Written by
Matt Lynn, Engaged Pedagogy Assistant Director
Feb. 16, 2024


people sitting a large classroom with glass windows listening to panel discussion

Career Stories in the Service of Community

Community and relationship building was a central theme discussed by Krystal Cohen ‘21, Madison Mellinger ‘23, and Chitra Parikh ‘21 as they engaged in dialogue with moderator Rob Falk ‘85, about living a life of meaning in the service of others. They gathered with an audience of students, faculty, and staff who are connected to the Service Focus program on the evening of Friday, February 2, 2024 in the Choi Glass Box studio in Yeh College. The program, a kickoff for the Service Focus spring semester activities, was aimed to bring undergraduate students into dialogue with young alums regarding their strategies for and reflections on making a career that focuses on doing good in the world. 

4 people sitting in a row as panelists in a discussion

“Getting there in life is about telling your story in the most compelling way possible,” Falk commented near the beginning of the panel discussion. This set a tone for storytelling, vulnerability and the vitality of mentorship to be center stage in a powerful sharing of values, attitudes, and experiments needed for living a life of purpose and service. Cohen exemplified this sentiment of vulnerability when she spoke about the challenges of ‘holding on to your why.’ She recounted experiences from her professional endeavors when she recognized the need to take a step back and take stock of her own well-being.

The importance of prioritizing self-care was a central theme, and each of the discussants shared stories of when they were not showing up as the best versions of themselves.The resonance shared by the panelists and moderator on the centrality of self-care as a necessity for community care was palpable. 

One of the ways the panelists discussed the theme of self-care was through the lens of drawing healthy boundaries, and the importance of saying ‘no.’ When an undergraduate student in the audience astutely asked, “yes, but how do you say no?,” Parikh encouraged everyone to lead with gratitude, and thank people for trusting their skills and abilities, while graciously being direct about articulating what you can and cannot do. Mellinger went on to comment that you could actually be harmful to others or to a community if you are not able to draw clear boundaries and say no to certain opportunities. 

Towards the end of the panel, Falk went off-script and asked the panelists a question that was not part of the pre-prepared questions: “What would you suggest undergraduate students do if they had 15 minutes each week to dedicate to meeting their goals of moving into a career in service?” Cohen and Parikh both uplifted the importance of reflection and introspection, while Mellinger and Falk agreed that it is important for them to talk with family, friends, or mentors about their goals and aspirations. What would you do with your 15 minutes each week? 

Here are a few ideas and tips that might support your ongoing career explorations: 

  • Focus on reflection. All of the panelists and the moderator touched on the importance of finding time to reflect and reset as a practice for remaining true to your purpose. You can check out the Pace Center’s Reflection Learning Library as a good place to start reflecting! 
  • The process of discernment is challenging AND the next step doesn’t define the rest of your journey, think about things one step at a time. 
  • Take a ProCES course early in your Princeton career to get an idea of bridging theory and practice.
  • Check-out some of the amazing internship and fellowship opportunities that are part of the University’s Learning and Education through Service (LENS) initiative. 
  • Remember - you still have lots of time! 
  • Explore opportunities that are unique or different from your intended path–this exploration could open new doors for you. 
  • Reframe your mistakes, and reframe how you feel about being in certain situations–every opportunity is an opportunity for learning. 
  • Be open to the things that are in store for you that you do not and cannot expect nor predict. 
  • Incorporate as many perspectives as possible. 
  • Connect with people you find inspiring or are in careers that intrigue you. The Tiger Net alumni network might be a good place to start. 
  • Meet with an advisor in the Center for Career Development or check-out some of their templates and resources. 

About the panelists:


Portrait of woman smiling, Krystal Cohen
Krystal Cohen '21

Krystal Cohen – Krystal Cohen, Class of 2021, is a Senior Policy Fellow with the New York City Department of Education through the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI) program. With a focus on education equity, Krystal is passionate about creating opportunities for low-income students and students of color to thrive. Most recently, she held positions at the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Agency for International Development, AmeriCorps, and Foundation Academy Charter School. She is also the founder of KYC Nonprofit Consulting, a consulting firm that provides fundraising and social media management services to social justice-oriented nonprofits. Krystal holds a BA in Sociology and is currently pursuing an MPA at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.



woman holding leafy vegetables in an outdoor garden, Madison Mellinger
Madison Mellinger '23. Photo credit: Barron Bixler

Madison Mellinger – Madison Mellinger is a graduate of the class of 2023 from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and spent her childhood tending a large garden, hunting for wild game, training bird dogs, and working with her family on a pheasant farm. At Princeton she majored in Public and International Affairs with a focus on education policy. She was heavily involved in Pace Center programming as an undergraduate; she was a Bogle Fellow, a Nancy Weiss Malkiel Fellow, the Student Volunteers Council Education Chair and Co-Chair, a Project Leader for the Community House Princeton Nursery School Project, and a PICS Intern at the Chicago Children's Museum. She also worked at the Princeton Seed Farm and in the Emma Bloomberg Center. In her senior year, Madison planned a first-of-its-kind conference for college students from rural communities across the country. She is extremely passionate about education, seed saving, and connecting young people to the land. Madison currently works at the Children's House of Bucks County Montessori School where she teaches 18 month to 3 year olds and develops the school's sustainability programming, including the building of an outdoor classroom.


portrait woman standing in a courtyard smiling, Chitra Parikh

Chitra Parikh '21. Photo credit: Sameer Khan

Chitra Parikh – Class of 2021, is a third year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College (Thomas Jefferson University). At Princeton, she concentrated in Architecture with a certificate in Global Health and Health Policy. She was a member of the Service Focus’s inaugural cohort and served as a fellow for the Health Policy cohort as well. In addition to Service Focus, she was involved with the Undergraduate Student Government as well as in the Keller Center as a Design Thinking Associate. She was also a Peer Academic Adviser in Rockefeller College and a Health Professions Advising Peer Adviser. She is passionate about increasing access to healthcare, health equity, and the intersection of design and medicine. 




portrait of a man standing with crossed arms smiling, Rob Falk

Rob Falk '85

Rob Falk – Rob Falk, Class of '85, serves as Chief Legal and Regulatory Affairs Officer of the Truth Initiative, the nation's largest nonprofit dedicated to helping young people live lives free of tobacco and nicotine addiction. He has previously served as General Counsel to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, General Counsel to Whitman-Walker Clinic, then a primarily LGBTQ+ focused health care and social services agency, and Acting General Counsel to DC General Hospital, an urban public hospital serving marginalized communities. He's also a member of the Executive Committee of Friends of PICS.