Recently, we asked two former fellows – Rebecca Deaton ’91, one of the first, and Mike Malecek ’09, one of the most recent – about their fellowships, what they’ve done since, and why they’ve remained involved.
1 – What inspired you to apply for a PP55 fellowship? What made you accept?
Rebecca: I graduated during a recession so there weren’t a ton of job opportunities that year! Apart from that, I was inspired by the opportunity for an adventure with nine classmates. John Fish ’55 was someone you simply trusted, so I went along for the ride with him.
Mike: I wanted to be involved in something meaningful upon graduating from Princeton. I majored in sociology and urban studies. I narrowed down my fields of interest to city policy, local government, and nonprofits. PP55 partner organizations were in many of these sectors. I was attracted to the matching component of PP55 (although I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had an idea of the field, and PP55 would find an organization that matched my interests and skills). When I graduated, I was so tired of school and couldn’t wait to contribute to meaningful work in the real world, where I could have an impact. Ultimately, I hoped to have an opportunity to help disadvantaged populations and have a positive impact through my work.
I accepted my placement because of the reasons listed above. I was placed with a great organization in a new city. I wanted to explore and experience new things. Despite having never been to Chicago (where my placement was) or having experience with workforce development or former offenders (the work my organization did), I heartily accepted. PP55 is a great opportunity to be in a new place, meet new people, and experience new things. I wholeheartedly embraced that and was excited to begin my post-college life in Chicago with the organization I was placed with.
2 – Describe your fellowship: your work, what you learned outside of work, your biggest takeaways.
Rebecca: I was lucky enough to work for Jody Kretzmann ’66 who had been working in Chicago neighborhoods for years and seemed to know everyone. Jody founded the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, which partnered with non-profits across the city. My job was to collect success stories from libraries and community colleges; this work became a small part of a manual that still guides the work of ABCD today. My favorite memory is taking the bus to the Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago. The librarian there could not have been more gracious and I never felt worried about my safety. The opportunity to be completely out of my element and to broaden my worldview was unique.
Mike: My fellowship was with the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) on Chicago’s West Side. The great part of a PP55 fellowship is that I got diverse exposure to many aspects of the nonprofit I worked in. I did everything, including: communications, small business work, direct client training, beekeeping (unique to NLEN and Sweet Beginnings), work with the executive director and board of directors, and more.
I learned a lot outside of work. Working and spending time in a disadvantaged neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side gave me a new perspective on what many people struggle with day to day to put food on the table or succeed in life. Chicago had a number of other resources that I pursued outside of work to educate myself with urban policy issues and other problems affecting the city and often those with the fewest resources.
I also learned a lot in the weekly seminars the Chicago program hosts for fellows. It was valuable to be exposed to so many nonprofits, programs, and experts in my first year out of school. This also provided me additional perspective on other public interest agencies and programs that had impact and gave me knowledge of what others were doing outside the nonprofit I was placed with.
My biggest takeaways were broadening my world view, empathy for others and their unique circumstances, and appreciation and awe for those people dedicated to public interest work.
3 – What have you done since your fellowship – career? Volunteer?
Rebecca: Most of my volunteer work has been with Alumni Corps. Because I stayed in Chicago, John Fish made sure I never left the fold! I have loved being part of a special Princeton community in Chicago. Princetonians of different generations and from all walks of life have come together to do meaningful work together. We have more than our alma mater in common.
Professionally, I am an advisor to wealthy families. While helping my clients take care of their finances is rewarding, it also leaves me with a desire to give back to less fortunate people.
Mike: After my fellowship year, I was retained by the nonprofit in a development role. I was employed as a Development & Program Associate for two years. I left my job at NLEN to attend a summer urban planning, graduate-level immersion program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. I knew I wanted to return to school for a masters degree eventually, and this was a great way to see if graduate school was for me, and if urban planning was what I wanted to study. Upon returning to Chicago, I was employed by a boutique public affairs consulting firm, Resolute Consulting. I worked in their real estate and land use practice group under the firm’s managing director for two years.I applied to graduate schools in December 2013 for dual masters programs in urban planning and public policy. Now, I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. I am a dual degree student with the Masters of City & Regional Planning and Masters of Public Administration programs.
Since my fellowship, I’ve volunteered my time on the PP55 Chicago Area Committee and on the Princeton Club of Chicago Board or Directors. I’m now volunteering my time as a board member of the Carolina Triangle Princeton Club.
4 – How have you remained involved with Princeton AlumniCorps? Why?
Rebecca: There are so many ways to stay involved with PAC, and I’ve tried most of them! That way I don’t get bored in the same role. I’ve been a mentor to fellows, have served on the board, have organized anniversary celebrations and have been a part of our Chicago area committee for many years. I find getting to know the fellows energizing and find the commitment of the members of the class of 1955 inspiring. In addition, just as my fellowship took me out of my element, I continue to be out of my element in all of my PAC volunteer roles. I don’t consider organizing events, speaking at seminars or being a board member roles I naturally excel at, but enjoy challenging myself.
Mike: I remained involved with Princeton AlumniCorps in Chicago by serving on the PP55 Chicago Area Committee. Through this network I remained connected to PP55 in Chicago and the incoming classes of fellows. It was rewarding to be a resource to the new fellows for fellowship, career, and other advice. Staying involved in the PP55 network in Chicago was important to me.
5 – Why do you support Princeton AlumniCorps? Why should other fellowship/internship alumni?
Rebecca: I’ve always been impressed by how much of our work is done by volunteers, but nevertheless we need a dedicated staff to fulfill our commitment to our fellows, partner organizations and even volunteers. This organization provides a unique opportunity for Princeton alums of all ages and also provides a unique resource to some of our most challenged urban neighborhoods. PAC gives me back much more than I contribute!
Mike: I support Princeton AlumniCorps annually. It is such a unique organization with an important mission. My PP55 fellowship was instrumental in shaping my interests and career path; I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience. I hear other PP55 alumni say this all the time. Princeton AlumniCorps also serves the important role of promoting careers in the public interest on campus. Too many students are consumed by the finance, investment banking, and management consulting career tracks. It is important to advocate for career options that may not be known to students; impactful careers that make a difference in our society. Other alumni should contribute to make a difference in the lives of recent graduates, and to give back for what PP55 has given you.
As we celebrate 25 years of Project 55, now is the time for our 1500 fellowship and internship alumni to lead Princeton AlumniCorps forward. We are counting on YOU to support the organization and ensure its future. Please consider a gift today.