Penn State Beaver is listening

Lecturer Hilary O'Toole records video of student Emir Erisen talking.

Penn State Beaver communications lecturer Hilary O'Toole records student Emir Erisen's story as part of the We Listen project she's implementing in her freshman seminar class.

Credit: April Johnston

After splitting students into pairs, handing each pair an iPod Touch and charging them with recording stories about their experiences at Penn State, Heather Hughes asks an important – maybe the most important – question.

“Can you show me how you’re going to hold the camera?”

Students raise their devices aloft, horizontally.

Hughes smiles with relief. She’s gotten through to them.

“Very good,” she says. “Now the formatting will be correct.”

The students were members of Beaver communications lecturer Hilary O’Toole’s freshman seminar class and Hughes, an instructional designer at Penn State, was training them for the university-wide storytelling project We Listen.

We Listen creates intentional spaces for members of the Penn State community to share their stories of lived experiences and listen to the experiences of others. The stories are recorded, collected and shared.

We Listen began on the Harrisburg campus in 2011, and has since evolved into a multi-campus program.

“Our goal is to build a community where everyone feels belongingness and everyone feels encouraged,” said Juliette Storr, a communications professor and the Beaver coordinator for the project.

The basics of We Listen are identical across the university – University Park buys the recording equipment (Beaver’s is housed in the library) and trains participants. But each campus is tasked with deciding when to listen, who to listen to and how to distribute the finished product.

So far, 12 Beaver faculty and staff members have expressed interest in weaving We Listen into their classes, organizations and gatherings. Hughes, the project co-director, was on the Beaver campus Sept. 26-28 to meet with participants and conduct training.  

Currently, many stories are being shared on the university’s We Listen website. But the ways in which We Listen can be implemented and shared are endless. For example, the Lehigh Valley campus uses We Listen during orientation and faculty and student leadership events. At York, We Listen has become a staple of the international student community. Harrisburg has hosted listening events, where the community comes together to watch selected videos.

“It’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow in ways we thought not possible,” Storr said.

For more information on the We Listen project, visit the project website.

For more information on We Listen at Beaver, contact Juliette Storr.


April Johnston

Public Relations Director, Penn State Beaver

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