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Princeton's Community Expands Beyond Campus!

Around this time last year, I was on the verge of beginning my first internship in Boston. I was excited, but I was also trepidatious. I wouldn’t know anyone in Boston. I’d never been to the city, and I’d also never lived on my own for such a long time. I figured that after work, I’d spend most of my time exploring the city on my own, catching up on TV shows, and missing my friends.

Princeton had other ideas in store for me. I wasn’t the only one interning in Boston that summer. Almost immediately, I was being added to group chats and invited to meetups. I met almost every Princetonian interning in Boston that summer, and formed some long-lasting bonds.

I played softball with alums in the Ivy League summer tournament – I can’t remember if we beat Harvard, but let’s just say yes. I went to a hole-in-wall ramen place in Cambridge where the servings are deceptively massive and anyone who finishes their bowl gets a round of applause from the entire restaurant. I went to a Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant chain where the waiters are purposefully rude to you for comedic purposes, for the first time with a group of new friends and we laughed at the insults the staff scribbled on our hats. We rented bikes along the Charles River on sunny afternoons and spent evenings watching movies at the downtown AMC.

I expected the summer to be mostly just me, but it turned out to be so much more. From the school years to the summers, it’s so wonderfully easy to not only meet new people but keep in touch with them too. Coming up on one year since I first flew into Boston, the memories I made last summer are still fresh in my mind, and as special as all the rest.

How My Summer Internship Turned Into a Year-Round Job

If you told me when I started at Princeton that just one year later I’d be an editorial contributor for a magazine, I’d say: That’s crazy! Given that I thought I was going to concentrate in molecular biology on the pre-med track, I definitely wouldn’t believe you. And yet, here I am, a soon-to-be English major, pursuing certificates in Creative Writing and Spanish. While it seems like I did a complete 180 degree turn, it’s actually pretty common for Princeton students to switch their concentration. We don’t have to declare a major until our sophomore spring, so we have lots of time to figure out what we truly enjoy learning. And for me, I realized that my passion was English.

Fast forward to the internship craze. Many students are either searching for or securing internships (or study abroad opportunities, which are also great!). I had no clue where to start. What do I do with an English degree? I decided to visit Princeton’s Center for Career Development, where my eyes were opened to the many career possibilities, most of which I never even considered or knew existed. Our career center works magic – Peer Career Advisors share their professional experiences, staff in various areas of expertise offer advising, the center hosts workshops and events throughout the year such as: resume building, LinkedIn support, panels, career fairs, drop-in hours, etc. There are plenty of networking tools to search for internships and connect with others in the industry as well. 

I left the center with a clear idea of a few outlets to pursue in my internship search and the tools to do so. Many cover letters later, I secured an editorial internship at New York Family Magazine, funded by Princeton's Program in Journalism! Over the summer, I wrote articles for the print and digital magazine, composed the monthly calendars for each NYC borough, attended press events and met an amazing team of people. Some of my favorite press events were seeing Bloomingdale's Pre-Screening of The Lion King (2019), checking out Dylan's Candy Bar's Holiday Candy Collection preview and learning about Nike's new Adventure Club for kids at the NYC Nike offices. I also pitched an idea that now runs as a column in every print magazine: New York Family’s Parent’s Book Club. I got to read books straight off the press (often advanced copies), interview authors and think of discussion questions that parents can use in their book club meetings. My creative writing professor at Princeton, Idra Novey, was our first book club feature with her novel “Those Who Knew.”

New York Family Magazines

Toward the end of the summer, I didn’t want to leave. Of course, I was super excited to return to Princeton for my second year, but I was going to miss writing for the magazine and seeing the team every day. Easy solution: freelance writing! I still write for New York Family as an editorial contributor, which means I basically do the same things I did during my internship, but away from the office. It’s certainly a challenge to balance my work for the magazine with my academics and extracurricular activities on campus, but it’s definitely worth it.

I am now much more confident to declare English this spring after having this experience. Princeton really encourages you to explore various areas of study, pursue your passion and consider a wide range of career opportunities. Check out my latest articles on newyorkfamily.com!

