2017 Undergraduate Experience Student Research Symposium

Insights into Princeton Undergraduate Student Experiences

This inaugural symposium brings together undergraduates from across the disciplines who have conducted investigations in the Princeton University context. Engaging students as partners and co-inquirers into their educational experience, the symposium provides a forum for student-inquirers to share their findings, insights, and implications and engage in roundtable conversations with Princeton University staff and faculty.

May 12, 2017 - Takeaways

The McGraw Center invited Princeton faculty and staff to participate in the first annual Undergraduate Experience Student Research Symposium held on May 12, 2017.

We kicked-off the symposium with a brief keynote by Michael Moorin ’16 entitled “Princeton's Hidden Minority: Inclusion and Affirmation of Low-Income Students.” It was followed by three sets of breakout roundtable sessions during which student-inquirers shared key findings and discuss with administrators their implications for the university.

Teaching and Learning Calculus at Princeton

Covariational Reasoning in Related Rates Problems: An Investigative Inquiry into the Minds of MAT103 Students - Sam Harris '17

In my senior thesis for the Mathematics Department, I investigated why students in Princeton’s introductory calculus course, MAT103, struggle with the topics of related rates and implicit differentiation. In pursuing this line of inquiry, I studied student work on related rates on problem sets and on the midterm exam, and analyzed the way this topic is taught to students through both the textbook and lecture. I also relied on my experience as a course assistant for MAT103/MAT104 for the past three years, both in grading and in leading problem sessions.

I found that students struggle with related rates problems because they have not reached a sophisticated level of covariational reasoning, which is essentially an ability to visualize how two quantities change in relation to one another. Covariational reasoning is key to almost every important concept in calculus, and its development is crucial for MAT103 students. In my thesis, I propose specific changes to how related rates are taught to students so that the development of covariational reasoning is emphasized.

More generally, I believe the lack of development of covariational reasoning may stem in part from students’ differing high school backgrounds; students who have taken calculus in high school essentially have twice as much time to develop both conceptual and procedural proficiency as those students with no prior calculus knowledge. Moreover, students who are clinging on to the ‘high school’ version of mathematics, which tends to rely heavily on procedures and algorithms as opposed to concepts, may be slow to develop the conceptual understanding which goes hand in hand with covariational reasoning. Therefore, it may be prudent to communicate through the syllabus or by other means that a successful MAT103 student will focus on conceptualization and visualization of key concepts just as much as they focus on their ability to complete problems.

Above the Curve—Exploring the Dynamics of Learning and Instructional Techniques and Methodologies in Princeton Calculus Courses -Khallid Love ‘14

Question/Nature of Problem: Mathematics courses at Princeton are notoriously difficult. This thesis examines the nature of pedagogy in Princeton calculus courses specifically. The question it asks is twofold:

  • What are the qualitative differences in the ways that students and instructors conceive of understanding and mastery of content material in Princeton calculus courses, particularly MAT 104 (Calculus II)?
  • Why do these differences exist, and how do these differences impact student learning approaches and outcomes?

Methodology/Analysis: Since I am interested in investigating the student experience in MAT 104, my method of analysis is chiefly qualitative. My methodology is comprised of three components: literature review, cumulative assessment analysis (analyzing student midterm exams), and student interviews.


  • Learning outcomes stem from learning techniques/habits; examining students’ work on cumulative assessments (i.e. midterm exams) in MAT 104 offers commentary on students’ learning approaches
  • The source of many students’ difficulties in MAT 104 is not in the rote memorizations of facts, procedures, or theorems but rather in the application and extension of those theorems to new problems
  • Practice exams are an essential learning tool for students, and more attention should be given to helping students develop strategies and techniques for effectively utilizing practice exams within their learning repertoires


  • Instructors should be more intentional about how to utilize practice exams as a way develop extension-building strategies for quizzes and exams
  • Instructors might consider re-shaping or revamping course syllabi to make syllabi more interactive (interactive course website/course exam archive/Piazza course website)
  • Consider PEC model for restructuring the course: (P)reserve, (E)nhance, (C)reate
  • The Math Department and the McGraw Center should collaborate to think creatively about ways to offer resources to students on how to utilize practice exams and study hall sessions to incorporate application/extension-building techniques into their learning repertoires for quizzes and exams

