Students and Professor
Students and professors break for a photo while assembling the Minnetrista exhibit.

Most Americans outside the Midwest have a fixed impression of the region—sensible, rural, conventional. But people who live here know the reality is more complex.

Over two semesters, 32 undergraduates explored myths, misconceptions, and truths about the Midwest and its people. Their investigations led to a podcast series and an exhibit this Spring at the Minnetrista Cultural Center.

“The thing that I’ve taken away the most from this is just new perspective,” said Garrett Riley, an English Education major. “My experience is not everybody’s experience in the Midwest, and getting new voices on gender, sexuality, and race has been a really eye-opening experience.”

Assistant Teaching Professors of English Andrea Wolfe, ’02 MA ’04 PhD ’10, and Kathryn Ludwig led the immersive Fall and Spring courses, assisted by graduate students.

In the first semester, Wolfe’s students read novels depicting Midwestern life in the past and then collected stories from real Midwesterners. Some interviewed family members, making the project a personal and impactful one. Students composed and recorded voiceovers for the podcast series, Stories from the Heartland, which was produced by Ball State’s on-campus agency, Digital Corps.

Highlighting diversity

Sarah Morrow and Emma Cieslik
Sarah Morrow discusses her panel “Industry to Artistry” with fellow student Emma Cieslik.

This Spring, Ludwig’s students looked at representations of the present Midwest to create a multimedia experience at Minnetrista that shares compelling narratives highlighting the region’s diversity.

Ludwig explained, “Visitors learned about people like Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, who has started a group that celebrates Black girls, and Bibi Bahrami, a Muncie resident and refugee who works to help women and children in Afghanistan.”

English Literature major Sarah Marrow, who enrolled both semesters, said the projects helped her develop marketable skills that she will “put forward towards my professional career in the future.”

Both semesters’ projects were made successful “by an unbelievable group of students and a very invested community partner in Minnetrista,” said Ludwig. “We also relied on guest speakers from across the University who were willing to share their expertise with us so that we could tackle this capacious topic.

“It has certainly been a highlight of my teaching career, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.” — With reporting by Sam Mumbower, ’21

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