an introduction to my project: in her words

Hey everyone!

I am excited to be finishing up my project, In Her Words. As you know by now, this is an oral history project that features audio clips from interviews I conducted this semester with my Nana, Trish Sylvester. In addition to audio, I have included a ton of old photographs, some memoirs, and reflections on the process of creating this project. I’ve really enjoyed working on this website, and although it wasn’t exactly what I set out to accomplish earlier in the semester, I am proud of what I have and honestly believe that I will continue to update and add to the content I have now.

I genuinely enjoyed (most aspects of) creating this project and I hope you enjoy checking it out! I am grateful for all of the thoughtful feedback and advice I have received throughout the semester.

Capstone has been a highlight of my weeks these past few months and I am glad to have gotten to know all of you talented people better over the course of the semester. I’ve loved seeing your progress during workshops and I’m so excited to dive deeper into everyone’s websites with all of this new free time over the next few weeks.

Here’s my link: https://lilysyl.wixsite.com/capstone

on capstone & coronavirus

I’m coming to you on the eve of our virtual class showcase and eve-eve of my last day of undergrad to share my some of my personal experiences and advice for tackling the Minor in Writing Capstone!

When the semester began, I was anxious about getting through this course. I worried I wouldn’t find a project that interested and excited me. I stressed myself out thinking about the amount of work this project would require.

However, now that I am almost past the finish line, I am happy to report that this experience was nowhere near as stressful as I feared it would be, and I am emerging with a project I’m excited about sharing! I also genuinely enjoyed class, especially after Michigan went remote. Having live class gave my Tuesdays and Thursdays at least a little bit of structure and provided a welcomed opportunity for social interaction. I had fun!

Here are a few pieces of advice to make the most of your semester. Hopefully you’ll be back in the classroom by this point, but if not, do not fear!

  • Make sure your project is something you’re excited to work on. One of my initial ideas was closely related to my major and would have been a cool project to add to my professional portfolio, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed working on this project nearly as much if I’d picked that idea. Don’t be afraid to do something you’re selfishly interested in. Don’t try to force a project that you’re not truly excited about finishing.
  • Engage T and your classmates often! For me, the community is what has made the Minor in Writing so fun and unique. Foster this sense of community by communicating frankly with your class about your ideas and providing thoughtful feedback on your peers’ ideas.
  • If you are relying on other people for content, get it as soon as you can. My project involved recording interviews, and once I got them done, I felt under control and had plenty of time left in the semester for editing and other aspects of the project. People can be flaky and everyone gets busier as the semester progresses, so plan for this and get the content you need early!
  • Take into account the type of worker you are when making your production plan. If you know yourself and know that you aren’t going to work on your project every few days or even every week, don’t designate a bunch of work for every single week in the production plan.
  • Don’t stress out and do your best to have fun! The stakes are relatively low and this project presents an opportunity to experiment and do something you’d never get the chance to do in another class. Seize it!

Whether you’re in the classroom or at home, everything will work out and you will finish your project and you will graduate. Keep this in mind and have fun!

Making Progress!

I started to really dig into my project over spring break last week. ICYMI, I am doing an oral history project, interviewing my two grandmothers about their lives up to this point.

Prior to spring break, I met with Ryan Wilcox of the Duderstadt Center and Yun Zhou, a Sociology professor who studies family and gender. Ryan and I met in the Dude and talked about the logistics of recording and editing, and he kindly hooked me up with some recording equipment that I was able to take home over break. Professor Zhou and I discussed oral history resources and interviewing, and she gave me some great ideas about how to uncover themes related to gender without trying to force it during an interview. She also recommended that I check out the author and oral historian Svetlana Alexievich, so I checked out one of her books from the library and just started reading it. 

Over two days during spring break, I worked with my Nana, who lives near me in Rhode Island. We went over my ideas for the project together and discussed the five single-spaced pages of questions I had prepared for our interviews. Instead of me asking her questions, we decided that she would gather her thoughts and speak to a series of questions in one longer answer, recording short narratives focused on different time periods or aspects of her life. This worked well! 

In addition to recording, my Nana shared with me some writing she had done in a memoir class about ten years ago. I convinced her to let me record her reading some of her writing for my project, which was great! She also shared notebooks full of journal entries and tens of thousands of family photographs, dating back to her and my late Grandad’s childhoods. It was really special to go through old photo albums and documents together. We have a pretty close relationship but working on the project really prompted her to open up to me in a way that she never had before. I think we both really enjoyed this time together!

I am feeling pretty good about my progress thus far. This week, I will get to work on editing and developing a framework for the website in preparation for my workshop next week. I have a ton of photographs and writing that I need to sort through, too. I’m excited to see things starting to come to life and look forward to hearing your feedback soon!

