A dozen Princeton University first-year students got “dirt showers” and “dirt manicures” while using shovels, pickaxes, and rakes as they planted hundreds of trees during a stewardship project at The Watershed Institute this week.
As part of the orientation program organized by the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement (the Pace Center), the students help with a reforestation project for three days on the Watershed Reserve. Students with the University’s separate Outdoor Action program – who camped at the Watershed each night during their orientation experience – hiked, kayaked, biked and explored the region during their daytime adventures. On their final day, the Outdoor Action participants assisted with the Watershed’s reforestation project.
Community Action (CA) and Outdoor Action (OA) help the first-year students’ transition to college life and introduce them to the Princeton community’s expectations, resources and values. By fanning out to nonprofits in the region, more than 620 students – or about half of the Class of 2023 – learned about service and civic engagement through their CA experiences.
The Watershed hosted 40 first-year students – some arriving from far-flung places like Norway, Dubai, Turkey and England just days beforehand – as well as several student leaders who helped organize the outings. The Watershed was one of two environmental CA offerings for the first-year students. Along with the reforestation project, the CA group caught butterflies, met some wildlife in Discovery Hall and learned about the sustainability features of the LEED-Platinum certified Watershed Center.
“We’re thrilled to have Community Action and Outdoor Action here on campus and appreciate their hard work on these hot days,” said the Watershed’s Executive Director Jim Waltman, Princeton Class of ’86.
Jani Dumapit, 18, said she was more accustomed to walking on paved sidewalks around her home in New York City than she was navigating rocky, steep ascents on day hikes in the nearby Sourland Mountains. The OA participant, who chose to challenge herself, said the star-gazing activities each night was a personal highlight.
“When you throw a bunch of kids, who’ve never met before, into the woods and you have these strangers sleeping together in the tents each night, it really forces you to find a lot of commonalities,” she said. “We do a lot of bonding activities so we get to know each other beyond, ‘what’s your major’?”
Ava Goldinger, 20, of Pittsburgh, Penn., said she opted to be a CA group leader for the second year to create personal connections with the incoming class at the Watershed.
“Growth really happens when you move out of your comfort zone. This group has been great and we can see the direct impact we’re having by planting these trees,” she said. “These were 10-11 strangers with so many different backgrounds and I initially wondered how I was going to find something in common and create bonds? Then, once we got working, talking and listening to music as we worked, it all happened without feeling forced.”
Yoshi Takahashi, 19, who was born in Japan and has lived in Connecticut for the past nine years, said his CA experience has been great. “When you’re with people you didn’t know two days ago, and you have fun sometimes and struggle in other moments, you create bonds through hard work and you develop together on another level.”
Added Nazdar Ayzit, 19, of Turkey, “This is a nice way to bring national and international students together. This activity is helping me adjust to the U.S. and American people as well.”