Let’s Talk About ... is a podcast hosted by the John H. Pace Jr ‘39 Center for Civic Engagement that speaks with students, faculty, and community partners about their experiences in civic engagement. Recently, we spoke with the recipients of the A. James Fisher, Jr. Memorial Award, a given in honor of A. James Fisher, Jr. '36 to Princeton seniors who have exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit, a zest for life, a love of people, and a loyalty to Princeton through their civic engagement work. This year, there were four recipients of the Fisher Award, all with unique perspectives on life and service.
In his advice to other students with regards to service, Ayeni highlights the paramount importance of listening. He stresses that one must not only listen to any external community one might hope to serve, but to the needs of their own immediate community that may be going unaddressed. “A lot of times we don't intuitively think to solve the problems in our own backyard first before trying to go be heroes for someone else elsewhere,” says Ayeni.
His Princeton service career embodies these words, as his work with Regis High School and as a leader in many Princeton spaces attests. As part of the Woke Wednesdays video channel team, Ayeni worked on campaigns to address issues within Princeton, amplifying voices such as those from the Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform (SPEAR) Ban the Box campaign. Ayeni emphasizes how service is about helping one’s own community as well as others. Approaching service with an eye inward and an adherence to one’s core values will never lead you astray, and Ayeni works toward engagement with that in mind every day.
The more that Chastulik hears about the positive impact that he is making from members of his local community, the more he is inspired to be in the service of his home. “It brings me so much joy to hear people talk and give their opinions and their experience because you can’t ever knock down someone’s experience,” Chastulik affirms.
In addition to the work that Chastulik has done in his hometown, during his time at Princeton he has been involved in the Student Volunteers Council, the Civic Leadership Council (formerly known as the Pace Council for Civic Values), the Service Focus program, and he has been a Community Action fellow. Chastulik is excited to take all that he has learned about civic engagement during his time at Princeton and apply it after graduating as he serves as a college advisor to his former high school. As for his broader goal, ultimately, Chastulik looks forward to learning from the people that he will meet throughout his life.
“At Princeton, I’ve looked at every conversation I’ve had with professors, staff, faculty, and other students as learning opportunities,” he says. “I hope to continue that mindset as I enter professional life in ways that will guide my civic engagement.”
In the podcast Cohen highlights one of her service projects in particular, which she did during a summer as a Princeton Internship Civic Service (PICS) intern. She worked with a Trenton charter school called Foundation Academies, designing a civic service learning camp for them. She launched the camp to give students an opportunity to engage in service as well as academic skill-building, and was so passionate about her work that she stayed on after her initial summer internship, working there still. Cohen helped connect the students with local nonprofits as part of the program, combining education and academic enrichment with civic enrichment and involvement.
To other students hoping to get involved with service, Cohen has words of encouragement. She emphasizes how easy it is to get overwhelmed at Princeton with the huge variety of service opportunities available, but she also invites students to attend the yearly service fair hosted by the Pace Center, and underlines the value in following one’s passions, like she did with education. She tells other students to allow themselves room to chase passions but not overwork themselves, and find new room to engage when their passions shift.
“If you look for things, there's always going to be an opportunity for you to help and engage in some way,” says Cohen.
Sequeira describes her civic engagement over the past four years as being “one of the most meaningful and lasting experiences” of her time at Princeton. She is grateful that she was not only able to have given and served, but also to have connected with students, community partners, and members of the local community that she otherwise would not have met. After graduating, Sequeira plans to build on what she has learned here at Princeton and apply them to actively participating in an organization concerning immigration services or an ESL center. Ultimately, she is looking forward to connecting with the members of her new community and continuing making an impact.