New Program Story Space Helps Students Connect

Parth Thakkar, coordinator of student life programming, explaining Story Space.

Galloway, N.J.- Story Space, the brainchild of the Office of Student Development, hosted its first session, aptly titled “New Beginnings,” on Sept. 6 in the Campus Center.

The program was inspired by a similar initiative in Floyd, Virginia, that Parth Thakkar, coordinator of student life programming, attended while pursuing his master’s degree.

During the program, Thakkar and his friends listened to randomly selected community members as they shared their experiences in a circle, surrounding their theme.

My intent behind Stockton Story Space is to create a community where we can turn strangers into new friends and colleagues who can laugh, cry and grow together.”
Parth Thakkar

Some were emotionally charged and raw, while others remained lighthearted and authentic, but the effect was the same throughout: an instant connection between the participants and the audience.

“What I learned from my experience attending several Story Space events over the two years I was in grad school is that it helped bring people from all walks of life together,” Thakkar said. “Everyone who attended Story Space (in Floyd) had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of others who are different from them and the personal experiences that they share with others. After personally experiencing the benefits of Story Space and realizing how it can positively impact a larger community, I couldn’t resist but start the Story Space series at Stockton.”

A Beginning of New Beginnings 

The first session brought out an intimate crowd of students and staff who were all interested in this new program and curious about how it will develop.

Esmeralda displaying Guatemalan currency

Esmeralda Rivera displaying the Guatemalan currency that she still has in her pocket.

Storytellers had up to seven minutes to share their stories about the new chapters of their lives, and the story listeners’ only job, according to Thakkar, was to give them undivided attention.

“For this program to work, we don’t need just storytellers,” Thakkar said. “We also need people who are willing to listen, learn, and when appropriate, support those who share their stories and experiences.”

Student Esmeralda Rivera from Vineland, N.J., was able to do both. As students talked about topics such as moving here from abroad, performing music for audiences after the COVID-19 pandemic and working on improving one’s self-confidence, Rivera listened attentively, clapped after every story, and offered advice to a student struggling to find a major for themselves.

Rivera, who found this program from the posters around campus and after perusing the events calendar, said she was glad to attend.

“I loved hearing their stories, especially her’s!” Rivera said, referring to a student who recently moved here from Lebanon. “I’ve never met someone from another country other than the U.S.A. and Guatemala. Learning about other cultures is so interesting.”

As a Literature major, Rivera has experience in telling stories, and it showed: the room was enthralled as she talked about the recent passing of her father, moving back to the U.S. after living in Guatemala for nearly 13 years, and how happy she is to be at a university where she can study creative writing, a concentration that was previously unavailable to her.

“I was studying to be an English teacher because they didn’t have Literature there (at San Carlos University, as a major),” Rivera said. “That was the second-best option for me, and I got good grades for it, but I wasn’t passionate about it. But now, I had three courses today related to my major, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ because it’s everything I love now.”

Future Story Spaces

Story Space will be a monthly program on Wednesdays that students, staff and faculty are invited to attend. Future themes include “Hispanic Voices” on Oct. 12 (in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month) and “Favorite Holiday Stories” on Nov. 9. Both sessions will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Campus Center Meeting Room 5.

“I can’t wait for the next one,” Rivera said. “Since the theme is Hispanic Voices, I can share about both my Guatemalan and Puerto Rican culture.”

Thakkar hopes that other students will feel the same way as Rivera and encourage new connections between members of the Stockton community through these new or shared experiences.

“My intent behind Stockton Story Space is to create a community where we can turn strangers into new friends and colleagues who can laugh, cry and grow together.”

-Story and photos by Loukaia Taylor

A green chair in front of a white board that says "Story Space, Theme: New Beginnings." This chair will be where students share their stories.

The chair that participants will sit and share their stories in.