Deepening Engagement with Service Focus

Friday, Mar 12, 2021
by Sabrina Fay ’22 and Oyin Sangoyomi ’23, Student Correspondents

Service Focus recently offered current Service Focus students and program alumni the opportunity to conduct projects that they are passionate about through a new Winter Grant initiative. These projects, completed over winter break, presented an opportunity to create meaningful connections with local community partners and to apply what they have learned during their Service Focus experience. Our Student Correspondent team had the chance to speak with some of these participants.  

Making Healthcare Accessible

“Just because you read a lot of articles about a place does not mean that you know the place.” - Mary Davis ’22

Mary Davis is a junior in the Department of Molecular Biology who plans to attend medical school after she graduates. She has always been interested in medicine, but it was not until the summer after her first year, when she worked in healthcare in Tanzania through the Service Focus Health & Care cohort, that she decided to pursue medical school. 

Coming back from Tanzania to her home community in State College, Pa., she was reminded that there is also a need for doctors in underserved communities in the United States, and thus her passion for bettering domestic healthcare was born.

This past winter break, Davis received a Service Focus Winter Grant, and she used this to work on a project with Thomas Jefferson University in which she assessed the impact of free COVID-19 testing centers in a North Philadelphia community. Since Davis believes that healthcare can be complicated and difficult to navigate, she carried out several interviews with doctors, nurses, and church members concerning their experiences with the free healthcare site in order to assess how it has helped make healthcare more accessible.

Davis believes that this close interaction with the local community is crucial when it comes to creating healthcare policy. “Just because you read a lot of articles about a place does not mean that you know the place,” she explains. 

To Davis, pre-medical and medical students in particular have a responsibility to learn about their surrounding community, for as she points out, “You’re going to have an impact on their healthcare, and trying to do that without really understanding where they’re from and what the community looks like doesn’t make sense to me. You should really try to understand what people value so that you can interface well with their health.”

For Davis, Service Focus was an excellent way to explore an issue that she is very passionate about, and she highly recommends this program for anyone seeking funding for a project that they are interested in pursuing. 

She plans to continue her Service Focus work throughout the spring semester and possibly the summer by interviewing more members of this community, and she is interested in staying engaged with North Philadelphia throughout the next year. Ultimately, Davis hopes that the data that her and her team have collected will reveal the availability of healthcare during the pandemic so that they can then figure out ways to improve the community as a whole and help it get back on its feet following the pandemic. 

Access to Education

“It’s important to know how to get somewhere, not just that you can. A lot of these gaps in college access are also associated racial and socioeconomic gaps and are underserved by a lot of higher education institutions, and we need to address that.” - Maddy Chong ’23

Maddy Chong is a sophomore concentrating in Molecular Biology, who spent her winter break working with the Trenton College Access Network, a collaboration of community-based organizations, schools, universities, and public institutions that serve the greater Trenton, NJ area. She used her funding to further the work she had previously been doing with the network as a summer intern. 

“The exciting thing for me was being able to continue with the Greater Trenton College Access Network and keep up the good work I was doing with them,” she said. “We’ve worked on the website, collected data on students who attend and what they're interested in, and dictionaries on financial aid and college terms.” 

Chong has helped the network with the aforementioned efforts as well as recruitment and outreach. She mentions that Trenton being so close to Princeton geographically, and yet so far apart in terms of access to college resources, is a problem that she and the network are trying to address.

“The issue is that a lot of students, especially in Trenton, are not as connected with the idea of going to college as maybe someone in Princeton,” Chong said. “It might be something they haven’t thought about because the opportunities weren’t there. We want to help students make the most out of their education through and beyond high school.”

The Trenton College Access Network boasts a wide array of resources for high school students to learn about the college opportunities open to them, as well as tutoring, test prep, and a weeks-long immersive summer program. 

“It’s important to know how to get somewhere, not just that you can,” said Chong. “A lot of these gaps in college access are also associated racial and socioeconomic gaps and are underserved by a lot of higher education institutions, and we need to address that.” This grant and her work with the network go hand-in-hand with her role as a member of the Service Focus Education and Access cohort

“We’ve had readings and discussions with panelists who joined us to discuss schools and education across America, as well as in other countries,” she said. “This semester we’re going to kick off more meetings that I’m really excited about. Service Focus is such a great program because it draws attention to the importance of doing work that serves a larger opportunity, as well doing smaller projects and helping out where you can. There’s a big emphasis on working with community partners and listening to the community as well.” 

When it comes to positive social impact in general, Chong underscores the importance of gratitude, saying that it is important to take stock of what you have to be thankful for and have an idea of your own place in life before working to serve others. She hopes her work with the Trenton College Access Network will continue, as well as her work within Service Focus and in service to her surrounding and global community. 

