We have much to celebrate in the life and legacy of Dominic de Guzmán, founder of the worldwide Order of Preachers. In his fervent desire to share the light of truth (Veritas), Dominic took a holistic approach to life and learning when he integrated the strength of four pillars of study, prayer, service, and common life as the foundation of his nascent Order of Preachers. This winning combination helped Dominicans renew Christian spirituality and education and grow an organization that has benefited humanity in countless ways.
Also committed to promoting education, in 1952 the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill founded St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) to serve as a Teachers’ College. From humble beginnings, STAC has evolved into a world-renowned College of Distinction recognized by US News and World Report. Although the Sisters no longer operate the college, close ties remain.
In this vein, Professor Erica Soto initiated a collaborative project, which involved her students creating a documentary about the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. The featured documentary on YouTube is the fruit of this labor. Both Sisters and students benefited from this project. Here are excerpts of a conversation between Sister Jeanne Shary and Professor Erica Soto.
Sr. Jeanne: Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with Story Corps?
Prof Soto: I’ve been in broadcast journalism for 20 years and I wanted to get more into audio and podcasting, which really increased in popularity during the pandemic. I just wanted to do something more meaningful and made deliberate choices when I began to freelance during the pandemic. I met up with Story Corps and have been freelancing with them since 2020. In general, I am a storyteller; that’s what I do, but I also do a lot of editing for Story Corps in English and Spanish covering a variety of topics. I take an hour and a half story and boil it down to a 2–3-minute piece. Then I do promos for them.
Sr. Jeanne: Your experience with storytelling points to a promising avenue of collaboration because we have stories that we want to tell, which form the basis for preaching. We are Dominicans, so telling the story is important and I am excited to learn of your experience with Story Corps.
Getting back to the student-produced documentary, what was the name of the class you were teaching?
Prof Soto: That was a Television Journalism class. The goal of this class is to bring students to the final step they need to move their college-level education into doing some real-world work and applying what they’ve learned. It is focused on writing, producing, and directing television-worthy content in a variety of different forms.
Sr. Jeanne: What are the challenges in working with your students? What’s exciting?
Prof Soto: The pandemic was difficult and, virtual learning wasn’t great for everyone. Reintroducing students to the classroom was challenging. Encouraging and motivating students was challenging because they seemed exhausted, while others had Senioritis. But I had some talented students who had never done documentary work and I was eager to show them from start to finish what it means to pitch the story, get the questions together, do the interview, and how to edit.
Students are accustomed to digital short-form content on their phone screens. Slowing them down to do something for a little longer was different for them. After we pushed through, they had the basic sensibility of how to tell a good story.
Sr. Jeanne: The students had to be thrilled when they saw their final project completed at the Ignite Exhibition at STAC.
Prof Soto: The students were excited about that because it gave visibility to their work. In the end, they were quite proud of their project.
Sr. Jeanne: Thank you. We look forward to collaborating with you and the STAC students on future projects that may include documentaries, podcasts, internships, social media, photography, and websites.
Prof Soto: I am happy to help with any of that. We are on the path of more collaboration, and we will continue to update our curriculum and add an Audio Storytelling class. It’s a work in progress.
Sr. Jeanne: Exactly. That’s what we all are Erica, a work in progress.
Link to YouTube Video https://youtu.be/6YLinwMXya8