Princeton cultivates community and connections for staff in new ways

A new, interactive storytelling project called Princeton Together is the latest example of how the University cultivates a community for staff that values inclusion and belonging.

Jess Deutsch and Eric Almonte sit at a table at MacLean House

Jess Deutsch (left), associate director of student-athlete services in Athletics, and Eric Almonte (right), assistant vice president for capital giving in Advancement, participated in Human Resources' new Princeton Together initiative. The interactive storytelling project pairs employees to learn more about each other through brief, guided conversations. 

Over recent years, the Office of Human Resources (HR) has launched new health and wellness programs, employee benefits, professional development classes, discussion groups and community events to welcome new hires and build connections among all employees. Many of these initiatives are aimed at supporting Princeton’s employees in their roles at the University and as people, as well as fostering connections among staff across offices and departments.

“We believe that employees thrive when they feel valued and have a sense of belonging,” Vice President for Human Resources Romy Riddick said. “That is why HR, in partnership with campus colleagues, is committed to policies, services and programs that care for the full spectrum of employee needs and interests so that people feel empowered and supported to do their best work.”  

Princeton Together

What was your favorite childhood toy? Where did you grow up and what was it like? What keeps you up at night? What pushes you out of your comfort zone and why? These are some of the questions that staff discussed as part of their participation in Princeton Together, an HR initiative launched in collaboration with Adam Mastoon, a storyteller, author and educator.

2 women walk and talk

Nari Baughman (left) and Nicole Bergman (right) became friends through the Princeton Together project, and they continue to meet for walks around campus or chats over coffee. Baughman is a talent and organizational development specialist in the Office of Finance and Treasury and Bergman is manager of the Fung Global Fellows Program in the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS). 

“Princeton Together is an opportunity to strengthen the feelings of friendship, community and shared purpose that connect us,” said Kimberly Tiedeken, director of diversity and inclusion in HR. “It is a fun and meaningful way to engage with others across campus, expand our perspectives, and create a greater sense of inclusion and belonging in our workplace.”

During a pilot phase last academic year, 70 staff members were paired and got to know each other through brief Zoom or in-person conversations. The partners asked each other guided questions aimed at sparking dialogue and sharing.

“At its core, Princeton Together demonstrates the power in understanding the experiences and needs of others. When two people sit down at 1 p.m. as strangers and by 2 p.m. have shared many aspects of their lives with each other, it builds trust, connection and a sense of belonging that makes our community stronger,” Tiedeken said.

Princeton Together is now open to all employees, who can explore the project’s new website to hear more staff stories and sign-up to participate.

“Princeton Together definitely allowed me to connect with someone that I would have never had the chance to meet,” said Paryn Wallace, undergraduate administrator in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Wallace was paired with Yan Bennett, the assistant director in the Center on Contemporary China. “We had a great conversation about our childhood and life experiences. I was most surprised that even though our cultural backgrounds were different, we both grew up in the South and we had many similar experiences and commonalities. Our parents were an integral part of our success and support network,” Wallace said, adding that she and Bennett plan to continue meeting for lunch and check-ins this year.

In addition to Princeton Together, HR has launched, expanded or improved many other programs and benefits that support employees and help build community.

Employee Resource Groups 

New employess gather for an event with an ice cream truck

Princeton staff enjoy ice cream at a picnic for new hires organized by Human Resources in June. The event recognized the employees who had been hired since March 2020. 

Over a third of Princeton employees participate in at least one of HR’s 12 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The volunteer, employee-led organizations include staff members from across the University who come together based on shared interests, experiences or identities. ERGs work to create a more inclusive environment and sense of belonging within the University, and also connect with local communities through volunteer and service events.

ERGs include the Princetonians of Color Network, Military Service and Veterans, and Women of Princeton, as well as the most recently added group, the Parents and Caregivers Network. Membership and participation in all ERGs are open to all employees, regardless of identity.

Professional Development Opportunities

HR has always offered a range of professional development opportunities and this past academic year the University hosted more than 140 professional development classes and trainings. 

More recently, HR has seen increased interest in learnings focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and created the Princeton Inclusion and Diversity Certificate Program, which educates employees on inclusion and diversity competencies, communication, appreciation of and respect for differences, and emotional intelligence.    

This past year, HR also introduced a new Learnings Paths curriculum developed with staff input from employee engagement surveys. The Learning Paths focus on DEI-related subjects and emphasize regular learning opportunities within the workplace, rather than one-time classes. 

“Learning Paths are helpful in creating commonality of language, expectations and experience for employees,” Tiedeken said. 

University Employees at an HR event

Portraits and personal stories of 32 staff members were on display in the lobby of the Lewis Simpson building on Aug. 16 as part of Human Resources' Princeton Together project. 

The trainings are led by external and internal facilitators, and HR has partnered with Office of Disability Services, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and Princeton faculty to lead sessions. They include trainings that explore subjects such as inclusive language, generational diversity, identity and unconscious bias. More than 700 employees have attended a Learning Path session over the past year. 

Employee Benefits and Wellness Programs

An integral part of supporting employees in the workplace and beyond are HR’s health and wellness benefits and programs. In April, HR announced enhancements to and increased funding for a range of employee benefit programs, with an eye to ensuring  equal access for employees. The enhanced programs include the Employee Child Care Assistance Program, Children’s Educational Assistance Plan, Long-Term Disability, and Adoption and Surrogacy Benefit. 

“The benefit changes not only improve equity of access to benefits, in many cases they also improve the future for employees and their children,” said Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Linda Nilsen.

Also this year, the new Employee Wellness Center opened at 350 Alexander Road, where employees can access a variety of resources to minimize health costs and maximize health and wellness. The resources, offered at no cost, range from online tools to make better healthcare decisions to on-site personal health coaches. These are in addition to the regular health and benefits packages offered to full-time staff. Free, confidential appointments are available at the Employee Wellness Center with My Health Coach; Carebridge, TIAA, CAPTRUST, lsles and Doctors in Your Office.