Reflecting on Project Pitches

When we were tasked with coming up with four pitch ideas for the project last week, I was immediately overwhelmed. Since the Minor in Writing showcase last fall, I had been thinking about what I could do for my Capstone project but never came up with anything I was actually excited about. I remained uninspired even after checking out many of the past Capstone projects over the weekend. As I sat staring at my blank Google Doc on Monday night, I feared that my Capstone experience might resemble my Gateway experience, during which I struggled to come up with a good idea until the very last second.

Me on Monday night

Luckily, some ideas came to me at the Ugli on Tuesday morning. Here they are:

Pitch #1: My first idea was inspired by one of my favorite classes last semester, Sustainability and Health. One of our assignments for the class was to adopt four conservation behaviors for two weeks and write a report about our experiences. This assignment invoked some cognitive dissonance and caused me to think even harder about many of my behaviors.

I was thinking of taking this experiment to the next level for my Capstone project, adopting several conservation behaviors for the remainder of the semester and documenting my experiences through regular blog or journal entries, short videos, and/or a social media account. The final product would be a website that discusses my journey through words, photos, and potentially videos. It could be a resource for people who are trying to behave more sustainably themselves.

Pitch #2: This idea is pretty similar to my first. It would involve challenging others to adopt some conservation behaviors for a shorter period of time and interviewing them about their experiences. This could take the form of a series of interviews or podcast episodes.

Pitch #3: I have been thinking about my two remaining grandparents recently and how I know very little about their lives before I was born. I also know almost nothing about my family history and origins. I have been wanting to interview my grandparents while they are still sharp and I was thinking this could be a cool idea for my project.

This project might entail interviewing my grandparents, conducting research about my family origins, and creating an interactive website to document it all. I am interested in potentially creating short videos featuring remarkable family stories or maybe even a documentary. I was also thinking I could have a section of the website that provides guidance to other people looking to learn more about their own families.

Pitch #4: My last idea was trying to learn how to code this semester using online platforms and documenting my experience by writing a series of blog posts or journal entries. I have been wanting to learn how to code for a few semesters but have not been able to fit a class into my schedule. So, I was thinking this would be a way to hold myself accountable and also do so more personal writing, which I have not done much of in college. The final product could also be helpful for someone who also wants to independently learn this skill.

After discussing these ideas with Bailey and Kayla, I think I could reasonably see myself picking any of them. I am especially interested in my first and third ideas. Most of all, I feel super relieved to have a bunch of ideas that I am excited about only a week into the semester!!

Me on Tuesday night

Introduction to Photo Essays

For my final experiment, I am going to experiment with a photo essay. I had no idea what genre to pick for this last round, but Julie suggested a photo essay and I thought I would try it because a photo essay can be a pretty creative genre and flexible genre. While I’m not sure what I want the subject of my photo essay to be yet, Julie thought of doing something with tennis fashions, so I am considering that!

Hopefully I will be inspired over the next few days and come up with a great subject. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comment or in class!! Especially am open to ideas that might be more out-of-the-box with respect to my origin piece, which discussed gender equality in professional tennis. I want to do something more creative/fun/light/apolitical.

 

In the meantime, here are some conventions and examples of photo essays:

  • A photo essay focuses on a particular theme, story, or subject
    • Experiences are often the subject of photo essays, from what I have seen
    • Usually, the author of a photo essay will introduce their work in the beginning, maybe telling the reader what inspired them and what they hope to accomplish
  • They have a title
  • There are several photographs and they are usually accompanied by text
  • The amount of text can vary, from shorter captions to a longer essay
  • Photo essays are often meant to evoke emotions in the reader/viewer
  • There is some type of conclusion or resolution to the work

I found through my research that photo essays can be very diverse in subject and message. This article describes a famous photo essay/book called 42nd and Vanderbilt by photography Peter Funch. Funch captures pedestrians on the street on their way to work over a span of years, which I found super cool.

This website chronicles the past and present of Detroit through photographs, and struck me as pretty remarkable. There are many longer pieces of text scattered throughout this website. The theme of this website seems to surround the “fall” of Detroit, as most images show the dilapidated buildings and other abandoned sites.

Here is a photo essay from The Boston Globe website that has little text, with only captions excluding the introduction. In the introduction, the author explains her motivation for the work, which was to try to rediscover the city for herself and learn to appreciate it in a new or different way.

I am looking forward to exploring this genre further over the course of my experiment. Again, if you have any suggestions, please please send them my way!

 

An Introduction to the Feature Article

I am opting to explore feature articles for my second experiment! I have always enjoyed reading feature articles in newspapers and magazines. I am drawn to this type of journalism because it provides more in-depth looks at relevant topics and makes the news or pop culture feel more relatable somehow. I also like how diverse the genre is. You can read a feature article in a magazine like Cosmopolitan or in a distinguished newspaper like The New York Times. Feature articles can also range in content. For example, an investigative reporting piece, a profile of a celebrity, and an article about an emerging trend can all be considered feature articles, depending on their conventions.

