Stories of Service: Lighting a Spark for Education

Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
by Gwen McNamara, Communications Coordinator

When Dallas Nan ’16 arrived at Princeton he didn’t set out to get involved in service and civic engagement. But after a summer internship lit a spark for education, he started on a path he never expected to take. 

How did you first get involved?

DN: During my freshman year at Princeton, as I scrambled to find an internship for the summer, I stumbled upon an email describing a position here at Princeton as a teaching associate who would be tasked to build and teach a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum to underprivileged middle school students in the Princeton area. When I saw the position, I knew it was perfect. Growing up in a poor family and considered an underprivileged student myself, I benefitted from the steadfast commitment of educators, friends, and mentors in school. I never thought the culmination of this support would allow me to attend Princeton, but it is something that I will forever cherish. I knew that it was now my turn to educate and mentor students that had few opportunities.

How did that opportunity shape your experience here at Princeton?

DN: When I arrived at my internship I discovered that it was part of the Pace Center’s Community House program, which is designed to support students in the Princeton area. As I began writing the STEM camp curriculum and eventually began teaching it to 30 middle school students, the power of education became increasingly identifiable. It is safe to say that the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Community House STEM Summer Camp made a huge impact on me, because when my sophomore year started I began volunteering at Community House After School Academy, a program where many of the same students can receiving academic tutoring and mentoring from Princeton University students. 

Where has your passion taken you?

DN: This summer I interned with the International Internship Program in the Philippines, where I worked with Stiftung Solarenergie Philippines, a solar energy company that provides both electricity and opportunity to Filipino homes. Working with the Pace Center, I was able to connect my internship work with the Community House STEM Summer Camp. During the “solar energy” week, the Princeton middle school students built solar electric systems using We Share Solar education kits. These “solar suitcases” are solar electric systems that can be installed in buildings, schools and orphanages without electricity around the world. I not only got to teach U.S. students about green energy and energy poverty, but also got to empower the Filipino education system with solar energy. This experience made me realize that I want to have a life-long commitment to making sure that every child on this earth has the opportunity to be educated. During my internship I installed the solar electric systems the STEM campers built in the Philippines. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?

DN: It is interesting to point out here that until I did an internship my freshman summer I hadn’t done any service in college nor did I know what the Pace Center even was. No matter how you get involved with the Pace Center or any form of civic engagement my advice is to turn something you are passionate about into civic engagement! Trust me when I say it will be one of the most meaningful things you do at Princeton.

This is the third story in our ongoing web series Stories of Service. Photo courtesy of Jim Ayala '84, University Trustee and Vice Chairman of the Board of Stiftung Solarenergie. #PaceStories