First Generation and Low Income Princeton Student Experiences

Princeton’s Hidden Minority: Inclusion and Affirmation of Low-Income Students - Michael Moorin '16

Princeton’s socioeconomic diversity has grown rapidly in the past decade. Last year, 21% of incoming freshmen received Pell grants, compared to just 7% in 2008. Efforts to bring more low-income students to campus have been extremely successful. Nevertheless, Princeton’s next task is to focus on the experience of these low-income students once on campus. How might Princeton’s environment negatively affect the experience of low-income or first-generation students, and what approach should Princeton take to mitigate any unique challenges placed upon these students?

I employed a mixed-methods approach to investigate those questions. Interviews with both low-income students and administrators were coupled with a large student survey to provide multiple perspectives. I found low-income status, rather than first-generation status, drove difference on campus. Low-income students face substantial challenges in Princeton’s social, professional, and academic realms.

In the social realm, Princeton’s dominant upper-class culture causes social exclusion and feelings of negative difference among low-income students. While 2 out of 10 students are low-income, 5 out of 10 come from families making more than $186,000 a year. This class dynamic shapes campus life in profound ways that encourage low-income students to hide and shift their true identities at Princeton. Ethnographic interviews and survey data support these claims. In fact, compared to others, low-income respondents were 3 times less likely to state they feel included on campus, and significantly more likely to “feel differently from others in ways they don’t like” and be “dissatisfied with their social lives.”

In the professional realm, low-income students face particular barriers. They must take on campus jobs that, while not likely harming GPAs, still serve as salient class markers on campus. Moreover, they must accrue funds over their summers to fulfill a summer savings requirement. This can considerably limit students’ ability to take advantage of unpaid or low-pay internships, as well as travel opportunities. A substantial proportion of low-income students cannot afford interview attire, and also feel left out of personal networking norms and abilities that make professional life easier for more traditional students.

Finally, low-income status is a significant independent predictor of academic underperformance at Princeton. Its negative association with GPA is roughly equal to that found for being an engineer or being Black. First, this could reflect a mismatch between Princeton’s non-inclusive academic norms and the tendency of low-income students to hail from a more diverse set of high-schools with different pedagogies and practices. Second, stereotype threat could be causing low-income students, who do feel stigmatized, to underperform. I believe my data support that both reasons are acting in tandem.

In tackling these issues, Princeton’s administration must resist the urge toward class-blindness. Acknowledging class matters on campus is the first step in dissolving negative stereotypes against low-income students and reforming non-inclusive practices. In acknowledging this, it is imperative to focus on reforming Princeton’s non-inclusive norms and practices, rather than on fitting low-income students into existing norms. Princeton must also foster the affirmation of low-income identity and community, while still helping students navigate Princeton’s status quo in the meantime. Following this strategy will further Princeton’s progress toward full inclusion and affirmation of low-income students.

SIFP Think Tank’s Research on Interactions with Professors and Purchasing Reading Materials - Olivia Parker ‘19, Tyisha Griffiths ‘19, and Kerri Davidson ‘19

Problem Observed:

The SIFP Think Tank wanted to investigate how SIFP students pay for reading materials and interact with professors. Members of the Think Tank would hear peers in SIFP share how they would struggle with paying for textbooks and reaching out to preceptors and professors. We created a survey to figure out what would cause these issues for students and come up with solutions to alleviate financial burdens with textbooks and fix hesitancy associated with interacting with professors.

Findings and Insights:

*90 student responses

Results on Purchasing Reading Materials:

  • Collective Price Range for Textbooks and Books Per Semester: $100-$400
  • 18 students said they choose classes based on whether the readings are expensive or not. Will be deterred from taking the class if it’s too expensive.
  • 23 students stated that not having the textbook impacted their learning in the past.

 Results on Interacting with Professors and Preceptors:

  • 20% of students said that they never meet with their professors or they have only met with them once in a semester.
  • 8.9% of students shared that their preceptors never promoted office hours.
  • 5.6% of students shared that their professors didn’t promote office hours
  • 3.3% of students shared that professors sent a personal email to them to come to office hours.
  • Students shared that none of their preceptors sent personal emails
  • 27.8% of students have hesitancy in going to office hours when they feel they do not understand the material enough to get help from the professor.


