Addison Howard, Campus Carrier reporter
Alex Ruble, Campus Carrier editor
The final semester project for associate professor of English Jim Watkins’ RHW 102 course this year involves each student pairing up with an individual Spires resident to author a brief biography on the resident’s behalf. Students will conduct a series of four in-person or virtual interviews to gather information and determine what they want the story to cover. The project, however, means much more than a grade to the students, residents and coordinators.
Watkins said that the residents are looking forward not only to the interviews but also to the ability to interact with college students.
“They’re about equally interested in sharing their stories to make connections with Berry students,” Watkins said.
Although the project has not yet started, many of the residents are looking forward to participating.
Resident Services Director of The Spires, Christine Earp, said she has observed the excitement of the elders when presented with the opportunity for collaboration with Berry students.
“We put out a note from [Watkins] in our daily newsletter and he got an overwhelming response,” Earp said. “He had twice as many residents respond than he had students, so he had to turn some of them down, but hopefully we’ll get to do some of those in the next semesters.”
Watkins, who concentrates in autobiographical studies, said his inspiration to delve into Academic Community Engagement (A.C.E.) at Berry came from associate professor of psychology Casey Dexter’s previous “Psychology of Aging” course.
“[Dexter] had his students in a different A.C.E. course that worked with residents at other residential retirement facilities,” Watkins said. “I said, well I could do that with an autobiography course.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all the residents at The Spires have been vaccinated, and most of them are wanting to conduct the interviews face-to-face. However, there are a few residents that will be doing their interviews via Zoom.
Watkins said students are encouraged to go and visit their assigned residents in person, but also insisted that they protect their own boundaries.
“Students are free to go to The Spires, mask up, have coffee and do these things face-to-face if that’s what both parties want,” Watkins said. “But they are not required to do it, and everybody I got to do this is capable of doing Zoom interviews if that’s what it has to be.”
Junior Malia Busenitz is partnered with a resident who prefers Zoom interviews. Busenitz has not encountered any trouble thus far.
Busenitz said she is looking forward to her future meetings and interviews with her resident.
“I think it’s really one of my favorite writing projects I’ve ever done, and I obviously haven’t done it yet,” Busenitz said.
Besides the upcoming storytelling initiative, residents genuinely enjoy making connections with students through other community engagement events, like last year’s “Trunk or Treat” during Halloween.
Earp said that the attraction for many retired people to come and reside at The Spires is rooted in the retirement home’s close association with Berry and its proximity to students.
“A lot of our residents want to participate in classes or mentoring at Berry,” Earp said. “That’s one of the main reasons that many of our people came here, is because of the association with Berry College, and they love young people.”
One of the goals of Watkins’ class is to provide learning opportunities for both the students and the residents. He believes that the generational and experiential difference is going to foster great connections between the younger students and the older residents.
Dr. Watkins plans on reusing this RHW course in future semesters, so there will be more opportunities to join the Spires Storytelling Initiative.