As for convention, feature articles differ from traditional news articles written solely to inform. They often include a more human aspect to them and are longer than news articles. The purpose of a feature article can be to inform or entertain, or both. They typically focus on a specific topic or individual, and place what they are talking about in context. The subject of a feature article should be timely, meaning the author should have a reason for writing the piece at that given time. Speaking of the author, they can write in either first or third person point of view, depending on what is most appropriate for the situation. Feature articles generally start with a lede, which is a hook that engages the reader right from the start. This can come in the form of a quote, a statistic, imagery, etc. Following the lede is the nut graph, which provides some background information or context introducing the topic that will be discussed in the article. The piece should end with a kicker, which wraps up the article and may give the reader some food for thought. Other features of a feature article include:

  • An interesting title
  • Bylines that make the reader interested
  • Interviews with a subject or subjects
  • Pull quotes from these interviews
  • Subheadings
  • Photographs of subjects or scenes relevant to the article

 

For more information about the conventions of a feature article, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about different types of feature stories, check out this article.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Spotlight, the journalists are investigative reporters that write feature articles. Their purpose is to inform readers of shady things that are going on in and around Boston. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is about reporters at The Boston Globe who uncover the rampant sexual abuse committed by priests in the Catholic Church and the cover-up by the Church. It’s on Netflix!

Here is an example of a profile article about a gymnast abused by Larry Nassar that was published in Cosmopolitan. Here is another from The New York Times, about ISIS. Here is yet another from The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about bribery and Walmart.

 

P.S. Sorry for the lack of original pictures in this post. My computer is not cooperating.

An Introduction to the Op-Ed

I have always enjoyed reading op-eds before I even knew they were called op-eds. Every Wednesday in middle and high school, I would sit at the island in my kitchen with the latest edition of The Barrington Times, always flipping immediately to the page containing the letters to the editor, opinions, and the local police report. This page consistently contained the latest topic of controversy in my hometown, and became the subject of plenty of gossip and chatter until the next week’s paper came out.

The controversial nature of many op-eds was what originally piqued my interest in the genre. Since high school, I have continued to read op-eds published in a variety of publications beyond The Barrington Times and am now exploring the prospect of writing an op-ed myself.

 

One of many ridiculous opinion pieces published in The Barrington Times. This particular opinion made national news and sparked a parade in my hometown.

 

Photo from the Yoga Pants Parade, during which over 300 women in spandex marched by the author’s home in protest.

After conducting research on the genre, I learned many typical conventions and features of an op-ed. First, it is worth noting that the genre is called an op-ed because pieces following this set of common conventions were historically printed on the page opposite the editorial page. Secondly, op-eds are generally synonymous with opinion pieces and letters to the editor in news publications.

Op-eds usually focus on one issue that is relevant at or around the time of publication. The author of an op-ed is typically not a journalist or professional writer. Opinion pieces written by journalists are typically called editorials, which are distinct from op-eds. Usually, the author’s name and a bit of context are provided for readers so they have a better idea of who the author is. For example, the author’s name, address, and profession were specified in The Barrington Times. The author of an op-ed makes an argument about the issue at hand, including some context, their personal opinions, evidence to support these opinions, and a call to action. The author’s purpose is to inform and persuade readers. Effective op-eds are relatively short and concise.

Here is a link to a New York Times article, written by an experienced opinion columnist, containing tips on how to write a good op-ed. This guide published by Duke University also lists tips, along with classic conventions and features of an op-ed.

In the last two weeks especially, since the publication of the anonymous op-ed about the resistance inside the Trump Administration in The New York Times, op-eds themselves have been making headlines. If you are looking for some relevant op-eds to get a better sense of what one looks like, here is one published in The Washington Post about the integrity of the Supreme Court and the Kavanaugh confirmation controversy. Here is another op-ed from another of my local papers, The Providence Journal, that talks about the importance of paying union dues. Interestingly, the author of this op-ed is writing in response to an earlier op-ed written by Dr. Stephen Skoly, who is Chairman of a conservative political organization in Rhode Island and also an oral surgeon who removed my wisdom teeth over Spring Break.

 

Lily Sylvester – Introduction

Hi classmates! My name is Lily Sylvester. I am a Junior from Rhode Island. I live about 15 minutes away from Brown University and a little over an hour away from Boston. I have two younger brothers and a Bernese Mountain dog named Naya. I am an Environment major, but I’m honestly not really sure what I want to do yet after college. This summer I had a marketing internship and loved it, so I am considering going down that road.

My family, plus my Nana

I am really into Boston sports and most things New England. At Michigan, I am involved in some environmental clubs and am also on the sailing team. When I’m not doing school, I like to explore new restaurants and grocery stores in Ann Arbor, go on bike rides, listen to podcasts, and watch Netflix. I recently finished The Crown and am now really into Ozark. I also really enjoy traveling and am hopefully studying abroad next semester.

Sailing on Spring Break

The Minor in Writing appealed to me because I get a significant sense of accomplishment from writing, and I want to strengthen and diversify my writing skills. I am excited to get to know our class and be pushed out of my writing comfort zone this semester!

 

Here is Naya at a beach in my town