Story Experience celebrates collaboration between students and community

Jake Clements, a UWM English major, worked with the Milwaukee Parks Foundation to produce a video sharing the history of the foundation’s new home, the Martin Luther King Community Center.

Sara Issa, a UWM linguistics doctoral student, brought creativity and community to residents at the Ovation Chai Point senior living center through cross-cultural conversations and lessons on making origami.

Lejla Ganija, a UWM English Education major, discusses the work she did with Islands of Brilliance with a visitor to the showcase event. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

Emma Wyngard, a Marquette senior in English, worked with Mount Mary students to document the stories of undergraduate women on the campus and develop the stories into a podcast.

Ken Bartelt, a doctoral student in history, began a project to help the Beckum-Stapleton Little League, the oldest area league focusing primarily on African American young people, gather oral histories and develop signage about its history for its ball fields.

All of these students are among the 2022-2023 fellows in the Story Experience Program.

The program, which includes UWM and Marquette students, builds collaborations with communities and organizations across the city to shape and share stories, according to Anne Basting, professor of English and director of UWM’s Center for 21st Century Studies, which houses the project. She and Sarah Wadsworth, English professor and director of the university press at Marquette, are the lead instructors for the project.

Anne Basting, professor of English and director of the Center for 21st Century Studies, is one of the leaders of the Story Experience Program. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

Students use a variety of techniques – writing, oral history interviews, story circles, podcasts and videos – to help community members share their stories. Each project includes a mentor from the community organization. The mentors and community members work with the Story Project fellows to design projects.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council and the President’s and Chancellor’s Challenge Award support the Story Experience Project.  (The President’s and Chancellor’s Challenge Award is a collaborative effort of Marquette President Mike Lovell and UWM Chancellor Mark Mone.)

The students have a two-semester experiential learning opportunity – developing communications, research, archiving and other skills while building relationships with community members.

This year’s Story Experience Projects were featured at an event May 12 at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall.

Sara Issa, a linguistics doctoral student, demonstrated flower making at the showcase. She used origami and other creative crafts to connect with residents at the Ovation Chai Point senior living center. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

“It’s been a great experience,” said Donna Robinson, a UWM student who is working toward a certificate in applied gerontology. She worked with residents at Manor Pointe Senior Living. She and the residents came up with stories to share on different topics through a Storytellers Studio. Residents wrote down their stories, presented them verbally and even created poetry. The results are being compiled in a book for all residents. “It’s been so much fun and given all of us joy,” Robinson said.

Lejla Ganija, a UWM English Education senior, worked with students at Islands of Brilliance, a nonprofit that provides creative learning experiences for individuals on the autism spectrum. In learning how to empower the students to create stories and art projects, she felt she learned from the students and grew as a future teacher. “It changed the way I think about people who are neurodivergent.”

Issa enjoyed working with the seniors at Chai Point, sharing stories and creating with origami.

“I liked building relationships with them and becoming part of a community.”

Bartelt, who did his master’s thesis on the Negro Leagues in Milwaukee, had the opportunity to meet and interview James Beckum, now in his 90s, who is the founder of the Beckum-Stapleton Little League. Bartelt became so immersed in the project that he’ll be coaching a team of 11- and 12-year-olds in the league this summer.  He’s continuing the project, and the experiences he had will eventually become part of his doctoral thesis on the intersection of sports and race, he said.

While the projects are all different, they are connected by the human passion for telling stories to connect and thrive, Basting said.

“Telling stories helps us connect with the past, understand the present and imagine the future.”

A goal for the project is to help with recruitment, Basting said.

“The biggest dream is for this to build it into an annual MKE Story Festival with an archive of Milwaukee story projects,” she added.

The Story Experience course for 2023-24 is open for application on both campuses.

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