Community Walks fosters student involvement in local community
The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Pace Center have cosponsored Community Walks, a new initiative designed to foster student involvement in the local community by introducing students, alumni and their families to various organizations in the town of Princeton through student-led walking tours.
The concept originated in the spring of 2012 after four students formed a Pace Center working group to research projects sponsored by the civic engagement centers at peer universities, according to Shirley Gao ’13, one of the four members of the group and a member of the Community Walks Executive Board.
“I had noticed this gap in Princeton University programming; I noticed that we didn’t really have anything to push people beyond Nassau Street and explore the local town,” Gao explained.
The team of students and administrative advisers developing the initiative hopes to familiarize students with the town and encourage them to participate in the local community on the basis of the awareness gained from the walk, according to Associate Dean Maria Flores-Mills, the ODUS member affiliated with the project.
“I think it’s very much in concert with the University’s unofficial service motto,” Flores-Mills added. “I’m oftentimes just astounded by the number of things that are a stone’s throw from campus that students don’t know about or have never heard of or experienced.”
Tour guides will lead students through the town while identifying sites in four broad categories: historic landmarks; nonprofit organizations focused on civic engagement, such as teen health resource center HiTops; cultural or community institutions, such as the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts; and practical stops including the post office, Gao said.
The Community Walks Executive Board plans to use unpaid student volunteers as tour guides and has created a comprehensive directory of possible stops along each walk modeled after the system used by Orange Key, according to Gao. “Each tour guide will pick and choose two or three stops within each of those categories to make their own tour,” Gao explained.
The group hopes to pilot their routes during Princeton Preview by offering tours for both parents and prospective students; however, their signature event would be a large-scale Community Walk for freshmen during orientation week. The executive board plans to continue to offer tours throughout the regular academic year and during Reunions weekend, according to Gao.
“I would feel secure if we could get between 30 to 40 guides trained by the end of this year, so they’re ready to go by orientation,” Gao noted. “Each tour guide would take a group of about 10 or 15 freshmen out on their walk, and each walk is supposed to take 45 minutes to one hour.”
Although the pilot segment of the program will focus on undergraduates, the organization also hopes to eventually engage graduate students and faculty as well, according to the Pace Center’s Student Program Coordinator Keira Wilson.
“This could be that first entry point for a lot of people to highlight those different access points, for either students or even faculty and staff to make service opportunities a bit more visible,” Wilson explained. “We’re not always just functioning on campus as Princeton University or Princeton students; we are also a part of Princeton, the town.”
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