  • Students will opt to take classes that do not require them to purchase reading materials, although they may be missing out on a learning experience that can prove vital to their future careers.
  • Students are affected in their learning when they do not have personal access to textbooks.
  • There is lack of interactions with professors and preceptors due to students feeling as if they need to have a certain amount of knowledge to go to office hours.
  • Students feel intimidated when they have to reach out to a professor or preceptor on their own.


There can be a library system to allow students to check out books for the semester and bring them back at the end of the semester for free.

  • Professors and preceptors can send personal emails to students to invite them to office hours or coffee.
  • Professors and preceptors can make clear that any level of knowledge for the material is welcome.

Describing and Navigating the Princeton Context

PROJECT WELCOME MAT: Building Communal Knowledge to Better Support First-Generation/Low-Income, and All, Princeton Students -Briana Christophers ‘17, Co-Founder of Project Welcome Mat, and Nicole González ‘16


The first-generation/low-income (FLi) community can be defined in many ways: first-generation can refer to being the first in one’s family to attend a four-year college or university or to being the child of immigrants and, thus first-generation American, while low-income depends on the threshold of income or opportunity being used as a metric. At Princeton the first-gen community has grown from 6% of the Class of 2008 to 15% of the Class of 2020. Oftentimes FLi students face hardship as navigate collegiate systems and seek to answer questions without having the requisite networks.

In the summer of 2015 two undergraduate students—Nicole González ‘16 and Bri Christophers ‘17— set out to change the knowledge gap that many first-gen Princeton students have when they find themselves in the Orange Bubble. By founding Project Welcome Mat: A Guide for First-Gen Princeton Students we have crowd-sourced information from across campus so that current and future generations of FLi students will have a starting point in answering the questions they did not even know they had about Princeton.

About the Guide


  • Empower FLi students to self-advocate and be bold during their 4 years here
  • Provide FLi students with the information that they need to make informed decisions
  • Engage in intergenerational ‘virtual’ mentorship where current FLi students serve future FLi students

PWM Team:

  • 60 writers and editors
  • Includes undergraduates, graduate students and alumni
  • Current student coordinator: Allice Park ‘20

PWM Sections: available at tiny.cc/welcomemat

  • The Basics
  • Academics
  • For Engineers
  • Social
  • Stories


  • Over 150 articles, written by FLi and non-FLi students
  • Range from 1 paragraph to 3 pages, rely on concise information and on providing useful links to information that is readily available on University websites


The number of FLi students at Princeton is growing with each incoming class; in order to encourage and promote agency amongst these students we must become more inclusive as a community of how we communicate resources and opportunities. Organizations like the Princeton Hidden Minority Council and programs such as the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) and the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP), run out of the Office of the Dean of the College, provide unique communities for FLi students to engage with each other. Project Welcome Mat allows for current FLi students to leave a legacy for future FLi students. The information included in the guide not only helps FLi students navigate Princeton but can also serve as a concise resource guide for all Princeton students. Broadening the reach of Project Welcome Mat and programs like FSI and SIFP will ensure that FLi Princeton students receive the support they need to flourish!

“The Best Damn Place of All?”: Linguistic Dichotomy at Princeton -Julia Fitzgerald ‘18, Department of Psychology


  1. Students use dichotomous positive and negative language to describe Princeton and their experiences here.
  2. Intensely negative language pervades daily conversation among students, despite prevailing romanticized descriptions of the Princeton experience.
  3. Question: When and why does this dichotomy in the way students describe Princeton emerge? What does it tell us about the Princeton experience?


  1. Three-part online survey distributed to various Princeton email lists, with a total of 100 responses for analysis.
    1. Part 1: Rank prevalence of 20 positive, negative, and neutral Princeton terms.
    2. Part 2: List first five words/phrases that come to mind when describing Princeton to 1) a Princeton “insider,” and 2) a Princeton “outsider.”
    3. Part 3: Rate overall Princeton experience on a scale of 1-10.
  2. For comparison, survey distributed to students at nine other institutions (e.g. Harvard, Georgetown, University of Virginia, etc.), with 42 responses for analysis.

