On Class Day, two Princeton University seniors — Bethwel Kiplimo of Solai, Kenya and Grace Simmons of Blackwood, New Jersey — were honored with the Priscilla Glickman ’92 Memorial Prize. This honor is given each year by the John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement to seniors who demonstrate independence and imagination in the area of community service, seek knowledge and purposeful adventure in unfamiliar cultures, and maintain strong academic work.
Lifting as He Climbs
For Kiplimo, a mechanical and aerospace engineering concentrator with a certificate in computer science, his Princeton journey has been as much about supporting and bolstering his communities as it has been about his own growth and learning. Arriving at Princeton through the Kenyan Scholar-Athlete Program (KenSAP) as the top student in Kenya, Kiplimo has continually sought ways to assist his home community.
“My story can be summarized as an uphill battle from the scarcity of rural Kenya to Princeton University,” he wrote in a letter as part of the Glickman Prize selection process. “Villagers came together in the small village of Solai to fund my education because my family could not afford to, and the village believed in my potential as an agent of change in my community. Through mentorship, tutoring, and entrepreneurship, I have shared what I have learned with communities around the world.”
Seeking to offer more children in his rural hometown access to books and English literacy classes, Kiplimo worked during his first year at Princeton with a number of Princeton University professors, students and alumni, including assistance from the Class of 1978, to collect and send children’s books back to his village and developed an after-school literacy program. Today the Chance Book program has delivered more than 900 books to Kenya and worked with more than 2,000 students at four different schools.
As he continued his engineering studies, Kiplimo joined Engineers Without Borders where he led the group’s Kenyan Technical Team, designing a new water delivery system and assessing the feasibility of the team’s work. Using this experience he co-founded WellPower, a social entrepreneurship endeavor, which seeks to ensure off-grid communities can have adequate access to water and has been supported by the Keller Center, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.
In her recommendation letter for Kiplimo, Justine Levine, dean of Rockefeller College, recognized both his passion for academic exploration and his commitment to serving others. “Bethwel personifies the liberal arts engineering student, someone who is a keen problem solver in his field, but understands that all disciplines have something important to contribute to our pursuit of knowledge,” she said.
Just as he found ways to apply his passions and skills in the service of his home community, he also sought to lift up and empower his fellow first-generation and low-income students at Princeton. As a head fellow with the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP), Kiplimo ran weekly mentor group meetings with first-year and sophomore students and hosted individual mentorship conversations with each of the 30 peers he advises every month.
“I believe that Bethwel is destined to succeed in any educational path he sets out on, not just because, like his Princeton peers, he has tremendous academic aptitude,” said Khristina Gonzalez, Ph.D., the Bob Peck ’88 Director of the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity. “He will be successful in his educational journey because that success carries a meaning to him; it means that he will be able to use his educational privilege and opportunity—and technical skills—for the benefit of the world.”
Kiplimo served as a head tutor in the Department of Physics and was a tutor with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. He was also Community Action leader and a member of the Princeton Radio Control Club. After graduation, Kiplimo will work as a software engineer at Microsoft.
Building Bridges and Connections
Simmons, a neuroscience concentrator with a certificate in global health and health policy, has excelled both in and out of the classroom with compassion, care, and dedication for the communities around her. Guided by the Ghanian adage “if there is no path, begin a trail,” Simmons has sought out opportunities and connections at Princeton to weave together her interests and passions for travel, storytelling, research, music, and global health.
“During my childhood, my parents worked hard to advance themselves to support both our immediate family and our relatives in Ghana,” she wrote in a letter as part of the Glickman Prize selection process. “This taught me the importance of moving forward without leaving others behind.”
Whether helping first-year students of color navigate Princeton as a Princeton University Mentoring Program (PUMP) mentor, proposing and launching the “Wellness is Worth it” initiative to increase the accessibility of wellness resources as a Peer Health Adviser, or collaborating with community partners to address the stigmatizing narratives of the opioid epidemic as part of the health and care cohort of Service Focus, Simmons has strived to use her skills to uplift others.
“[Grace’s] empathy and caring nature allow her to better understand where students are coming from and actively play a role in offering support,” said Victoria Yu, assistant director of the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality & Cultural Understanding. “Her focus on service has strengthened her desire to pursue medicine and increase her skills and knowledge to provide culturally competent health care and advocate for health equity in diverse communities.”
In the area of science and medicine, Simmons has focused on the intersections between culture and wellbeing; a focus inspired by her time teaching English and mentoring Japanese high school students as part of Come On Out Japan Global English Camp. Building on this experience, she took part in the Streicker International Fellows Program with the Office of International Programs and the Health Scholars Program, where despite disruptions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, she worked with the UTokyo Koike Lab researching familial contributors to mental health stigma among Japanese adolescents. She also tackled research on Hikikomori–a condition of severe social withdrawal originating in Japan.
Throughout these experiences, Simmons attributes her creative side — her love of writing and music — for her ability to merge art and science as a way to better synthesize perspectives from different fields and look beyond her own experiences. For example, she created a web-based comic to combat mental health stigma, researched the human ability to extract narratives in her senior thesis, and designed a multimedia website intervention for Black cancer patients and their families with the Cancer Health Equity Center of Excellence, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
“Grace goes above and beyond in all she does,” said Julianne Ani, lab manager with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “[She] thinks creatively and critically about the implications for patients in real life, seeing them not only as a number in a study but humans with complex lives and unique barriers.”
Simmons also served as a volunteer with the CONTACT of Mercer County crisis hotline, a Fields Center Fellow, and took part in the John C. Bogle ’51 Fellows in Civic Service program.
“Both through my coursework and extracurricular pursuits, I aim to draw on the lessons learned from my upbringing to make a positive impact on the communities I interact with and expand my worldview,” Simmons wrote. “As I embark on my journey as a physician following graduation, I hope to continue doing so, upholding the Glickman Prize criteria and centering community service in my future endeavors.”