Students Collect Community Wisdom
Professor David Engen’s Community Storytelling students publish in the Mankato Free Press.
Mankato and the surrounding areas are full of inspiring stories from everyday people. Students in Professor David Engen’s Community Storytelling class had the opportunity to collect and share those stories in class and beyond. Engen, who designed the special topics class in the Department of Communication, wanted to connect his students with individuals outside of the campus community, and make a record of their work and lives. The resulting stories were published in the Mankato Free Press newspaper as part of the Community Wisdom series.
“I was first inspired by the work of people like Studs Terkel and David Isay who create stories about extraordinary ordinary people using the words of those individuals,” says Engen. “I contacted Robb Murray at the Free Press to see if maybe they would be willing to publish stories about people you might not always see featured in the paper.”
Murray was on board. The next step was making student to community connections.
Engen presented the class with a list of individuals from Mankato and surrounding areas willing to share their stories. Although this was a school project, the technical aspects of interviewing and drafting stories was just one area of focus.
“[The] goal was just to let you get in touch with the world and unique individuals around you,” says senior Music Industry major, Skylar Guzman.
Reke Evuleocha, a first-year graduate student in Communication Studies, discovered that interviewing—especially over Zoom—“is not [just] about asking questions, but more about listening and allowing the other party to talk.”
After listening to their subjects share their life and work, the students walked away with new insights and changed perspectives.
“Community Storytelling forced us to look at others, realize that there's more than just us in the world, and encouraged us to embrace others around us for their own unique individuality and experiences,” says Guzman.
Ryuto Hashimoto, a junior Interdisciplinary Studies major appreciated how the assignment focused on people whose stories are not always heard but are no less valuable.
“By understanding those everyday people, we further understand the community we live in,” he says.
The Free Press connection has allowed a larger audience to read and enjoy stories from the lives of their friends and neighbors.
“I hope Free Press readers felt as though they were kind of meeting the people featured by my students—almost like they were having a conversation with the individuals featured,” says Engen. "I hope readers gained a little more appreciation for the ways those featured make our community a better place.”
Log on to the Free Press online to view all nine stories that make up the Community Wisdom series.