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Love of Great Plains inspires students to publish

February 18, 2016

Jaycie Cheatham, left, and Mackenzie Swanson display copies of the coffee table book about the Great Plains they created for a Chadron State College Essential Studies Program Capstone class last year. (Photo courtesy Matt Evertson) Jaycie Cheatham, left, and Mackenzie Swanson display copies of the coffee table book about the Great Plains they created for a Chadron State College Essential Studies Program Capstone class last year. (Photo courtesy Matt Evertson)
Mackenzie Swanson examines a page of the book that she and fellow CSC student Jaycie Cheatham created for a class project last year. The book includes research articles, stories, poetry and photographs by the two students and other local contributors. Mackenzie Swanson examines a page of the book that she and fellow CSC student Jaycie Cheatham created for a class project last year. The book includes research articles, stories, poetry and photographs by the two students and other local contributors.

CHADRON – A love of the landscape, history and people of the Great Plains, combined with a challenging class assignment and a desire to put their creative talents to use, turned two Chadron State College students into authors and publishers last year.

Jaycie Cheatham, a December 2015 English Literature graduate from Greybull, Wyoming, and Mackenzie Swanson, an art student from Hill City, South Dakota, who will complete her degree next year, paired together in the fall of 2014 to work on the final project of a course on the Great Plains taught by faculty members Dr. Matt Evertson and Dr. Kurt Kinbacher.

Students in a capstone course of CSC’s Essential Studies program were required to create a creative or scholarly work addressing a significant issue relative to the Great Plains region.

The two students knew each other from previous English classes, and wanted to do something creative.

“(We didn’t want to create) a 10-page research paper that we were never going to look at again,” Swanson said. “We really wanted to do something we really cared about.”

Both women enjoy writing and photography, and had seen a coffee table book with pictures of the Great Plains, so they decided to create something similar by themselves. An affinity for the region provided additional impetus to do something special for the assignment, said Swanson, whose family on both sides have lived in the high plains for several generations.

“People think of this as fly-over country with miles of nothing but for me that’s home and there is comfort in that simplicity,” Swanson said.

Cheatham and Swanson created much of the book’s content, which includes researched articles, fictional stories, photographs and poetry, themselves, but decided to seek contributions from others, as well.

“There is a lot to be said about the Great Plains and the people that live here,” Cheatham said. “We wanted to exhibit as many perspectives as possible.”

The 188-page book, titled “The Great Plains: A Collection of Works Exhibiting its Past and Perseverance,” was a bit smaller than they hoped, because there were fewer outside contributors than expected, Swanson said.

One special contribution was from her grandmother, who grew up in Nebraska, and submitted beautifully handwritten short stories, which are scanned in as images.

“Those are pretty special to me,” she said.

Other submissions included a photo for the book cover, aerial photos from a pilot and works of poetry and fiction.

Completing the work of research, writing, selecting and editing content and designing the pages took the two students many hours, and extended the project into the spring semester, Evertson said. They also successfully landed a Dean’s Council grant for high impact activities that allowed them to publish a set of the books for the college library and distribution elsewhere, he said.

A total of 13 of the hard copy books were printed and distributed to the authors, the contributors, the two instructors and the college, said Swanson. Additional books are available for printing on demand through an online service called Blurb.

Response to the book has been positive, Swanson said, and vindicates the decision to take on the extra work in the face of skeptics.

“There were a lot of doubters in our class,” she said. “A lot of them said ‘There is no way you will ever get a book made.’”

Swanson said she learned a lot about the High Plains aquifer and history of the Great Depression from her research for the project, as well as lessons in time management and insight into her own feelings of place.

“I think I learned a lot about why I care to live on the plains, why this is my home, why it’s important to me and we should take care of it,” she said.

Support from CSC faculty, particularly the course instructors, was invaluable in the project, Cheatham and Swanson said.

“They do an excellent job at Chadron State of bridging classes and making things relevant, which is the point of the capstone,” Swanson said. 

Cheatham said she wasn’t excited by the capstone course initially, but changed her mind as it progressed.

“It became one of my favorite classes I have taken at CSC,” she said.

Other students in the class also took interesting approaches to the assignment, but none matched the work of Cheatham and Swanson, said Evertson.

“There were several interesting projects in the class, but Jaycie and Mackenzie had the most ambitious and creative of them all,” he said.

—George Ledbetter

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