A Trip to Uganda Inspired Brittany Merrill Underwood to Change Hundreds of Women’s Lives–And Her Own

At her flagship Akola store near SMU, Brittany Merrill Underwood ’06 showcases jewelry created by women in Uganda through the Akola Project. The sustainable impact program has empowered the lives of hundreds of women.
At her flagship Akola store near SMU, Brittany Merrill Underwood ’06 showcases jewelry created by women in Uganda through the Akola Project. The sustainable impact program has empowered the lives of hundreds of women.

Story by Leslie Barker

Brittany Merrill Underwood’s life changed – completely, thoroughly, astonishingly the summer she was 19, an age that now seems head-shakingly young. “I was the most selfish, spoiled SMU sorority girl,” she says on a recent March afternoon, sitting outside Akola, the store in Snider Plaza that fulfills a dream she didn’t know she had. “I was going to parties and trying to show up in class. My heart was empty; now it’s full.”

A dozen years later, she’s long ago lost count of the times she’s crisscrossed the globe. And how could she possibly number the lives of women she’s touched and changed for the better? Yahoo named her “Person of the Year” in 2014; during those same 12 months, she was asked to join the elite mentoring class for the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative. Clothing manufacturer Levi Strauss  honored her as one of 50 women internationally who have changed the political, cultural and spiritual shape of the future. She’s made appearances on Katie Couric’s show as well as on CNN’s Young People Who Rock. She received SMU’s Emerging Leader Award, the Dallas Women’s Foundation Young Leader Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. Most recently, she received a $75,000 United Way award in Dallas.  Read more

Ignite/Arts Dallas is All Fired Up

The Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli Aztec Dancers joined six other community dance and music groups to perform in the 2017 inaugural Public Works Dallas production of The Tempest, a collaboration of Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows, ATTPAC and Ignite/Arts Dallas.
The Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli Aztec Dancers joined six other community dance and music groups to perform in the 2017 inaugural Public Works Dallas production of The Tempest, a collaboration of Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows, ATTPAC and Ignite/Arts Dallas.

With Ignite/Arts Dallas, the word “non-traditional” comes up a lot. Launched in 2015, this innovative program at SMU Meadows covers a wide amount of territory.   

by Lauren Smart

The official mission of Ignite/Arts Dallas: A Center for People, Purpose + Place is to challenge the imagination of students and citizens to foster more just and vibrant communities through art and cultural experiences. If it sounds open-ended, that’s intentional.

“We’re an interdisciplinary initiative,” says Clyde Valentín, the program’s director. “We work with students and faculty in all the various units of Meadows – visual arts, performing arts and communication arts – emphasizing collaborations and focusing on community engagement. Every one of our projects involves partnerships with outside groups, some local, some national. We want to develop meaningful cultural programs that benefit Dallas and connect to other creative communities.” Read more