At the YWCA Princeton, Anja Tonkovic-Capin from Kansas City, Kansas, sang and performed finger rhymes to welcome preschoolers to the classroom on their first day of school.
At Brandywine Living in Princeton, New Jersey, Yaw Asante from Cincinnati, Ohio, played a memory game with the facility's residents, many of whom have Alzheimer's disease.
Tonkovic-Capin and Asante are two of the 600 first-year students at Princeton University participating in Community Action this week at more than 120 sites in Princeton and other communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as part of Orientation.
Orientation, which began with move-in day on Saturday, Sept. 2, includes more than a week of activities to welcome the 1,315 first-year students of the Class of 2021. Students work together and quickly form friendships through small-group experiences in community service projects, outdoor adventures and campus workshops.
“Each small-group experience during Orientation helps introduce first-year students to the values, expectations and resources of the inclusive Princeton community in their own unique way,” said Sara Gruppo, the Community Action program director with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement.
Another 600 first-year students and 187 student trip leaders headed to a dozen sites around the region, including into the woods of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia or up the peaks of the Green Mountains in Massachusetts and Vermont, for camping and other adventures as part of the Outdoor Action program. An additional 40 first-year students engaged in critical dialogue on issues of identity, power privilege and difference through Dialogue and Difference in Action, a new small group Orientation experience this year.
Programs also are underway for international students and incoming student-athletes participating in varsity sports.
On Sunday, Sept. 10, the University will hold Opening Exercises in the chapel, an interfaith ceremony that includes an address by Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber and the recognition of academic achievements of undergraduate students.
At the Pre-read Assembly on Sunday evening, first-year students will discuss with author and Princeton politics professor Jan-Werner Müller his 2016 book, "What Is Populism?" Eisgruber chose the book for all first-year students to read over the summer, and other University community members are encouraged to read it.
Orientation also includes highlights such as residential college dinners, a Step Sing at Blair Arch, a student organizations' activities fair and much more. Classes begin on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
The Graduate School has its Orientation program Sept. 10-11, with a range of information about faculty advising, academic services, professional development and more, as well as numerous social activities.
Community engagement in action
Founded 30 years ago, Community Action facilitates the transition to college by introducing first-year students to the values, expectations and resources of the inclusive Princeton community.
“Community Action demonstrates how service is a central part of what it means to be a Princetonian," Gruppo said. "It promotes an ethos of civic values and fosters collaborations between the University and community partners, giving first-year students an introduction to how they can be ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity’ during their four years here at Princeton and beyond."
Beyond extending a hand at YWCA Princeton and Brandywine Living, first-year students explored varied venues for community engagement, including the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania; Trenton Circus Squad in Trenton, New Jersey; Hawthorne Avenue Farm (an urban farm plot in Newark, New Jersey); and the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association in Hopewell, New Jersey.
Through peer-led small groups, the students examined social issues and reflected on their own social and civic identity.
Olivia Richardson, a junior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology who served as one of the 130 leaders, stressed the role of mentorship Community Action offers. “We [my co-leader and I] provide new students with both one-on-one and group mentorship,” she said. “We’re living together, eating together [and] cooking together to facilitate those sorts of strong bonds.”
Richardson directed students as they cleaned a storeroom filled with books and toys at the YWCA Princeton. The students had participated in volunteer activities in high school, and were eager to offer their skills and time to the larger Princeton community.
“I feel very welcome here,” said Dylan Kim from Marietta, Georgia. “[Community Action] has been a great way to meet a wide variety of people with diverse perspectives.”
“I’m super-excited to be here,” added Sophia Hu from East Brunswick, New Jersey, saying she intends to continue participating in service projects, such as teaching English as a Second Language, in the coming years.
“Princeton really integrates you into their community,” said Cynthia Vu from Garden Grove, California.
“It's really nice to meet new people that I may not have otherwise, and to have mentors close to our age,” said Tonkovic-Capin. “I've been also able to ask questions about academics, social life and clubs, and that's been really helpful.”
Carlie Littlefield from Des Moines, Iowa, spent Wednesday morning helping Brandywine Living residents paint carnival games for an upcoming National Assisted Living Week celebration. Having only visited the University, and not the surrounding area, Littlefield was eager to connect with the community. "It is really special," she said. "I've made a bond with the group that I served with, and made a bond with the community that will be my home for the next four years."
The full Orientation calendar is available on the Your Path to Princeton website. Princeton Pathways is the official Princeton Orientation app (available for iOS via iTunes or for Android via Google Play). The slideshow below shows move-in day on Sept. 2.