Turning Challenges into Opportunities: University of Chicago, Northwestern, and Princeton in Chicago

By Krystal  Hill ’11, AlumniCorps Intern

On June 9, 2010, alumni volunteers and fellows from the Project 55 Fellowship Program, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University public interest programs attended the first annual Chicago PIP conference. All three programs work together to provide fellowships in the nonprofit and public interest sector to recent graduates in Chicago.

The conference in June was a promising and helpful opportunity for all three fellowship programs to reflect on past goals and to plan for the future; it was a collaborative effort that pinpointed funding, alumni involvement, mentoring, program management, and program evaluation as common concerns. According to Vince Anderson ’65 – a mentor who now coordinates partner organization recruitment as well as working on seminars –  it was the first meeting of its kind. By bringing the three schools together in a collaborative setting, each gained a better understanding of how to reach out in Chicago and in other major cities across the nation.

While the three schools each see civic engagement, social change, and community outreach as their programmatic focus, each school models different leadership and faces different kinds of challenges. The University of Chicago Public Interest Program (UCPIP) started in 1999 as a volunteer program led by John Fish ’55, a founder of Princeton Project 55 and also an alumnus of the University of Chicago. Inspired by Project 55 fellows, and with the help of Fish, UCPIP modeled its fellowship program after Princeton AlumniCorps.

In 2005, two alumni and a faculty advisor launched the Northwestern University Public Interest Program; a mostly student led organization and, in some ways, one also modeled after Princeton AlumniCorps fellowship program. After its inception, Northwestern joined the University of Chicago and AlumniCorps programs. This collaborative effort, the sharing of seminars and broadening of support networks, would come to be known as the PP55 Chicago Program. As a result, this collaboration has allowed the University of Chicago and Northwestern to uniquely benefit from what AlumniCorps has learned over its 20 years of sustained impact.

Yet AlumniCorps’ independence from Princeton University and strong network of loyal alumni volunteers is a challenging model to recreate. Kelly Kleiman, a board member of UCPIP,  talked about the difficulties confronting the two Chicago schools: “We’re all fighting university bureaucracy, handling it in different ways.” Kleiman, also an organization recruiter, is concerned with UCPIP’s inability to reach out to smaller non-profits because of inadequate funds. Fund-raising, according to her, “is critical to UCPIP’s handling of university bureaucracy.”

For Northwestern, the challenge is increasing alumni involvement. Northwestern, in particular, sees “social capital” as a key to its fellowship program. “Social capital,” said Stephanie Arias, a rising senior and student coordinator of the Northwestern program, is about “making connections” and bridging the gap between the University and the community, getting more involved. “We need to pitch to them [alumni] that it is not about money but about connections…social capital as opposed to financial capital.” Arias suggests that Northwestern must reframe the way they understand the city and their role in it as alumni.

By attempting to follow Princeton’s alumni-driven model without losing a foothold on their student-led approach, Northwestern has not lost sight of their school’s perspective. UC is also moving in a similar direction. Tom Berg, UC alum and chairman of UCPIP said, “The challenge is to adapt [Princeton AlumniCorps] model within the culture of the university.” While Berg understands the looming challenge of following AlumniCorps’ model, he also sees the opportunities. The opportunity to connect with the city of Chicago – and potentially others cities – to build up their universities as civic leaders in the community is one that both schools do not want to pass up. As with AlumniCorps, they are determined to ground themselves in a common mission for civic engagement, social change, and community outreach.

Applicant Interest at the General Interest Career Fair

Last Friday, October 1 was Princeton Career Services’ General Interest Career Fair. More than 80 students stopped by Princeton AlumniCorps’ Project 55 Fellowships table and filled out a sign- up sheet, including 74 seniors. The students had varying degrees of familiarity with Project 55 fellowships: from knowing just our name, to knowing current fellows, to knowing what organization they envisioned themselves at next year.

This year, we asked students to list their name, year, major, and email; and then circle what sort of fellowships and which locations interested them. They could circle an unlimited number of categories including public health, environment, education policy, community development, law and justice, working with children, food and sustainability, research, fundraising, and housing. They could also indicate what geographic location they preferred from our seven locations (and could select as many as they liked).

 The data collected from these seniors’ sheets may certainly (and will likely) change throughout the fall as applicants learn more about our cities and partner organizations, but we thought their initial thoughts and impressions were worth sharing. The most popular locations were New York, DC, the Bay Area and Boston – in that order. Chicago and Philadelphia received interest from more than half of the students, and slightly less than 30% were interested in Connecticut.

