Dr. Chris Patti does not hold a run-of-the-mill class.
“I call students gurus or scholars because I see them as collaborators,” said Patti, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication. “I bring in my personal history, stories and interests and I think the students respond to making the class a personal space.”
One of the Communication Studies (BS) classes Patti teaches is called Ethnographic Storytelling and Inquiry. In it, students learn about ethnography – the telling of someone’s story after becoming immersed in the person’s life.
Through ethnography, writers or reporters tell a story after sometimes spending years with their subjects. Instead of one or two interviews before writing a story, the interviewer develops a relationship that allows for the exchange of in-depth and personal stories, Patti said.
This form of experiential learning allows students to see the evolution of storytelling, creating friendships through interviews that lead to a deeper understanding of people’s stories, he said.
Patti has used ethnographic methods to explore how people cope with the realities of life by telling the stories of people who are at the end of their lives, including holocaust survivors and cancer patients.
“I have always found the opposite of what people might expect,” Patti said. “Rather than being sad or depressing, their stories show the miracle of what it is to be alive and bring back the wider perspective of what it means to be a human being living with limited time on earth.”