#7 How I grew as a leader and a learner


Before starting What’s the Story, I had an idea for what I wanted to research, but I had little to no knowledge of said topic. Furthermore, I had no idea how to start collecting information aside from collecting statistics online and reading about stories in the newspaper. As WtS progressed, I learned what essential skills I need to identify problems and pursue them in the real world. Midway through the course, I was able not only to recognize who the key stakeholders are but also reach out to them and use them to further my project. Without the time constraints, it was difficult for me to prioritize this work over my school work which has a much closer deadline. Unfortunately, that held true until two or three weeks ago when I realized that we need to get this project done. It was at this moment that when I took control of my time management skills and started to crank through this project. Now finding myself at the conclusion of this class, I am searching for more opportunities to learn in a blended learning environment. Whether it be at the college or another year or WtS, I’m sure that I thrive in this type of situation and would like to continue to learn this way.


Responsible and Involved Citizenship

One of the most important aspects of What’s the Story is the ability to communicate with peers, adults, and stakeholders in a positive manner that promotes diverse and intellectually stimulating conversations. Although I felt like my communication skills were well-developed before starting WtS, I am much more comfortable speaking both individually and in a group setting now. I can individualize my feedback and communication for each person to ensure the best conversation possible. For example, during interviews, I was able to craft my interviews in such a manner that it was both interesting and enhanced my final product. Moreover, this course has provided me with a better understanding of how I function as both a leader and a learner. As a leader, I uncovered how much hard work goes into setting a good example for your peers and taking on extra responsibilities that other group members may not have. Especially in the final stages of creating the film, I took on leadership roles by editing the initial passes of the movie and then going over the individual sections again to correct for audio lapses and editing mishaps. As a learner, I discovered that I work well with people, and I also work well under pressure. In fact, at my school, I was selected to be a peer leader for the incoming freshman next year. During our last meeting, we were asked to take a survey regarding our leadership styles and how we like to work. One of the questions was if we work better under pressure or with a lot of time. Prior to WtS, I would have answered “with lots of time,” just because the thought of deadlines and not having sufficient time scared me (thanks, SATs). Interestingly, I answered that I work better under pressure, definitely a decision which would not have made had I not taken What’s the Story.


Informed & Integrative Thinker

   In the traditional learning environment, research and information gathering consist of a few hours of Google searches and occasionally some time spent flipping through an encyclopedia. While this is still a form of investigation, it has little practical application. Imagine if you decided to invest your money in the stock market. Would you want to invest your life savings in a company that you read about on the internet no more than a few hours ago? No, of course not. You would do weeks, even months, of research, analyze previous data and trends, and then finally decide if that is the best place to put your money. What’s the Story works in a very similar fashion. For these projects, it is impossible for you to do a few hours of research and then just churn out a final product. It forces you to do months of research and gain a thorough understanding of your topic before creating the documentary; a much more practical form of information gathering if you ask me. I demonstrate my ability to collect different perspectives and information in the various interviews we conducted. Furthermore, my ability to synthesize this information shines through the editing process where my group and I used the information we collected to tell a unique story.


Clear and Effective Communication

   Before What’s the Story I had some experience in digital storytelling, but I had never taken the lead or collaborated with people who were not directly working on the same project as me. With my work at the college, I always worked under the supervision of Daniel where he would take the lead and meet with external sources. On occasion, I would meet with other people, but it would usually, if not always, be alongside Daniel where he would lead the discussion. On the other hand, I had to meet new people and step outside of my comfort zone to create the final documentary. With that documentary, countless doors have been opened to me, many of which I can use to provoke a positive social change in the lives of undocumented immigrants in Vermont. Despite the fact our documentary is not entirely finished, I can already recognize the dark story it illustrates. Also, I can foresee the potential influence we can have on this topic if we successfully go public and utilize our expansive knowledge of technology and social media to disperse our message.


When I started What’s the Story, I was expecting an exciting class where I was able to use my prior knowledge in digital storytelling and Mexico to tell a unique story based on the outcome of the most recent elections.  As time progressed and I dove deeper into my topic, I was astounded by what I learned both within and outside of What’s the Story. Outside of the group, I discovered the all too real difficulties of living in the shadows here in our rural state. Interestingly enough, what I learned from the program was the most fascinating. I learned essential life skills that I have already implemented in my everyday life. I learned how to overcome obstacles through teamwork and communication; I learned how to the importance of budgeting my time and most importantly, I learned how to enjoy the work I create so others can share a similar viewpoint. With What’s the Story behind me, I have come to recognize my ability to communicate with adults, and how to work in a team. With these skills, I was able to open my own business where I interact with adults and local business owners every day. So, even though I learned an incredible amount of information about my topic of choice, it was the unexpected learning from What’s the Story that I will cherish forever.

Justin Holmes

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