What does belonging mean for first-generation, low-income students at Princeton University? What is the experience of rural students at Princeton, and at colleges and universities across the country? Over the past academic year, seniors Annie Phun and Madison Mellinger examined these questions as they sought to develop projects to address education access as the inaugural Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellows.
The Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellowship supports first-generation and low-income college students, and other students at Princeton University, who are interested in working alongside community partners to expand educational equity and access. The program is part of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and recognizes the role of higher education in the social mobility of first-generation college students and aims to increase the number of first-generation college students and support them in developing proposals to learn about improving access to higher education in their communities.
The Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellowship was established in 2021 by Burton G. Malkiel *64 in honor of his wife Nancy Weiss Malkiel, a professor of history, emeritus, at Princeton University, who dedicated her professional life to the University, particularly as the Dean of the College from 1987 to 2011.
On May 15, Phun and Mellinger were recognized at a luncheon as the inaugural fellowship recipients. The event brought together students, staff, faculty, and families to celebrate and reflect on the meaning and purposes of the program. Phun and Mellinger shared about their work, what they learned, and their reflections as they completed their time as Princeton undergraduates.
Collecting Stories & Building Connections
Phun, who concentrated in Classics, focused her fellowship project on oral histories of first generation and low income (FLI) students at Princeton, and reflected on her own journey and the challenges of finding a sense of community and belonging on campus. Phun conducted this project in close collaboration and consultation with the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity, a Princeton campus center that supports a variety of growing programs aimed to expand equity, inclusion, and access for FLI students.
During her presentation she highlighted that, “like me, other FLI students on campus hold multiple marginalized identities. I started this project, because I wanted to know if they struggled with my same sense of loneliness and lack of community.” Phun chose the modality of oral history as a way to explore and uplift the everyday lives of FLI students at Princeton. She had one central question for participants during interviews: What do I need to do in order to make you feel like you belong here? The interviewees were free to interpret the question as they chose.
During her presentation Annie played a few snippets from her interviews that touched not only on the theme of community and belonging, but on the very purposes and meanings of education. The stories Phun gathered are all extremely intimate and vulnerable, and the safety and care of her participants was at the forefront of the projects’ aims. She concluded by saying that, “FLI students are steadily increasing in number at elite universities, yet their stories largely remain unrecognized. This project was an attempt to begin a conversation about that, starting with giving the students included, if they wanted to, a stage to share their stories in their own words.”
Mellinger, also a FLI student, acknowledged a deep resonance with Phun’s project and opened her reflections by saying, “when I first received the Malkiel Fellowship to support my efforts in the field of rural college student access, I could not have imagined all of the wonderful relationships that developed in the planning process.” Mellinger, who spoke of her passion for Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, her hometown, chose to focus on the topic of rural college access because of the profoundly personal connection she has to it.
Mellinger framed her work by stating, “when I first came to Princeton, I was really ashamed of my background. I was often the butt of jokes and comments about the
backwardness of rural America, though few informal conversations or academic discussions noted the real struggles faced by rural Americans and the nuances of the region.”
Mellinger’s project culminated in a first-of-its-kind virtual conference called Small Town to Campus, which brought together rural students and stakeholders from across the United States, to “come together, build community, and learn how to better establish support systems for rural students at their institutions.” Mellinger spent a year planning for the conference, and created a student advisory board of rural students across the country to do so. She concluded with a key takeaway by saying, “the experiences of rural students are incredibly broad and diverse. I don’t want anyone to leave today thinking that all rural students are farmers or hunters, and especially not that all rural students are white. The rural experience is extremely rich, nuanced, and complicated, and deserves attention which it does not always receive.”
2023 Malkiel Fellows
This summer the Pace Center is excited to support three new recipients of the Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellowship. These three students, like Phun and Mellinger, are deeply committed to educational equity and access, and will all be working on projects in their hometowns.
Grecia Hernandez Perez ’24, will be working in Roanoke, Virginia in collaboration with Roanoke City Public Schools, to create culturally relevant and accessible resource booklets for Mexican-American families. The project, connected to her academic research in the School for Public and International Affairs (SPIA), aims to tackle statistically low educational outcomes in Mexican-American communities. At the end of the summer, she hopes to gather families to understand the usefulness of the resource booklets.
Nadine Allache ’26, will be creating and hosting Camp Tica, in her low-income neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia. Camp Tica, a summer camp style program, will be in collaboration with the organization Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect (HACAN), and will touch on themes of self-care, well-being, and how to navigate the school system. The camp, while focused on children, will also provide opportunities for parents and families to come together to discuss educational issues their children encounter.
Lastly, Aly Rashid ’26, will be working in his home city of Lahore, Pakistan with a student-run community organization called Next Generation Pakistan. The project’s aim is to set-up two computer labs in under-resourced schools in Lahore. Along with the material resources, the program will host a computer literacy curriculum as well as a civic education program.
As the Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellowship continues to expand opportunities and resources for students interested in exploring themes of educational equity and social mobility, the Pace Center is excited to support student learning and belonging through the program.