WJU Students Explore the Science Behind Memory

WHEELING – Wheeling Jesuit University students spent the past year exploring the science of memory by interviewing older Wheeling residents or by dissecting animals’ brains.

The university’s Laut Honors College project involved in-person interviews with “memory partners.” Some students spoke with family, while others met with faculty or partners through Faith-in-Action Caregivers and Elmhurst House of Friendship. Inviting memory partners and WJU faculty to attend, the class presented final projects April 23.

“Education is about forming people who are engaged with the world,” said Jessica Wrobleski, 2013-14 adviser for the class. “The program, in its interdisciplinary nature, really seeks to expose students to many different dimensions of an important question.”

Wrobleski led the class as they investigated memory, whether through anatomy by dissecting sheep brains or through war by listening to the experiences of Wheeling Vet Center members.

Their biggest project, however, was focusing on memory as a generational link. Evaluating the importance of college students meeting with an older generation, Wrobleski said the latter often have a concentration of memories – a “memory bump” – from their college-age years, a time of personal development and life change.

“Memory is a reconstructive process. It’s something that happens in the present and often happens collaboratively,” Wrobleski said, adding students were surprised by how much they enjoyed exploring history through the older generation’s experience.

Student Morgan Jacobson described memory partner Paula McDonald of Wheeling as an incredibly kind and compassionate woman. Jacobson, who met McDonald at church, studied how memories serve as a connection to one’s past within a changing society.

“Listening to all of the changes Paula has observed throughout her lifetime … has led me to think of all the changes I will witness throughout my lifetime, both good and bad,” Jacobson said.

Student Falon Weidman uncovered a wealth of tales while speaking with her grandparents, whereas Teracyn Rich learned about the impact of trauma through a Vietnam War veteran’s life story.

“When I started my project I had no idea how I was going to convey a life so full of broken pieces and half-finished stories,” said Rich, who visually translated that fragmentation into a collage.

Other artistic expressions included scrapbooks, posters and multimedia art.

As students submitted detailed records of conversations, the memories are preserved for the future.