Blending Scholarship, Service, and Shtick: Adam Mastroianni ’14

July 18th, 2014 / Advancement

Kerstin Peckerman and Adam Masrtoianni '14

Kirsten Peckerman and Peckerman Scholar Adam Mastroianni '14

Kirsten Peckerman and Peckerman Scholar Adam Mastroianni '14

At Princeton, Adam Mastroianni ’14 explored every angle of his interests, from the witty to the wise.

He pursued his passion of writing and performing comedy for fun, as well as conducted academic research on humor with an eminent social psychologist. Along the way, he earned numerous awards—including a Rhodes Scholarship—made lots of people laugh, and helped other students adjust to college.

“Being here opened doors for me that I only dreamed of when I was in high school, and other things that I couldn’t even imagine, because I had no idea that they existed,” said Mastroianni, the first person in his family and from his hometown of Monroeville, Ohio (population 1,400), to attend an Ivy League school.

Many of those doors were opened by the Peckerman Scholarship, established in 1982 by Edward Peckerman Jr. ’25 and his widow, Kirsten Peckerman. “It warms my heart,” said Peckerman, that her scholarship supports such talented students. “It just is so gratifying.” A total of 141 students have been Peckerman Scholars over the past 31 years.

The Serious Side of Comedy 

Mastroianni joined the improvisational comedy group Quipfire! freshman year, and later became a writer and performer with the musical comedy troupe Princeton Triangle Club. He also co-founded and co-hosted “All-Nighter with David Drew,” Princeton’s first late night talk show. A highlight was his head-to-head pun-off with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, Princeton’s Howard G. B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities. 

But making people laugh wasn’t all fun and games—he wrote his senior thesis on the psychology of humor. He remembers “cold-emailing” Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, to see if she would advise him, telling her, “I promise I’m going to take this really seriously.” He explored how other people’s opinions influence our own perception of humor and presented his research at a conference in Austin, Texas. He is working with Fiske on a paper for publication. 

Mastroianni has faced challenges, and used what he learned in working through them to support and mentor other students. An unsatisfactory attempt at his first writing seminar paper inspired him to become a Writing Center tutor. He was a Whitman College residential adviser, which he describes as “part camp counselor, part counselor, and part community builder.” He also helped students in his high school by running a free college prep service. 

Mastroianni speaks at Class Day 2014.

He plans to continue this type of work at Oxford University, where he will pursue an M.Phil. in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation. The courses emphasize research methods for evaluating interventions and policies with children and families, people with mental health problems, refugees, drug users, HIV-positive patients, and young offenders. 

On the day before Commencement, Mastroianni entertained perhaps his biggest audience ever as one of two seniors selected to speak at Class Day. Kirsten Peckerman was sitting in the front row with his parents and listened with delight as he poked good-natured fun at himself and Princeton.

Peckerman later received a note from Mastroianni expressing his appreciation for his Princeton experience and the scholarship that made it real: “You saw the most satisfying end of an incredible ride I’ve had these past four years. . . . Thanks to Princeton I’m a different person and better able to understand the world, and better prepared to work to make it better. . . . My life will never be the same.”

For more information on how you can support scholarship at Princeton, contact Jim O'Boyle, associate director for leadership gifts, at 609.258.1782.  

Watch Rhodes Scholar and recent Princeton graduate Adam Mastroianni talk about the psychology of humor. (VIdeo by Nick Barberio, Office of Communications)