Student sees the sweet side of life

Jonathan Stockman, a 23-year-old geography major, studies in the back of the candy shop he works and lives in.

Jonathan Stockman must have sweet dreams when he puts his head down each night.

When he lays down for rest it’s not inside an apartment or with half his body in the trunk of his car like it used to be. The days of renting his own apartment or sleeping in his car have long passed.

A generous candy shop owner in Orange County, where the Orange Coast College geography major Stockman works, learned he was living in his car and offered him the back of the shop for sleeping every night.

It is there that Stockman, 23, conducted the research he needed to become the overall winner of the Giles T. Brown Student Project and Research Symposium last month, taking home the $1,500 grand prize.

In typical fashion, Stockman tried to donate it back.

His passion, he says, is to serve people, which gives him a sense of purpose and makes him feel good knowing he is helping others before himself.

“After John won the $1,500 he said, ‘Can I donate it back?’ I said, ‘No. You keep the money for yourself,’” Rachel Ridnor, an OCC sociology instructor and Stockman’s mentor said.

His project, “Accommodating the Baby-boomer Generation,” focused on epidemiology and the interactions between viruses and populations, looking at what factors allow viruses and diseases to flourish in certain age groups among certain geographic areas.

Stockman said the research for the project took at least 36 hours and he often found himself waiting 30 minutes or more on the telephone waiting to speak with someone only to be given the run-around and be redirected to the same people over and over again.

“It was so easy to want to throw my hands up and say, ‘I can’t find the answers and just give up,’” he said.

But he didn’t give up. Just like in the rest of his life, Stockman persevered.

He spent hours sifting through large amounts of data from various sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Census Bureau and the California Department of Health.

Ridnor said he almost didn’t present his research in the symposium because at the last minute he discovered a flaw in national data. He said he was worried it would ruin his project.

“I told him to present it. He just found a flaw in national data — data that is widely used,” Ridnor said.

She added that she believes he won not only because of his amazing research, but because of his amazing question and answer session. He blew the judges away with his professionalism, research and knowledge.

In addition to his work at the candy store and his classes at OCC, Stockman spends much of his time volunteering. Locally he gives his time at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the Someone Cares soup kitchen and as a junior high ministry leader at Saddleback Church.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Stockman hopes to become a physician and plans to attend medical school once he finishes his degree in geography with an emphasis on public health.

“I want to give all the money away,” Stockman says of his eventual salary as a doctor. “Almost to prove a point that I can live below the poverty line.”

Stockman grew up in La Quinta with three siblings. Both of his parents worked at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage — his dad as a locksmith. He said he and his siblings would walk to the hospital after school each day and wait hours for their parents to be done with their workdays.

He said the hospital became their second home and being around the elderly patients there led him to his interest in medicine.

Stockman moved to Orange County in 2013 after graduating from high school and enrolled at OCC. After taking a break in his studies he worked at PF Chang’s in Fashion Island, made a good income and lived in an apartment in the Villa Sienna apartments.

When he returned to school he quit his restaurant job and lived out of his car for about nine months.

“My parents were semi-worried,” he said. “They didn’t know I was living out of my car.”

At night he slept with half of his body in the trunk of his car and half lying in the back seat. Showers were taken at Planet Fitness, which cost $10 per month.

“It was really nothing to complain about. It’s really amazing to live here in California. The idea of poverty here is an income of $13,000 or below. I’m not impoverished at all,” he said.

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