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  • Adrienne Frank 3:44 pm on January 24, 2014 Permalink  

    a little taste 

    1982-rocky-rear-90One of the coolest parts of my job is unearthing interesting connections to the university—and sharing those stories with you.

    I wanted to give you a sneak peek of one of the stories you’ll find in the April issue of American. What’s AU’s connection to Rocky? You’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, check out this iconic clip. (If you’re like me, it will have you hankering for a cheesesteak from Steve’s in South Philly.)

  • Adrienne Frank 2:44 pm on January 16, 2014 Permalink  

    drumroll, please 

    Congratulations to Christopher Hannigan, SPA/BA ’07, winner of this issue’s “Final Exam.” Christopher will receive a six-month subscription to Politics and Prose Bookstore’s Book-a-Month Gift Program.

    If you missed the question, here’s a recap:


    The answers, which Christopher and another dozen or so alumni aced, are:

    1. 20       2. 16       c. larger       d. 16

    Check out the April issue of American–which features a test question from SPA—for another chance to win.

  • Adrienne Frank 6:22 pm on December 17, 2013 Permalink  

    aim high 

    1501794_10152015338472459_596937123_nYesterday I realized one of my childhood dreams: getting up close and personal with an F-16. (My parents have a photo of me as a little girl with a female fighter pilot at an air show in Arizona. I wanted to be that woman.)

    I’m not going to give anything away (you’ll have to check out the April issue of American magazine to find out why we were at Andrews Air Force Base), but I will share this photo of art director Maria Jackson with an awesome piece of machinery in the background.

    Curiosity piqued yet?

  • Adrienne Frank 8:24 pm on December 12, 2013 Permalink  

    we’re golden! 

    D14_336_003American magazine received a gold award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) District II. Among the judges’ comments: “Good sense of place; concepts borrowed well from popular media; quality info and storytelling.”

    I’m not going to lie, we’re on cloud nine! A lot of love and sweat equity went into the redesign and we’re so proud of the magazine. The real reward is that AU alumni enjoy the magazine… but the CASE award is pretty awesome, too.

  • 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!”

  • Adrienne Frank 6:02 pm on December 3, 2013 Permalink  

    a witness to history 

    pov2AU tops Princeton Review’s 2013 list of most politically active campuses, so it should come as no surprise that our alumni are equally engaged in “the business of Washington.”

    White House press assistant Hannah Hankins, SOC/BA ’11, is one of AU’s “party animals.” Hannah—who worked in the magazine’s own University Communications and Marketing office as an undergrad—has held three different positions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We were blown away by how cool, calm and collected Hannah is, especially since we arrived to take her photo late on Sept. 27, the Friday before the government shutdown. (President Obama delivered remarks in the briefing room just minutes before Jeff Watts snapped Hannah’s portrait.)

    Cooler still, the native Minnesotan is one of five AU alumna in the White House communications office. pov1(Pictured from left: Hankins; associate research director Kristen Bartoloni, SPA/BA ’08; executive assistant to the communications director Dawn Selak, SOC/BA ’10; and deputy research director Alex Platkin, SPA/BA ’07. With the impending shutdown, ommunications director Jennifer Palmieri couldn’t make the mini AU reunion.)

    And speaking of the “POTUS,” as Hannah called him throughout our interview, President Barack Obama will be at AU on Thursday, December 5 for a taping of Hardball with Chris Matthews. You can submit a question for the POTUS here.

  • maria 2:39 pm on November 30, 2013 Permalink  

    bat’s out of the bag 

    This-I-Know_vampireSenior editor Adrienne Frank and I were in search of a good pair of vampire teeth for this issue’s “This I Know.” Our subject, Katharina Vester, teaches a class on vampire narratives. Though it’s a rigorous literature survey, Katharina was up for doing something fun with the image. So, we decided to top a stack of “required reading” with the vampire teeth.

    We had to drive 40 minutes to a pop-up Halloween store in suburban Maryland to find a pair of teeth (who knew they’d be so difficult to find!).  At the checkout counter, a rubber bat caught my eye. Vampires turn into bats, right? I imagined it flying near Katharina, adding a little more life (and fun!) to the photo.

    D14_207_001Of course I didn’t think it through. When I got back to the office and took the bat out of the bag, I saw that I was in trouble. The bat was very floppy and rubbery. How were we going to make it fly?







    Photographer Jeff Watts to the rescue! He took the bat and disappeared for a while. He then called me in to his studio and proudly showed off his rig—there was the bat flying, waiting for its photo to be snapped.