 Key Findings

  1. In Part 1, Princeton students ranked stress, workload, and sleep deprivation as the three most prevalent terms on campus, followed by competitive, exclusive, and work hard, play hard.
  2. Quantitatively coding written responses in Part 2 revealed a large and significant difference in the positivity of language that students used to describe Princeton to insiders v. outsiders.
    1. This difference straddled the threshold of neutrality: descriptions to outsiders skewed positive, while descriptions to insiders skewed negative.
    2. Such a difference in positivity to outsiders v. insiders was not observed in the sample of non-Princeton students.
  3. Beyond the outsider v. insider difference, there was often polar language within a single description to an outsider or an insider: for example, one student listed the five phrases stressful, the worst, the best, love it here, hate it here.
  4. In Part 3, students ranked their overall Princeton experiences 7.9/10 on average, despite the fact that their descriptions in Part 2 were frequently and often intensely negative.


  1. Students grapple with intense and conflicting feelings toward Princeton, reflected in the dichotomous language they use to describe it. That dichotomy crops up in the differential ways students describe Princeton amongst themselves v. to outsiders.
  2. The dominant themes in students’ intensely negative dialogue are 1) the heavy workload and academic stress, and 2) Princeton’s competitive and exclusive culture in general.
  3. Institutional surveys that pose abstract questions about students’ experiences fail to capture underlying conflicting emotion, as indicated in the tension between students’ high rankings of their overall experiences and the presence of strongly negative language to describe those experiences.

Athletics and Service on Campus: Princeton's Values and Students' Experiences

Education Through Athletics: An Examination Liberal Arts Education in the Princeton Student-Athlete Experience - Bear Altemus ‘17

Reviewing data published by the NCAA GOALS, including a report that time spent on athletics and academics have increased across the college athletics while time spent sleeping has decreased, this research contextualizes the Princeton experience among the rest of the NCAA through survey responses from the student-athlete population.  With questions about balance time, find motivation through personal fulfillment, preparing for strong academic and athletic performance, and setting goals for themselves, this research first considers the norms, expectations, and behaviors of varsity student-athletes.  The way in which each person maintains this balance varies. Moreover, it is understood to reflect the identity formation as both a unified and fragmented process.  Student-athletes operationalize or “express” their whole or fragmented identities through daily endeavors and social interactions, collectively and individually defining the role of the varsity student-athlete on campus.

The maxim, “you can’t do it all” collectively describes the hard truth student-athletes at Princeton recognize shortly after arriving at Princeton, meaning that ones’ potential to achieve as student is often limited by athletics, and vice versa.  As a result, individual student-athletes allocate their time and energy to each part of their life as they best see fit, according to a consciously or unconsciously formed set of values.  Some student-athletes prioritize athletics over all else. Others recognize academics or a career network to be the reason “why they came” to Princeton.  But for the student-athletes who desire to embrace every part of their campus life, who want to perform to their fullest ability as tudents and as athletes while exploring new interests, the experience is often met with difficulty of feeling like student at practice and feeling like an athlete in class. 

While every student work arounds inherent difficulties to reach their goals, some student-athletes may be conditioned to retreat from challenges—to “just get by”—instead of embracing opportunities to explore new interests, develop unique passions, and, ultimately, experience personal growth during their time at Princeton.  A handful of student-athletes involved in this study embrace the opportunities, despite many challenges, to develop themselves holistically—to “thrive”—during the Princeton experience by actively engaging in every endeavor.  Reflecting a strong sense of self-awareness, these individuals are motivated by unique interest in other areas of life beyond athletics and develop themselves by engaging with educational community.  Accordingly, this group of student-athletes are living manifestations of liberal arts values and serve as role models by the rest of the community.  Interestingly, many of these “thriving” student-athletes that were interviewed in this study were either admitted without athletics before walking on or were recruited through athletics but had a parent who attended Princeton.  This distinction suggest that some student-athletes may be better prepared to thrive holistically than others.

