Why I Serve: Q&A with Alexander Zhu ’21

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
by Benjamin Gelman ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondent

In this monthly Q&A series we aim to highlight the projects and contributions of those in the Princeton community, including faculty, students, and staff, that engage with service in unique ways. This month, we spoke to Alexander Zhu ’21, a molecular biology concentrator and co-director of Princeton Splash. Splash is a student organization with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement focused on spreading enthusiasm for learning and passion for teaching. Splash recently held a day of teaching and learning for high school students on April 27. 

Can you explain briefly what Splash does? 

Princeton Splash is a student organization affiliated with Learning Unlimited. Our mission is to provide learning opportunities for high school students, as well as teaching opportunities for college and graduate students. Every year, we recruit Princeton undergraduates and graduate students to teach a fully-funded class on a topic of their choice, ranging in subjects from Pokemon Go mechanics to protein folding. During our annual Splash event, more than 300 high school students travel from across the nation and spend the day engaging in these student-run seminars, exploring their passions, and making life-long friendships.

What are your responsibilities in Splash? 

As co-director of Princeton Splash, I’m responsible for spearheading our executive board and coordinating our yearly Splash event. This involves working closely with each sub-team to tackle every aspect of our event, from managing logistics to promoting teacher and student outreach. I also communicate with Learning Unlimited and other universities’ Splash organizations to exchange ideas and figure out new areas for improvement.

Why were you drawn to working with Splash? 

I was drawn to Splash because of its devotion to spreading a love of learning. I’ve always had a passion for teaching—having been a musical tutor for underserved children in the Milwaukee area for more than four years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the excitement that kids have when given the opportunity to stretch their minds in ways they never expected. Splash does just that. With the abundance of classes offered every year, high schoolers from so many different backgrounds can attend classes on subjects not typically emphasized in school, from beatboxing to bird watching. Splash provides an outlet for students to explore their passions and topics that are truly exciting to them. And with enthusiastic teachers at the head of each class, I’ve found each Splash event to be rewarding and limit-stretching for both the teacher and student.

What unique opportunities for education through Splash do you see on Princeton's campus? 

It’s a great experience teaching a class to eager high school students! There’s the saying that “you never really learn something unless you teach it.” Teaching a class with Splash helps Princeton students discover and refine their passions. During teacher recruitment, many teachers have told me that they don’t know what to teach about. However, more often than not, they end up conducting classes on hobbies that they normally wouldn’t think about teaching, such as skincare. In fact, quite a few actually end up teaching for multiple years.

Splash also gives undergrads the chance to inspire the next generation of students. When teachers are passionate about the topic they’re teaching, it’s infectious. I always credit my high school physics and chemistry teacher for inspiring me to pursue a degree in science. Every day, he conducted each class with a genuine love for the subject and a passion for scientific discovery. Likewise, students have come up at the end of our Splash event to comment on how much fun it was to learn with such excited teachers.

Why do you think it is important for Princeton students to be involved in educational programs like Splash? 

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of campus life, from studying for midterms to worrying about future internships. However, it’s important to remember that there’s so much more that goes on outside of the “orange bubble.” Splash and other educational programs are perfect ways to make a mark on the next generation of students. Many members of previous boards have been former Splash participants and have all been strongly influenced by their own experiences in their respective programs to give back through our Splash. I’ve also found Splash to be incredibly rewarding. When parents tell me that they’ve been sending their children to Splash programs around the country every year, it reminds me just how much of a difference we can make in education.


Krystle DiCristofalo, an undergraduate guest lecturer from Columbia University, teaches Creative Writing: Beyond 101. Photo courtesy of Splash.