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

Fearless Foodies: Two Meadows Alums Start an Edible Movement

Photo by Meadows alum Claire McCormack Hogan
Meadows alum Claire McCormack Hogan started a new passion project after graduation: Food photography

For Meadows alums Jennie Kelley and Claire McCormack Hogan, working with food was the beginning of a new movement.

Both alums left Meadows with a trajectory in mind, then adapted their majors into intriguing, and now buzzing, careers in the food industry. MPRINT checked in with the alums to talk about what paths led them to food, how they handled post-college challenges and how Meadows inspired them along the way.

Courtesy Jennie Kelley
Jennie Kelley (B.A. Film ’96) is the creator and co-chef of FRANK, an underground restaurant – Photo Benjamin Gibson Photography

JENNIE KELLEY (B.A. Film ’96) is a food stylist in Dallas, a MasterChef Season 2 finalist, a founding member of the popular symphonic choral group The Polyphonic Spree and creator and co-chef of FRANK, the underground restaurant.

I got the culinary bug from years of traveling around the globe with my band and musical ensemble, The Polyphonic Spree. I would be in random places, from Japan to San Francisco, and research the best places to eat. At first, it was because I loved food and thought, “When am I going to be back here? I better try this now!” Then, I felt inspiration from those chefs. I would go home and try to recreate my favorite dishes from the road for my friends at home.

Later I researched alternative restaurants and discovered the Underground Restaurant movement. I read the book Secret Suppers by Jenn Tracy Garbee and knew I wanted to bring that concept to Dallas. It wasn’t until after I was on MasterChef and met my then-competitor, now chef and partner, Ben Starr, that it became a reality with FRANK.

At FRANK, we do themed dinners, and one of my favorites was “Godfather Frank.” I researched, exhaustively, all of the food in the Francis Ford Coppola film, including the food’s history and the history of the dishes from Corleone, Sicily. It was inspiring to combine my film major with my most recent creative outlet, and cook and devise the menus based on this inspiration.

I loved my training at SMU. I’ve always loved learning, and it truly is a wonderful institution that fosters that love. It’s amazing when I think back on how small and intimate my classes were. I have the fondest memories of classes with Professor Alessandra Comini in art history and Professor Rick Worland in film. At the end of the day, Meadows instills a realization: If you have a fulfilled life, you will always be learning. That realization has made its way into my love of cooking. Also, Meadows inspired uniqueness and creativity. I’m a food stylist for photo shoots and commercials, and I think both my film and art history training helped hone my design and visual eye. Read more