Today@Sam Article

SHSU Students Bring Stories To Life

July 10, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd

SHSU students, Adetokunbo "Maureen" Ogunleye, and Natalia Ocanas, pose beside Fred Jones. The students created a short video retelling his love story.

By Sarah Burchett

Many residents in senior living communities have countless inspiring stories to tell, but it is not every day they get to witness these personal experiences come to life on screen and transformed from spoken word into motion animated artwork. Using the skills that they learned in their college career, senior animation students at Sam Houston State University paired up with residents at Carriage Inn – Huntsville to make that happen.

For Jonathan Bryson, an animation professor at SHSU, impactful storytelling through animation has always been a passion. His desire to work closely with others to tell their stories drove him to explore university programs that promote working collaboratively with the community. That is what led him to Academic Community Engagement (ACE) courses.

ACE courses encourage students to use the skills, knowledge and dispositions learned in the classroom to collaborate with community partners for the public good. These ACE experiences benefit faculty, students and the community, and Bryson soon incorporated ACE into his course.

Based on his experiences growing up, Bryson felt compelled to reach out to senior living communities in Huntsville. He knew the key to a successful ACE experience was a strong partnership. It just so happened that the perfect person for this partnership was the first person to respond: SHSU alumna and Director of Life Enrichment at Carriage Inn – Huntsville, Tracey Holbrook.

Holbrook was happy to be involved, noting her appreciation for the emphasis that SHSU has put on community engagement over the years. With her firsthand experiences, she understood the value of these positive resident-student interactions and knew just what to do to ensure it went off without a hitch.

Together, Holbrook and Bryson created an ACE experience where students would apply their animation skills after conducting life history interviews with residents to bring their stories to life.

The first and most important conversation Holbrook encouraged Bryson to have with his class was about preserving the dignity and respect of the residents they would be working with. Holbrook then helped to organize the student interviews and scheduled the final presentation for the residents to attend.

“If it was not for her helping me flesh out the initial introduction and meeting with the residents, I do not think it would have gone as smoothly,” Bryson said. “She was a great partner.” Professor Bryson's senior animation students presented their videos to the residents of Carriage Inn Huntsville.

After Bryson formed the partnership and the students conducted their interviews with residents, it was time for the intensive work to begin.

Their videos ranged from 30 seconds to one minute and 30 seconds and depicted a variety of personal events including love stories, special memories and, for one resident, fleeing to a bunker in England during World War II. 

For students, Reanna Waddell and Leticia Elias, their final one-minute video took nearly a month to complete.

“We did planning and storyboards, separated 30 minutes of interview audio, developed sketches for seven different segments and edited it to make it look smooth and finished,” said Waddell.

This ACE experience also challenged the students' communication skills, along with their design skills, both of which they need to be successful in their industry.

Bryson hoped his students might see the benefit of a project like this, but was surprised at their overwhelmingly positive response to the experience.

The residents and staff at the Carriage Inn – Huntsville were equally enthusiastic about the outcome of the final presentations.

Looking around the room as the videos displayed many memorable times in the lives of these residents, there was joy and reminiscing. 

Holbrook most enjoyed seeing a story she knew personally play out on the screen. The story was about a resident, Fred Jones, and how he met his wife, Jewel, at Carriage Inn – Huntsville. After Fred offered Jewel a seat in the dining room, she offered to play him some songs on her organ. Once they married, Fred bought her a new organ. Later, when Jewel passed away, he donated it to Carriage Inn – Huntsville in her honor.

“I was so surprised that some of them captured the voices. I loved that. Fred’s story, for instance, witnessing that story in real life and then seeing it, I thought that one was spot on. It is obviously a beautiful story. They animated that well,” Holbrook said. 

Holbrook is looking forward to welcoming more ACE courses into Carriage Inn – Huntsville. Many residents, like Anna-Louise Bruner, desire additional opportunities to interact with and learn from students at SHSU.

“As a former schoolteacher, I am always interested in learning,” said Bruner. “I would love to see more of these events take place here. It would be wonderful. I do not like to miss anything related to young people and their goals and aspirations.”

To better grow these connections and continue forging these partnerships, Bryson encourages all faculty to give teaching an ACE course a shot. These courses not only provide students with great learning experiences but also mix up the assignments, keeping students interested and engaged in the course material.

In addition to keeping the class compelling, Bryson believes that this type of teaching and mutually beneficial partnership development is at the core of our purpose as a public institution.

“This is something we should definitely be trying to do because we are a public university, we are in a small town,” Bryson said. “It is absurd to not at least try to have community engagement within our area, because we are here to serve the community.”

Clearly, Bryson has taken the SHSU motto, “The measure of a Life is its service,” to heart and is teaching his students to do the same.

Those interested in learning more about Academic Community Engagement at Sam Houston State University, please email

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