With sweat pouring off of their faces, a dozen Princeton University students fully embraced the “learning by doing” mantra at The Watershed Institute.
During this week’s orientation program organized by the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement (PACE), the students installed a rain garden to control stormwater runoff on the Watershed Reserve.
Along with mixing soil, sand and compost, moving rocks and planting seedlings on hot days, the group learned about aquatic life at the Stony Brook, caught butterflies for children’s programs and explored the Watershed’s green roof and other green infrastructure.
Community Action helps the first-year students’ transition to college life and introduces them to the Princeton community’s expectations, resources and values. By fanning out to nonprofits in the region, more than 600 students in the Class of 2022 learned about service and civic engagement. The Watershed hosted ten first-year students and two second-year Community Action leaders.
Kenalpha Kipyegon, 19, who flew about 9,000 miles from Kenya (via Dubai) to attend Princeton, said the experience helped him settle into university life.
“I really didn’t know what to expect and this has put my fears to rest,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know my group on a personal level and I’ve been impressed by the program as it has unfolded.”
The group stayed for the week at the Watershed, preparing their meals communally, taking night hikes and learning about clean water and local environmental issues from staff and from the Watershed’s executive director Jim Waltman, Princeton Class of ’86.
“We’re thrilled to have Community Action here on campus and appreciate their hard work on these hot days,” he said. “We invite them to return during rain storms so they can see how their rain garden works.”
Jacob Essig, 18, of Princeton, said the intensive experience, sleeping, cooking and working on projects together was a great way to learn about local organizations and community outlets.
“Even though I live right here, I was nervous about starting at Princeton. But by working together, you joke around, make small talk, share experiences and that’s how you build friendships,” he said.
The two peer leaders, Arielle Mindel, 19, from Cherry Hill, NJ, and Lauren Sanchez, 18, from Long Island, NY, said they wanted to emulate their own community action leaders when they did CA trips in the Poconos.
“I thought this orientation was meaningful and wanted to contribute and try to make sure the first years met people and learned about the different types of service they could get involved in,” said Arielle. Service “is a nice break from studies and you make time for things that are important.”
Lauren said acting as a peer leader gave her a fresh perspective on CA and offered a way to meet new people.
“We got really lucky with our group – everyone gets along and they all mix together,” Lauren said. “Service is done in many ways at Princeton and it’s important that people find something they’re passionate about.”