A quarter century ago, Stanford became one of the nation's first universities to start a center dedicated to public service. Today an estimated two-thirds of Stanford undergraduates do volunteer activities during their four years on the Farm. The Haas Center for Public Service's co-leaders--executive director Thomas (Tom) Schnaubelt and Peter E. Haas director Dr. Gabriel (Gabe) Garcia, also associate dean of medical school admissions--talk about alumni involvement, what Donald Kennedy means to the center, and future projects. Excerpts:
How many students work with the Haas Center?
Gabe: It's very hard to give you a firm number. Our focus has traditionally been on undergraduate students. There are hundreds of students that have deep and substantive participation in our program. Many times what we will do is refer a student to a program that we don't run, but it is in line with the interests of the student.
So can you say what percentage of the undergrads do some kind of public service?
Tom: It depends on how you define what public service is. We've taken a path of defining public service around five pathways. One might be direct service--tutoring or working on an environmental project in the community. A second might be having those students be involved in philanthropic settings. A third path would be getting involved in some form of policy work or politics. A fourth would be getting involved in community organizing or activism. A fifth would be through their own engaged scholarship--working with a faculty member around a community-based research project. In the fall of 2009, there were 38 service-learning courses identified by our students or the staff of the Haas Center that engaged a little over 500 students in that one quarter. This year for the first time we added a question on our senior survey to say, how many of you participated in a public service program?
Is the survey out?
Tom: They just actually did that survey last month, so we'll have that information in June. I heard from a student who said they thought around 80 percent of students!
Gabe: My best guess would be that about two out of every three engages in some significant form of public service.
Tom: I'm down with that.
I noticed that students meet for weekly dinners at Branner?
Tom: Branner no longer a freshman dorm. It's an upperclass dorm with a focus on public service. These are meetings or informal gatherings around a specific topic. About a third of the residents of Branner get pre-assigned because of their interest in public service. My wife and I will become the resident fellows at Branner next year. I'm excited about having that deeper connection between the Haas Center and residential education.
How do you choose these Branner residents?
Tom: They make an application that says, "This is why I'd like to be in the public service-focused dorm."
You're celebrating the center's 25th birthday. What's in store?
Tom: We have a full year of festivities. Throughout the year we have a slate of different opportunities for people to help us celebrate. We're going to be doing things with the Reunion Homecoming weekend. The staff has developed a fairly large number of web-based things that are keying on the number 25. They're under development now. Most of them will be up by fall. Part of our site is the 25th anniversary.
How will alumni be involved?
Tom: We have this 25th-anniversary film that celebrates 10 alumni who are Haas graduates. They've gone on and pursued active lives of public service. The film is 25 to 30 minutes. We're recruiting alumni who want to screen it. They can contact Megan Swezey Fogarty, '86, email@example.com, who produced the film. The film was made by another Stanford alum, Monica Lam, '96.
Do the alumni need to be film experts?
Tom: Any interested alum could screen it.
Gabe: We've been asking members of our national advisory board who are alums and others who are connected with them to consider screening them as part of their alumni club activities.
When will the film debut?
Tom: We've debuted the video with our national advisory board, and we plan to put these videos up online this summer. We have little DVDs we could provide to people who want to screen it in their homes.
The Haas Center works with the East Palo Alto schools, right?
Tom: This year we have about 250 Stanford students working with our programs that touch the lives of about 450 kids in East Palo Alto, from pre-school to high school. These are actually the only programs that are run by the center staff. These are really some of the first programs the Haas Center started with back in 1985. They represent some of our deepest partnerships with the community, and we want to keep them going.
How is Donald Kennedy, who helped start the center when he was president, involved?
Gabe: Don has been an inspiration to the center, not only during his time as president but because of his willingness to help promote some of our events, to participate in the selection of our fellows, and to give us general advice.
Tom: He's also serving as an inspiration every time someone walks in the Haas Center. Our main conference room is called the Donald Kennedy Room.
Your five-year strategic planning report should be finished next month. What do you expect to tackle?
