Two seniors win ReachOut grants for public service
Princeton University seniors Ceymi Doenyas and Cristina Martinez have been awarded 2012 fellowships from ReachOut 56-81-06, an alumni-funded effort to support yearlong public service projects after graduation.
Doenyas will use her $30,000 ReachOut 56-81-06 International Fellowship to help integrate the use of technology in the educational program at Tohum Autism Foundation in Istanbul, which serves children with autism and developmental challenges in Turkey.
Martinez will be working in the Philadelphia office of the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services. She will use the $30,000 grant of her ReachOut 56-81-06 Domestic Fellowship to develop a mentoring program for youth who "age out" of the foster care system when they turn 18 years old.
ReachOut 56-81-06 is an effort by Princeton's classes of 1956, 1981 and, joining last year, the Class of 2006, to help nonprofit organizations perform valuable public service. The internationally focused grant is given through a donation by a Class of 1956 alumnus. This year marks the program's 10th anniversary.
"We are delighted to provide fellowships of $30,000 for a year to outstanding graduating Princeton students who present projects of innovative and significant social value," said Daniel Gardiner, a 1956 alumnus and chair of ReachOut 56-81-06. "The 2012 winners — outstanding seniors with fine records of achievement and public interest activity — have proposed ambitious projects that epitomize our goals. These thoughtful projects identify and implement solutions for societal problems, in the tradition of 'Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations.'"
Candidates for the domestic ReachOut Fellowships find a public service organization that will create a position for them and work with that organization to devise a service project. Candidates for the 1956 ReachOut International Fellowship present project proposals to be performed anywhere in the world, with or without a sponsoring organization. Special weight is given to projects of social significance that are innovative, creative and/or entrepreneurial.
Doenyas, who is from Istanbul, is a psychology major and a certificate candidate in neuroscience and Near Eastern studies. Her fellowship project has its roots in volunteer work she undertook at Tohum during high school, when she helped develop educational initiatives including translating curricula from English to Turkish.
"Interacting with children with autism and helping them learn skills that can make their lives easier was such a rewarding experience that I wanted to keep helping individuals with autism during college and after I graduate," Doenyas said.
Having discovered through her project research that technology in the classroom can be particularly beneficial to students with autism, Doenyas hopes to pilot the use of iPads and existing iPad applications — some of which will be translated into Turkish by programmers — in the education and daily lives of Tohum students. She will use a portion of her fellowship funds to purchase iPads for students.
"The iPad applications will help improve the communication skills of these children by helping them initiate and maintain conversations and practice eye gaze," she said. "The applications will also enable students to organize their days and follow their activity schedules without the need for a caretaker to tell them what to do and will also teach new skills, such as brushing teeth, through modeling. Some educational applications can also help students practice the math and vocabulary they learn in school."
As a Princeton student, Doenyas has volunteered at Princeton Disabilities Awareness conferences and at the Eden Institute for Children with Autism. She is also the artistic director of the Raks Odalisque dance troupe.
After completing the fellowship, Doenyas plans to write and publish her observations about the effects of using iPads at the Tohum school. "I hope this project can help not only these children in Turkey, but also a larger population of individuals with autism worldwide," she said.
Martinez, who is from Miami, is completing a major in anthropology and a certificate in values and public life. Her project will focus on recruiting and assessing families to serve as mentors for young people in the foster care system in greater Philadelphia. She also hopes to design a training program for mentors and will coordinate a series of events as part of this effort.
Martinez was inspired to pursue her project through work she did this past summer in the Florida State Attorney's Office in Miami. One of the cases she worked on involved the murder of a 10-year-old girl who was in foster care prior to her death.
"As I worked on that case, I sat in numerous meetings with social workers and staff members of Florida's Department of Children and Families," Martinez said. "I also witnessed a particular judge give a drug-addicted mother custody of her children.
"Both of these experiences were enlightening and disconcerting. I saw firsthand the immense challenges those working for the foster care system face, along with the many ways in which the system was failing both families and children. I was inspired to research the topic, and from that research my passion for improving the child welfare system increased."
Martinez further investigated issues facing the national foster care system in her senior thesis, which focused on the challenges the approximately 25,000 children in care annually face when they turn 18 and age out of the system.
At Princeton, Martinez is a volunteer at Community House and is the vice president of Princeton Faith and Action.
After completing her fellowship, she plans to attend law school with a focus on public interest law. "I would love to work on policy for child welfare systems and use the practical knowledge of social work I will gain next year to better inform my legal practice," she said.