The Infamous Senior Thesis

The senior thesis. What is it? Where did it come from? Why do I have to do it?

You might be asking yourself these questions. Maybe you’re waiting to hear back from the Office of Admission and you just read about the thesis online. Maybe you’ve already been admitted, and the thesis is making you question whether or not you want to matriculate. If you only remember one thing from this post, I hope it is this: don’t let the thought of a thesis scare you!

Almost every student at Princeton has to write a senior thesis in order to graduate. It’s basically just a long(er) research paper on a topic of your choice. Since most students have to write one, pretty much everyone will be familiar with the process at some point during their Princeton career. This means that you are never struggling through it alone.

When I was a prospective student, I remember being a little intimidated by the senior thesis. I had never written something so long in my life! I had no idea where to even begin. However, as the semesters started flying by, my interests began solidifying themselves, and it became apparent to me what I wanted to focus on at Princeton: a combination of policy, the criminal-legal system and race/discrimination.

Once you know what you are interested in, choosing a thesis topic becomes much easier. I knew I wanted to go to law school after Princeton and I’ve always been interested in criminal justice reform. So, I made sure to choose a topic that encompassed all of that! I applied for funding from the Woodrow Wilson School⁠—the department I’m majoring in⁠—and planned a trip to Norway. While there, I spent two days at a men’s maximum-security facility in order to learn about their prison system. I conducted interviews, took pictures and observed the individuals who have been incarcerated along with the staff (read this post to learn more about my thesis!). Honestly, it didn’t even feel like work⁠—since it’s a topic I’m genuinely interested in, I really enjoyed the research.

I think that’s the key to conquering your senior thesis: make sure you choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in, and the research won’t feel so much like work. Keeping this in mind, don’t let the senior thesis scare you. As a senior, I feel so much support from my classmates, since I know they’re going through the same process. I’m excited to see the final product of all my hard work and I’m so glad I didn’t let it scare me away from committing to Princeton!

My First Internship Experience

After winter break here at Princeton people everywhere are trying to figure out their plans for the summer.

I spent the summer after my first year interning for a nonprofit in Boston for ten weeks, and I loved it. My internship was part of a program called Princeton Internships in Civic Service, or PICS for short. PICS offers internships at a variety of nonprofits across the nation; when I came across Boston SCORES, I knew it was perfect for me. SCORES is a nonprofit that works with students from elementary to high school, integrating poetry, spoken word and soccer into its after-school curriculum. This quite literally checked all the boxes for me: I love soccer, and two of the things I was most passionate about in high school were working with kids and leading my slam poetry club.

I greatly enjoyed my summer in Boston. I stayed with a wonderful and kind host family, and worked with amazing kids every day (and also played so much soccer with them!). I was also able to apply the knowledge I learned in one of my computer sciences classes, “Computer Science: An interdisciplinary Approach (COS 126)” to create a program that streamlined a time-intensive task.

Although I missed my friends, I wasn’t lonely! Princeton organized events that brought all local Boston interns together, and the regional alumni association was constantly involved and active. I was also given an alumni mentor who met with me throughout the summer. Through PICS, I met new friends, ate ramen at niche Cambridge restaurants and biked along the Charles River. One friend and I even road-tripped to back to New Jersey on a whim to watch the Fourth of July fireworks on top of the Prudential Center.

There are countless other summer opportunities at Princeton as well: my best friends went outside the country, taking Global Seminars in Berlin; teaching high schoolers in Vietnam; and immersing themselves in Argentine culture in Buenos Aires. One of my friends spent the summer with lemurs in Madagascar as well through the Princeton Environmental Institute. Princeton also offers opportunities with startups in New York, Tel-Aviv and Shanghai. They also offer opportunities to conduct research with professors on-campus.

Whatever you choose to do, you can be sure that you’ll find the summer as rewarding and enjoyable an experience as I did, and there will be people there for you every step of the way.   

