Joelle Gross C’21, a Politics, Philosophy, and Economics major from Caldwell, NJ, spent her summer creating virtual programming for young girls involved with Girl, Inc. throughout Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey through her fellowship with the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program. While the pandemic moved her fellowship online, it provided a unique challenge for Joelle. She had to create engaging activities for the girls involved with the summer program while simultaneously facilitating those activities through her laptop. Read about her summer fellowship experience working with the local chapter of Girls, Inc. and hear what surprised her about the fellowship experience.
What did your summer look like? What did you do for your fellowship?
The fellowship was sort of broken up into two parts. For first part, I planned and executed virtual programming for girls. The organization helped girls age 5 through 18 but I worked specifically with girls that were 5 through 12. I was creating the programming and it was either STEM or literacy-based programming. Then I would go on Zoom and execute it and help the other staff members teach and facilitate the activities. And then on top of that, the other half of the fellowship was working on this virtual advocacy summit that was really exciting. That involved curating the programming and reaching out to potential speakers. The goal of the advocacy program was to create an event where the girls could really learn about what it means to be an advocate and what it means to vote right before the 2020 election.
What do you feel like you learned through your fellowship?
I think the thing that I took away the most from it and that was the most impactful was just the timing of the fellowship. It would have been just as amazing if I had it the summer before or the summer before that but the fact that I was doing the fellowship during this pandemic changed so much for me. It was during a time when I was like ‘Wow, I'm so sad about all the things that I'm missing out on as a senior.’ But it was great to have those few hours a day when I was on Zoom with the girls and I was helping them and realizing that they were also missing out on their in-person experiences. I was impressed with how well that they took to the virtual programming. And I was like ‘You know, if they can engage so well over Zoom and take advantage of the experience despite like all the craziness going on, I can do it too.’ And I think that it just really came at this perfect opportunity right before I was about to go back to school and feel kind of disappointed. But I’m actually really quite grateful for what I was still able to do.
I think more broadly, I learned how to think like I'm 12 years old and plan something that would be really fun for a 12-year-old that's also educational. I learned how to lead a Zoom call which I think at the time was really scary and that turned out to be a really valuable skill. At times I had to just think on the fly and be prepared if something happened and had to deal with that remotely, especially if a girl was unengaged. How do you get someone to be excited about the programming if they're not? It was incredibly valuable.
What surprised you during your summer with the fellowship?
I would say how the girls were so engaged over Zoom and how excited they were. I was not expecting it. I was like ‘They're going to hate this and it's going to be a mess’ because you know I could see how disappointed they would be. But no, they were so engaged, and they loved it. I feel like they took away so much. Also, what surprised me is how I feel like I could connect with them despite the circumstances.
How, if at all, does the fellowship that you did connect to your future plans for yourself?
It's such a hard question because those future plans - I have no idea. I think just it taught me that being civically engaged is just an absolute necessity in whatever I'm doing in the future and that I would love to be able to sometime somehow combine this experience - what I've learned about public service - with the political data experiences I've had with PORES.
Lastly, what advice would you have for people that are looking to participate in this fellowship in the future?
When I was applying to this Fox fellowship and the fellowship with PORES, I felt like ‘I'm not qualified for this and I don't know why they would pick me’ and felt like this was kind of a long shot in both areas. Because I remember thinking I’m going to apply because this looks really exciting, but I don't know how they would pick me. I had not had that much experience. I had been a camp counselor before, so I did have that experience, but not much else. I would recommend that future students just apply and put yourself out there. Because I think that what the Fox Leadership Program is looking for are people who are really excited and passionate about these projects and people that care about making a difference.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.