Overall, this research provides an overview of the factors that define the everyday life of student-athletes.   Although the scope of this study does not include a juxtaposition of student-athletes with undergraduate students who do not play a varsity sport, further research may address that distinction.  Ultimately, this thesis research is unfinished. However, it lays groundwork for further research regarding liberal arts education in an increasingly specialized world, holistic development through collegiate athletics, and the relationship between purported values of educational institutions and the lived values of students that attend them.

Disconnect Between Princeton Students and Programs: A Pace Center Case Study - Annick La-Branche ‘20 and Sarah Schneider ‘20

Our research project was a part of the Tiger Challenge program run through the Keller Center. As part of Tiger Challenge, we worked with a small group of Princeton students to answer a complex question - in our case we worked with the Pace Center.

Our question:

How might we help Princeton students learn more about the impact they can and want to have through service and civic engagement?

This was our original question, however, after going through the inspiration phase of the design thinking approach, we reformulated the question as follows:

How might we connect students with the Pace Center to help them learn more about the impact they can and want to have through service and civic engagement?

 To answer this new question we used a design thinking approach which kept the end user - the Princeton student - as the focus. Throughout the year we conducted several interviews, brainstormed, and conducted surveys to gauge student involvement in service.

Our results:

We found a shocking disconnect on 1) how students see Pace and how Pace sees itself, 2) who uses/knows of  the Pace center compared to what the Pace center believes, 3) how students view service compared to the Pace center (or Princeton in general), and 4) why students decide not to commit acts of service through the Pace Center.

How does this impact other Princeton programs:

Our research helped the Pace center realize that the connection they had with the student body - including those that are very active in the Pace center - is very different from what they originally believed. A large reason has to do with student's availability and Pace's lack of approachability and advertising. This finding is important for all organizations and departments to consider to help them understand their relationship with students and impact they are having on the Princeton community.

Black Students at Princeton: Admissions, Activism, and Attitudes

Alarmed or Aware?: The Effects of the Black Justice League/Black Collegiate Student Protests on Racial Attitudes - Stacey Park ‘17

I undertook a two-part senior thesis on how the BJL protests affected students' racial attitudes, diversity awareness, and campus culture through a psychology study and an ethnographic investigation

  • Psych Study: I examined potential change in racial attitudes due to the Black Justice League protests as measured by threat perception in White and Black faces; freshman and senior classes were compared to see if effects seep into even those who haven't experienced the protest but feel a strong connection to the Princeton identity.
  • Ethnographic Work: I investigated the politics of free speech and privilege in how students navigated and interacted with the Black Justice League protests; used personal experiences, one-on-one interviews, etc. to assess the level of knowledge, ramifications, challenges, and choices that the protest brought for the students.


It seems important that everyone on campus be involved in discussions of privilege and choice upon entering the campus community - regardless of whether people supported the Black Justice League or not. It was found that most people (including myself) often chose to digest information about campus activism that was readily available to them on convenient platforms. Thus, it would be helpful if the University and/or the faculty made a more concerted effort to engage in social justice issues/to approach these discussions with intellectualism even within the classrooms. Doing so might give some sort of framework for students to use when engaging with the issues themselves.

The Talented Tenth?: How Racial Identity and Inequality Shape Black Students’ Narratives of Success at Elite Universities - Briana Payton ‘17

This project uses in-depth interviews and focus groups with 40 Black students at three elite universities to explore how their racial identities and awareness of inequality affect their perceptions of their educational success. I explore whether or not they conform to Black exceptionalism, or the idea that as high achieving Black students they are the exceptionally talented or hardworking minority among their race and that this exceptionality is the primary reason for their success. I investigate how the students’ outlooks on those issues affect their sense of obligation to the Black community at large.

Key Findings:

  1. Many of the students in the sample came from middle-class backgrounds, two-parent homes, and had educated parents. Many of them also received some form of special schooling—either through private, parochial, magnet, boarding, or charter schools. These background traits were overrepresented in my sample compared to the Black population more broadly.
  2. Despite middle-class status, students often lived or had lived in high poverty, urban areas. Their families often had to struggle for access to better schools-either financially or by traveling outside of their home locale. Even when they lived near/accessed better schooling, a sizable few of them experienced discrimination within their integrated schools, preventing them from receiving the same benefits as their white counterparts.
  3. Because these students were often exposed to racial inequality in their backgrounds and at times accessed opportunities that they could see were not equally available to other Black people, most of them hesitated to give solely meritocratic explanations for their success. They attributed a lot to robust support systems and opportunities. As a result, they often felt an obligation to extend those opportunities to more Black people in their lives and careers.