Let’s Talk About the Money: France and Finances

At the beginning of my first-year fall at Princeton, I told myself I was going to study abroad in France. How? I had no idea. Shoot! I was just aiming for the moon and hoping to land among the stars. I knew that Princeton offered summer abroad programs. I did not know how I, a low-income, first generation college student, was actually going to finesse my way into France. I had never been to Europe, but my “Take Me to Paris” wall decal and Eiffel Tower throw blanket may have suggested otherwise. We know how this story ends, because, well, I am writing this blog post. This is not your average I-went-to-France-and-took-a-picture-with-the-Eiffel-Tower story. Let me tell you about how a low-income student made it to France. The experience was priceless, but let's be real, the ticket was not. Let’s talk about the money.

After taking my last intro-level French course, I was eligible to apply for a Princeton in France study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence. This program offered four weeks of language immersion. Around the same time, I also applied for an internship in Paris – shocker – through the International Internship Programs (IIPs). This is open to all students without a particular class prerequisite.

Now, the money. I applied for funding for my trip to Aix-en-Provence through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE), the funding source used on campus for students to apply for grant aid for thesis research, independent research, summer opportunities or even those specific to different breaks. Built into the cost of the abroad program was housing, food and the class. The flight ticket was not included in that cost, but through SAFE, students can apply for grants that may cover some, most or all of these expenses, depending on the grant. (It doesn't hurt to apply to multiple and hope for the best.) Different grants have different post-trip requirements such as saving receipts, sending letters to donors or writing a reflection piece. For the internship, IIP offers its own financial aid for eligible students, so I didn’t need to apply through SAFE.

Applying for funding in Europe for IIP was challenging because of currency rates. Make sure to check out conversion charts if you're going abroad! I did not want to play myself by doing a one-to-one conversion. Applying was not a long process, but it did ask for a breakdown of all expenses. This includes how much you expect to pay for housing, travel and transportation. Although I was not accepted into the IIP, a few weeks later, I was accepted into the Aix-en-Provence program with immaculate funding for the trip. It covered the cost of the class and some of my transportation. 

My trip to France helped me begin my journey towards managing my finances and being aware of my spending habits.  I explored a new country while exploring myself, my beliefs, values and morals. I also learned so much about being financially conscience and taking chances. Applying for financial assistance for my trip to France gave me the perspective to understand the expenses needed for a trip abroad and how to best allocate my funds. If you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to reach out to me or check out the Aix-en-Provence program.

Discovering My Passion at Princeton

Before coming to Princeton, I didn’t really know what entrepreneurship was. Surprisingly, the first club that reached out to me during the first-year activities fair was the Entrepreneurship Club. Since then I have discovered a passion for the field and have participated in many entrepreneurial opportunities offered by the University. 

I have been able to learn about entrepreneurship through the courses offered by the Keller Center. In a course called “Creativity, Innovation and Design,” I was able to propose a solution to a major problem affecting college students: time management. My group and I thought of implementing meditation breaks during lectures in order to help with concentration. Another great course is “Foundations of Entrepreneurship,” in which we have weekly guest lectures from leaders in the field. The founder and CEO of Giphy recently came to the class and it was incredible to learn how he began his own venture.

Outside of the classroom, the Keller Center offers opportunities during the summer. I got to travel to Tel Aviv as a marketing intern at a high-tech startup. Believe it or not, I was able to use my liberal arts education to write blog posts and redesign the startup’s website. I lived with a cohort of 20 Princeton students and learned a lot about the Israeli startup culture. What’s amazing is that this summer internship was fully funded by the University!

Other opportunities made available by Princeton was the Tigers Entrepreneurs Conference 2019 in San Francisco. It was an unbelievable experience because I was able to meet with alumni who founded their own startups, as well as visit companies like Google and Salesforce.

I am incredibly grateful to Princeton for letting me discover my passion for entrepreneurship and giving me the tools and skills necessary to pursue the field after I graduate. My message to prospective students is that, while Princeton is known for its liberal arts education, it also excels in entrepreneurship! If you are creative, have innovative ideas, or want to change the world, entrepreneurship might also be for you! 

