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November 1, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU launches local StoryCorps version

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Serving in an Iraq or Afghanistan military war zone changes lives. To document those changes, Slippery Rock University researchers have launched the "Soldiers and Families Oral History Project."

Mark O'Connor, SRU associate professor of English, heads the University project that has taken its lead from the national StoryCorps project, one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. StoryCorps' "mission [is] to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives." StoryCorps, with its archive housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, records interviews between friends or family, in which one person interviews the other.

"We are doing the exact same thing, with three SRU English majors; Genna Walker, from Windber, David Potsubay from Grove City, and Kaitlyn Giddick from Latrobe handling the interviews, the audio recording process and the follow-up transcriptions," O'Connor said.

The project, funded by an SRU Diversity Grant, started last fall and is expected to conclude in April.

"We are getting amazing stories," he said. To hear that a 20-year-old from western Pennsylvania has participated in such amazing events halfway around the world is exciting for our students and certainly has an impact on the person being interviewed as they tell their story."

"One soldier, in a very telling piece, explained how he is dealing with the deaths of fellow soldiers - and friends. Other pieces offer a much lighter note, including how Craig Watkins a physical therapy doctoral student from Pittsburgh, who answered the question, 'Were there any foods you really missed?'"

Watkin's response: "It was the weirdest thing in the world. I got a desire for a Slushie. I never wanted a Slushie over here."

"It's just, it's not something that appeals to me, but, for some reason, over there, I got this burning desire to come home and just find the first gas station and get a Slushie. I think it's because, just between the sugar and the fact that it was cold and all that stuff," Watkins said.

"I just don't know why, I got a big desire for that. I think it was because it's just the first thing that came to my mind that I couldn't have for whatever reason and my wife was looking at me like, you know, I had three eyeballs or something because she's like 'You're not really much of a Slushie drinker.' It's like, I don't know it's like when you're pregnant and you're sitting there, you tell me you want sauerkraut. I mean, it's kind of a craving you can't really figure out and understand, but yeah."

SRU's SLAB (Sound and Literary Art Book,), the University-based literary magazine, will host a new issue release in April and will make the audio tapes available for listening as part of that event. Following that, the tapes and transcripts will be housed in Bailey Library.

"We've had some deeply personal, compelling interviews," O'Connor said. "We are always looking for more folks, faculty, staff or students who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, to record."

"In total, we hope to make 15 to 20 recordings," he said. "Each recording takes only a few minutes, but then there is set-up time and time to do the transcriptions. Our students are finding that the most difficult assignment as they have to understand the words, and often have to look up names of cities and areas that the person being interviewed talks about. They are also learning the geography of the Middle East and about the life and times of the last two years in these war-torn countries," O'Connor said.

"Students involved in the project have gleaned an awareness. They now see that someone in their class may have gone through some very extra-ordinary experiences. They also see that everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes it is shocking and amazing, or maybe it is about flying a C-10 transport plane. You never know who is sitting next to you in a classroom has had such experiences. I think it is making their college experience a much more serious experience in some ways," O'Connor said.

Those who have served and are interested in making a recording are asked to contact O'Connor, at 724.738.2548.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.