Tiger Legacy: Kent State professors turn long-term storytelling project into educational opportunity

UPDATE: Harwood launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 to publish "Tiger Legacy: Stories of Massillon Football," the story of the Massillon community, captured by Kent State School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty and students. The book, which will be printed by the nonprofit publisher Daylight Books, will be a hardcover, 194-page book that includes six chapters, 86 photos and more than 40 short personal narratives. To donate to the campaign, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tigerlegacy/tiger-legacy-stories-of-massillon-football.

Gary Harwood, an instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University, received a request to create a photo exhibit on the Massillon Football Booster Club in October 2011.  This idea evolved into a long-term storytelling project on the Massillon community and its deep connection to its high school football team, which resulted in a traveling photo exhibit and a book that will be published in March 2016.

Harwood believed this project would be a great learning opportunity, so he decided to open up the Tiger Legacy project to students from his visual storytelling class who had a passion for storytelling.

“I wanted to merge the act of teaching storytelling with the act of creating stories,” Harwood said.  “This was going to be a long-term commitment, so I wanted to work with people who would welcome the journey.”

Harwood partnered with JMC Assistant Professor David Foster and invited seven Kent State students to assist them on this project.  VCD student Caitlin Bourque; news journalism student Jessica White; and photojournalism students Adrianne Bastas, Chelsie Corso, Coty Giannelli, Matt Hafley and Jenna Watson joined the team.  These six contributed to the project throughout their time as Kent State students, and some have continued to assist with it after graduating.

"It's been a great experience – following one story for four years, choosing how to present it and learning how to publish it,” said White, who now works as a freelance writer and photographer in New York City.

Bourque graduated from the VCD program in 2012 and said this project taught her things she could never learn in a classroom or in a single semester.

“I loved documentary storytelling, but I knew that if I was ever to go out on my own and try to find my own story, without the fuel of passing a class behind me, I would probably chicken out and never end up pulling it off,” she said.  “But in this case, I had a team.  I had other people who were just like me that I could walk into these new experiences with. It made the whole idea feel more comfortable. This would be my only time to have a true, out of the classroom experience, but still have someone guiding me.”

Student work makes up about 30 percent of the finished Tiger Legacy project.  Harwood said the students offered tips and ideas, and they were responsible for some of the most fruitful photo and story opportunities.  Students photographed, interviewed, wrote, edited, designed and helped in many other capacities of the project.

“When I originally started the project I was surprised Gary wanted to risk bringing students in, but it turned out to be amazing,” Corso said. “He pushed us to produce quality images that would stand up against his own.” 

Giannelli, who works for the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, NY, said working with Harwood helped him to develop skills useful for working at a newspaper.

“It helped me to look for the unexpected when I photograph,” Giannelli said. “Things can get a bit mundane and that helps spice it up.”

Watson, now a senior photojournalism major, was the youngest student Harwood invited to work on the project.

“Gary introduced me to the project at the end of my first semester at Kent State, in December of 2011,” Watson said.  “Since I was so young, he invited me onto the project as a learning experience. Because it was such a long term process, I was able to observe with no pressure, and would eventually shoot pictures too, working with subjects on my own.”

Watson said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot pictures alongside upperclassmen and her professors.  By working with the Massillon community, she learned that patience is crucial to community storytelling.

“It can take months or years to fully develop the content you're looking for, and that involves a lot of blind trust that your investment will be reflected in the words and pictures,” Watson said. “Being forced to slow down and put extra thought into things was a big change from my usual newspaper photography and help me become well-rounded.”

Harwood said he would love to offer another opportunity like this to students in the future, but it would depend on the students and the project.

“The experience was a real as it gets,” he said.  “The teacher/student relationship was secondary to a collaborative, and in some cases, competitive, experience. They were active participants in the planning process and experienced aspects of story development that I cannot replicate in a classroom. They got to see my mistakes, unexpected discoveries, personal connections, rare photographic opportunities and the long-term creative process associated with story structure.”

Bourque said she believes the thing she learned during her experience with Tiger Legacy she could have only learned while being a part of it.

“I love this project,” she said.

To see some photos produced throughout the project, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/ccikent/albums/72157660118480631.

By Amanda Azzarelli

POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 4:50pm
UPDATED: Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 4:43pm