First Person Singular: Ryan Stratton ’11 helps youth find new perspectives

ryansI am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at the In-Sight Photography Project in Brattleboro, Vermont. In-Sight is a youth-focused arts education organization that teaches analog and digital photography to kids, from age 11 through 18. Because classes are offered on a sliding-scale basis, In-Sight is able to reach youth that might otherwise not be able to access after-school programming, especially arts education programs.

I first learned about In-Sight from photography professor John Willis, who co-founded the organization 20 years ago and with whom I was taking a photography course at Marlboro. I volunteered to co-teach a couple stop-motion animation classes at In-Sight, then took a Work Study position there. After graduating, it was an easy decision to accept the VISTA position there, as it would entail service that I was excited about. It also enabled me to develop my relationship with the organization further, helped me with professional experience and funding for future education, and provided increasingly hard-to-come-by darkroom facilities.

Day-to-day, my activities at In-Sight vary quite a bit, as I hope is the case for any work I do in the future. On any given day I might be: meeting with a new volunteer to show them the space and develop curriculum for a class; learning how to merge an Excel document with a Word document in order to print hundreds of mailing labels; testing old film cameras to make sure they are ready for students to use; preparing photographs for installation at our annual auction fundraiser; or planning and implementing an event during Gallery Walk to recruit students for classes.

My favorite thing about my service at In-Sight would certainly be the opportunity I have to work with students directly and see the impact that the program has on them. While the AmeriCorps VISTA program is focused on indirect service, there are times, especially due to In-Sight’s small size, that I am either working in the same space as students or facilitating classes with a volunteer. Interacting with the students is always a nice break from work that often requires a lot of time spent with a computer. Sometimes, I get to hear kids say really funny things.

My Plan of Concentration was in literature, and, while I have few opportunities to bring up James Joyce or Dante at In-Sight, I am able to use my writing skills every day. Often, when proofreading a grant proposal, report or other document, I remember lessons in grammar that Laura Stevenson taught me in the Elements of Style class that I took five years ago—really! Photography was 40 percent of my Plan work, and my experience from that enables me to work with volunteers who are planning a class and to offer specific solutions. I am currently looking to continue my education in photography—I’ve applied to a few MFA programs and am now weighing my options.

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