Assessing statistical data gathering and narrative as methods to preserve the wisdom gathered from intergenerational service-learning
Dan Vaillancourt, Professor, Loyola University Chicago []
Kathy Vaillancourt, Independent Scholar, Loyola University Chicago


Keywords: Statistical data gathering, community outcomes, intergenerational service-learning, narrative

Track: Community outcomes and impact

Format: Research paper

Date & time: Friday 2:00-3:10
Location: Salon 10

Since 2007, nearly 150 students from Loyola University Chicago and Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa have interviewed retired women religious (65-95 years old) to gather their wisdom on five topics: family upbringing, discernment of vocation, work with marginalized groups of people (the homeless, immigrants, the terminally ill, HIV/AIDS sufferers, pregnant teens, prison inmates, and many others), leadership style, and relationships with God. Women religious (nuns or sisters) are a disappearing group of women in American society (from a height of 185,000 members in 1965 to about 60,000 today with 54,000 older than 50). Their wisdom needs to be preserved.

The research and methods to gather and preserve the wisdom of women have yielded three results. First, the statistical data gathering is useful for the creation of profiles and elicits a response rate close to 100%. Statistics, however, do a poor job of capturing the voice or wisdom of interviewees. Second, memoirs represent excellent vehicles to capture both the voice and wisdom of interviewees, however the personal nature of the memoirs mean that ten percent of the interviewees choose to drop out of the project at this juncture. Third, the 90% who continue with the project articulate positive responses to the memoirs that range from “It was like having my own private secretary” to “Now I can give something to my nieces and nephews so that they understand what my life was all about.”

We conclude that statistical data gathering works well to create profiles of the interviewees, whereas memoir does an excellent job to collect the wisdom of the interviewees and to get a measure of the persons. As the methods become more personal (from statistical data gathering to memoir), fewer interviewees continue with the project, though the drop-out of interviewees correlates closely with age—all drop-outs were 85 or older. Perhaps the widespread use of social media like Facebook and Twitter among younger generations of women religious will reduce the drop-out rate when these women are interviewed decades from now.

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