A Fellow for Life: Thomas Atwater ’06, Fellow at The Food Project

By Thomas Atwater ’06
2006 PIP Fellow
May 18, 2007

My fellowship at The Food Project began a few days after taking the MCAT.

In my new job, I foresaw that I would be learning about topics that were unfamiliar to me, such as food systems and agriculture.

What I failed to predict, however, was the collision of my career path with the principles of social justice that underpin The Food Project’s work.

The Food Project’s Niche

The Food Project occupies a unique niche of promoting sustainable food systems as a solution to social inequalities.

Many people would agree that the right to healthy food is a concept that is fundamental and to be taken for granted. But I have seen over and again the gratitude in the eyes of low-income men and women when they are able to use their food stamps to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits.

“I have to take three bus transfers to get food half this fresh,” one woman said.

“Now I don’t have to worry about my children having the same health problems I have.”

That first encounter resonated deeply within me. Since then I have begun to realize that residents of the inner-city need a model such as a community food system just as much as they need prescriptions for blood thinners.

Lessons Learned

I view my work with The Food Project as a stimulating and thought-provoking experience that is opening my eyes to innovative forms of social justice.

The particular niche of sustainable food systems in the inner city my not be my life passion, but such a model has made me think deeply about the causes of inequality instead of its conventional fixes.

More specifically, in the context of health disparities, I have had a first-hand opportunity to look at the social and economic causes of poor health instead of solely pharmaceutical or medical solutions.

I work intimately with communities of few resources, and I see that the only way to cause a systemic change is to address the root of the problem.

For the communities of Roxbury and Dorchester in inner-city Boston, the answer to healthy diets is not only fresh food.

Education to inform people of how diet affects health is paramount, as is policy that advocates for better food options in schools.

Similarly, I think that the answer to sickness and poor health is not just medicine.

Widespread improvement of health will also require education about preventative practices and creation of health policy councils to voice concerns to the local government.

Looking to the Future

This is not to say that I have found the answer to all health issues in the world—although that would be nice.

I have found, however, a focus for my passion for medicine through observing how a problem can be solved by community organizing and education.

Some in the medical field are more inclined to carve wide-sweeping policy or cure epidemics that affect millions.

I have realized that my place is on a smaller scale where I can reach out to communities and affect social change in a way that is inextricably linked to personal change.

If this has a grassroots-y feel to it, then it is warranted because I cannot begin to describe the gratification that I feel in serving individuals and singular communities.

The result is so tangible and the relationship becomes strong and sustainable.

This article is derived from Atwater’s remarks at the Princeton Project 55 Board of Directors meeting in Boston on April 21.

Boston Outreach Dinner Draws a Record Crowd

By Nora Samuelson
Program Manager, Princeton Project 55
May 18, 200

photo-new-howard-hiatt
Dr. Howard Hiatt, the former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health

On Friday, April 20, 75 Princeton alumni and friends of Princeton Project 55 gathered for the annual Outreach Dinner at WilmerHale Law Firm in Boston to share the year’s successes, and to learn more about the work Princeton Project 55 is doing across the country.

Dr. Howard Hiatt, the former Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and a distinguished expert in public health, global health, and medicine was the keynote speaker for the evening.

Hiatt spoke as part of PP55’s celebration of the placement of the first class of Public Health Fellows.

In his presentation, Hiatt shared his experiences in the field of health over the last fifty years. He discussed the ways in which perceptions of health, medicine, and public health have transformed drastically.

Hiatt’s speech sparked numerous questions from the audience, and discussion regarding his thoughts and observations continued long after he left the podium.

Guests also heard from Public Interest Program (PIP) alumna and volunteer Dena Schlamowitz ’04, who shared her story as a PIP Fellow with Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) in Boston.

“As a Project 55 Fellow, I was given opportunities, power, and influence that most Princeton graduates would kill for their first year out of college,” Schlamowitz remarked.

“I wake up excited every day about the purpose of my work and how it contributes to providing opportunities for all children to learn and become scholars and leaders,” she concluded.

Local alumni, current Fellows, and affiliates of The Alumni Network are invited to the Outreach Dinner, held in a different location each year.

PIP and PHF Kick Off 2007 Placement Season

Organization referrals have been sent to applicants, interviews are underway, and now all that is left is to wait as host organizations and applicants make their decisions.

“Placement season” is always an exciting time at Princeton Project 55. This year, a new PIP Manager, a new Fellowship program, a new interview process, and more than 50 new host organizations are only a few of the changes to the Fellowship program.

The Public Interest Program (PIP), under the guidance of new Program Manager Kathleen Reilly, received 134 applicants for positions at 101 organizations across the country, including new positions in Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The PIP also reintroduced an application fee of twenty dollars this year, the proceeds of which will go toward a new online application for 2008-2009.

For the first time, PIP applicants also had the option of applying for The Public Health Fellowship (PHF). To apply for the PHF, applicants were required to complete the PIP application and a supplemental PHF segment, as well as submit an additional essay.

After almost two years of planning, the PHF debuted this winter with 37 applicants for 19 public health positions on the East Coast.