  1. In discussions about affirmative action and similar programs, it is important to seek out lower class admits from minority groups, but also note that class-privileged members of minority groups still face racial inequality that should be taken into account in their admission to universities and programs.
  2. In efforts to affirm and congratulate high achieving students (especially those from underrepresented groups), it is important not to exceptionalize them and make them out to be inherently better than their counterparts who did not achieve what they did-because that ignores the institutional barriers preventing more minority students from achieving in similar ways.
  3. Lastly, it is important to support minority students who have a passion to make a social impact in their careers. Specifically, there should be more programs that show how they can achieve this through a variety of fields, especially STEM and high paying, white dominated fields. This is because well-educated young Black people may opt out of those fields in order to pursue social change and miss opportunities for impact and personal advancement as a result.

Stigma, De-stigmatization, and Thriving at Princeton University

Documentary Theatre: Me Too Monologues as Community-Based Performance - Matt Błażejewski ‘17

Defining the Problem: Princeton’s engagement with openly addressing and destigmatizing mental health issues lags in comparison to other Ivy League school.  The Mental Health Initiative Board (MHIB), for example, an ad-hoc Undergraduate Student Government committee, was only founded in the 2013-2014 academic year.  While MHIB has been active in working to increase awareness of mental health, reducing stigma that may prevent students from seeking help, and promoting constructive dialogue across campus to build a more supportive community, we are still remain far behind comparable institutions.  For example, members of MHIB successfully launched the Princeton Peer Nightline this spring, but a comparable student-run nightline has been active at Columbia University since 1985.  In the last few years, the Daily Princetonian has featured several op-ed pieces on student experiences with mental health, and nowhere is it more evident that there exists significant need for sustained mental health reform than in the loss of two undergraduate students to suicide: Audrey Dantzlerward ’16 (January 2015) and Wonshik Shin ’19 (December 2016). 

Investigating the Problem: As a student-created, student-driven, and student-generated production, the Me Too Monologues features anonymous submissions from students regarding their own mental health experiences. Through an application of Professor Jan Cohen-Cruz’s four guiding principles for community-based performance, we can see how Me Too Monologues adheres to each and presents a model by which we can elevate the stories and voices of those on the margins who would otherwise go unheard.

Key Findings

  1. Me Too Monologues adheres to the principle of communal context by playing a “socially meaningful role” in serving the greater vision of MHIB.
  2. Me Too Monologues adheres to the principle of reciprocity by providing opportunities for dialogue and listening from the founding mission statement to final performances.
  3. Me Too Monologues adheres to the principle of hyphenation by combining aesthetics with education and community-building through therapy.
  4. Me Too Monologues adheres to the principle of active culture by emphasizing artistic potential, diversity, and inclusivity.

Implications for Faculty/Staff/Administrators

  1. More administrative support is needed to support the accessibility/availability of understaffed and overworked counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) and potential expansion of CPS through satellite offices in the residential colleges. This is an especially salient consideration given the plans to build a new residential college.
  2. The major themes of the performance – anxiety, depression, family, gender/sexuality, medication, Princeton pressure, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual harassment/rape, and suicide/suicide attempts – have remained constant over the past three years, though this does not preclude them from evolving as new generations of Princeton students enter the University and submit their own unique stories.
Mitigating Stigmatizing Behavior on Princeton Campus - Cindy Liu ‘18


  • EGR 200: Creativity, Innovation and Design
  • Semester-long design thinking project

Research Questions

  • Prompt: How can we mitigate stigmatizing behavior on campus?
    • Secondary question: In what ways to students feel stigmatized on Princeton campus?


