Providing Pathways to Service

Published in the January 9, 2019 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

An ethos of service has always been fundamental to this University. A collection of new initiatives seeks to more fully integrate that commitment into the Princeton experience, both within the classroom and beyond. Here are three such programs.

Currently hosting its 10th cohort, the Bridge Year Program allows a select group of incoming students to immerse themselves in nine months of service before they begin their first year on campus. During their time in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia, or Senegal, these students study the local language, live with host families, and engage in cultural enrichment activities.

Volunteer work with local community organizations forms a central part of each Bridge Year experience. These placements vary widely, grounded in the needs of each community. For example, during her Bridge Year in Indonesia, Jiwon Yun ’22 worked with UCPRUK Wheels for Humanity, an NGO that builds wheelchairs for people with disabilities and works to reduce stigma on their behalf. For Noah Daniel ’22, his Bridge Year in Bolivia enabled him to wear many hats as a sound engineer, producer, and music teacher with arts-based NGO Enseñarte.

Through sustained engagement with service, Bridge Year students develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to make an impact on our world. These qualities have produced a remarkable group of leaders — since the program launched in the fall of 2009, Bridge Year alumni already include more than a dozen winners of prestigious fellowships. Thanks to the generosity of Mike ’87 and Sukey ’89 Novogratz, we will be able to increase each cohort from 35 to 42 students per year, providing wider access to this transformative experience.

Students in a class supported by ProCES meet with staff from Isles, Inc., a community development organization in Trenton, NJ. Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

Another program, known as Service Focus, connects service and learning across the first two years of the undergraduate experience. Through a collaboration among the Office of the Dean of the College, the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, and the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, nearly 80 students in the inaugural year are participating in a funded summer service internship, service-related courses, and engagement with faculty and peers throughout.

Last spring, students received advice on how to find and select a service internship, and participated in trainings before they left campus. For example, this past summer through the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS), Emily Cheng ’21 designed a STEM curriculum for children at St. Stephen’s Youth Program, which serves low-income families in Boston. And with support from the Office of Undergraduate Research, Dimitris Ntaras ’21 studied water conservation and filtration through an internship at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

Students brought these insights back to campus this fall as they continued their Service Focus experience through small group cohorts and classes. Cohorts are groups of 8–10 students who meet monthly with faculty mentors to reflect on their service experiences and participate in research projects. For example, Stuart Professor of Psychology Nicole Shelton’s cohort is working to understand and ameliorate sources of bias within the campus community, and João Biehl, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology, is leading a cohort that explores how to make health care delivery more humane.

All Service Focus participants take a course during the fall or spring of their sophomore year, enabling them to build the skills and intellectual rigor needed to most effectively serve their communities. Professor of Sociology Jen Jennings ’00 is teaching a course on Education Policy in the United States and leading a Service Focus cohort on the same topic. Both experiences help students to witness first-hand the connection between service and their intellectual pursuits.

A third example, the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), enables interested students to integrate service with coursework. Formerly known as the Community-Based Learning Initiative, ProCES supports academic work — including courses, internships, and independent research — involving community-based research, direct service linked with coursework, historical and theoretical study of service, or academic responses to pressing social issues. In the last year alone, 582 students benefited from the program.

These students learned from courses such as SOC 207 Poverty in America taught by Matthew Desmond, the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology. Professor Desmond invites policymakers and community members to serve as guest lecturers, speaking on topics such as incarceration and homelessness. His students also participate in fieldwork to learn about poverty in local communities. Other ProCES students pursued research internships and independent research that applied their academic skills to the needs of local communities and nonprofit organizations.

Taken together, these programs help students to identify pathways to embed service within their daily lives, whether through coursework or experiential learning. These opportunities to travel the globe or serve communities in our own backyard enable our students to examine the role of service within their academic experience, throughout their career trajectory, and as citizens of the world, preparing them to lead meaningful lives at Princeton and beyond.

—C.L.E.

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