Charlestown residents impart lessons of transition to UMBC students

The lights dimmed and a hush came over the crowd of 40 or so in the Library Gallery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Instead of a sneak peak at a holiday blockbuster, 25 UMBC students and a dozen Charlestown residents were joined by faculty and staff from both institutions to view a semester of collaboration on the screen Dec. 13.

The movies were the result of a collaboration between UMBC's New Media Studio and Erickson School of Aging, which is based on the UMBC campus.

It marks the fifth year the school and nearby retirement community have partnered and the first time it has involved freshmen.

Director of the school's New Media Studio, Bill Shewbridge said prior to this year, the school would reserve a project with Charlestown for graduate and upper class students.

The departments designed the class so students could practice multimedia skills and learn life lessons from their interviews with those at the Catonsville retirement community, Shewbridge said.

"We did it around the idea of transitions in life and learning from the experiences of the residents (at Charlestown)," Shewbridge said. "It's a chance for them to create these great little movies and a chance to have a dialogue (they wouldn't normally get)."

After spending three hours each week interviewing and working with the residents, the students premiered the 14 three-minute productions about a period of transition in a Charlestown resident's life.

"It was actually pretty cool working with seniors and technology," said junior Kevin Pugh, 21, an Arbutus native now living in Catonsville. "I've never worked with seniors before. It's been great. It's been a lot of fun."

The Charlestown residents provided narration for their own story, and the students added pictures to enhance the tale.

"You can't tell your life story in three minutes," Shewbridge said. "They're all different. Some are funny. Some are poignant. But they all have their own value and their own message."

E.J. Urbas, 80, teamed with Pugh.

As soon as Urbas read the course description, she was interested in signing up and becoming involved, she said.

"I think (this course) was good because it gives young people the opportunity to see some of the things happening in the world," said Urbas, who has lived in Charlestown for nearly three years.

She noted that she didn't learn as much about the technology behind the movie making as she had hoped, but still gained something from the course.

Having spent her career as a teacher and principal, and said she enjoyed working with young people again.

"At this point in my life, I began thinking about transitions and then about whether those were really the most important transitions," she said. "I realized that I'm still going through a transition here at Charlestown."

Stories ranged from life in the military to three dogs to how one decision can impact an entire life.

Barbara Walker, 93, told how she chose to attend the University of Wyoming because it was the farthest school away from her home in Salt Lake City that offered her a scholarship.

"It was just about as irresponsible a way to make a decision as someone could," Walker said with a chuckle.

But, Walker said, the decision worked out "beautifully" as she parlayed her education into a career as a family and marriage counselor.

From her story, Walker, a Charlestown resident for 17 years, said she hopes that the students learn that whether a decision, whether well-calculated or a whim, can have a prolonged affect on life.

Desiree Sterling, a freshman from Anne Arundel County, worked with Walker and said the amount she had in common with a woman 75 years her senior surprised her.

"We were able to connect because we have the same experiences in our transitions," Sterling said.

"This whole experience has inspired me to take risks and go after what I want," said Sterling, who has an interest in pursuing a career in documentary making. "It influenced me to look into the future and not put any limitations on exactly what I'm interested in."

The stories are available at

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