Tom: We're really looking at moving us forward in five key areas. One is how responsive we are to students--our ability to inspire and support student leadership and innovation. The second is deepening our ability to engage in close partnership with the community--forming deep relationships with partners in environment, education and health. We see the relationship with community as being inextricably linked to our ability to develop civic learning in students. The third piece would be about strengthening our academic connections--making sure that civic learning and community-engaged learning are embedded into the fabric of Stanford's academic life. The fourth would be making contributions to the field. The fifth is looking at what we're doing internally and making sure we're creating an organization that operates as effectively as possible.
You co-lead Haas. How does that work?
Tom: It really is a shared leadership model. Gabe and I share responsibilities around the planning and vision for the center and developing our budget priorities. I take a different role serving as a liaison with the student affairs unit. Gabe is appointed through the provost. He is the primary liaison with the faculty. I play a bigger role in staff and management of the center. Gabe is looking more at the leverage of academic expertise.
Alternative Spring Breaks are extremely popular now, right?
Tom: There are about 200 to 250 students who go on Alternative Spring Breaks each year. Those are the spring breaks hosted here at the Haas Center, and a student organization runs the program.
What's the most popular ASB?
Gabe: It's not that people rank them by which is the one you'd like to do most. They all get many more applications than the 15 students per group that we have available. The purpose of having it that small is so you can have substantive conversations when you visit community sites and have service projects in the community.
Can you mention a few?
Gabe: I can talk about the one that I facilitate student leaders running. It is an ASB that looks at the lives of rural, under-resourced communities in California. They visit predominantly centers for farm workers, service workers, and other new Americans in the Salinas Valley and Central Valley. And they connect with alumni groups in Sacramento to discuss issues of legislative policy that affect the lives of those communities. They might work with Dr. Mandy Jackson, the only pediatrician for a community of 44,000, who puts together a health fair for the parents of the children she cares for.
What makes these programs so special?
Gabe: What we're supposed to do is introduce our students to people who are making a difference and making sure they see them as role models, and they can in fact see their own careers as ending up where they can make a difference.
What happens when a student comes to the Haas Center and wants to get involved in a public-service program in, say, health?
Gabe: They might direct that student to a program I run called the Patient Advocacy Program for Community Health in Oaxaca. That is in Mexico. The Bing Overseas Studies program has folded this program into the offerings for their overseas summer program.
Stanford was a pioneer, right?
Tom: The Haas Center was perhaps the first comprehensive public service center. During the mid-'80s, there was quite a resurgence in the number of institutions that started to look at how do we support our students becoming involved in local service.
You help other universities, right?
Tom: I can't tell you how many requests we get from other institutions across the country or even across the world that have come to visit. Just last month we hosted a visitor from the National University of Singapore who wanted to see what we were doing. We just recently hosted about 20 postdoc Fulbright scholars and Humphrey fellows who were coming from all over the world. They were very interested in learning what we were doing and how Stanford approaches its community partnership. It's building off some pretty historic principles of experiential learning.
Jane and Leland Stanford talked about the University's "purpose, to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization." That's what you're doing?
Gabe: The original mission of the school was to have education with a purpose. The purpose was to serve the public interest.
Tom: They made a connection between people's personal success and the public welfare. The Haas Center both reminds the institution of that and provides the support.
Do Stanford's peer institutions all have public service centers now?
Tom: Yes. We can waffle a little bit on which one was the first center. Harvard had a student organization that's been around for about 20 years. That's a student organization vs. the Haas Center being a center that has professional staff. It's not necessarily the first center for this work, but it's one of the first that came together and brought the volunteer work and the connection to the academic role together under one roof.
Gabe: In the mid-'80s, Stanford, Brown and Georgetown were the first to get together to say, we need to have the university promote public service by building centers within each of our universities.
Tom: Those three presidents formed Campus Compact (compact.org). It's an organization that was committed to renewing the civic purpose of public institutions, either through volunteer work or making explicit connections to coursework or research that the universities were doing. Donald Kennedy and his colleagues from those two institutions got together and said we need to create an organization of presidents who are committed to this. Now Compact is a well over 1,000-member organization!
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