The tag line for Digital Story Lab is “Honor Your Story.” And that is exactly what Dr. Delores Rice, founder of Digital Story Lab, a Division of Diversity and Community Engagement community incubator project, has done. She has given voice to women who have been marginalized, silenced and invisible and has honored their stories through video that presents each story teller with dignity and care.
Rice, who received her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, conceived of the Digital Story Lab while working on her doctorate in Human Resource Development and Adult Education at Texas A&M University.
In her graduate work, she learned about the power of narrative. “I realized narrative analysis was a valid form of research,” Rice explained. “I fell in love with telling stories—I didn’t like just summarizing research. Stories in and of themselves are valid forms of learning and can be transformational for some.” Some of the stories Rice has developed include a woman living with HIV, a young lady who was molested by the man who gave her mother AIDS, and a single mother who was a student at UT Austin. Other stories deal with mental health issues and social stigmas. All focus on stories often ignored in the dominant culture.
Because of her engineering background and research on African American female engineers, Rice has dedicated a line of stories that will focus on women in engineering. “One of the things found in my research was that the field of engineering doesn’t have a strong identity and African American women in engineering have minimal representation,” she said.
To get Digital Story Lab up and running, Rice started a nonprofit, even though she could have easily begun a career in academia or the corporate world. She knew that working in those worlds she would not have had the time needed to develop the story lab. “I had been a graduate student with a minimal lifestyle anyway,” she said.
Rice received startup funding from the DDCE. “Without seed money from DDCE, I wouldn’t be able to pilot videos or the web site,” said Rice. “I probably wouldn’t be in existence without DDCE and their support and generosity.” She is beginning a financial campaign, hoping to find donors who see the value in the stories. And of course, she is looking at funding through grants.
Rice filmed most of the interviews herself, serving as videographer and interviewer and even as film editor at times. “I’ve realized that my interest is connecting with story teller and helping them get their story out, not the actual filming process,” she said. Now another person has taken on editing each story video and she serves as producer and director.
“I try to protect the storyteller,” said Rice. “I ask them, ‘do you really want to put this out there?’” She talks with each storyteller beforehand to learn about her background. Together they discuss what the storyteller wants to convey and topics she wants to cover. “We get there however they want to,” said Rice. “I want them to be proud of the video as well.”