ShareThis Page

Cal U program creates compelling videos

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
California University of Pennsylvania
California University of Pennsylvania honors students Laura Ownes, Ali Steiner and Emily Ritchie present their project at the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in McKeesport.

Even though Emily Ritchie grew up in Rostraver Township, she had never heard of Brownsville's historic Nemacolin Castle until she began working on a digital storytelling video this fall as a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania.

“I never knew there was a castle in Brownsville,” Ritchie, a 2013 graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School, said during the recent premiere of the video at the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center.

Ritchie was joined by 13 other Cal U honors students who were divided into five teams to work with historical societies in Brownsville, California, Donora, Dormont and McKeesport in producing short videos about the historical groups in those towns as well as a historical artifact or noteworthy event in those communities. The students selected the towns they wanted to feature in their videos.

Robert O. Stakeley, the Senator John Heinz History Center's educator and manager of the history center's affiliates program, said the Cal U students' digital storytelling project, a joint initiative of Cal U's honors program and the history center, has the potential for a greater impact than just highlighting the history of five communities in Western Pennsylvania.

Using technology can help “to bring these students to these (historic) sites,” Stakeley said.

“This can be a solution to all of the history center affiliates' challenge of getting young people interested and involved in local history,” said Stakeley, who oversees an affiliates program that works with 125 regional historical societies and organizations dedicated to preserving history.

Mary Beth Graf, president of California Area Historical Society, was not only pleased with the video about the town's historical society, but by the students' desire to learn about California's history.

“I get real happy when young people come into our (California Area) historical society,” Graf said.

“As soon as we did the first video, I thought this was fun,” said Andrew Sontag, who worked on the California video with Jacqui Peddicorn and Roman Toth.

Gary J. DeLorenzo, associate professor of computer information systems at Cal U, who worked with Christina Fisanick, associate professor of English on the digital storytelling project, said they would like to expand what was a pilot project.

“We would love to make them do not only five, but six, seven or eight,” DeLorenzo said.

Ritchie, who is studying to be a teacher of students in fourth to eighth grades, said she and fellow students Laura Owens and Ali Steiner selected Brownsville because it has the historic castle. Working with the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., they made a two-minute video showing photos of the Nemacolin Castle backed by narration explaining features of the 22-room castle.

Two Cal U students, Rachel Fawley of LaBelle, and Corrine Dowlin of Ohioville, Beaver County, produced a powerful four-minute video on the industrial smog that killed about 20 people in Donora in October 1948. A haunting narration and sound is complemented with photos of the smog, of people in oxygen tents and newspaper headlines about the tragedy.

“We felt it was the most powerful (topic). It's the perfect idea,” Dowlin said.

Brian Charlton, curator of the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum, praised the video.

“We pride ourselves on being an education facility,” Charlton said, and the video will help in that effort by using it in presentations.

“I think that's going to be a real treasure for us. Our motto is, ‘Clean Air Started in Donora.' It's a shame to be proud of something so tragic,” he said

The process of making these videos teaches the students skills – writing, editing, storytelling, interviewing, and many more – that they will use the rest of their lives, Fisanick said.

All 10 of the student videos are completed, but not all have been posted to the Honors Program page of the California University website, Fisanick said.

An introductory video on California and feature video on Brownsville, as well as both the introductory and feature videos on Donora are available for viewing on the Honors Program page of California University's website.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.