DURHAM -- On a recent, rainy Thursday afternoon, an unlikely group of college students could be found in the cafeteria of the University of New Hampshire's Thompson School of Applied Science knitting small purple hats. Some threw down their needles in frustration, watching as others finally got the hang of it and completed their first project. In a nearby classroom, another 20 students also were knitting and crocheting.
The students - most of them enrolled in Kate Hanson's Human Relations class and majoring in applied business management, the vast majority of them male - didn't know how to knit when they entered the class, nor did they know how knitting applied to what they were supposed to be learning.
The goal of their work, explained Hanson, is to create or collect at least 50 small purple hats to be distributed to new moms and dads at area hospitals in an awareness campaign designed to prevent the shaking of babies. Hanson said previous Human Relations classes participated in various real-world projects, but nothing quite like this.
Through their activities, she said, the students develop a better understanding of group dynamics, come to appreciate the value of helping others and learn organizational process. They work in small groups under the leadership of five faculty members who have volunteered their time to teach the students to knit and crochet.
Bryan Ducharme, 19, said he was a bit apprehensive at first, never having knitted before, but added that he began having fun once he got the hang of it.
"We all kind of helped each other in the beginning. It helps with group dynamics and working with other people," he said.
Emeric Szep, 20, a community leadership major, said it's interesting to see people take on the different roles of a group and observe how those roles interact.
Each student has committed to producing two caps each by Oct. 1. The hats they make and collect from other students and faculty will be donated and distributed through the class's partner organization, the New Hampshire Children's Trust.
Janine Mitchell, communications coordinator for the organization, said the makeup of the group is not typical of those who donate.
"Typically, we get people who have been knitting or crocheting for a long, long time," she said.
Not so the group in Hanson's class.
"It's a younger demographic than we normally interact with and a predominantly male class," Mitchell said. "It is nice to get them involved and also have them know about the period of purple crying - for when they're older and have children."
Hanson said she was prepared for students, especially male ones, to push back against the idea of knitting. She prepared a whole lesson on how knitting was historically a male activity, only to find the lesson was unnecessary. Not one student resisted.
The Children's Trust is coordinating the state's participation in the national Click for Babies: Period of PURPLE Crying Caps campaign of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.(PURPLE is an acronym that describes the characteristics of a developmental stage of increased infant crying, which can trigger parent or caregiver frustration.)Purple baby caps will be distributed and delivered to new parents in November and December, along with information about preventing shaken baby syndrome.
"It's all about the kids," student Jeff Taylor, 18, said of the babies who will receive the caps. "You just always have to be thinking about them.