Campus Life: Learning Through the Co-curricular Experience

Jan. 12, 2017

From the January 11, 2017 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly

Princeton was fortunate indeed when W. Rochelle Calhoun agreed to become our new vice president for campus life last year. With compassionate and energetic leadership, not to mention a wonderful sense of humor, she is helping revitalize the residential experience for all of our students. I asked her to write the President’s Page for this issue of PAW, and I am delighted that she has agreed to share her vision for co-curricular learning at the University. — C.L.E.


Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun
Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

If you happened to visit Jadwin Gym the last time you were on campus, you may have noticed a sign announcing, “Education through Athletics.” First used by former Athletic Director Gary Walters ’67 to describe his goal for the University’s athletics program, this phrase has since become the official motto of Princeton Athletics. It expresses a philosophy that coaches, professors, administrators, and peers embrace in encouraging our athletes to be good students and good people as well as outstanding competitors. So, in addition to winning 15 league championships last year, Princeton team members dedicated themselves to more than 4,000 hours of community service—including working on literacy in a local elementary school—while also earning significant distinctions, among them a Pyne Prize, a Rhodes Scholarship, and two Spirit of Princeton awards. “Education through Athletics,” and the programs that support it, demonstrate how out-of-the-classroom experience can play a key role in the education and development of Princeton students.

In Campus Life we work collaboratively to foster an integrated learning environment in which students have opportunities for personal, intellectual, cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and moral development. The University’s interest in our students’ co-curricular lives is an expression of our commitment to supporting the fullest possible development of the whole student. When done well, co-curricular learning motivates students to devote time and energy to purposeful activities that have stated goals and measurable outcomes and that align with the values of a liberal arts education.

The belief in the educational value of co-curricular experience has a long history at Princeton. Back in the mid-1990s, when the Center for Community Service (now the Pace Center for Civic Engagement) was being developed, Professor of Economics Burton G. Malkiel *64, in his Charter Day address of 1996, expressed his hope that “the new center … will show that community service is not simply a useful add-on, a discretionary extracurricular activity, but rather an essential part of a liberal education. … Experiences in service to communities will not then be peripheral to the academy but rather directly connected to learning and to the full possibilities and promise of education.”

A recent report issued by the Service and Civic Engagement Self-Study Task Force, a part of the Princeton Strategic Planning process, echoes this aspiration to make service and civic engagement experiences integral to a Princeton education. The Pace Center, in response to the report, has adopted the idea of a “positive learning spiral” that deepens the service experience by asking students to reflect on why they serve, how they serve, and what they are learning from their service. This intentional approach has had positive results: a recent survey shows that 89 percent of Pace Center volunteers say that service helps them feel like they belong at Princeton, 82 percent express their belief that service has helped them become better leaders, and more than half say that service has influenced their coursework and professional interests. Maria Perales ’18 reflects, “Though I had been an avid volunteer while in high school, it wasn’t until college that I really began to understand the commitment, the support, the perpetual learning that … service would add to my experience.”

Even while studying at Oxford this year, Maria remains an active executive board member of Community House—a student-run academic success program for children in the Princeton area. In a recent conversation, Maria reflected on how this experience has helped her understand her role: “I serve by addressing urgent needs while seeking long-term, institutional change. While I tutor-mentor children of color at Community House, I also actively seek changes in policy (even if it’s just in Princeton at the moment).” For Maria, service is most effective and meaningful when it is collaborative: “Being around others who are also actively seeking to elevate communities, I become hopeful that change will occur even amidst the despair and pushback we confront.”

A Princeton education provides a powerful lens through which students better understand themselves, others, and the world around them. In Campus Life, we strive to provide co-curricular opportunities that help students develop skills and habits of mind that will allow them to lead healthy and meaningful lives and to become thoughtful, mature, and responsible global citizens.

Community Action trips are offered as part of Princeton’s Freshman Orientation program. Here, volunteers in the Farminary program install chicken wire to keep rodents out of a garden.
Danielle Alio