Chet Safian has been a friend of GOTO since our very first days. Long before that, he helped establish Princeton Project 55
in 1989 to engage Princeton University's alumni in addressing critical issues affecting the public interest. Ten years later, he started The Alumni Network
to develop similar alumni organizations at colleges across the country.
Through this outreach initiative, Princeton Project 55 has partnered with alumni from Princeton and 14 other institutions to inspire, support, and share best practices with the goal of increasing the number and impact of alumni-driven public interest organizations.
Here's our Q & A with Chet ...
1. What was your 1st post-collegiate public service experience?
My first public service experience after college was teaching a summer course to a group of rising seniors at the public high school which I attended.
The course centered on the interpretation of the first four pages of the Bible (through the Cain and Abel story) and how it has been interpreted in various disciplines. Among others we read "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck (a novelist’s approach),"City of God" by Aquinas ( a religious thinker's interpretation), "The Dragons of Eden" by Carl Sagan (a scientists approach); etc.
2. How has Princeton Project 55 evolved since it was launched in 1989?
The main change in Princeton Project 55 over the past 20 years is that it is now a multigenerational organization with members coming from many different classes and not just the Class of 1955. Less than 1/3 or the board of directors come from the Class of 1955 and the past two presidents have come from younger classes.
3. How has your involvement in Princeton Project 55 effected you personally and/or professionally?
Aside from my family, PP55 has been the most rewarding, the most interesting and the most productive aspect of my life. I believe that I have benefited much more from the organization than the organization has benefited from my efforts.
In addressing and exercising my civic responsibilities through PP55, I have learned a great deal, have met hundreds of fascinating and talented people of all ages, and have achieved a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction unmatched by my other endeavors.
4. Do you consider yourself artistic? In what ways?
Other than enjoying some facets of art, I have absolutely no artistic talent. I cannot sing, dance, paint, sculpt, play a musical instrument, act, etc.
5. GOTO's 1st scholarship recipients are just entering college. What advice can you give to a student who wants to balance their studies with on-campus public service? How can they make the most impact on their community?
The most important thing a student can do is to use their special interests and talents in a productive way. If you are interested in music, then use that interest and your abilities in the public interest sector.
Balancing study and public interest work in my judgment is not a balance but collaboration. Your studies will help you understand the needs of your community and how you can address them, and your community activities will help you better understand what you are studying.
A science major who works to improve the environment on campus will learn both from the work in the classroom and work in the field. An English major writing a paper on Charles Dickens and working with the disadvantaged will benefit from and enhance both activities.
Life is not broken into separate and distinct compartments. The Bible, for example, is literature, history, ethics, science, psychology, morality, religion, and involvement with the public interest!