  • Interviews with students and administrators, prototyping potential solutions

 Important Findings

  • Stigmatization between STEM and non-STEM is very overt and normalized
    • Some non-STEM students expressed not feeling respected for their academic work
  • Self-stigmatization: students feel they are unable to measure up to the image of a “successful” Princeton student
    • Pre-frosh are given a somewhat unrealistic image of what life will be like at Princeton; already begin to worry about how they will measure up
  • Though stigmatizing behavior occurs between groups of people that don’t know each other, they often also arise within close friend groups
  • 50% of students we surveyed weren’t aware of certain stigmatizing behaviors that occurred on campus, meaning many people don’t know when they’re stigmatizing others
    • “During freshman year, when I was the only one in the conversation circle who did not attend a (high-end) private school.”
    • “Walking into an engineering class as an athlete.”
    • “When one of my friends made some disparaging comments about people with eating disorders and how they are weak, not knowing that I struggled with anorexia in high school.”
    • “When people talk about traveling abroad over Spring Break and I can’t afford to go with them.”
  • University campaigns on diversity and inclusion are often too long-form and have high-barriers to access
    • Students have to actively seek them out; those who do are already aware of the issues
    • Poster/video campaigns: too ubiquitous to pique students’ interest, and not placed in conversational settings where the issues can be discussed amongst peers
Holistic Thriving: Connecting Academics with Passions - Marisa Salazar ‘17

A team of four other undergraduates and I along with Nic Voge from the McGraw Center undertook a Tiger Challenge project through the Keller Center. Our goal was to investigate the following question: How might the McGraw Undergraduate Program help students thrive intellectually and holistically?

Although McGraw has grown in the number of students who use its resources, many students do not seek McGraw resources when they need help or do not seek help until late in the semester. Therefore, we were motivated by the opportunity to support all undergraduates more holistically. Additionally, McGraw seeks to engage a student culture of striving with an overwhelming slate of academics, extracurriculars, and work in which students often express feeling overwhelmed or disengaged.

In interviewing multiple students from various backgrounds, both those who self-identified as thriving and those who felt they were not thriving, we found a few recurring themes and points of disconnect between students, McGraw, wider University policy, and classes. In general, many students expressed feeling disengaged with classes, not being able to see their future goals in their current academic work, and finding it difficult to learn while dealing with an overload of work. Another general theme was that many students felt like they were balancing their schoolwork, but when an outside life event happened—be it a family emergency, mental health crisis, or time-consuming extracurricular—they were already spread so thin and living with so little margin that it pushed them over the edge and made them unable to recover a thriving lifestyle. Advising also was commonly discussed as not helping students align goals with academic coursework. We organized these themes along with other insights into three larger categories for aspects to thriving academically and holistically on campus.

  • Community
    • Personal Connections—With professors and preceptors, fellow classmates, and friends
    • Comparison—This can be motivating, stress-inducing, or de-motivating
    • “You’re not thriving when you compare yourself to others, and when you’re thriving you don’t have to”
    • Collaboration
  • Motivation and Mindset
    • Time Management—Taking time to reflect on how to allocate time according to personal values
    • Self-Reflection and Self-Acceptance
    • Values and Future Path—Connecting values and goals to coursework and priorities
  • Princeton Structure
    • Orientation—Many students reported feeling so overwhelmed by the many support options presented at orientation that they did not reach out to any of them or remember them
    • McGraw Perception—For some students, McGraw was seen as being mostly for STEM students, as a place to go only when desperate or failing a class, and many were unaware of major programs and workshops which promote holistic thriving
    • McGraw Policy and Programming—Changes may include supporting learning communities in upper-level courses, as well as developing other new programs
    • Princeton Policy—Changing course policies, evaluating effectiveness of Res college programming, improving advising systems, and rethinking leave policies
    • “I sometimes don’t learn until after a class is finished because I was too busy doing the work to learn the material”

We distilled many of these insights into design opportunities by formulating several “How might we” questions to provide a springboard for ideas. Our findings may encourage other departments in the university to think through these and similar “How might we” questions (see handout). We refined our focus to ask “How might we provide a space for students to connect and reflect holistically on how their lives have related and can relate to their values and goals?” and are prototyping a workshop in which students reflect on their aspirations and values, analyze their previous semesters, and integrate these insights into their academic lives and experiences.