Who Doesn’t Like Ken Burns?

As a historian, I always wanted to explore historical filmmaking. After all, who doesn’t admire the work of Ken Burns? When FRCC Digital Media Professor Brandon Berman approached me about writing a script for a project proposed by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter to record the history of female veterans for the Library of Congress, I was not only thrilled, but also excited for FRCC to participate.

Scripting the unknown

While I spent months researching and writing a script for the film, many digital media students, under the direction of Brandon, who was executive producer for the project, interviewed female veterans about their experiences in the U.S. military. These women shared their experiences in conflicts from World War II through current missions in Iran and Afghanistan. Writing a historical narrative that wove together these varied experiences was challenging but rewarding, as it provided a foundation upon which to present these important oral histories of military service. Anthony Heideman, a FRCC history professor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, narrated much of the film.

Library of Congress donation

The premiere of Women Warriors: A Vision of Valor was last spring at the Westminster Campus, and on Veterans Day in November, we held a screening and open community forum about the role of women in the military. The culmination of this project, however, was a screening and donation ceremony at the Library of Congress on March 26. The film and oral histories will be housed as part of the permanent collection of the Veteran’s History Project.

Before the ceremony, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Library of Congress Chief of Staff Robert Newlen, and Robert Patrick, the director of the Veteran’s History Project. They told me what made this film different from other donations to the project was 1) that it had “such a rich history” included in it, and 2) that it involved women.

The ceremony, in the beautiful Whittall Pavilion, was a tremendous success. Leaders from the academic and veterans communities were invited to attend, and press agencies such as U.S. Veterans Magazine advertised the event.

Mr. Patrick, Mr. Newlen, Congressman Perlmutter, and I spoke about the significance of these stories to both military and women’s histories, and then I introduced two of our students, Stephanie Burkart and Tricia Mentor, who shared what it was like for students to participate in this project.

‘Greatest history lesson’

One thing they shared that stood out to me was their statement that, “This is the greatest history lesson I could have ever received.” After the screening, many audience members shared their appreciation of the film with me and the students. All who attended left with a copy of the film.

Special tour of Library of Congress

After the ceremony, Mr. Patrick took Stephanie, Tricia, their guests, and me on a very special tour of the Library of Congress. In all my visits to the Library of Congress as a tourist and researcher, I have never had such a knowledgeable guide nor such special treatment. What an experience this was for the students! The looks on their faces were priceless, and they shared with me how proud their families were of their opportunity to be there at the Library of Congress doing this.

FRCC provided innovation in experiential learning

Women-Warriors productionI am so grateful for this opportunity to represent both our film and our school. I am thankful for the many faculty and students who went beyond their traditional workloads to bring this part of history to life. I am also grateful for the continued support of innovative projects such as these that while they may appear on the fringe of our priorities at first glance, can provide long-lasting positive outcomes for our students and ultimately create more student success that we could have possibly imagined.

While we set out to record and honor the memories of these brave female veterans, we accomplished much more than that. We not only completed our primary mission but also provided a wealth of opportunity for students (and faculty) to gain lifelong memories and knowledge through experiential learning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant , Ph.D., is a history faculty member both online and at the Westminster Campus of Front Range Community College. She is the author of Cultivating Victory: The Women’s Land Army and Victory Garden Movements and screenwriter of Women Warriors: A Vision of Valor.