An important part of Service Focus is carrying the service experience into the academic year. Service Focus cohorts are designed to connect peers and faculty mentors in conversation around a specific theme. 

  • Civil Society
  • Education & Access
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Health & Care: Addressing Structural Vulnerability
  • Public Interest Technology
  • Race, Migration, and Belonging
  • Urban Space/Housing

Civil Society

Voluntary service programs have long been a successful pillar of civil society in the United States, beginning during the New Deal of the 1930s with the Civilian Conservation Corps and other programs for youth and adults, mainly aimed at providing employment during the Great Depression.  But much later, with the service ideal enunciated by President Kennedy in his inaugural address (“Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”), the Peace Corps was established, and with it the largest and most successful national youth volunteer program in American history reached a large number of young Americans.  AmeriCorps is a slightly later domestic version of a federal national volunteer program, again a highly successful and broad-reaching effort.

But what if there was a much broader and comprehensive set of service programs that was required, not voluntary?  For much of the 20th century, the Selective Service system requires a subset of young Americans to serve in the armed forces, especially in times of war, but military service has been the only federally required youth service program.  Some have suggested that military service might be just one option for a national youth service requirement.  Others might be based on the Peace Corps and Americorps.  Still others might be federal versions of currently private programs such as Teach for America, and service in hospitals and nursing homes.  The general idea would be that at a certain age, say 17, every American would be required to choose their service option, and devote a year or two to national service.

At this moment in American history, where we are challenged by  increased polarization and struggle to rebuild community on a national basis, we will consider critical questions around these options, including:

  • How can service help to cultivate a civic mindset?  What are the conditions for effective service?   
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of required service and voluntary service?
  • Would required service address some of the current concerns about lack of civic commitment in America (i.e. would a country in which every young person had served the community be a better country)?  And what forms should such service ideally take?
  • Would a strengthened program of voluntary service options be feasible and desirable? 

This group focuses on an exploratory approach to service, and meets every other week to discuss through an interdisciplinary lens. Guest speakers and practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions. There may be opportunities for students to develop individual or small-group projects with community partners or University programs, such as the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, Project 55, and more.

Faculty Mentor

Stanley Katz, lecturer with rank of professor, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Staff Mentor

Matt Lynn, Assistant Director, John H. Pace, Jr. '39 Pace Center for Civic Engagement

Fellows

Students


Education & Access

Education is often considered a crucial gateway to opportunity as well as an engine of societal progress.  Yet, education in the United States is highly unequal -- in recent years, disparities in access and outcomes have persisted or grown across many dimensions such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status. This cohort will examine questions such as:

  • What are the structures and systems that drive educational disparities in the United States? 
  • What are practices and policies that can reduce educational disparities?   
  • What is the relationship between college access and educational equity?
  • In what ways does college create particular opportunities and barriers for low-income and first generation students?   
  • How has COVID-19 magnified and made visible existing disparities in our education system? What new challenges and possibilities does it present?

This group focuses on an exploratory approach to service, and meets every other week to discuss education through an interdisciplinary lens. Guest speakers and practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions. There may be opportunities for students to develop individual or small-group projects with community partners, such as: teachers and administrators from a variety of local schools, partners from community-based organizations such as Trenton Peers, LALDEF, and the Greater Trenton College Access Network, as well as University programs such as the Princeton University Preparatory Program, Scholars Institute Fellows Program, Program in Teacher Preparation, and alumni working in education.

