Kean Students Cultivate Important Bonds Through Oral History

10.21.13

Three bright Kean students and their professor recently attended and presented at the Oral History Association Meeting in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Kean professor Dr. Abigail Perkiss led Mary Piasecki, Trudi Lawrence, and Brittany LeStrange through this journey, but it started a bit before the OHA meeting itself. 

Rewind to April.  The same group was invited to speak at the annual OHMAR Conference, which stands for Oral History of the Mid-Atlantic Region.  At that conference, the women presented “Staring Out to Sea: The Story of Superstorm Sandy in Three Bayshore Communities.”  Not only did the American Historical Association release an article that highlighted their presentation and project, but their work at OHMAR also garnered them an invitation to present at the OHA conference.  The OHMAR Vice President, Dr. Kate Scott, even attended and spoke at OHA with them.  Aside from Scott's duties as the VP, she is also an Assistant Historian for the US Senate.

The Oral History Association began in 1966 and “seeks to bring together all persons interested in oral history as a way of collecting and interpreting human memories to foster knowledge and human dignity.”  The theme of this year’s conference was “Hidden Stories, Contested Truths: The Craft of Oral History.”

Mary Piasecki described the focus of their OHA presentation and how each of the team members contributed something different.

“We decided that the focus of our presentation should be a reflection on where the initial project has taken us and the connections it has fostered.  We each chose a different connection that has come from either our work in the field or our presence at OHMAR.  Dr. Perkiss and Dr. Scott would begin.  Dr. Scott spoke about OHMAR and gave a brief history of its beginnings and why they were so eager to work with Dr. Perkiss and our project.  Dr. Perkiss then gave a brief overview of how the idea for the class began and then handed the floor to us.  Brittany began our presentation by speaking about the different departments within Kean and the people who helped make our project and our presence at both conferences happen.  We then moved onto the OHMAR presentation and the connections we made after presenting, which I [Mary] spoke about.  I was honest in describing how overwhelmed we felt after sitting in on one day of presentations and so we decided to spend a better portion of the night revamping and reorganizing our presentation.  Finally, Trudi spoke about our relationship with the Tuckerton Seaport Museum and the experiences we had in creating an exhibit for the public."

Piasecki continued to explain how she feels that breaking down the presentation made it easier for the audience to understand, but it also gave each person a chance to elaborate on how their connections were born and how they have continued to develop.

Lawrence agreed.  “This time at OHA was different since it was an open panel and not so much a formal presentation.  After leaving OHMAR I felt compelled to work further with oral history.  I am really excited to see another side of oral history. It’s a great avenue that many people are unaware of and I am looking forward to more networking and the expansion of the project,” she said.  Brittany LeStrange’s feelings echoed the same sentiments as her classmates: “I was excited and of course nervous because this conference was a lot larger than the OHMAR conference.  This project was definitely an emotional one, but an experience I am happy to have been a part of and I am lucky to have met so many interesting and great people.”

Not only did the ladies have great things to say about their experiences both at OHMAR and at OHA, but also about their professor.  It seems they have fostered incredible bonds professionally, educationally, and personally through this oral history project.

They each described working with Dr. Perkiss:

“I love Dr. P. She is probably my favorite professor on campus, she is very involved with everything and just as passionate about this project as we are. She is also very understanding that life happens outside of school and the project, and is always there if you need someone to talk to.”  -Brittany

“She is amazing! She’s professional and down to earth. When we didn’t prepare as much as we should the night before our presentation, she gently talked to us explaining we need to step up and do better. We were all moved by her words and spent the next few hours, we stayed up until like 1, all working on our own papers as well as each other. She’s really great and easy to talk to. When the workload seems to heavy, I tell her and she works with me to make it a bit more manageable.” -Trudi

“It is has been an amazing journey working with Dr. Perkiss.  She is very calm and open-minded and has been willing to hear our opinions and suggestions every step of the way.  She is always encouraging and always honest with us.  I enjoy that she treats us as equals in this project and really works hard to ensure we succeed.  She has a great deal to offer us and I really enjoy her enthusiasm.  I know that my classmates and I always enjoyed the time we spent with her each week, and the three of us still working on the project definitely look up to her immensely.  Actually at the end of the OHA conference, one of our audience members asked if she could direct a question at Dr. Perkiss.  She asked ‘how are you so young and so successful?’ Trudi, Brittany and I just laughed and smiled.  We agreed that it was nice to see someone as impressed with Dr. Perkiss as we all are.” -Mary

So what's up next for these young women?  On October 29th, the group will be presenting during college hour at the Carriage House in commemoration of the 1-year anniversary since the devastating Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey.  Each person will be describing her experiences with the project and how far each one has come since the storm.  Everyone in the Kean community is invited and encouraged to attend and get a small taste of what has earned these successful ladies so much praise and recognition.

Your Thoughts

I am truly proud of this article. I didn't know that there was a component of history called oral history. This has beena great learning experience for me. Kudos to the team especially my daughter Trudi-Ann. Keep up the excellent job. Dr. Perkiss, I wish you continued success.

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