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How Does a Person Make a Difference in the World?

December 23, 2013
June Churchill (right) with students Courtney Peron, Meredith Trabilsy, and Samantha Folland
June Churchill (right) with students Courtney Peron, Meredith Trabilsy, and Samantha Folland

KSC Sociology’s Millenials Hosted Intergenerational Conversations in the Mason Library

How does a person make a difference in the world? That was one question posed by sociology students to members of the Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) in the Mason Library on November 19, 2013. Their answers served as an antidote for pessimism.

The project was inspired by Doris “Granny D” Haddock’s organization, Promoting Active Civic Engagement (PACE) and the Granny D in the Schools Committee. Carol Wyndham, co-chair of the committee said: "We are committed to keeping Granny D's work and legacy alive. She loved young people. She included them in her work. She spoke to them in their schools and colleges. She wanted to inspire them to engage in meaningful civic activity on behalf of their communities and country. We are hoping to reach them in ways that are compelling enough to inspire and support this engagement." The legacy of Granny D continues through the special collections archive of the Mason Library.

Students have been eager to use archival material available to them. Now they are adding to the collection. In an effort to promote intergenerational dialogue on civics and community change, 40 sociological research methods students learned how to write and ask open-ended questions. They then conducted in-depth interviews with volunteers from the CALL program who brought along photos and told the students stories about their experiences over cups of coffee and digital audio recorders. Students said that the relaxed atmosphere allowed them to delve deeply into areas ranging from early aspirations, to education, work, politics, and community involvement. Afterwards, a focus group of 10 came together to explore similarities and differences across generations. In the end, “Millennial” college students found that they shared many of the same beliefs as those born earlier, particularly on social justice and quality education for all. One student, Bethany Gordon, said that the experience made her want to connect more with her parents and grandparents.

The timing of the project was not a coincidence. Earlier in the month, students took part in the 2013 Keene State College Symposium, Finding Your Place in the Evolving Commons. The library served as a public space where new relationships can be formed across ages. CALL participant Betsy Feiker found the day to be mutually beneficial: “It was so encouraging to learn that [students] share the same values and concerns as those of us older folks, and I think that Granny D would be pleased…I hope that, as you mentioned, this will be the beginning of something bigger.”

Transcription will continue through December and photos and audio-recordings of selected interviews will be made available to future researchers. On behalf of her students, Prof. Margaret Walsh, would like to thank the following CALL participants: Chris Angell, Marcia and Dan Breckenridge, Suzann Buckley, June Churchill, Kate Day, Peggy and Nelson Fegley, Betsy Feiker, Amy Pfeil, Ann and Roger Sweet. Thanks also for the assistance and support of Heather Jasmin (Continuing Education), Kathy Halverson and Rodney O’Bien (Mason Library), Judy Brophy (CELT), Nancy Gitchell, the Anthropology & Sociology Department, and the American Democracy Project. We hope to plan another live research day in 2014.