My Senior Thesis Research Trip

If you ask anyone on Princeton’s campus what the most daunting Princeton experience is, they’ll probably tell you it’s the senior thesis. Some students look forward to it, others dread it. Once spring rolls around and those thesis deadlines start creeping closer and closer, you start seeing fewer seniors on campus, as many of them are locked away in their rooms or in the library, trying their best to meet their deadlines. No matter the opinion, the thesis ends up getting done, somehow.

Despite it being a shared experience among Princeton seniors, the senior thesis seems like a far-away concept that is often hard to understand as a non-senior. During my junior year, my department⁠—the Woodrow Wilson School⁠ of Public and International Affairs—hosted a few information sessions about the upcoming thesis, but I remember leaving the meetings wholly unsatisfied and with lingering questions. How was I supposed to fit all that research into a couple of months?

Finally, I went to an information session about funding for thesis research. There, I learned that students in the Woodrow Wilson School have the opportunity to receive funding for their thesis research after filling out an extensive application. Among other things, the application includes a description of your thesis project and research, as well as an itemized list of your anticipated expenses.

At first, I was worried because there were so many students at that information session. How would there be enough funding for everybody? However, after speaking with seniors at the time, I quickly learned that most students do not start their research until they get back on campus. With this in mind, I submitted an application and was excited to learn that I had gotten the money I asked for!

Thanks to the Woodrow Wilson School and its funding program, I was able to complete my senior thesis research in Norway during the summer. The purpose of my trip was to visit Halden Prison, a maximum-security men’s prison in southern Norway, in order to learn about the Norwegian prison system and compare it to the American prison system. While there, I spent a day with the warden, learning about the culture of the prison and touring the entire facility. I also spent a day interviewing guards and incarcerated individuals.

Halden Prison

Of course, my trip wasn’t only educational! I also found time to get away and do three incredible hikes⁠—Preikestolen, Kjeragbolten, and Trolltunga⁠—and eat amazing food.

Preikestolen Hike

Trolltunga Hike

My time in Norway was extremely valuable, and I am excited to continue my thesis research on campus!

My Summer with the ACLU

During the summer, I was lucky enough to intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in downtown Manhattan, working in their National Political Advocacy Department on the Campaign for Smart Justice. Through the Campaign, I worked on projects with the overarching theme of eliminating mass incarceration and racial injustice in the American criminal legal system. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience, as it was a summer of learning and growing for me in so many ways.

First, I was able to continue expanding my knowledge about law, politics, policy and the interaction between them. I used the skills I’ve been developing at Princeton through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs⁠—knowledge accrued from various classes⁠—and applied them to the projects I was working on at the ACLU. Being able to see the real-world applications of the concepts I have learned in class was amazing; it made my work that much more meaningful. Additionally, knowing that I was contributing to extremely important projects was incredible. For example, I contributed to the ACLU’s work on clemency by putting together a memorandum that analyzed each state’s past and present policies on the matter. I then used the information to figure out which states the ACLU should focus on for their own clemency initiatives. I’m grateful to have contributed to such a monumental cause.

Second, I had the opportunity to compare my experience at the ACLU with my internship last summer. Last summer, I worked at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) in their Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU). Although NYLAG and the ACLU are both non-profit organizations, I had vastly different experiences at both organizations. While I was working in direct services at NYLAG, I had my own clients and ran my own meetings; I was doing more big-picture work at the ACLU this summer. I was able to meet and talk with many influential individuals in today’s political scene. I even had the opportunity to video-conference with Edward Snowden.

Video-conferencing with Edward Snowden

Third, I received funding from Princeton for my internship at the ACLU, since the internship was unpaid. Because of Princeton’s generosity, I was able to afford rent at a beautiful apartment in Manhattan. While working at NYLAG last summer, my commute was an hour and a half to and from work each day. Living in Manhattan made my commute much more manageable, and it provided me with a community I had never had access to before. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by other college students interning in the same city and having similar experiences. I was able to participate in more after-hours work functions, which facilitated closer relationships with my coworkers. Finally, I experienced living on my own in a setting that wasn’t a college dorm. I paid rent for the first time, went on weekly grocery store runs, cooked every day and got to know a new area.

My apartment in Manhattan!

