The start of the academic year is always full of firsts. First day on campus, first meal, first class. And last week, the University’s Service Focus program experienced its own first. Over dinner, the 82 sophomores taking part in Service Focus met the peers and faculty mentors they will be working with throughout the academic year.
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, and aims to bridge service and learning at Princeton. Students engage in a service internship the summer before their sophomore year, and then take a service-related course and connect with peers and faculty mentors in a small-group cohort throughout their sophomore year. Each cohort will design and work toward a culminating project.
“This summer all of you went out into the world and tried to make a difference and had experiences that challenged and changed you,” said Meg Rooney, Program Coordinator for Service Focus, as she welcomed the group. “But Service Focus is really about what you do with those experiences when you get back. We hope that you bring your insight, joys, challenges, and newfound passions back to campus and weave them into the tapestry of your Princeton experience.”
Each of the eight small-group cohorts will focus its conversation and culminating project around a specific theme. The cohorts include:
Diversity & Bias Cohort
Guided by faculty mentor J. Nicole Shelton, the Stuart Professor of Psychology at Princeton, the Diversity & Bias Cohort will focus on how bias is spread through and influences social networks. The cohort will also explore how the representation of diversity in the media impacts inequality in America.
Faculty mentor Jennifer Jennings, a Princeton graduate with the Class of 2000 and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, will work with the Education Cohort to examine questions around the intersection of education and health policy, with a focus on lead exposure both at home and in school.
Food Justice Cohort
Guided by faculty mentor Tessa Lowinske Desmond, an Associate Research Scholar with the Program in American Studies, the Food Justice Cohort will think about how food is a carrier of culture with an emphasis on the farming of food and its impact on the well-being of people and the planet.
Gun Violence Cohort
Working with faculty mentor Heather Howard, the Gun Violence Cohort will examine questions around policies to reduce gun violence. Howard is a Lecturer in Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, a faculty affiliate of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, and serves as Director of State Health and Value Strategies, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program.
Faculty mentor João Biehl and the Health/Care Cohort will examine questions around health-seeking and politics, the role of care in the medical system, the public role of the humanities, and theories of social change. Biehl is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology at Princeton and Co-Director of the Program in Global Health and Health Policy.
Political Polarization Cohort
Guided by faculty mentor Miguel Centeno, the Musgrave Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton, the Political Polarization Cohort will look at questions surrounding the drivers and consequences of inequality and political polarization.
Working with faculty mentor Sigrid Adriaenssens, Associate Professor of Civic and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Form-Finding Lab, the Sustainability Cohort will focus on how to create more resilient and sustainable cities.
Visuality & Representation Cohort
Faculty mentor Jeffrey Whetstone, Professor of Visual Arts with the Lewis Center for the Arts and a Princeton Environmental Institute faculty affiliate, and the Visuality & Representation Cohort will examine the history of using photography and film as tools for interpreting and addressing social issues.
Both students and faculty are excited to get to know one another and begin to think about their work together.
“I think for me personally the idea of continuation of service through the academic year and beyond is what I’m looking forward to the most,” said Remy Reya, a member of the Diversity & Bias Cohort. “We’ve all had service experiences in middle school and high school that have been meaningful and shaped our path here, but the question is how do we find consistency and continuity? This cohort is a tangible manifestation of that principle. Working with our peers – who all face the same struggles in terms of academics, time, and engaging in service as young people – we’ll get to connect in new ways. While our work this summer might not be specifically related to the theme of our cohort it is deeply linked to the social tides that drive our work.”
Sophomore Jaeyoon Cha, a member of the Health/Care Cohort, is excited to discover other students who share her interests. “It’s great to be part of a group that’s interested in the same things,” she said. “I worked on refugee health with an organization in Nashville this summer and I just learned that Sabrina [Sequiera] also worked with refugees. We likely wouldn’t have connected if not for Service Focus.”
Over the summer, Service Focus students engaged in summer service internships through a number of campus programs and departments including the Center for Health and Wellbeing, Center for Jewish Life, the Department of Computer Science, Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, Office of International Programs, Office of Religious Life, Office of Undergraduate Research, Princeton in Asia, Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS), Princeton Varsity Club, and the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship.
Faculty mentors are looking forward to diving in as well. “I’m excited about many things,” said Shelton, faculty mentor for the Diversity & Bias Cohort. “But mostly seeing how we can integrate what students learned in their summer internships and in the field with what we come up with as a concrete idea to do together.”
“When I first met with Yi-Ching [Ong, Director of Service Focus], she described how we would get to work with students in an informal setting, get to envision and complete a project together, and work with students who are all interested in service,” said Desmond, faculty mentor to the Food Justice Cohort. “And I thought, ‘so who wouldn’t want to do this.’ I’m really impressed with the University’s commitment to this program and am excited to see what unfolds.”
Learn more about Service Focus at focus.princeton.edu.