Society & Culture

UGA social work students gain experience working with older adults, help preserve oral history

Athens, Ga. — Students in the University of Georgia School of Social Work are collaborating with UGA’s Archway Partnership to help preserve the oral history of Hart County, while gaining valuable experience in working with older citizens.

For the last year and a half, students in Stacey Kolomer’s “Working with Older Adults” course have been traveling to Hart County to conduct interviews with elderly residents. Audio clips from the interviews are being used in various media to help preserve the oral history of the community.

“It’s been a really fabulous project,” said Kolomer, who is an associate professor in the School of Social Work. “I really like the idea that the students are getting what they need out of it and meeting the objectives of the course, but more importantly, it is contributing to the community and something that is community driven.”

Social work students were paired with older adults who live in Hart County. The students conducted life-review interviews with the older adults, asking questions about their upbringing and memories from their life in the community.

The students taped the conversation with a digital audio recorder and later shared the recording with interviewees and their family members. Additionally, students were required to write and audio record a narrative, telling the story of the person interviewed in their own words. Some of the audio clips from the interviews were used in a podcast of a walking tour of downtown Hartwell. A mini-documentary on the history of the Hartwell Dam, currently in production, uses audio and video clips from the interviews.

“It’s a beautiful mixture,” Kolomer said. “It gives the students some insight into aging and breaks down stereotypes.

“Many of the interviewees are from rural Georgia and have had a very different upbringing,” she added. “It gives our students the opportunity to connect with strangers, which is really important in social work. It helps develop their interview skills, while having the opportunity to not be a clinician.”

The project also benefits older adults and the community, according to Kolomer.

“It provides participants with the opportunity to share their wisdom, to tell their life story to someone, and it’s certainly allowing them to contribute to their community,” she said. “They are providing feedback that’s going to help the historical society grow, which is one of the priorities of the community.”

Kolomer and her class have been working with Ilka McConnell, an Archway Partnership professional for Hart County. Currently in eight counties throughout Georgia, the Archway Partnership links communities in need of economic development with UGA resources. Working with community leaders, the Archway Partnership identifies priority areas of a community and then works cooperatively to address those priorities.

The oral history project in Hart Count was the idea of a community member there, according to McConnell.

“A gentleman in the community, who was really active in the historical society and some of the different history-related nonprofits in town, passed away unexpectedly. Think about how much history was in his head and not written down,” she said. “As time goes on, we are going to lose a lot of these folks in the community who know so much just from experience and because they are really passionate about history. . . . Wouldn’t it be neat if we could capture some information about their lives?”

The oral history project has helped other community programs as well. Information from interviewees was incorporated into a tour of Hartwell, the county seat of Hart County. The tour, which originally only provided visitors with a paper brochure highlighting 32 landmarks of historic downtown, was expanded to include a downloadable podcast and video walking tour.

Interviewing Hartwell’s elderly residents was a very moving experience, according to Katie Crosby, an undergraduate majoring in social work.

“It was fascinating to hear stories regarding the Hartwell area as well as to receive such profound wisdom from men and women with much life experience,” Crosby said. “We have much to learn from older generations.”

To view a photo slideshow of the project, see

For more information about UGA’s School of Social Work, see

For more information about UGA’s Archway Partnership program, see

For more information about the walking tour, see