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The Art and Science of Storytelling

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Finding themselves upside down and underwater in a rushing river, most people panic — especially when they’re wearing a neoprene skirt that severely restricts movement from the waist down.

Hannah Marchitell panicked, too — the first time.

“Now,” she says, “it’s like, ‘Oh, this again.’ I really need to learn to roll my kayak.”

It’s just one item on a very long and eclectic list of things to learn.

She is combining her interests in history, communications and media to pursue a BS at Clarkson in her major of social documentation.

“There’s so much to know before you even begin producing a documentary. You need an in-depth understanding of the history of the subject, what shaped it. It’s this kind of knowledge that keeps you grounded when you start exploring what, at first, are really abstract ideas.”

And she does mean “exploring.”

She’s produced content for documentaries on lots of topics, from economics to extreme sports – like white-water kayaking – and additional content for her blog on fitness and healthy eating.

Clarkson’s social documentation major is interdisciplinary, drawing topics and perspectives from a wide range of sciences and the humanities. “I like the freedom it gives me. It’s great for someone like me with interests all over the place.”

This work demands that high level of curiosity, but also focus.

Professor Stephen Casper says he sees both in Hannah. “She’s inquisitive and creative. She's a beautiful writer. And she has terrific imagination and drive. I've rarely encountered a student with such an eye for the intimacy of everyday experience.”

Hannah says Casper and her other professors have helped channel her energies into the skills she’ll need as a professional storyteller.

“I’m driven,” she says, “but my professors give me direction. They help keep me focused.”

She’s been a motivated student from an early age. It wasn’t her idea to start Kindergarten when she was four, but she likes the head start it gave her. She enrolled in The Clarkson School early college program at 16. She stayed at Clarkson to pursue her degree because, she says, “The campus became my home away from home. Everyone — my friends, my professors and the staff, too — they’ve all been so supportive and that’s really helped me figure out what I want to do.”

Well, at least they’ve helped her narrow it down.

“I have a hodge-podge of things I’m trying to pull together,” she says. “I want to develop an economic system that’s a viable alternative to capitalism, become a professional storyteller and open my own bakery offering healthy foods.”

Hannah smiles as she says this.

“I know, at first, all that sounds a little crazy. But every time I’ve gone to my professors with one of my wild ideas, they don’t say, ‘That’s too much’ or ‘Don’t do that.’ They say, ‘Great! Let’s figure out how you can make it happen.’ I don’t know where else you’d get that kind of support.”

Despite all these irons in the fire, she says she’s willing to work hard while remaining patient to see what will happen next.

“It’s like kayaking,” she says. “I just need to learn to roll with it.”


Hannah Marchitell '14,

A Communications and Media major, she is also a member of the Clarkson University Outing Club.