Values and Public Life Alumni Spotlight: Eleanor Roberts ‘15

March 27, 2017

With a politics degree and Values and Public Life (VPL) certificate in hand, Eleanor Roberts graduated from Princeton in 2015 and headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts to develop a local branch of the Petey Greene Program. Founded in New Jersey in 2007, the Petey Greene Program seeks to supplement education in correctional institutions by preparing volunteers, primarily college students, to provide free, quality tutoring and related programming to support the academic achievement of incarcerated people. It opened its MA office in 2014, and one year later, tasked Roberts with running and expanding the operation. “It was daunting and exhilarating,” she said. 

“I dove in head first, learning to navigate prison bureaucracies, to single handedly manage a non-profit region, and to develop training materials. There was a steep learning curve, as I fought to make the program bigger, establish best practices, improve our data-tracking system, and make the experience as meaningful as possible for volunteers and incarcerated students alike.” To expand the program to neighboring Rhode Island, Roberts recruited the help of students at Brown, and within six months they accomplished their goal. “That first year was exhausting,” said Roberts, “but in the end there were more tutors than I had hoped for, and we were able to provide quality tutoring to more students than we anticipated.”

Roberts reported a successful start to her second year, particularly with the addition of two “stellar” full-time team members. The [MA] program received praise for achieving the best balance between quality and quantity of any of the Petey Greene Programs. “The other programs are still great!” said Roberts, “but, after a lot of grueling work, I have to brag a little.”

Roberts’ work in VPL focused on Global Justice and Human Rights; she fulfilled the program requirement of choosing a thematic focus with the politics course “POL 380: Human Rights” and with another course that she transferred from her study abroad program in Cuba.

Participation in study abroad contributed to the development of Roberts’ [politics] thesis: “Unaccompanied Alien Minors from Central America: For Expanding U.S. Immigration Protections”, which explored the dimensions of the United States’ obligation to unaccompanied minor immigrants from Central America.

Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center of Human Values and VPL Director, Anna Stilz, served as Roberts’ advisor. Stilz, who teaches a VPL seminar on the “Ethics of Borders and Migration” (which will be offered again in the 2017-18 academic year), has a particular interest in migration issues so she was the ideal advisor for Roberts’ research. According to Professor Stilz, “from the very beginning, Eleanor stood out as someone who combined a passion for social justice with a commitment to serious theoretical inquiry.”

“My thesis has helped me continue growing as an activist. Princeton helped me start [and] direct my focus towards social change, and the relationships I formed over the past five years led me to this topic,” Roberts wrote in her thesis dedication.

Illustrated in her dedication and in the progress of her career, Roberts’ path exemplifies what is at the core of the VPL certificate: integrating a critical value perspective into students’ future studies and pursuits.

Joined by Graduate Prize Fellow (GPF) Emad Atiq and fellow 2015 VPL alumni Elena DiRosa, Cameron Langford, and Yaniv Sapir, Roberts returned to campus in the fall to speak about her post-graduation life at a VPL reception and career conversation. Panelists spoke about their career paths, and specifically if and how they were able to incorporate a values-driven perspective into their pursuits and/or interaction with the world

Following her visit to Princeton and wrapping up the fall, Roberts updated friends via an online letter and claimed that although Cambridge's winter has been kind this year, she escaped to real warmth over the New Year break on a trip to visit a college friend in Goa, India.

In addition to visiting her cousin and college friends in other parts of India, “I spent most of my time there on beaches, in temples, and trying endless Indian dishes with my brilliant friend Vij,” said Roberts. “Also, I read My Brilliant Friend, which reinforced how amazing friends and books are.”

After being away for so long, Roberts “headed back to Cambridge, the city-town I'm happy to call home. Moving to Cambridge has been a great adventure, and an inspiring place to live during all the political upheaval from this past election.”