Stories of Service: The Path to My Passion

Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
by Cameron Bell ’16

Summer 2013: PICS Summer Intern, Epiphany School, Dorchester, MA 

“So if you have any more questions, just give me a call. You should be all set for the start of the school year.” I say to my student’s mother on my way out of the door of my last home-visit. I bow my head to her incoming 5th grader. “It was so nice to meet you! Enjoy the rest of your summer.” He envelopes me in the strongest hug his little arms could manage. 

“See you later!” 

I hug him back and smile to delay the waterworks, knowing that I probably wouldn’t see him later. After 10 weeks supporting the summer operations at the Epiphany School, a tuition-free middle school that serves low-income students and their families, I found it hard to say good-bye. The high-stress days and the seeming never ending projects and tasks to complete no longer seemed so demanding; it was the least I could do if it meant improving the educational access and chances of my students. 

Spring 2014: Let’s Get Ready Site-Director, Princeton and Hamilton, NJ 

As Katie Woo, my co-site director, and I proctor a final practice SAT for our students at Let’s Get Ready, a nonprofit organization that offers SAT prep and college counseling to under-served youth, on a bright Saturday morning, we thumb through their evaluations and stumble across a gem: “Thanks to Katie Woo, Cameron, Christine, Nancy, & Destiny [SAT coaches]. Good people to look up to. You girls encouraged me to work harder in school and be successful. Gave me confidence to actually think a college will accept me. Thank you. Love, [student name omitted].” 

As I read, a smile dances across my face and my heart leaps. It wasn’t her gratitude, but her new confidence in her college prospects that most excited me. The long hours, lost sleep, and stress of this weekly service project with the Pace Center’s Student Volunteers Council were momentarily forgotten and forgiven; it was all worth it. 

Summer 2014: PICS Summer Intern, Summer School Teacher, 11th Grade English III, North Star Academy, Newark , NJ 

“Great job!” I say to my student, Angela. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes, this is very helpful,” she offers. “You know what Ms. Bell, you’re a really good teacher. You should teach here full-time.” 

I look at her as she continues taking notes and practicing the lesson I had just re-taught. I smile to conceal the little droplets trying to force their way through my eyes. I think I manage a weak thank you at some point. After she leaves I sink into my “teachers chair” a silly grin on my face and an indescribable feeling of love, joy, and pride in my heart and my gut. I’ve unleashed my passion and found my calling. 

Fall 2014: Junior, History Major, Teacher Prep Hopeful 

As I reflect on each of these experiences I am awed by how perfectly they fit, building on top of each other. I could not have planned it better if I tried. With each experience, my personal posture towards working in education grew from eagerness, to excitement, to commitment.  

I now want to dedicate my career to improving the quality and access to education for students in the U.S. by way of teaching and then transitioning into administration. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities with PICS and the Pace Center that enabled me to reach this point. I was able to explore a passing interest of working in education and transform it into a full-blown passion. 

The process of that evolution has been at the center of my Princeton experience, and informs how I pursue my own academic career. I’ve realized that minimal sleep, long working hours, limited free time, the emotional rollercoaster, and all other challenges of working in the field of education are no match for that feeling in my gut and my heart; pure love for my students and determination to help them succeed.