By Jennifer Lugo – Collegiate Staff
Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood, adviser of the Collegiate student newspaper, and her journalism students took first place in the Grand Rapids Community College Armen Awards competition April 24.
The fifth annual celebration was held at Kendall College of Art and Design. Five groups of students, faculty, and community partners who dedicated their time and teaching to others were recognized. The top three winners were announced and awarded cash prizes.
The first place winners, received $3,000 and an opportunity to appear on WOOD-TV8’s “eightWest.” The Collegiate partnered with Hospice of Michigan, and produced stories from interviews with hospice patients and staff, and educated the public on the dying process. Inspired by the thought of “how to live your best life,” the journalists used video, photos, and articles, capturing the inspiration and hope hospice brings patients and their families.
Armen Oumedian, GRCC alumni, founded and sponsors the Armen Awards competition every year. Seated at the front of the room, he watched the community partners give speeches about the positive results brought forth to the organizations. He expressed his thoughts to the audience in the form of a poem.
“I feel so lucky to be here tonight, with all these young people who are so bright. Their minds and hearts to help those with needs, who help agencies grow, and plant their seeds. These students have worked and given many hours. I think the results deserve arms full of flowers,” said Oumedian.
“I am very very proud of this event, at GRCC, and particularly proud of the faculty who worked hard to create these kinds of experiences for our students,” said GRCC Provost Laurie Chesley. “I think the benefits for the students are exceptional.”
Assistant Professor Drew Rozema and his students from the Mobile Application Development and Security class took second place in the competition, and received $1,500. The students created a mobile app for the Grand Rapids Festival of Arts.
“The big impact for me was that it let me work with two organizations that have been a huge part of my life,” Rozema said. “I’ve been doing festivals since I was 13. I’ve been going to GRCC since I was 17. The impact I hope it has, is in the lives of these guys who got to do something that impacts their community. There’s a half a million people that go through festival, so maybe if one out of ten gets the app in their phone, we’ll touch a lot of lives.”
Coming in third was the Introduction to Computer Programming class led by Professor Katie VanderMeer. The team received an award of $750 for teaching fifth grade students at Orchard View Elementary about coding.
Students said they had great learning outcomes even when they didn’t expect to.
“I didn’t want to do it,” said Collegiate Photo Editor Jonathan Lopez. “It’s just one of those things where I thought it would be morose or morbid, having to deal with the subject of death. But what I came to learn is that hospice is about living, not about dying. It totally gave me a new outlook on the process of hospice.”
Towards the end of the project, students experienced the loss of one of the patients they had interviewed. Lopez was able to feel the impact right away through handing pictures he had taken of the patient to a family member, and taking in her reaction.
“There’s really no greater pleasure than to see someone so positively overwhelmed by your work, and to realize that something as small as a photograph can mean so much to someone.” Lopez said.
Sean Mulhall, student, and Editor-in-Chief of The Collegiate, was able to utilize his style of journalism to write an impactful article, called “Don’t Take Your Life For Granted,” about a 32 year old man, living with several illnesses, who advises people to “live every day like it’s your last.”
“Journalism is just telling people’s stories, because I consider myself a storyteller,” Mulhall said. “I just want to do my best job telling somebody else’s story for them; somebody who can’t, won’t, or doesn’t tell their own story. I’m there to help them tell their story. When I look at it that way, it makes it easier for me. I’m not worried about how is this going to come off. I’m just telling the story the way their story happened.”
Ackerman-Haywood, an adjunct journalism professor, felt the impact as well.
“So one of the gaps in journalist’s education as far as I was concerned was helping students get comfortable with covering difficult topics,” said Ackerman-Haywood. “So we decided to explore the question of ‘how do you live a meaningful life?’, and under that umbrella, we then partnered with Hospice of Michigan. My students were able to go in and get access to families and patients, talk about difficult things; but also discuss with these folks (the) things they felt were most meaningful. A lot of times people reflecting back on their life, they have some pretty profound things to say.”
Katherine Morrison, operations manager for Hospice of Michigan attended the event and was proud of the work the Collegiate did partnered with hospice.
“When you see the word hospice, there’s hope in there, and I think the way the students told the stories, the way they captured their stories, the sensitivity they used, and really the presence they had in those moments with the patients and families showed really what it’s like to be alive, even when you have a life-limiting illness and how just being present and listening to people’s stories can just make such a difference,” said Morrison. “The gentleman who died, the work they did with him and his wife, and photographs they took, the daughter actually used at the funeral, and so that was impactful on her to have this beautiful picture of her parents, smiling, two days before her dad died. So it really, from our perspective as an organization, I think that they did such a great job at capturing really that we’re more than just our death. We’re so much more.”
“It’s kind of like this perfect alignment of honoring the people who have shared stories with me, and creating an experience for students to learn just how important this journalism thing is, especially when a documentary-style approach is taken,” Ackerman-Haywood said. “A person’s story is the most precious thing they have really. It’s worth more than money. It’s been such a fun experience trying to be inspired and inspire others. This definitely shows me what is possible, when you take the learning way outside the classroom.”
Oumedian felt inspired by the work that the teams put out. He will continue to support the Armen Awards in the fall and winter semesters in the 2015-2016 school year.
“This is what I call real world education,” Oumedian said. “It’s taking the education out of the classroom, and combining it with real world experiences. It’s bringing the real world to education and education into the real world. This is working so well, and this is just the beginning. We still have more to do.”