The most popular fields were education policy, law and justice, public health and research; followed by working with children, food and sustainability, community development and the environment near the middle of the pack. Housing and fundraising were the fields that received the least amount of initial interest.

This information should not discourage volunteers from reaching out to organizations with which we’ve had fruitful relationships in the past, or building the program in your city. Rather it elucidates that fellowship applicants are interested in a myriad of fields.  Let’s respond to this high level of interest by ramping up our organization recruitment efforts and growing our alumni committees!

 Reactions? Ideas? Leave a comment below.

Marjorie Berger, Princeton AlumniCorps Administrative Officer, dies

Marjorie K. Berger, the “matriarch” of Princeton AlumniCorps (formerly Princeton Project 55) died Thursday, July 29, 2010 at the University Medical Center at Princeton. Born in Queens, NY, Marge attended Queens College and was a graduate of the Katharine Gibbs School in New York City. She was a member of the Kingston Presbyterian Church, Princeton Friends of the Opera, Princeton Public Library and the Auxiliary of the University Medical Center of Princeton. Marge was predeceased by her beloved husband, Ronald C. Berger. She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law Deborah B. and Thomas E. Liwosz of Pennington, son and daughter-in-law Gregory R. and Rosanne D. Berger of South Brunswick, grandchildren Christopher T.R. Liwosz, Timothy W. Liwosz, Matthew C. Liwosz, Kyle Berger and Allyson Berger. A Memorial Service will be held 11:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2010 at Kingston Presbyterian Church, 4561 State Highway 27, Kingston. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Princeton AlumniCorps (formerly Princeton Project 55), 12 Stockton St., Princeton, NJ 08540 (609-921-8808). Arrangements are under the direction of The Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, Princeton.

In the Project 55 Founders Book, Marge wrote of her experience:

Joining Princeton Project 55 in 1990, as the first employee, was a turning point in my life. After the death of my husband, I was looking for a new direction. Although leaving the security of The Hun School of Princeton after 10 years was somewhat of a gamble, my instincts told me it was the right thing to do. I did not see these vital members of the Class of 1955 failing in anything they undertook, and of course they have proved me right beyond all imagination. My life has been enriched immeasurably by my association with this unique Class, with the unusually talented, devoted, idealistic young people who come through our doors every year as applicants, and with the crème de la crème from Princeton University―and more recently from other colleges―who are employed as dedicated staff members. It has been an exhilarating experience for me.
I have seen the start-up organization grow from the one whose fledgling Public Interest Program placed 23 interns and fellows in 1990. By 2006 it had flourished and expanded to support 59 fellowships, while Princeton’s Class of 1969 had assumed responsibility for the internships and filled 69 places in that year. Several additional successful programs were initiated after the PIP, among them the Tuberculosis Initiative, the Civic Values Initiative, and The Alumni Network, all of which have impacted thousands.
Many new friendships have developed as a result of my tenure at PP55, which have enriched my life tremendously.
The Board of PP55’s foresighted decision to recruit members of younger classes to serve on its Board has proven to be fortuitous. There are currently 14 directors from the classes of 1966 through 2002―yet another example of the pragmatic, visionary leadership of this unique Board.
It has been my pleasure to work with this dynamic group.

To honor Marge’s 20th Anniversary at Princeton AlumniCorps, the Board and Staff presented her with the following tribute:

Dear Marge,
Just twenty years ago you signed in as the first full-time employee of a fledgling venture whose future was yet to be clearly defined. It was a bold move for a woman who had recently experienced deep personal loss, and who might have been expected to take comfort in the familiarity of a long-standing job. But no, you are a lady who realized that nothing noble is done without risk, and that risk can be part of the daily bread of a well-lived life. And so you joined PP55, moving among us ever since with elegant grace.
Marge, you have it all – style, a sense of fun, patience, thoroughness, and a tenacious memory. This last has proved invaluable to an institution marked by planned turnover of directors and a young staff.
Drum roll, please! Did someone bring the twenty year commemorative bronze Fig Newtons with the gold leaf cluster?
But wait! Let’s scratch a bit below the surface. PP55 is hardly your standard issue organization. The Board is highly active in matters of policy and execution, working in tandem with a brilliant young staff unafflicted by bashful reticence. Talk is the coin of the realm; indeed Board meetings are exercises in facing problems with both an open mind and an open mouth. At the end of each meeting board members, much like doting grandparents, head for home, leaving the staff to clean up and sharpen the details of tactical plans.
Further, because of its venture nature, PP55 has been home to both clear triumphs and lost causes. You and the rest of the staff have had an important, if insufficiently acknowledged role in smoothing the way on a sometimes seemingly impassible road.
Marge, you have the longest inside view of all of this. You have demonstrated patience when it was needed, a steady professionalism, and a hope-filled humor that has always brightened the landscape.
What seems eminently important about your years with us is your role in the continuing PP55 drama as a truly “class act,” an exemplar for the many young staff members who have passed our way. As a mother and grandmother, so as a mentor, you have combined practical competence with generosity of affection. Perhaps it’s what the Duke in Measure for Measure had in mind when he said, “Love talks with better knowledge, and knowledge with clearer love.”
Thanks, Marge, thanks for everything, and thanks for the memories. Happy 20th Anniversary at Princeton Project 55.

The PP55 Board and Staff

Please leave a response below to share your memories of Marge.

Please leave a response below to share your memories of Marge.

A Day in the Life of Princeton AlumniCorps in Washington, DC

Attendees of the DC Area Committee Meetings at the CityBridge Offices at the Watergate. From left former Fellow Brittany Stanley, Charity Fesler, Arthur McKee, Lindsay Warner, Ari Altman, Caitlin Sullivan, Area Committee Coordinator Kate Lewis-LaMonica, Kathleen McCleery, Lori Mihalich-Levin and Kenly Webster.

Earlier this month, I spent two meeting-filled days in Washington, DC. Two days during which it was 102 degrees, and the heat was so intense that the air quality was code red, the buses ran for free and I tried to avoid arriving at my various meetings looking like I had just been playing in a sprinkler. Now that you’re picturing the lovely weather, I’d like to share with you a bit about my experience with Princeton AlumniCorps’ Project 55 Fellowship Program in our nation’s capital on one of my meeting-filled days.

My first day began in Georgetown where I met Lori Mihalich-Levin ‘01, one of DC’s mentor coordinators. Thankfully, it was perhaps the only time I have witnessed a Starbucks nearly empty at 8:15 a.m. on a workday. We immediately spotted each other and easily found a table in the back. We spoke about how we each became involved with AlumniCorps and the influential role of mentors in the fellowship year.

My next appointment was at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. E. L. Haynes mission includes ensuring every student attains high levels of academic achievement and succeeds at the college of his or her choice regardless of race, gender, home language and socioeconomics. It was my first organization visit, and the first day for new fellow Sam Page ‘10 as well. After a brief tour, I met with Sam and his supervisor and listened as they spoke about the year to come.

For lunch, I met with Kate Lewis-LaMonica ‘08, Washington DC’s dynamic area coordinator, under whose leadership the number of fellowship placements has nearly doubled. She was wearing an orange dress (for Princeton, of course) and radiated enthusiasm as she shared her thoughts regarding DC’s continuing opportunities for growth.

After lunch, I was off to Tryst Coffeehouse in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. Tryst is one of those coffee shops that prides itself on its individuality and serves animal crackers with its lattes or smoothies. There, I met Liz Rosen ’10 who was a few days away from beginning her fellowship at Partnership for Public Service. We discussed topics varying from moving in to blogging and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The next meeting on my agenda was the impetus for my visit, the Washington, DC Area Committee Strategy Session. It was informative to be around the committee members as they brainstormed for the year ahead. The committee was welcoming, thoughtful and had a great sense of humor. Lest I forget, we certainly covered the new name ”Princeton AlumniCorps, AlumniCorps being one word, capital A, capital C, no space, no e, and never abbreviated”.

My last meeting of the night was with four of the new DC fellows. We met at Café Citron- renowned for its atmosphere, fried plantains and mojitos- and got to know each other a bit. We discussed apartment-hunting adventures, the past weekend’s 4th of July plans, and first days at fellowships.  I must say, meeting our new fellows was likely the highlight of a wonderful trip! I know they will a have successful year positively contributing to their organizations, and sharing their experiences in the PP55 fellows blog!

Sara Gordon joined the Princeton AlumniCorps staff as Project 55 Fellowship Program Manager in June 2010. She works closely with local volunteers, fellows, and nonprofit partners to help support and sustain our fellowship program.