Students record senior residents’ stories

The Associated Press

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — A new learning style at Dakota Wesleyan University will allow the stories of Mitchell’s senior residents to be shared worldwide.

Dakota Wesleyan has recently incorporated community-based learning into curriculum. And for one class, this has taken students to Wesley Acres in Mitchell — a senior living facility for adults 62 and older.

The Faith and Reason class, led by professor Joel Allen, focuses on the analytical examination of faith. And a class project is reaching out to the community. Allen connected with Wesley Acres, asking if there were 22 residents willing to pair up with his 22 students and share their life story.

On a recent Tuesday morning, the 22 student-resident pairs met for the second time this semester, exchanging stories and laughs. Students interviewed each resident, focusing on life lessons they’d like to leave for others and how faith has impacted their life.

The students will take the recorded interview and turn it into a “memory book of their life,” Allen said, which is shared through Story Corps — a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving humanity’s stories. The stories will then be uploaded to the Library of Congress national database.

“This database can be studied for years to come,” Allen told The Daily Republic . “Great, great grandchildren of these people in 30 or 40 years from now can go back and listen to these stories.”

The students will meet with the residents one more time this fall semester, collecting data from their life, Allen said. The data, which includes photographs, will be used to create the memory book.

And so far, it’s been a blast for Dylan Dethlefsen and Phyllis Salmen. Dethlefsen is a senior at Dakota Wesleyan majoring in religious studies. He was paired with Salmen, who he has known for several years, but has never heard her full life story.

“It’s very inspirational and people of her generation have a lot they can teach my generation,” Dethlefsen said. “I think there’s a lot to learn from them, and there’s a lot to appreciate. And now is the best time to do that because you never know what tomorrow brings for any of us.”

It’s been just as good for Salmen, who said Dethlefsen is “fantastic.”

“It’s great, just going through all of this old stuff again,” Salmen said of the photos and notes she had prepared on a table for Dethlefsen. “And just remembering all the things I did.”

The project of Allen’s class at Dakota Wesleyan is one of eight community-based learning projects on campus, according to Carly Hubers, program coordinator for the McGovern Center.

This “interesting and unique” style of learning has allowed students to learn class material in a different way, Hubers said, benefiting both parties.

“It’s been really cool to see Dakota Wesleyan students dive into the Mitchell community in a way that allows them to see what’s going on just outside of campus,” Hubers said. “It’s helping students learn, but it’s also helping the community.”

And Dethlefsen and Salmen aren’t the only pairs enjoying themselves. Hubers and Allen said the students are increasingly excited each time they meet with their resident, and the same goes for the residents.

“It was really neat to see the connections being made. It’s really something,” Allen said. “The residents, and the students both, had a great time. It was neat to see these bonds and friendships form instantly.”