Powerful Photo Exhibit Tells Stories of Mentoring and Children’s Issues

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COLUMBUS, Ga. --- Columbus State University students from various academic departments have collaborated on a stirring photo exhibit that showcases issues confronting our youth and the power of community involvement.

Called “Voices of our Future,” the photo exhibition is designed to better explain the issues Columbus’ youth are facing. The photos are on display through May 17 on the second floor of CSU’s Rankin building at the corner of Broadway and 10th Street.

The project started in class with Joy Thomas, assistant professor of health science in CSU’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science. Students in her School Health course worked this semester as mentors with the Boys & Girls Club of the Chattahoochee Valley, teaching children about health education and personal safety. With an interdisciplinary grant from the College of Education and Health Professions and the College of the Arts, the project also was woven into the curriculum for Rylan Steele’s photography classes and Chris McCollough’s communication courses.

Those mentoring experiences uncovered emotional stories, such as one girl dealing with the death of her sister and a young boy confronting bullying.

“I don’t think our students had a clue how powerful it would ultimately be,” Thomas said. “But when it all came together [in the photo exhibit], there was not a dry eye in the room.”

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Turning the mentoring experiences into a photo essay took involvement from many departments across campus. Thomas, Steele and McCollough enlisted the model of the university’s new Quality Enhancement Plan – “We Solve It” – to look for answers. That led to photographers from CSU’s Department of Art and story-tellers from CSU’s Department of Communication.

This sort of interdisciplinary collaboration is just the kind of approach the university should be taking more often, said Tom Hackett, CSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“What an empowering project,” he said. “Our students were involved at every level and the result is very moving.”

Some of the photos on display were taken by the children as part of their mentoring experiences. Some were taken by CSU students. All tell a story. And all made a lasting impact on the mentors.

“They said even though we can look in a textbook to see what kids are dealing with today, we have to listen to these voices to know where we are going in the future,” Thomas said.

The mentoring experiences became very personal for the CSU students, Thomas said. One time, they brought their mentees to a CSU basketball game. Another time, the students surprised a girl who wanted to do a video about bike safety. When the CSU students found out the girl never had her own bike, they found a community partner who could fix bikes and surprised the girl with her first bicycle.


The following photographs and the stories behind them are currently on display as part of the "Voices of Our Future" exhibition.



The way that I live my life some people will never understand. I am Autistic, I play baseball, I love to draw superheros, and I am an honor roll student. Just like any other child in my class or in this world, I am normal, and no one can stop me in my path of greatness.


Drawing gives me a chance to express my creativeness. It also provides a positive release for me when my days aren’t going so well. It allows me to focus only on the good because it’s something that I love to do.


People at times misunderstand me. I am a very intelligent girl. I have my moments where I can get into some trouble, but what child my age does not get into some trouble? At least my grades are good.