First week at USA TODAY

USA TODAY interns

I just wrapped up my first week at USA TODAY and it has been amazing. Here’s how my week went.

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16 and license-less


In the U.S. the age of first-time drivers license receivers has risen from 16 to 19

By Marlena Chertock

He’s a junior in college, but doesn’t have his driver’s license. He’s tried to get it several times. It’s that darn parallel parking that’s tripped him up.

“I haven’t gotten my license yet for one simple reason: parallel parking,” said Josh Axelrod, who attends the University of Maryland. “I’ve taken the test an embarrassing number of times and have yet to get past the parallel parking portion. It’s pathetic.” He didn’t take the test until he was 18 because he was afraid to get behind the wheel.

Axelrod is part of a growing number of 16 to 24-year-olds across the nation who are getting their driver’s licenses at older ages. There are fewer younger drivers on the road today, and older drivers are keeping their driver’s licenses for longer, according to a study released in January 2012 from the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan.

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My poems are published!

I’m now a published poet! Two of my poems were published in this year’s issue of Stylus and one won First Place in the Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize. There are still copies of Stylus available throughout the University of Maryland campus. Pick them up while you can!

  • An invisible middle — First Place, Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize
  • Wind chimes
  • Buffalo 4 The blizzard of ’77

I have three poems in this year’s issue of Stylus!

Designing “a decade of scribblers”

This year I was hard at work as the Social Media Manager for the Writers’ House. One of my projects this semester was acting as Design Editor for the Writers’ House tenth anniversary publication, “a decade of scribblers.” I worked with a staff of three to collect submissions from current and former Writers’ House students, copy edit the submissions, and then I designed the publication.

I have a lot of experience as a page designer for newspapers, having designed feature spreads in high school and at The Pendulum. But this was my first book. This publication was truly a literary journal of its own — and I had never designed something so extensive.

While challenging, the experience was very worthwhile and now I can say that I’ve successfully designed and produced a book-length publication. Please read the submissions, (mine is included, a poem titled Scribbled lines), and feel free to comment on the design.

photo (14)

Striving for recognition, asking not to be invisible

The story of an undocumented citizen

By Marlena Chertock

Vargas writes about being an undocumented immigrant living in America, and the countless others who are as well. Photo courtesy of TIME Magazine.

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist, came out of the closet when he was in high school. But it’s taken him 12 years to come out of the “illegal” closet.

In 2011 Vargas wrote a story about his status as an undocumented Filipino living in America for The New York Times Magazine. Vargas is an accomplished journalist. He’s been published in the Washington Post, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He was also on the Washington Post team that produced Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Virginia tech shooting.

He talked about his path to founding Define American and the struggles of living as undocumented in America in Hoff Theater at the University of Maryland Tuesday night.

In a lot of ways, Vargas’ story is about searching for home. He left the Philippines in 1993 when his mother sent him to America in the hopes that he would have a better life.

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The importance of place

Chimamanda Adichie tells true, personal stories

By Marlena Chertock


Chimamanda Adichie explained the importance of place and truth in her writing at the Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series on Tuesday night at CSPAC. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

She tries to tell the Nigerian story, her Nigerian story, through fearless honesty.

Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer known for her realistic fiction and her TED talk about the danger of the single story, explained her inspiration for writing for about an hour Tuesday night as a part of the 2012-13 Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, offered by the College of Arts and Humanities. The CSPAC Gildenhorn Recital Hall was filled; tickets had sold out last week.

Adichie first read a short excerpt from one of her lesser-known works about her Uncle Mai and his death, which was published in the Financial Times.

She called her uncle “my link to our past.” A past that is connected through family, heritage and place.

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Visible Brush Strokes: Impasto Painting

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By Marlena Chertock

“I feel like I hit a wall,” says junior Hannah Methvin in room 3312 of the Art/Sociology building at the University of Maryland. The 24×36’ canvas she painted in red hues stands before her on an easel. There are lips, the curve of a nose and a brown-red border.

She’s trying to paint a collage she made, the first step in this project on expressive painting — an eye with dark black lashes, flipped on its side, with a woman’s nose, lips, teeth and chin showing through where a pupil would normally be. There are quotation marks around the woman’s lips, like she has said something or is just beginning to speak. The paint is smooth and the reds blend together, forming creases and shadows.

Painting, like many creative endeavors, is more than putting brush to canvas. It’s about risks, taking the artist’s hand out of the creation — the process is very difficult. It’s allowing the painting to become it’s own being, separate from the painter.

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Editor-in-Chief of The Writers’ Bloc

Editor-in-Chief of The Writers’ Bloc

I’m currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House newsletter, The Writers’ Bloc, where I oversee content, reporting and editing of the print and online versions of the newsletter.

I just finished hiring a staff of new reporters, multimedia reporters, photographers and copy editors. I’m really excited for this year because we have more reporters — so they’ll get less burnt out — and we have photographers, so the quality of photos will go up.

I might be most excited about the multimedia reporter position. Last year, as the Online Editor, I believed that part of my duty was to take, edit and upload videos for the newspaper. I can’t say how many hours I spent editing video. The new multimedia reporter knows her stuff and puts clips together into a short video — the way it should be done, the way I didn’t have time to do last year. So I’m really excited that our videos will be much better than what I was able to produce on my own last year.

I’ll still be writing some articles.

Interning at WTOP

I’m also interning this fall at WTOP. It’s been amazing so far. I’ve shadowed two reporters for the day, while they went out to report. I held a microphone up to a police officer, attended a press conference at the National Zoo when the giant baby panda cub died, interviewed people for MOS (man on the street audio), took photos that ended up on and wrote an article for the website.

I can’t wait to do and learn more. It’s a really amazing experience to be in a high-energy environment, surrounded by reporters doing their own stories and to be in such an award-winning newsroom.

Social Media Manager

As if all those wonderful opportunities weren’t enough, I’m also working as the Social Media Manager for the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. I manage and update the Writers’ House Facebook and Twitter accounts and design posters. It’s nice to get a behind-the-scenes look and understanding of the living learning program I’ve been a part of for the past year and a half, since I transferred from Elon.

I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I haven’t updated my positions since May. And a lot has changed since then.

Sandwich serving and salvaging furniture: Two Olney sisters’ restaurant

Sisters’ Sandwiches & Stuff is owned and run by two local sisters. Most of the food is named after their family members or friends. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

By Marlena Chertock

March, 2012

Some people do everything to avoid their siblings. But two Olney sisters who opened a restaurant and restored furniture store two years ago work together to provide homemade food to local patrons.

Kim Carlson and Tammy Prestipino, the sisters who own and manage Sisters’ Sandwiches & Such in Olney, Maryland, talked to their husbands for years about opening a furniture store or restaurant, according to Prestipino.

“They said, ‘Just do it already,’” Prestipino said.

So they did, opening up the store in the historical Higgins Tavern on Georgia Avenue in June 2010.

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Local elementary school program motivates fourth, fifth grade girls to stay active

Fit Girls offers a space for pre-adolescent girls at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School to build relationships with peers and learn about their bodies and how to stay healthy. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

By Marlena Chertock

April, 2012

Pink pieces of paper with encouraging words lined the bus parking lot outside Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School, where 30 students and 12 teachers ran after school for 25 minutes on a sunny Tuesday.

“I feel accomplished, I feel energetic, I feel alive,” said Samantha Christianson, one of the students involved in Fit Girls, reading off the papers her peers had taped on the running path.

Running around the bus loop has become a ritual for the group, called Fit Girls, every Tuesday and Wednesday after school.

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