My experience at the ACLU went above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and it reinforced my interest in law, politics and policy. I am grateful for my time at the organization, and I’m looking forward to following the ACLU’s accomplishments in the years to come!

A Summer Under the Dome

My work in the Politics department here at Princeton took on a whole new dimension during the summer. From early June to mid-August, I worked in a congressional representative’s office in the House of Representatives. I applied for the internship for perhaps obvious reasons: I was looking to get a first-hand look at the different government institutions I’ve only really read about in textbooks and newspaper articles. And, without a shadow of a doubt, my summer experience delivered!

Before starting, I wasn’t sure what to expect either from my work in the office or my life outside it. Looking back, I don’t know that I could quickly summarize the litany of different experiences and challenges I experienced at work or on my own time as I, at times. struggled to navigate life in the city. Each day I spent interning was wildly different, and invited valuable reflection on how I can best harness the top-rate education I’m getting on campus for good.

At work, I did everything from giving tours of the Capitol to writing memoranda on various bills for the Congressman to read. Some days I spent mostly at my desk, typing away and answering phone calls, while others were spent running around the halls of the House and Senate office buildings delivering notes and messages for and from higher-ranking staffers. From the very first morning of my internship, when I was tasked with combing through a 200-page budget document, staff treated me as an integral part of the office. In-between tasks, I listened to members of Congress speak as part of the Intern Lecture Series and tried my best to explore all the different nooks and crannies of the Capitol building.

Perhaps even more valuable than the actual work experience I gained were the insights I gleaned from my conversations with coworkers and Princeton alumni as part of the Princeton in Washington program (PiW). The staffers in my office had a range of different educational and professional backgrounds, and were generous with their time in speaking to interns about life on the Hill and speaking about broader career advice. The Princeton in Washington program, which connects Princeton alumni, families and current students living in the capitol region, hosted a wide variety of educational events with high-profile alumni. The roster of alumni speakers, including sitting Senators, members of the House, and high-ranking government and private-sector officials, offered a window into a variety of different Washington career paths and ways to succeed.

I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to undertake such a life-changing experience, and even more so for the global Princeton community which offered me an incredible network of support even as I was working 200 miles away from campus. Who knows yet if I’ll be back next summer, but I love knowing that the Tiger family will follow me wherever I choose to go.

Princeton's Summer Programming Experience

Over the summer, I participated in Princeton’s Summer Programming Experience (SPE). The program consisted of six weeks spent in the Friend Center computer labs, where we worked in teams of two or three on a programming project of our choice. Each team was supervised by a faculty member or a graduate student from the Computer Science department

The Summer Programming Experience is targeted at first-year students or sophomores with minimal programming backgrounds. Since it is often the first exposure many of us have with a significant programming project, guidance was offered if we asked for it. However, we mostly had to teach ourselves the tools we needed to complete the project we had in mind — from familiarizing ourselves with the basics of a new programming language, to making design decisions at every juncture of the project — decisions that I had never made before in a classroom environment. Like many other experiences at Princeton, I quickly learned that my greatest takeaway from SPE was the power to teach myself more.

Our team of three made a 2-dimensional platform game called “RADish”. Everything was coded from scratch, from how the many dynamic components in the game collided with one another, to the variety of power-ups to be collected and enemies to overcome, as well as the user interface and special effects. Many hilarious incidents ensued when a typo in the map input resulted in a labyrinth of pixels that was impossible for our poor protagonist to navigate! Over hours huddled together trying to locate the source of bugs or inefficiencies, we grew close as a team. Sometimes, we would leave motivating comments or inside jokes for each other in the source code we shared.

At the end of the program, each group shared their project. One group made a phone application to connect students on campus who wanted to study together for a specific class. Another made a program that simulated evolution. Another group programmed a remote controlled car that could play hide and seek with the user. It was incredible to see how each team managed to take their ideas from a brainstorm to actual implementations within such a short window of time. 

Overall, SPE was a rewarding experience. It was filled with the challenges of working on a project of a large scale for the first time, but flexible enough to allow us to develop our projects at our own paces and according to our capabilities.