Sentinel Progress

Student video assignment allows veterans to tell their stories

CLEMSON — A class assignment brought results beyond what was anticipated by students in Clemson University’s latest Marketing 3020 class. Students in the latest iteration of the consumer behavior course engaged in a service learning project that not only earned them class credit, but opened their eyes to the impact telling one’s story can have on a person.

“Students were asked to produce two-minute videos that featured a veteran’s story,” said Jennifer Siemens, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business. “While the project required accountability to an organization and an individual, they learned the impact their work could have on both.”

Groups of students were charged with producing videos that told how a veteran’s life was enhanced by their association with Upstate Warrior Solution, a nonprofit veterans’ support group. The top five videos will be professionally produced and the one judged the best will be shown on the big screens in Death Valley on Military Appreciation Day at the football game against The Citadel on Nov. 18.

“Among other benefits, an assignment like this connects students with consumers in a market that may be unfamiliar to them,” Siemens said. “Not only does it give them a video for their portfolio, it makes them accountable to someone other than me and gives them pride in knowing they are helping an organization tell its story. In this case, the assignment brought additional benefits some students weren’t anticipating.”

Upstate Warrior Solution serves quality-of-life needs for area veterans, National Guard, Reserve, active duty military and their families. It serves a five-county area and connects warriors with its partners who provide services in the areas of health care and benefits, education, housing and employment.

The winning video in the class was filmed by students Hanna Wink of West Bloomfield, Michigan; Madeline Harma of Wadsworth, Illinois; Krista Degoey of Fort Mill, South Carolina; Mike Cavallaro of Port Washington, New York; and Alyse Meredith Bicknell of Meredith, New Hampshire. The Clemson Broadcast Productions team helped produce it.

Nick Perkins, a Navy veteran who served in the Middle East, is one of the clients of Upstate Warrior Solution who shared his story with marketing student Alyssa Calamari and four of her classmates.

“Even though it was only an assignment, I can’t overstate how much the experience meant to me,” Perkins said in an email to the students. “I got my story off my chest and in the process helped an organization that has helped me. I swear, I walked out of the interview feeling 50 pounds lighter and even more motivated to keep on fighting every day.”

The impact the interview had on Perkins didn’t go unnoticed by Alyssa, who is from Hilton Head, and her classmates, Lauren Mossburg of Chesnee; Shannon O’Toole of Hilton Head; Ronnie Mount of Annapolis, Maryland; and Bridget Esposito of Wheaton, Illinois.

“He followed up with us in a very heartfelt email about how much the interview meant to him,” Calamari said. “He has experienced some serious trauma in his life and it was clear that having someone just sit there and listen was comforting to him. We were all taken aback, and a few of us shed some tears when we read the email.”

“Warriors are often very private about their experiences,” said Charlie Hall, CEO of Upstate Warrior Solution. “Their stories are often bottled up for many years and it’s important for them to have someone interested enough to want to listen. The project is benefiting our warriors and the organization as we plan to use these videos to tell the story of Upstate Warrior Solution.”

Teaming students with veterans on the project was rewarding on many levels for both sides. Former U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jeremy Rice, who served from 1992 to 1996 as a forward observer for artillery and naval gunfire and now works with United Way of Pickens County, had high praise for the students he worked with on the project.

“Any time you can work with students from Clemson it’s a privilege,” said Rice. “They show up, they’re prepared and they’re ready to go. I hope that Clemson students, whether they’re from the area or from outside the area, realize that there are things like this that go on within the community that they’re staying in, even if it’s just for four years, that they can get tapped into.”

Julia McElhinney, a junior marketing major from Charleston, said working with Rice was an eye-opening experience for her. “I don’t know that many veterans, so getting to meet one and hear his story has been very interesting for me,” she said. “I didn’t know about Upstate Warrior Solution either, so it’s been really cool to be a part of this project. It’s really important for veterans.”

Hall said many people do not identify with what veterans go through in their military experience and the baggage that often results from it. A willingness to listen can be a relief factor.

“The interview was very therapeutic for someone like me to be able to tell my story to complete strangers,” Perkins said in the email. “I hope you all realize how much it means for a veteran to tell [his story] this way. Your conduct and professionalism say a lot about all of you.”

Added Calamari, “The experience went well beyond it being an assignment. We learned how you can positively make a difference in someone’s life by just being considerate and listening to what they have to say.”

Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eva Vega, who was an airborne communications operator for Fleet Air Reconaisance Squadron VQ-3, shows a photo of herelf in uniform on her phone. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eva Vega, who was an airborne communications operator for Fleet Air Reconaisance Squadron VQ-3, shows a photo of herelf in uniform on her phone. Photo by Ken Scar

By Ken Scar and Rick Uhlmann

For The Sentinel-Progress