  • Adrienne Frank 5:20 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink  

    next stop: Georgia Avenue/Petworth 

    D14_248_030_Metrocentered I know I shouldn’t choose favorites, but “Metrocentered” is one of the most fun pages in the magazine. So much work goes into it–and yet, the final product looks very natural. Based on the feedback we’ve heard from readers, “Metrocentered” is one of your favorites, too.

    D14_248_050_metrocenter_groupWe just shot the Union Station “Metrocentered” last month (it was, as it often is, the last thing on our to-do list). So, it felt a little odd to be shooting another “Metrocentered” just a few weeks later!

    For the April issue, we hop on the green/yellow line to the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metro, where we have alumni, staff, and a student doing some very cool stuff. We needed to shoot the image in November, as it looks more like spring now than it would if we waited until February, right before we go to press. In order to remove any trace of fall, art director Maria Jackson and I got to the location, Grant Circle, 30 minutes early to rake up all the leaves. (My job requires more manual labor than you might expect.) More than a few Petworth residents, who strolled through the park as we were feverishly raking leaves, noted that “the park service is really on top of things.”

    The photo, which I’ll share with you in a few months, turned out great–and I can honestly say we left the park better than we found it.

    If you want to see your Metro stop featured in a future issue of American magazine, shoot me an email at

  • maria 5:02 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink  

    a nod to Warhol 

    When I learned that we were profiling alumnus Alice Denney, a 91 year old lady who counts the who’s who of the pop art world among her closest friends, my first question to the editor, Adrienne Frank, was, “What does she look like?”

    Adrienne didn’t have any visuals yet . . . time for me to Google! There weren’t many images of Alice, but of the ones I could find, there was no escaping her signature glasses—they were huge. So I was prepared when Alice opened the door to let “the team” into her house to take her photograph. She was wearing an enormous pair of funky glasses.

    andy-warhol-marilyn-monroe-1960sAfter our brief time in her house, filled to the brim with the most wonderful and crazy art, and reading Lee Fleming’s story, it was time for me to figure out how to illustrate the article. Alice has such a long list of connections with cool artists like Jim Dine and Jasper Johns but it was the iconic Andy Warhol that jumped out at me. He’s always been one of my favorites. Everyone knows his silk screen of Marilyn Monroe—the same portrait repeated in multiple squares and in different colors. What a perfect way to show off Alice’s glasses!

    denneyOnce I created my first “Alice Denney,” it was a blast experimenting with changing the color of her glasses (and her jacket, buttons, and lips). It was hard for me to stop at nine. It was nice for me to go loud and bright—and out of my comfort zone.

    Although I know I’m not any kind of pop artist, it was thrilling to pretend for a little while.

  • maria 2:42 pm on November 19, 2013 Permalink  

    from nothing to something 

    Although I don’t conceive or write feature stories for American, I am privy to their origins. I sit in the editorial meetings listening to the editor and writers talk about story ideas. Sometimes while I listen I feel panicked and think, “How am I going to illustrate that? I’m doomed!” But other times, images pop into my head immediately and I want to get started right then and there—not knowing if the story is even going to pan out.

    new-american-shootThe story “Swearing In” was just one of those “I got it!” moments when writer Mike Unger first pitched the story eight months ago. I immediately envisioned a hallway wall with ornately framed black and white portraits, under thick glass hung on large patterned, flowery wallpaper of an immigrant family’s early- or mid-twentieth century home. As Mike was talking I began imagining. I had already moved on—thinking about the logistics of collecting frames, where to get vintage wallpaper, and how to photograph the subjects (not even identified yet!).

    Luckily Mike’s story became a reality so I could realize my vision. And unlike some stories there was plenty of time to find frames and neat wallpaper (Etsy’s Hannah’s Treasures had just what we needed) and take the pictures of the new (and not so new) citizens Mike interviewed.

    Now it was time for the fun part! I enjoy the challenges that often come with my “big ideas.” How was I going to wallpaper and on what? How was I going to organize and hang the frames? With the help of our photographer, Jeff Watts, I decided to use the studio floor. Even after a week of being under weights the wallpaper wouldn’t unfurl. It was tough lining up the flourishes without the wallpaper rolling back over on me. Once secured, I was able to move the frames around (no holes!) and adjust accordingly so all would fit correctly in the final layout.D14_242_031When I look at the final image in the magazine I remember the wonderful subjects I got to meet, their willingness to stand in front of a huge American flag, put their hands over their hearts, and smile. It was an honor to put their portraits in frames, “hang” them on the floor, and make them part of the American family.

    Check out “Swearing In” in the new issue of American magazine.

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