The John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement recently honored six students and community members for their commitment, dedication, and innovation in the realm of service and civic engagement. On November 30, members of the Princeton community gathered together in the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality + Cultural Understanding for a luncheon to celebrate the contributions of three Princeton University seniors, an inspiring faculty member, a dedicated Princeton alum, and longtime community leader.
The gathering was an opportunity for connection, reflection, and gratitude, as awardees, friends, and colleagues shared a meal together. Each award recipient was introduced by a Princeton staff member or colleague and received a framed award in acknowledgement of their contributions.
Addressing the awardees, Kimberly de los Santos, the John C. Bogle ’51 and Burton G. Malkiel *64 Executive Director of the Pace Center stated, “You reflect the breadth of service - service with your peers, service with local communities in Princeton, Trenton, greater Mercer County, and also your own hometowns.”
“You have pursued a range of community service, advocacy, activism, policy, and social entrepreneurship,” de los Santos remarked. “Your values, your relationships, the way you build community, and your mindset that responding to the needs of the world is a societal responsibility - that brings us together today.”
A. James Fisher Memorial Award
Given in honor of A. James Fisher, Jr. ’36, the A. James Fisher Memorial Award was presented to Princeton seniors who best exemplified the qualities for which Fisher is remembered. The Fisher Award acknowledges a demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit, zest for life, love of people, and loyalty to Princeton through work in the realm of civic engagement. This year’s awardees include:
Truth Betts-McCullum is a senior in the Department of Sociology and was recognized for her strong commitment to serving underrepresented students at Princeton and her hometown in Arkansas. Victoria Yu, assistant director of the Carl A. Fields Center, introduced Betts-McCullum and touched on her selflessness and commitment to college access within her communities. For example, she supported low-income students from her hometown in purchasing ACT prep books with her internship funding. As the mentee coordinator of the Princeton University Mentoring Program (PUMP) for students of color, a program of the Carl A. Fields Center, Truth helped 40 first-year students of color acclimate to Princeton. In leading the education cohort for Service Focus, Truth has shown strategic care for her peers with her engagement, kindness, and providing support for multidisciplinary thinking.
“Truth is always doing a few things simultaneously,” Yu said while reading a note from a recommender. “Keeping the group focused and engaged, leading with a smile and a thoughtful contribution, and pushing the leadership group and the sophomores to consider next steps.”
Betts-McCullum acknowledged the support of her friends and community at Princeton as being both inspirational and key to her continued engagement. “I encourage everyone here today to check in on your friends and check in on your community and ask them how they’re taking care of themselves,” she said. “Because that’s how you can make sure that service is going to be a long term part of your life.”
Madison Mellinger is a senior in School of Public and International Affairs and was recognized for her deep and genuine care and commitment to her peers and the rural community. As noted by Elsie Sheidler, senior associate director at the Pace Center, Mellinger embodies the virtues of a socially responsible member of her Princeton and rural peer communities. Mellinger has undertaken a variety of initiatives within her Princeton community, co-chairing the Student Volunteers Council Executive Board and facilitating text lab discussions with incoming first-year FLI (first generation, low income) students through the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity.
Her work extends beyond campus as well. Through her research with the Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellowship, Mellinger convened an advisory council of fellow college students and developed a Small Town to Campus conference, which will connect first-generation low-income students from rural areas across Ivy, Ivy plus and other liberal arts colleges. She has also connected her Princeton community to her hometown of Chambersburg, Pa., where she co-directed a team of alumni mentors and high school mentees to organize an annual book drive that progressively increases donations to local organizations.
Overall, Sheidler noted how Mellinger’s approach to service and civic engagement centers care, collaboration and connections. “Madison will continue to see, create, and embrace new opportunities to make the world a better and more equitable place for all to thrive,” she said.
Mellinger pointed to all the family, friends, faculty, and mentors who have helped and guided her throughout her journey at Princeton and at home. “I’m really honored to receive this award,” she said. “I want to thank my communities of Princeton, NJ and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania for being sources of hope, pride, and mutual care in my life. Thank you.”
A senior in the School of Public and International Affairs, Serena Starks is co-founder of the student organization Asian Student-Athletes of Princeton and an officer for Princeton Disability Awareness. As noted by Evan Schneider, Service Focus program coordinator, Starks has demonstrated her constant capacity to listen and enact change, which is a core principle of service-related entrepreneurship. Whether it’s adapting a service opportunity to virtual with the Special Olympic athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic or incorporating feedback for the annual carnival for disabled children, Starks responds to the needs of her communities with dedication and care.
“Many of us know the work it takes to coordinate in community and Serena has a gift for it,” said Schneider. “I know that as she grows beyond this orange bubble the communities she’ll join and those she’ll continue to be a part of will benefit from her presence.”
In her remarks, Starks, a member of the women’s softball team at Princeton, pointed to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic as a blessing in disguise, giving her extra time to connect with others and build a pathway to engage in service. “By the time I came back, I had a strong base of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it,” she said. “And I was able to use those resources that I had to guide me to find what I wanted to do. It really allowed me to explore myself and identities that I didn’t even know existed.”