In addition to the introduction of a new program, significant changes were made to the interview process for Fellowship applicants.

More than 30 alumni, including 11 current Fellows, traveled to Princeton during the first half of February to meet with prospective Fellows and to refer applicants to host organizations.

However, while the alumni interview part of the process remained in tact, the first round interview with the PIP Manager was eliminated, and applicants were not limited as to the number of locations to which they could be referred.

For the PHF, applicants were not interviewed by location. Instead, during their alumni interview, applicants were considered for all of the positions available in the PHF.

Now that the application and interview process is over, the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Programs are in their final phases as applicants are currently interviewing with host organizations and waiting for offers to be extended. By mid-April all Fellowships will be finalized.

In the next issue, the 2007-2008 Fellows will be announced.

Northwestern University Public Interest Program Hits the Ground Running

The inaugural year of the Northwestern University Public Interest Program has been an exciting one.

Professor Paul Arntson and Northwestern students Lauren Parnell, Kelly Kirkpatrick and Sam Schiller have invested considerable time and thought into making the program a success.

As a new program, we had hoped for between six and eight job placements within local organizations undertaking systemic change. With the strength of the Chicago’s public interest sector and some creative partnerships, NUPIP secured 14 placements.

The enthusiasm of this unexpected success has translated into a sense of ownership and vision for all involved.

The 2006-2007 fellows, beyond their full time schedules, have broken into committees with the PIP coordinators to uncover ways to expand and improve the program.

Our team has been supported with the know-how passed on during this year’s TAN conference at Princeton, giving us a new sense of confidence when recruiting sites and promoting our program.

In addition, we were aided by the kind efforts of our Alumni Association and the University Administration, helping us connect to alumni and board members active in the Chicago area.

Our fellows have also been pursuing some impressive projects within their placements.

Sheila McCorkle, working in Northwestern’s backyard of Evanston, has been at the center of an exciting youth initiative. Featured in the local newspaper, Sheila’s work in community organizing and engaging young adults and social organizations culminated in a proposal to the Evanston City Council.

Her plan, calling for year-round youth employment opportunities, youth involvement in city government, and an outreach initiative designed to engage ‘hard to reach’ youth, was unanimously approved by the City Council.

While being given considerable responsibility in their placements, fellows still recognize that they are novices with much to learn about the public interest field. Mary Bowmann, working at Evanston’s Center for Independent Futures, has coordinated various efforts to support individuals with disabilities as contributing members of their community.

In addition to engaging in direct service and volunteer activities with residents, Mary recently began learning about non-profit development and grant writing. With her first completed grant proudly in hand, she headed downtown in full professional attire to present her proposal in person. As she reached her destination, she found no one in the office and a simple cardboard box with a sign reading “Put proposals here”—a humbling note to a non-profit newbie.

As we look forward, we are eager to partner with more Northwestern alumni and provide meaningful placements nationwide. We have already been contacted by alumni throughout the country who hope to share in this vision, wishing to host fellows and act as mentors in the future.

But as we look ahead to these developments, we also want to acknowledge the help from those that have helped us get to where we are now. Specifically, thank you to John Fish and Nora Samuelson of Princeton Project 55; we could not have functioned this year without them.

PIP Fellow Takes PP55 Message Internationally

By Kyle Meng
Project 55 Fellow, Environmental Defense, NY
February 1, 200

PP55 Fellow Kyle Meng
PP55 Fellow Kyle Meng

There could not be a more apt description of the issue that I work on than the title of this publication. Climate change is fundamentally a global issue; finding a solution to a problem of this magnitude and pervasiveness will undoubtedly require the shared efforts of not only the world’s governments, but also that of its industries, businesses, and individuals.

That characterization also describes my work thus far at my Project 55 fellowship with Environmental Defense, an environmental non-profit with a long history of climate change involvement. My responsibilities at Environmental Defense fall predominantly in our China program where I provide research support for our projects in that country. As an outgrowth of my climate change interests in China, I have also joined Environmental Defense’s international team, which works toward creating strong international agreements that will avoid the onset of dangerous climate change.

It was as a member of the international team that I attended last year’s United Nations climate negotiations held in Nairobi, Kenya. My week spent at this conference was both edifying and overwhelming. Every year, several thousand diplomats, researchers, and advocates from over 190 nations convene to advance the goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which rests the Kyoto Protocol. The meeting, held at a different location every year, serves as a decision-making body to implement the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol and to negotiate future agreements. As the first of these meetings to be held in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has been predicted to suffer some of the worst effects of climate change, the motto at Nairobi was “harambee,” a Swahili word which means “pulling together.”

This notion of a shared effort is evident as well in my everyday work. One of the most rewarding aspects of being at Environmental Defense is the diversity of knowledge and background of its staff members. In my projects, I interact constantly with scientists, economists, engineers, and lawyers—talented and experienced individuals that bring with them different perspectives on how best to combat climate change. In my brief time thus far at Environmental Defense, I have come to believe that a problem as enormous and complicated as global climate change can only be adequately addressed through such a shared effort and commitment by experts from different disciplines. I am looking forward to more such enriching opportunities during the remainder of my Project 55 fellowship.