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Learning to listen: Event launches second annual Shepherd Speaks StoryCorps Project

November 8, 2019
Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff , Shepherdstown Chronicle

SHEPHERDSTOWN -- For the second year in a row, Shepherd University has launched the Shepherd Speaks StoryCorps Project. Ending on Thursday, the project featured a week of storytelling around Shepherd University's campus, in the Shepherd Speaks storytelling van.

The project was launched with a Shepherd Speaks event in the Robert C. Byrd Center on Friday night.

"This is the first year we have tried to standardize what Shepherd Speaks is going to be, starting with Shepherd Speaks in November and followed by a week of StoryCorps recording in the van," said Director of Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities Sylvia Shurbutt, mentioning she came up with the idea of designating one of the university's vans as a storytelling van for the week. "Starting on Monday, the students will take over interviewing other students in the van."

Article Photos

Shepherd University junior English major Chloe Johnson, left, helps Marellen Aherne, of Shepherdstown, sign in, as Charles Brown, of Shepherdstown, looks on, in the Robert C. Byrd Center on Friday night. Tabitha Johnston

"We want to recognize the power of storytelling and the importance of giving voice to all individuals, but particularly to students and to older people in the community who are often marginalized and relegated to being the listeners," Shurbutt said. "Our stories can be transformative, both for the listeners and for the tellers, and when we tell our own stories, they counter stereotypes."

Those stereotypes, Shurbutt explained, were not only stereotypes based upon age, but also stereotypes of what Appalachian residents are like.

"What we hope will come out of this, is people will feel they have the opportunity to speak their mind," Shurbutt said. "A lot of times with people in Appalachia, we are stereotyped. So this gives us the opportunity to counter that."

Shepherd University graduate student Megan Rynne launched Shepherd Speaks on Nov. 1 last year, with a community event in the Scarborough Library. Inspired by the international nonprofit storytelling organization, StoryCorps, Rynne decided to establish the Shepherd Speaks program to satisfy the requirements for her master's degree capstone project. Although the program was intended to help her succeed academically, Rynne wanted to make sure it could continue after her graduation, so she worked with undergraduate student Ally Wharton, to make sure Wharton would be able to organize this year's event.

"I was co-coordinator last year, so now I'm the coordinator," Wharton said. "The events are a repeat of last year, but I think we have this planned out a lot more. I'm excited to see how the storytelling van portion of the project goes this year."

According to Shurbutt, Shepherd Speaks will be held again next year.

"We're going to do this every year," Shurbutt said, mentioning Friday's featured "storied life" would be a story told by Shepherdstown resident Catherine Irwin.

For more information, contact Shurbutt at, or visit the National StoryCorps project at



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