Community Engagement Award
The Community Engagement Awards are presented to Princeton University faculty, administrators, and community partners who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to service and social justice that transcends the classroom. The Pace Center especially recognizes individuals who have inspired others on campus to join their efforts and who through their service to humanity have responded to needs in the world.
Melissa Lane, the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton and director of the University Center for Human Values, was recognized with the Community Engagement Faculty Award. Aside from her work as a distinguished scholar in ancient Greek philosophy and political theory, Lane has demonstrated commitment to service and civic engagement through her work as director of the UCHV and through her support of other initiatives such as the Prison Teaching Initiative. But it was Lane’s leadership in co-chairing the University’s Service and Civic Engagement Self Study Task Force alongside Pace Center executive director Kimberly de los Santos, that stood out as being a pivotal achievement and contribution to Princeton. The task force, which was made up of faculty, staff and students at Princeton, focused on the central question of: "What must we do to make service central to the mission of Princeton University?" as part of the University's strategic planning efforts.
Benjamin Morison, professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy, described Lane as having a “great gift for bringing people together and sparking discussion.” Morison also touched on her leadership style, stating, “Melissa's leadership of those meetings was done with the lightest of touches and with an unfailing moral compass. She somehow pulled the extraordinary trick of infusing the discussions with joy. In so doing, she brought out the best in all those around the table. But she brings out the best in us by being the best of us. This is what leadership looks like.”
The task force, and subsequent steering committee, developed language and frameworks to express service as a way of learning, and learning as a way of service, which gave birth to programs such as Service Focus, a collaboration of the Office of the Dean of the College, Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, and the Pace Center.
“We thought about learning as an iterative journey that students can go on through experience and reflection,” Lane said. “But it’s not just the learning journey for students. Faculty need to learn too, and I am also humbled by what I know I still need to learn. I still feel humbled and challenged to really rise to the opportunities to serve, to learn through serving, and to serve through learning.”
Thomas A. Parker
Thomas Parker has served as a coach, mentor, and youth advocate in the Princeton community and was honored with the Community Engagement Community Partner Award. As noted by Charlotte Collins, senior associate director at the Pace Center, Parker gives his all to others. He served as leader of the Princeton Civil Rights Commission and is a recently retired Princeton University employee, who received a MLK Day Journey Award from the University for his commitment to improving civil and human rights. In both roles, he is recognized as someone who not only worked exceptionally hard at his job, but also holds a deep commitment to building communities and helping everyone find their place within their community.
Leighton Newlin, councilman for the municipality of Princeton, wrote in a statement of support for Parker’s recognition: “Having known, respected, and loved Tommy for our entire lives, I can say with certainty that his involvement in civil rights, human rights, workers’ rights, social justice, youth sports, and general advocacy for the underserved, underrepresented, and underprivileged has been a labor of love. Not only does Tommy have a heart of gold, his empathy for others and his enthusiasm for doing what is right is infectious.”
Surrounded by family, including his wife, sister, grand niece and two of his grandsons, Parker acknowledged the foundational importance of family in his acceptance remarks. “My history here is that I have been obligated by my life experience to do what I do,” he said. “Mine is a mission of love and giving back to the community that helped raise me. I don’t know anything else other than ‘do unto others.’ It’s about giving back for what they gave to me.”
Jim Farrin, a member of the class of 1958, was recognized for his integral role in building the Petey Greene Program, which supports the academic goals of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people through high-quality volunteer tutoring programs, while educating volunteers on the injustice manifest in the carceral system.
In an introduction written by David Brown, associate director at the Pace Center, he recalls meeting Farrin at Princeton University Reunions in 2007 and first hearing his vision for the Petey Green Program. Fast forward several years and what started as a vision had become a reality, one that was positively impacting students in prison and at Princeton. While grounded by the Petey Greene Program, Brown noted that Farrin’s energies also led to the development many other student-led groups and efforts at Princeton related to incarceration, such as the Princeton Electives Program, Princeton Re-Entry and Preparation, and Students for Prison, Education, Abolition, and Reform.
“Jim embodies all the principles the Pace Center strives to teach in this work,” wrote Brown. “He thinks institutionally but acts personally; builds relationships before programs, and builds them to last even as the people move through.”
In accepting the Community Engagement Community Partner Award, Farrin shared an emotional message of gratitude to the many people who helped him make the Petey Greene Program possible, including his wife, Charles Puttkammer, Dick Scribner, Rosemary Parish, George McLaughlin, and many others.
“The only bit of advice I can offer is be particularly watchful of the people that you run into, and particularly not necessarily the heavy hitters as we used to say in baseball,” Farrin said. “But pay attention to their needs and what they want, and soon enough you will have a wonderful life, just like I have. It’s because of everybody here and I am in your awe.”
All photography by Frank Wojciechowski.