Once Upon a Seminar… – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Once Upon a Seminar…

The Center for Teaching and Learning Writing Specialist Susan Hess sees storytelling as a basic human need. “We all tell stories and we tell them all the time,” explains Hess. “We are often unaware of the pervasiveness of storytelling in our everyday lives, but we tend to not notice their power over us. I want to get students more involved in the stories we tell in our everyday lives.”

This fall, Hess’ first-year seminar, “The Reality Effect (It Was Not a Dark and Stormy Night),” will help students examine their own stories – and the stories around them – in order to become actively involved in their telling. In addition to analyzing new stories, students will learn ways to improve both their academic writing and storytelling skills by creating their own stories.

Students may work with a variety of story mediums including advertisements, historical reenactments, podcasts, grave stones and written and oral tales.  Some of the stories may even happen outside the classroom, with possible field trips to Ganondagan Native American Historic Site, Mount Hope Cemetery and other local museums. 

“This course gives me the chance to teach topics that I normally wouldn’t be able to in my other classes,” says Hess. “It looks at storytelling and stories in a way that other courses don’t usually have the opportunity to. First-years are a great group to teach because they are always excited, motivated, and open to all kinds of new ideas and methods.”

Stories are told everywhere – in politics, business, science and everyday life, says Hess, and students will ultimately learn what makes a good story and how and why we use them.  By the end of the course, Hess expects students to have a much more complex understanding of the power of storytelling.

Rebecca Felt ’13 credits the course with giving her a good introduction to college life. “Professor Hess is one of the reasons I’ve had success in my coursework and have always felt included on campus,” says Felt. “I loved her seminar and truly benefitted from her guidance.”

Hess’ seminar also helped Thomas Mascia ’14 recognize that his writing voice deserved to be heard. “Professor Hess’ class created a strong foundation for my college writing by giving me the confidence to express my own voice and experiences in both my academic and personal writing,” says Mascia. 

In the photo above, Susan Hess works with students in the Center for Teaching and Learning.