Faculty Mentor

Jason Klugman, Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP)

Staff Mentor

Gray Collins, Internships Coordinator, Pace Center 

Fellows:

Students


Environmental Sustainability

Building a sustainable and resilient world is one of the most pressing and intersectional issues of the day. As we rethink the way we approach topics like urban planning and community development to increase sustainability, there is an added need to ensure these conversations are infused with a lens of equity and social justice. This cohort will develop interdisciplinary skills and habits of mind necessary for ethical development and design of our homes and cities, by exploring the growing movement of urban agriculture.  Urban agriculture has many potential societal benefits, such as increasing food security within cities, providing access to fresh foods within underserved urban neighborhoods, creating community green space, and reducing the carbon footprint of food transport. This cohort will explore innovative practices and engage together in developing strategies and solutions around effective advocacy for this important topic.  Core questions will include:

  • What are the special challenges in urban communities (i.e. socioeconomic, infrastructural, topographic, and built-environment) that urban agriculture needs to address?
  • How can we use urban agriculture as an example of the attention needed to design a future in a safe and equitable way?  
  • How can collaboration and communication among researchers, governments, and communities be enhanced for equitable and sustainable action in this field?

This group will meet biweekly and take an exploratory approach to the topic.  Throughout the year, we will have opportunities to convene around a tiny (sub)urban farm that has been constructed for student use.  This will allow us to experience and discuss urban farming (and directly sample products from the farm).  Interested students may also choose to work on the farm.  Guest speakers and community practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions, and there may be opportunities to visit with community organizations to learn more about their work as well as visit innovative farms and farm-to-table restaurants in the region.  Students may also engage in individual or small-group projects in support of campus and community organizations, such as: the Princeton Garden Project, Neighborgrowers (Baltimore), Isles (Trenton), and Urban Tree Connection (Philadelphia)

Faculty Mentor

Sigrid Adriaenssens, Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Staff Mentor

Alvin Zhang, Service Engagement Intern, Pace Center for Civic Engagement

Fellows

Students


Health & Care: Addressing Structural Vulnerability

The uneven course of the COVID-19 pandemic, both between and within countries, has highlighted how much work is needed to address structural disparities that leave so many vulnerable.  As we recover and rebuild, careful attention to the concepts of ‘health’ and ‘care’ is needed if we are to meaningfully improve.  This cohort will critically reflect on your personal and community service experiences of health and caregiving, and explore what it might mean to conceptualize health and care more thoughtfully and humanely.  As we consider how biosocial and medical realities shape each other in the context of our current predicament, we will delve into questions such as the following:  

  • What are the social and medical implications of how we imagine ‘health’ and ‘care’?  How do these concepts vary among patients and health practitioners and from community to community, and how are they intertwined with ideas of therapeutic efficacy and wellbeing?  
  • How is healthcare organized and delivered and which values undergird it?  Which structural factors and social markers impact healthcare access and health disparities? 
  • How do vulnerable communities conceptualize illness and suffering and enact care?
  • How are ‘best practices’ in healthcare evaluated?  Which kind of methodological toolkits can we assemble that will allow us to better identify people’s needs and create responsive and caring practices?   

We will begin the year with discussion-based reflection and exploration, and then will elaborate on this conceptual base by collaborating with Dr. Bon Ku and his team at Jefferson Medical School’s Health Design Lab in Philadelphia.  The Health Design Lab is exploring innovative ways to conduct COVID outreach to underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia, while at the same time building on their previous work to address community residents’ other health concerns (e.g. the opioid epidemic) in these historically neglected areas.   Students will work to curate and share narratives and data on the lived experiences of city residents and caregivers.  These projects will inform ongoing work on community health and caregiving and contribute to neighborhood development.

Faculty Mentor

João Biehl, Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Sebastián Ramírez Hernández, Postdoctoral Research Associate 

Staff Mentor

Yi-Ching Ong, Director of Service Focus 

Fellows

Students


Public Interest Technology 

Public interest technology is an emerging field that is defined by asking how we can use our technological expertise in the service of the public good. The goal is to develop best practices in human-centered design, product development, and data science to address problems in an inclusive, iterative manner that aims to better serve the public. In this cohort we will explore the potential and challenges of engaging in public interest technology, especially as it relates to issues of systemic injustice. We will also have the opportunity to directly engage with community partners to help understand and address their needs. Core questions will include: 

  • What does it mean to be a civic-minded technologist?
  • How do we improve the relationship between digital technology and society?
  • How can we use technology to address systemic injustice?
  • How do we learn about challenges community organizations face and how can technology be used wisely to address those challenges?
  • What are the limits of technological solutions?