Changing the Conversation on Human Trafficking

“I want to continue making small decisions in my day-to-day life which have an impact, such as by working with organizations consistent with my values, listening to and learning from others. I want to keep learning and growing, to become a better person in the service of humanity.” - Emma Moriarty ’22

Emma Moriarty is a junior concentrating in the Princeton School of International and Public Affairs (SPIA). This winter she put her Service Focus grant funding to use to support Unseen, a human trafficking survivor advocacy organization, where she has been involved with for more than a year and has been working on communications since the fall. 

With the Service Focus Winter Grant, she has been able to design and create a website for Unseen’s podcast and new online merchandise store, the profits of which go towards supporting the organization’s work for survivors. Moriarity helped to launch the merchandise store and wrote the survivor profiles which populate the website, which also has podcast episodes and resources on the issue.

“[Unseen is] trying to address sex trafficking within the United States, but more specifically the issue that in the media we see an image of human trafficking that isn’t accurate,” said Moriarty. “Most victims are women of color, low income, do not have access to education, or are homeless. We are trying to bring to light previously unseen truths and change the status quo.”

Moriarty emphasizes that she thinks everyone should care about this issue, and that she is grateful to be doing the work she is doing. “I think this is an issue that should never be overlooked,” she said. “It’s mind boggling that people can put others through this much pain, so anything I can do to help make that less likely to happen is worth it.” 

Through the website, podcast, outreach, and their survivor network, Unseen and Moriarty are actively working to change the way media addresses and supports survivors. “I wish more people understood that in any kind of trauma situation, recovery isn’t linear, it’s backwards and sideways and forwards and in all sorts of directions,” she said. “So if people understood that they might have more patience and support for programs of long-term recovery.” 

She credits the Service Focus program with helping to build her perspective on service, and encourages social change through the small choices that eventually add up. “I think Service Focus creates an environment that isn’t found very often on Princeton’s campus, which is a group of students that are really invested in making a service impact and discuss the theory behind social impact work,” she said. 

Moriarty was not only a member of the Bridging Theory and Practice cohort as a sophomore, but is now a co-leader of this year’s Race, Migration, and Belonging cohort and works as a Service Focus fellow. She hopes to carry the lessons the program is teaching her through her continued work with Unseen and in her everyday life. 

“I want to continue making small decisions in my day-to-day life which have an impact, such as by working with organizations consistent with my values, listening to and learning from others,” she said. “I want to keep learning and growing, to become a better person in the service of humanity.” 

Returning Home

“[Princeton students] are the ones who can be the bridge between our hometowns and Princeton.” - Truth Betts-McCullum ’23

Truth Betts-McCullum, a sophomore in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), has always been passionate about education. As a low-income student, having a good education to her means having a chance of achieving a stable life. So, when she received the opportunity to spend winter break working on a service project that she cares about, she chose to focus on helping the students of her old high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, eStem Public Charter School.

Betts-McCullum does not know many students who graduated from her old high school and went on to a top college, let alone to a college out of state. As such, as a high school student, she was heavily discouraged from believing that she could ever get into a top college; she specifically remembers thinking, “There’s no way that could be me.” However, this all changed when her high school counselor secured her free tutoring to raise her score on the American College Test (ACT), a standardized test that is used for college admissions. This tutoring is something that she believes was a crucial factor in getting into the college of her dreams.

It is no wonder then that Betts-McCullum used the grant that she received from Service Focus to purchase ACT prep books for her high school. It is her goal to make sure that other students do not feel as discouraged that she did, and that they know that it is possible for them to attend the college of their choice. “You don’t have to have a Nobel Peace Prize,” Betts-McCullum affirms. “Everyday people get into Princeton.”

Betts-McCullum initially purchased 12 prep books for her high school, but after more than one hundred students requested one, her high school administration decided to add the appropriate funds so that any junior or sophomore who requests a book will receive one. 

It is results like these that make Betts-McCullum grateful for her Service Focus Grant, an initiative that she encourages every Princeton student to take advantage of so that they can give back to their communities. “[Princeton students] are the ones who can be the bridge between our hometowns and Princeton,” she points out.

And Service Focus Grant was only the beginning; she plans to use this experience as a gateway to helping more students secure access to college, both with her old high school and with high schools in the Princeton area. Ultimately, Betts-McCullum believes that every student deserves a chance at access to a quality education. Both in her current work with this grant and the Service Focus Education and Access cohort, and with her future undertakings, she is determined to continue reinforcing among high school students that anyone can go to schools like Princeton.

Service Focus is a collaboration of the Office of the Dean of the College, the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, and the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. It bridges service and learning across the first two years of the undergraduate student experience at Princeton. Learn more and apply at focus.princeton.edu by April 4.