewer and larger counties but as I progressed towards the Atlantic Ocean it got more challenging. Kentucky and Indiana have lot of little, organically shaped counties, and Maryland and Virginia were hard to tell apart. What a headache.

    Despite my eyes crossing, something started changing as the map was filling up. As I was clicking and coloring I started to feel differently about areas of the country I always thought were too red for me. Right there in Tennessee is an “orange” county (Hamilton), the same type (Urban Suburbs) as my current county of residence, Montgomery County, Maryland.  In Mississippi there are two “gold” counties (Oktibbeha and Lafayette), the same type (College Towns) as where I grew up, Hampshire, Massachusetts. My cut and dry notions were starting to crumble.

    Once the map was finished I went to work identifying counties that illustrate each category’s characteristics. I searched quickfacts.census.gov for all sorts of interesting facts. For example, Borden County, Texas, has only 616 people, while Fergus County, Montana, is only .3% African American. I was getting to know my country for its diversity, not for its political points of view. Sometimes that’s hard to do when you live inside the Beltway. I do know this: election night will never be the same.

  • maria 1:16 pm on April 7, 2014 Permalink  

    memory mantle 

    lighting-the-candleD14_420_032I’ve been an AU staffer for 23 years—a long tenure to be sure, but not nearly as long as the late Don Myers, who served as AU’s CFO, vice president and treasurer for 45 years. I was fortunate to work with him on several annual reports throughout the years. He always knew exactly what he wanted and was very complimentary of my work. I was honored when I was tapped to design the program for Don’s memorial service (he passed away in January after a long and courageous battle with cancer).

    I listened intently during the planning meetings, hoping that I would glean insights into his personality in order to make his program more personal. I learned he loved orchids.

    When it came time to design the magazine story on Don’s legacy, I wanted it to be more than columns of text and a few photos. There needed to be an orchid in the layout. A mantle with objects that represented Don’s professional accomplishments and personal life popped into my mind.

    Identifying items to go with a story is easy—finding them can be tricky. With a little help from our coworkers and some shopping, we found most of the items. But one important item—a mini-golden shovel—proved to be more difficult. Don broke a lot of ground on campus and he just had to have a mini-golden shovel on his mantle. I was on a mission.

    After searching several stores, I sent a typo-ridden text to Adrienne:1

    2 33

    It was totally worth the effort. Don was an impressive man who did a lot for the AU community and I wanted his mantle to be just right.

    When everything was perfectly arranged I lit the candle and wondered aloud what would be on my “memory mantle.” I drew a blank, then Adrienne chimed in: “Oh, you’d have Good & Plenty on your mantle.” (The candies are my vice.) Um, not very prestigious but at least they are easy to find.

  • 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.

  • Adrienne Frank 1:06 pm on April 2, 2014 Permalink  

    the needle in the haystack 

    POV-planeEvery magazine has its hiccups. This issue, one of my biggest challenges was securing an opening image to go with Capt. Cliff Taylor’s portrait. Much as he would’ve loved to, photographer Jeff Watts couldn’t snap an aerial image from the backseat of Cliff’s F-16 and because of security concerns, we couldn’t shoot the cockpit with all its cool instruments. And we weren’t satisfied with using a photo of plane on the ground—where’s the fun in that? That meant we need to buy a photograph.

    FB_fighterpilotI scoured the internet for F-16 images. I had gone through more than a thousand photos when I happened upon this  image by Florida photographer and airplane enthusiast Suresh Atapattu. When I sent it to Cliff to ask his thoughts, he replied:

    This is perhaps the most awesome F16 pic I’ve ever seen! It shows a highly offensive F16 carving around a corner to take a gun-shot! This jet is pulling 9Gs—no question. It’s really hard to get this shot because the setup has to be perfect and it’s incredibly difficult for the photographer. (He’s pulling at least 8Gs to allow a 9G jet behind him for <1 second.) You can tell it’s in full afterburner from the heat trail behind him and it’s a max performance turn with the leading edge and trailing edge flaps auto-digging-in. The plumes off the wing roots display the airplane’s real performance at high G maneuvering. All very interesting to plane geeks but ultimately it’s just a spectacular shot!

    I had found my needle in the haystack.

