I have received with much enthusiasm the announcement of Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s appointment as president.
I am an alumna, Class of 2009. After four years out of school, I have had the chance to reflect further on my education at Princeton from the lens of my own experience, as well as through discussions with other alumni. Princeton is a very exciting and very, very challenging place to be. One of the things that differentiated my experience there from that of other students was my sense of purpose.
Having come from a low-income background in Romania, I was the grateful recipient of the University’s generous financial aid. It was stressful to know that I could not rely on my parents after graduation for either job connections or financial support. However, that motivated me to pursue all the opportunities available on campus. Even in the darkest moments, I knew why I was there. I knew that getting a B- on a hard 300-level math or econ course was not the end of the world, because in the end, I had learned a lot, gained significant skills, and opened my mind and my heart in many ways through incredible friendships.
I contrast my experience with other alums who now have found their way, but have told me that they felt lost, sad, depressed, and ready to quit Princeton many times through the four years. It was not because they were not incredibly talented and bright, but because they had found themselves missing a sense of purpose while throwing themselves relentlessly into the endless partying, social climb, drugs, and drive to be part of the most prestigious eating clubs. I had seen the same many times as an undergraduate academic consultant with the McGraw Center. The kids coming there were not any less able to manage their time, read fast, or do problem sets than anyone else. They instead were more disillusioned with the culture and the environment. Beyond the many students who talk about leadership and win prestigious Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, there are the countless others – smart, incredible, some making an impact in silent ways, some struggling terribly. Among my friends, the students that made the most of their time there were those who had a higher sense of purpose.
As I have been thinking through these issues, I realized that the undergraduate class may benefit from a focus on finding that sense of purpose.
The curriculum requiring ethical and moral values classes is good, as are the countless opportunities in extracurriculars and research. But I am thinking of a program that would be more cohesive, and could imprint different facets of student life:
- personal or group coaching through Career Services or other University departments;
- periodic discussions facilitated by RCAs from the moment the freshmen step on campus;
- practical leadership-development seminars;
- a renewed focus on the existing classes in Ethical and Moral Values, with views on historical and philosophical considerations of leadership.
I recently came across the “Work on Purpose” program put together by Echoing Green, the social-entrepreneurship network and incubator (http://www.echoinggreen.org/our-programs/work-purpose). I am sure there are many other organizations that do similar things.
After graduation, I worked one year with Innovations for Poverty Action in Colombia, two years with the Boston Consulting Group in New York, and for 10 months I have been the finance director of Jacaranda Health, a maternity hospital in Kenya. I am not coming from the perspective that everyone should work in the NGO/development sector after graduation. Even if they want to do so, I would advise all students to improve their skill set first, whether those skills lie in research, engineering, business, or project management. I believe this could benefit all students by helping them decide what motivates them, what they want to do, and how to be more resilient in getting there.
Overall, I believe this could have important benefits for students:
- to increase their resilience and sense of self, purpose in life, and sense of belonging to the Princeton community;
- to further distinguish the University through a trademark program that would improve student life and create better leaders; and
- to make a impact on society in the long run by starting discussions about values and purpose earlier – 10, 20, or 30 years before these students become business, academic, and government leaders.