Stories are what sticks together and connect us with the work we do. That’s why every student should take a storytelling course, regardless of their specialty or discipline, writes UW student Aleenah Ansari.
(Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a dozen student essays we’ll be publishing for this series from Education Lab’s Student Voices program, which this year is partnering with Project Homeless. student with a story to tell about homelessness or education? Email Mohammed Kloub, Editor-in-Chief of Education Lab Engagement, at [email protected])
I believe the most powerful thing we can give ourselves is stories, so here is one that touches us close to home.
Once upon a time there was a little brunette girl growing up in Federal Way. She had the wildest dreams of changing the culture by making things with her hands like novels and greeting cards that were not only for Christmas but also for Ramadan, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
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But when she opened her storybooks and textbooks later in her life, she never found people who looked like her. Where were the queer brunette girls who are creators and change makers and impact people like him? Instead, she read terms like “racism backwards” in her US history textbook, and never read her family history during the Indo-Pakistani Partition or the Tensions. that still exist because colonization drew boundaries across communities.
She eventually went to college and was given autonomy over her studies, so she chose to pursue an engineering degree. She would create things and solve problems the way she dreamed of. Yet even here it was difficult to see himself, having only two professors of color throughout his college career.
The story of the little brunette girl is my story, but it’s not just my story. Stories about technology and engineering tend to prioritize the experience of white, upper-class, able-bodied, straight men – which means I’ve never seen myself portrayed in innovation stories. Throughout my studies I asked myself, “How could I, a queer Pakistani woman, be creative enough to make something out of nothing?” What I really needed was to see people like me find strength in their own stories.
This is the story I told about myself during my technico-communication course with other engineering students. We were asked to write and present a pitch, so I decided to share a bit of myself to promote a storytelling workshop for middle school classes, one that would challenge the dominant narrative about who can become an engineer. or innovator. If the stories could validate my own identity as a queer woman of color and the daughter of immigrants, they could do the same for many other identities.
I received so much feedback from my peers on how they identified with my story and remembered it even after my presentation. What made the success of this presentation? Unlike my peers who started their talk with a related fact or statistic, I wanted to be vulnerable and tell a story about my identity that tied into the larger problem of lack of representation.
It made me realize that most of the people in my engineering department hadn’t learned how to tell a story about their work. Our courses teach us how to follow the user-centric design process, through brainstorming, conversations with potential end users, and user testing to iterate over a prototype until we arrive at a final product. What we don’t focus on is how to tell a story about the things we’ve done.
That’s why I think every student should take a storytelling course. Stories are what sticks together and they allow us to connect with the work we do. Storytelling is a valuable skill that can be applied in any field, not just in traditional writing and marketing jobs. It is important to know how to sell your experience or idea and why it is commercially viable or worth investing.
The most successful tech pros I know know how to distill complex problems into a story where they champion their solution. Journalists and writers do this on a daily basis, but everyone has a stake in knowing how to tell a story about the things they care about – and want others to care, too.