This group will meet biweekly and take an exploratory approach to the topic. Guest speakers and community practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions, and there may be opportunities to visit with community organizations to learn more about their work.  There may also be opportunities for students to engage in individual or small-group projects in support of campus and community organizations, such as: Technology for a Just Society (JuST), Fair Share Housing Center, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and Mercer County Park Commission. Students may engage in projects focused on software development, cyber security and advising on best practices for partners.

Faculty Mentor

Mihir Kshirsagar, Center for Information Technology and Policy

Staff Mentor

Yi-Ching Ong, Director of Service Focus 

Fellows

Students
 


Race, Migration, and Belonging

The United States is often erroneously described as a “Nation of Immigrants,” which omits the Indigenous communities who first lived in the nation and also suggest all immigrants had a similar experience when they arrived. The reality of course is that many African Americans were forced to come to the United States as slaves, whereas other populations like Asians and Latin Americans have found themselves excluded by federal law from entering the nation. We will consider the ways that race, ethnicity, and citizenship affect the experience of people in the United States. These discussions will include topics such as the militarization of the border, the detention of immigrants, deportation, refugees, voting rights, access to educational and social services. As we consider these questions, we will be coming back to some core questions, such as:

  • Who is considered an “American”? How do you become an American? How has it changed over time? 
  • How is citizenship defined and what rights does it provide in principle and in practice? 
  • In what ways does race and ethnicity alter the immigrant experience and efforts at belonging?
  • In what ways does refugee status intersect or diverge from the experience of undocumented immigrants?
  • How does the century-long tightening of the border relate to the lived realities of undocumented migrants, undocumented crossers, and the general public’s perception of them?

This group will meet biweekly and take an exploratory approach to the topic. Guest speakers and practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions, and there may be opportunities to visit with community organizations to learn more about their work.  There may also be opportunities for students to engage in individual or small-group projects in support of campus and community organizations, such as: the Office of Religious Life’s Forced Migration Initiative, the Keller Center’s ‘Maker-not-Taker’ Tiger Challenge, or partners from community-based organizations such as Not In Our Town and LALDEF.

Faculty Mentor

Rosina Lozano, History

Staff Mentor

Tara Carr-Lemke, Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES)

Fellows

Students
 


Urban Space/Housing

What Do We Want the Future City to Be? The Arts, Public Space, and Housing in the (Post?)-Pandemic City

After nearly two years of lockdowns, upheavals, and transformations, cities are at a crossroads. The protests following the murder of George Floyd brought unity across diverse areas and renewed calls for meaningful change, while the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the race and class divisions that shape our communities. An eviction crisis looms, while a booming real estate market is making housing even less affordable. Smaller cities and towns are swelling with residents, while central business districts remain empty. Streets have been remade as outdoor cafes or parks, but not all can access these new spaces. As we (haltingly) return to post-pandemic life, this cohort will focus on the following key questions:

  • What role do the arts play in creating attractive and vibrant streets and neighborhoods? How do the arts highlight overlooked narratives in our communities? Does urban art encourage gentrification and displacement? 
  • How can community members, designers, and policymakers work together to create inviting and inclusive public spaces? 
  • What solutions are there to the affordable housing and eviction crises? What roles can governments, nonprofits, developers, and citizens play?

This group will meet biweekly and take an exploratory approach to the topic. Guest speakers and community practitioners will occasionally join the cohort discussions, and there may be opportunities to visit with community organizations to learn more about their work.  There may also be opportunities for students to engage in individual or small-group projects in support of campus and community organizations, such as Isles, Einstein’s Alley, NJ Future, New Brunswick Tomorrow, Newark Symphony Hall, Women's Community Revitalization Project, and the Village of Arts and Humanities.

Faculty Mentor

Aaron Shkuda, Princeton-Mellon Initiative

Staff Mentor

Gray Collins, Internships Coordinator, Pace Center for Civic Engagement 

Fellows

Students