lifehistorysmall.jpgWhat do a 20-something Colgate student and a 70-something area resident have in common? More than you might think, it turns out.

Twelve seniors taking the Sociology of Age, Aging, and the Lifecourse class were paired with an elder and tasked with creating a digital story about that person.

The students in sociology professor Meika Loe’s course, though, learned as much about themselves as their partners, discovering what “it” is that can define a person’s life and give it real meaning.

Timely lessons, Loe pointed out, for seniors considering post-Colgate options and the need to newly navigate friendships, family, material life and possessions, and a sense of home.

Mary Deland, of Hamilton, points out some photographs to Jane Eilbacher ’10. The pair worked on a digital story about Deland’s life for the class called Sociology of Age, Aging, and the Lifecourse. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

The lab component of the course culminated in the digital stories, videos of about three minutes each that were screened Dec. 3 in Golden Auditorium.

While there was no red carpet, it was like a movie premiere at the auditorium for the students and elders who greeted each other as old friends and who shared animated conversations with classmates, family members, and friends.

Joanna Sherman ’10 chatted with her elder partner, Joanne Geyer.

The two didn’t know each other before the project, despite living only a few houses away from each other in the village. They met about five times at The Barge coffee shop and spent hours talking.

Digital story telling

Professor Meika Loe, who had taken a digital story telling workshop this past summer, worked with Ray Nardelli, manager of digital media, to develop the lab for the course.

Loe instructed the students about life-history interviewing skills and Nardelli showed them the technical aspects of creating a digital story. Both worked with students as they produced their videos in a digital media lab in Little Hall.

The lab was a part of the course syllabus, and students spent about 25 hours collecting the elders’ life histories and creating the videos.

“This is a great example of how our technology resources can really add to a professor’s course and the overall academic experience for our students,” said Nardelli.

Watch the digital stories here.

They soon discovered that they were both only children, and that they shared interests in international relations and the columns and books of Nicholas Kristof.

“It was just such a pleasant surprise how much the two of us had in common,” said Sherman, a political science major. “I feel like I have made a new friend in the Hamilton community.”

Carol Bergen, of Hamilton, met with Laura McDonald ’10 several times as she shared her story, which focused on her passion for the Spanish language and Hispanic studies.

“We laughed together and we cried together,” said Bergen. “It was emotional for me to go back in time like that.”

The collaborative nature of the project was compelling for everyone involved, said Loe.

“It was interesting to see how the life story moved from memories to being a student-elder co-production, and how both elders and students walked away with new perspectives,” she said.

Jane Eilbacher ’10 worked with Mary Deland, who discussed the importance of family and about serving as postmaster in nearby West Eaton.

Deland couldn’t attend the campus screening so Eilbacher went to her Madison Lane apartment to show the video.

“I didn’t know ahead of time, but Mary’s family came to see it and we had the chance to watch the digital story together,” said Eilbacher. “After hearing so much about the people in her life, it was wonderful to talk with them and see the great rapport Mary has with her daughter and grandsons.”

The videos don’t represent an elder’s life — they can’t in three minutes — but they might provide an understanding of that life.

“It was eye-opening for me,” said Kate Gundersen ’10, who spoke after her partner Arthur Rashap ’58 taped the script for their video in the audio studio of Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology.

“It was great to put what we were learning in class into such real terms,” she said. “And it was a highlight of my week to meet with Arthur, he had so many experiences to share.”