Symposium Explores Storytelling as Transformative Tool

Oct. 14, 2022

The CSHEMA Fall 2022 Symposium on Storytelling brought health and safety experts from around the country to Princeton University Oct. 11-12 for two days of presentations, networking, tours, knowledge-sharing and general collegiality.

Story swapping was the key component of the gathering. Presenters demonstrated how stories can be used to impart core principals in a way that is memorable and impactful—and, along the way, humorous, heartbreaking and, sometimes, healing.

Presenters stressed the real-life impact of storytelling as a teaching tool.

“By helping employees imagine themselves in similar circumstances and think about how they'd respond … storytelling can be a powerful tool that results in staff who are unafraid to pause and seek safe alternatives,” noted Kelly States, Associate Director, Campus Safety and EHS Operations, who kicked off the event with a personal story of workplace tragedy involving a family member.

Talks ranged from hazard perception, creating lasting bonds, crafting powerful arguments with stories and exploring new formats such as podcasting. The art of storytelling was demonstrated in dramatic readings, off-the-cuff retellings and Petcha Kutcha, a format where a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds.   

Brad Snyder Keynote

In a keynote address, Brad Snyder, Paralympic swimmer, retired US Navy Explosive Ordinance Officer and Princeton PhD student, shared his story of resilience.

“Individuals never accomplish anything truly great. It’s when communities leverage their collaborative effort toward a cohesive goal, that’s where magic happens,” Snyder observed, recalling all the people who made possible his gold medal performance in London in 2012, exactly one year after an IED explosion in Afghanistan left him fully blind in both eyes.

“The best thing to do when adversity strikes is to accept it for what it is and make a resolution to make the most of it,” he said, citing his 2016 book “Fire In My Eyes.”

The concept mirrors Stoic philosophy, he said, which involves “learning to control the things you can control, and completely letting go of the things that you can’t. Learning to ‘love fate,’ and find the small joys in life.”

In addition to capping the symposium, the keynote kicked off Princeton EHS’s Sa[Fest] series of research safety events, coming to multiple locations on campus during this school year. The audience, in person and via livestream, included PIs and research assistants from various departments on campus.

Snyder’s keynote address can be viewed in its entirety on the Princeton EHS 50th Anniversary website.