  • Adrienne Frank 1:06 pm on April 2, 2014 Permalink  

    the need for speed 

    D14_289_049xWhen my brother and I were little, my parents liked to take us to airshows. They have a photo of me, circa 1984, standing near the cockpit with a female fighter pilot. I wanted to be that woman. Top Gun, which came out when I was 8 (I choreographed a roller skating routine to Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone), solidified my fascination with fighter planes–and fighter pilots. (Volleyball scene, anyone?)

    So, I was tickled when—after a pretty intense Google search—I found AU alumnus, Capt. Cliff Taylor, SPA/BA ’98. He’d be perfect, I thought, for POV: the opening spread in the magazine. (Read more about the plane image here.)

    D14_289_030a“Diesel,” as he’s known to his fellow pilots, was game. He invited us to the D.C. Air National Guard’s 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for a photo shoot. After our first shoot was snowed out, we rescheduled for early December. As you tell by the ominous grey skies, it was frigid (Maria used her Photoshop skills to make Cliff’s hands and cheeks less red), but it was a thrill to watch F-16s scream across the sky during the shoot. And everyone, from Cliff to his flight crew, couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating.

    D14_289_044As we were wrapping up the shoot, Cliff told me I have a cool job. “This from the fighter pilot,” I replied with a laugh. While I may not pull 9Gs, it is pretty neat to work with people who do.

  • Adrienne Frank 12:57 pm on April 1, 2014 Permalink  

    ain’t no foolin’… 

    FB_coverIt’s April 1 and the new issue of American magazine is here! Copies, hot off the press, hit mailboxes soon. In the meantime, check out the April issue, which features stories about SOC filmmakers Michael DeChant Jr. ’05 and Doug Gritzmacher ’05, novelist Julia Fierro ’98, SPA’s new American Communities Project, and more, online.

  • Adrienne Frank 1:59 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink  

    winter wonderland 

    snowman_D14_396_164aWe’re always on the hunt for a fabulous photo for the “Your American” opener in the magazine. Though our next issue drops April 1, this photo from a February 13 snow storm felt right, as it’s been an brutal winter in Washington.

    The day before we went to press, however, we swapped the snowman for a photo of the men’s basketball squad, who took home the Patriot League Championship on March 12, landing a spot in the NCAA tournament. (Read Mike Unger’s tales from Milwaukee here.) It’s a fantastic image (by a student photographer, Murugi Thande ’17) and we were happy to get something about the team’s tournament bid into the magazine.

    Students-building-snowman-by-Steven-BlumStill, I was a little sad to see the snowman go. As a native Phoenician, I was over the winter weather by Thanksgiving… but I still felt a strange attachment to these smiling students and their festive creation. So, I was tickled when we found this image in the university archives while searching for photos for “Eagle Tales.”

    Looks like snowmen are something of a tradition at AU—as is grumbling about the cold weather.


  • Adrienne Frank 7:37 pm on March 14, 2014 Permalink  

    mark your calendar 

    splat calendarA new issue of American is on the way!

  • Adrienne Frank 2:25 pm on February 7, 2014 Permalink  


    auAsk anyone in D.C.—even Washington natives—and they’ll tell you this has been one of the most brutal winters in recent memory. Mother Nature has been a bitter pill, delivering lows in the single digits and snow and ice that never seem to melt. (I’m still thawing out from the 5-degree day we had a few weeks ago.)

    So, it’s fitting that our next Final Exam, courtesy of government professor Jim Quick, centers on the Arctic. The series of questions from his popular Power and Money class touch on timely security, economic and environmental issues. And they’re tricky; in addition to your wool beanie, you’re going to need to put on your thinking cap.

    Check out Jim’s quiz in the April issue of American—and in the meantime, stay warm.

    Snow covered campus pic courtesy of Holly Mcaloney

  • Adrienne Frank 7:16 pm on February 3, 2014 Permalink  

    busy, busy town 

    busytown-carsYou know it’s a good day when you can slip a reference to beloved children’s illustrator Richard Scarry into a news brief (and use the word “anthropomorphic,” to boot). I’m working on a story about AU’s connection to the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Books That Shaped Work in America” project, which commemorates the federal agency’s centennial. I was delighted to see that Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town and What Do People Do All Day? made the list. My toddler is currently obsessed with Cars and Trucks and Things That Go—and I have to say, I wouldn’t mind tooling around town in the pencil car.

    Read more about the books AU intern Amanda Kraft selected for the DOL project in the April issue of American.

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