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UW-Eau Claire Nursing, Business Students
Complete Oral History of World War II Project
MAILED: Nov. 1, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — When Jennifer Platt and Karolyn Tamke began studying nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, they didn’t know much about World War II or the people who fought in it.
Today Platt and Tamke talk confidently about Pearl Harbor, the War in the Pacific and other important events associated with World War II. And they are incredulous when talking about the sacrifices made by Americans — those at the front and at home — during that era.
To what do they attribute their new understanding and appreciation of this period of American history? A nursing research project titled “Oral History Project: Memories of World War II,” which involved students interviewing 26 older adults in the Eau Claire area about their memories of the 1940s.
“When people hear about the project, they ask what it has to do with nursing,” said Dr. Lois Taft, associate professor of nursing systems and the research team’s leader. “It changes the way we practice nursing because the experience changes us as caregivers. In many health care settings, nurses work with older adults. The project challenges young nursing students to adjust their attitudes toward older people and appreciate them for the lives they’ve led rather than focusing on their disabilities. It builds relationships between older adults and caregivers.”
The oral history project is part of Taft’s ongoing effort to examine the potential benefits of reminiscence on mental health in old age and to identify interventions that enhance the lives of older adults, said Taft, whose area of expertise is quality of life issues for the elderly.
“Reminiscing is therapeutic for older people,” Taft said, noting she chose World War II as a topic because it was so significant to the lives of the current elderly population. “Reminiscing is a strategy for keeping older adults involved and engaged. It’s a meaningful activity they can participate in anywhere, including nursing homes or with their families. Oral history interviews stimulate reminiscence. And they preserve history and link generations. This project provides historical documentation of personal experiences of older adults and preserves oral history from a decade that changed the course of the world.”
Platt said the interviews changed her in ways that will make her a better nurse, particularly when working with the elderly. “I have a new perspective when I think about this population,” Platt said. “Older people have so much to offer — they have so much knowledge and so many experiences to share. I had no concept of how much I could learn from them until I started these interviews.”
“I was amazed by the whole experience,” Platt said of the collaborative project that has her working with nursing faculty, a graduate nursing student, a business major and another undergraduate nursing student. “It has had a huge impact on me in many ways.”
The research project helps nursing students learn to conduct research and it enhances their communication skills, Taft said.
Communication skills — including careful listening and reading body language — are important in nursing, said Tamke, a senior nursing major who previously earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from UW-Eau Claire. “The ability to really hear what a patient is saying is essential to being a good nurse,” Tamke said. “Interviewing people about World War II was a great way for me to use the communication skills I studied in class in a real-life situation. I was nervous when I started but I feel confident talking with people now.”
Tara Bowlds, a sophomore business administration major, came to UW-Eau Claire because of its Blugold Fellowship program, an opportunity offered to high-achieving freshmen who want to collaborate on research with faculty. As part of the application process, Bowlds wrote an essay about a hypothetical product that would preserve the memories of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. When she was selected as a Blugold Fellow, she was matched with Taft because of her essay topic.
“I was surprised and a little leery,” Bowlds said. “I was expecting to be paired with a business professor, not someone from nursing. But I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was a different — and much better — experience than anything I could have imagined.”
Bowlds transcribes the taped interviews, a process she finds fascinating because of the incredible stories she hears. “I’m now asking my grandmother questions I never thought to ask,” said Bowlds. “I’m getting involved with a generation that I had not really thought about before.”
Students also are gaining valuable experiences and connections by presenting their work at professional nursing conferences and at UW-Eau Claire’s Student Research Day, Taft said, adding the team also hopes to publish its findings in nursing journals and other publications.
Taft and her research team are now planning the next phase of their oral history project — interviewing nurses from the World War II era.
The research team includes Taft, Tamke, Platt, Bowlds, nurse and historian Mary Ellen Stolder and graduate nursing student Alice Knutson.
“The student-faculty collaborative research program at UW-Eau Claire is incredible,” Taft said. “Working with individual faculty members is the best way for a student to learn. It has a tremendous impact on the students who are involved.”
Funding for the oral history project was provided by the UW-Eau Claire Center of Excellence for Faculty/Student Research Collaboration, which receives some of its funds from differential tuition.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: November 1, 2002