Service Through a New LENS first appeared in the January 2023 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
In the first PAW page of my presidency, back in September 2013, I emphasized that an ethic of service was fundamental to Princeton’s mission. I called upon the University community to ask “how we can live up more fully to Princeton’s informal motto,” a motto that now reads, “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
This fall we took a giant step in the right direction. In late October, we announced the Learning and Education through Service (LENS) initiative, which offers every Princeton undergraduate the opportunity to do a paid summer service internship during their time at the University. That’s not something we’ve been able to do before, and it sets a new standard for higher education support of serviceoriented learning.
LENS seeks to eliminate two obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of Princeton students seeking service internships. Sometimes they can’t find an internship. And sometimes they can’t find funding for their internship. With the help of generous alumni and friends, Princeton had already established an array of internship programs that aim to solve these problems. The number and variety of programs, however, complicated the task of finding an internship that matched a student’s needs.
LENS will integrate and supplement Princeton’s existing summer internship programs to create “one-stop shopping” for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors who seek to explore summer service internships. In so doing, it will make it easier for all students to find service opportunities that are both personally meaningful and responsive to the needs of the world.
In the words of Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun, the initiative will “strengthen collaboration among departments and offices that support service and social impact internships during the summer, as well as provide greater transparency for students so they better understand the options available to them.”
LENS includes financial support to ensure that every qualifying internship is a paid internship. Not only will LENS provide additional funding to enable existing programs to expand their reach, it will also encourage students to secure their own internships and help them to identify University funding to support them. This means that more students will be able to spend their summers engaging in experiential learning opportunities focused on service and social impact.
The LENS acronym takes some alphabetic liberties (in particular, it grabs the “n” from the end of “education”) to spotlight an idea from the University’s strategic planning process. A committee of students, staff, faculty, and alumni urged Princeton to regard service as “an embedded and pervasive lens” on learning. Service experiences, said the committee, should deepen students’ understanding of the subjects they studied in Princeton’s classrooms.
Several faculty have incorporated this recommendation into their teaching, and some LENS opportunities will link to Princeton academic work. All of the internships, whether or not they connect directly to coursework, will reinforce the value of service and encourage students to give service a central place in their lives and careers.
Doing that doesn’t require someone to join the Peace Corps or Teach for America — though of course it’s great if they do! I often say to students that you can live a life of service in nearly any profession: It’s more a matter of how you do your job than what job you do.
George Shultz ’42, Maria Ressa ’86, Wendy Kopp ’89, and Mellody Hobson ’91 all exemplify, magnificently and distinctively, a tradition of service proudly shared by generations of Princeton alumni.
Yet, though service can take many forms, a commitment to it does not arise automatically or accidentally. It requires thoughtfulness, dedication, and care. And those habits of mind are more likely to flourish among our alumni if they take firm hold during a student’s time at Princeton. For that reason, I hope that every Princeton student will find a way to make service a central part of their experience at this University. With resources from LENS, I am optimistic that they will.
This generation of students has a strong commitment to service. Some will use LENS to build on past projects, and others will explore new ones. Their interests encompass human rights, community history, medical research, animal welfare, education, and many, many other causes and topics. The LENS website collects stories where you can get a sense of our students’ passion and impact.
Thanks to gifts from alumni and friends and the creative work of administrative leaders, LENS will make possible many more stories like those. In its infancy, LENS will depend partly on Annual Giving, though our long-term goal is to raise a naming gift to provide continuing support for the program.
I’m grateful to the alumni, friends, staff, and faculty who have enabled us to take this new and substantial step toward that ideal, and I look forward to seeing how LENS enables and inspires our Tigers to do good in the world.