Jennifer Lu

After doubling in size at the beginning of the academic year — from 20 participants to 40 — Dwight Hall’s First Years in Service program is adjusting to its recent expansion as spring semester programming takes off.

First Years in Service each year brings together a group of first years to pursue community service efforts in New Haven and develop their service leadership skills. In the fall semester, students visit New Haven nonprofits and listen to a series of speakers to become better acquainted with hands-on service and get exposure to the local community. The spring semester focuses on leadership development, as participants shadow Dwight Hall’s student leaders or conducts service projects.

“One thing that really bothered our last co-coordinators is that if we only took 20 people, then we were having to turn away people who really wanted to do service and who would be really good at it,” program co-coordinator Simon Cooper ’20 said. “This year, by taking 40 people, it meant that we were able to take the vast majority of people who were interested and qualified.”

In addition to the higher acceptance rate, the program has seen other changes this year due to its increased size. The promise of a larger audience has drawn “even better speakers” to the Thursday night speaker series, Cooper said. Most recently, the program hosted Rev. Bonnie Scott from United Church on the Green.

But the expansion has come with challenges. In order to maintain the same student-to-coordinator ratio, the number of upperclassman program co-coordinators has increased from two to four, presenting new communication challenges — something Cooper said the group tries to overcome by texting frequently and scheduling meals together. Additionally, the large size of the overall cohort meant that during the fall semester, the first years sometimes had to be split into two groups to visit different nonprofits on the same weekend.

Despite its recent expansion, however, the program’s composition has remained more or less constant, Cooper said. Last year, the program’s participant base comprised 17 women and three men — this year, the gender ratios have remained about the same. Cooper said that after examining the selection process, program leaders found that this was reflective of the overall applicant pool.

“Our [applicant] pool skews very female, and proportionally there are many more people of color than there are at Yale,” he said.

Alumni of the First Years in Service program often continue service at Yale, whether through Dwight Hall leadership and programming or through member groups. This year, program leaders are encouraging participants to apply to Dwight Hall’s Urban Fellows program, said First Years in Service Program co-coordinator Serena Ly ’20.

Program participant Will Cooke ’21, who is currently working with a group of three other first years on developing a sibling mentorship program between Yale students and refugee students in New Haven elementary and middle schools, said the first semester of the program taught him “where [he] can be most useful.” Additionally, Cooke said, he realized the need for Yale to “build inroads and use [University] facilities for community events.”

Pascale Bradley ’21, another program participant who is currently getting a taste of the administrative side of service by shadowing Dwight Hall Executive Committee members, said that though she had always intended to be involved in community service in college, First Years in Service has helped her discover her affinity for the behind-the-scenes aspects of service.

“The administrative side of service is never something that I thought that I’d be interested in,” Bradley said, “But now that I’ve sort of seen a little bit of it, I’ve realized that I am really interested in it. I definitely see myself working with Dwight Hall for the rest of the time that I’m here.”

Dwight Hall was founded in 1886.

Asha Prihar |

Asha Prihar served as managing editor of the News during the 2019-20 academic year. Before that, she covered community service, Yale's professional schools and undergraduate student life as a staff reporter. She is a senior in Silliman College studying political science.