Stanford launches initiative to strengthen commitment to public service

A new initiative, Cardinal Service, builds on the university's longstanding commitment to public service by elevating and expanding opportunities to weave service more deeply into the distinctive identity and culture of the Stanford student experience.

Young man helping a small boy with school work..

A Stanford student works with a boy at the Ravenswood Reads program sponsored by Haas Center for Public Service. (Image credit: Joy Leighton)

“The summer after my freshman year, I found myself crushed into a taxi with five other people, heading to my first day of work in Congo Town, Liberia. That morning, it rained in torrents, and the roadside markets were eerily empty: the plantains packed up, the vendors hiding under umbrellas. Approaching the Hope Community Center, I worried that no one would turn up for the workshop. I was wrong. By 10 a.m., 15 girls with damp clothes had trickled into the classroom. As a group, we decided on a name for our collective, and I wrote it on the chalkboard: ‘Story Society.'”

This reflection, from Gillie Collins, who graduated from Stanford in 2015, is one of hundreds from students participating in service across the globe every summer.

This year, Stanford launches a university-wide initiative to elevate and expand service. Cardinal Service is catalyzed by the Haas Center for Public Service with support from the offices of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

The initiative focuses on four dimensions that have proven over the years to be transformational in the lives of Stanford students: Cardinal Quarter, Cardinal Courses, Cardinal Commitment and Cardinal Careers.

Cardinal Quarter provides opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in full-time, quarter-long public service experiences with support from the university. Cardinal Quarter opportunities are offered through 14 partners across campus, including Stanford in Washington, Community Service Work-Study and the student organization, Stanford in Government.

Cardinal Quarter provides funding to cover living and other expenses for students in fellowships and internships, so that all students, regardless of their financial circumstances, can take advantage of service opportunities. Cardinal Service will increase the number of these fellowships and internships to 500 by 2020, up from 350 today.

Over this past summer, Stanford students engaged in local, national and international Cardinal Quarter opportunities. They included a fellowship with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Corporate Social Responsibility team, internships in Washington, D.C. with the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of State, and a fellowship with WhizzKids United, a South African organization that combines soccer and HIV and AIDS education.

Cardinal Courses engage students in projects and partnerships with the broader community to address social or environmental challenges. There are already more than 75 Cardinal Courses offered in more than 25 departments and programs. While the projects in these courses vary, all provide opportunities for students to examine a public issue and explore their civic identities. Over the next five years, Cardinal Service will double the number of Cardinal Courses to more than 150. Among the Cardinal Courses that will be offered this fall are:

  • “Peninsula Open Space Trust Practicum: Community-Based Research for Open Space Management,” offered by the Earth Systems Program;
  • “Human Trafficking: History, Legal, and Medical Perspectives,” offered by the History Department;
  • “International Urbanization Seminar: Cross-Cultural Collaboration for Sustainable Urban Development,” offered by the Urban Studies Program;
  • “Dance in Prison: The Arts, Juvenile Justice, and Rehabilitation in America,” offered by the Department of Theater & Performance Studies;
  • “Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border,” offered by the School of Medicine; and
  • “Perspectives in Assistive Technology,” offered by the School of Engineering.

Cardinal Commitment encourages students to “declare a major and a mission” and dedicate themselves to service as part of their Stanford experience. Students can take leadership roles in more than 125 student service organizations on campus; participate in tutoring and mentoring programs based on the pedagogy of leading education experts at Stanford; make a yearlong commitment to a particular issue as a Service Scholar in Branner Hall, an upperclassmen dorm with a public service theme; or participate in one of Stanford’s other service programs.

Cardinal Careers is based on the tenet that service can be integrated into any career. This dimension of Cardinal Service encourages undergraduate and graduate students to pursue work in the public interest. The Haas Center will work with Bridging Education, Ambition and Meaningful Work (BEAM) to create recruiting and networking events such as a signature social impact recruiting fair in the fall and a City Manager in Residence program in the spring. As part of using technology to connect and support students as they explore internship and career opportunities, the Cardinal Service website includes a database of more than 500 fellowships, internships and service programs.

Reflecting on the launch of the new endeavor, Stanford University Board of Trustees Chair Steven Denning said, “Service should be an essential element of a Stanford education. In today’s global and highly interconnected world, the opportunities to make a substantial difference in improving people’s lives are perhaps more attainable than ever before. I am pleased that Cardinal Service will now be offered to our students.”

Cardinal Service builds on a legacy of service at Stanford that began with the university’s founding. In a 1903 address to the Board of Trustees, Jane Lathrop Stanford, who co-founded the university with her husband, Leland, was resolute that the university they had established to memorialize their teenage son would benefit society.

“The instruction must be such as will qualify the students for personal success and direct usefulness in life, they should understand that it is offered in the hope and trust that they will become thereby of greater service to the public,” Jane Lathrop Stanford said.

President John L. Hennessy acknowledged the university’s commitment to continue that legacy.

“As Stanford approaches its 125th anniversary, it is fitting that we reflect on how the university’s founding values have shaped its development and guided its future,” President Hennessy wrote in his column in the September/October 2015 issue of Stanford magazine. “The Stanford community has long been distinguished by its desire to put knowledge to use for the public good. The university is again leading the way with Cardinal Service, which builds on that tradition.”

Cardinal Service dovetails nicely with another milestone, the Haas Center’s 30th year. The Center’s website features information about Cardinal Service and is designed to encourage Stanford undergraduate and graduate students to envision themselves as forces for social change.

“Through Cardinal Service, Stanford University is again leading the way in ensuring that service is a cornerstone of higher education,” said Larry Diamond, faculty director of the Haas Center, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

“We seek both to weave service more deeply into our identity and culture as a university, and to lead a national resurgence in civic engagement within higher education. Our complex social, political and environmental challenges are a clarion call for young people to form habits that serve the public good,” Diamond said.

Connecting with Cardinal Service

Several events early fall quarter will provide opportunities for students to get started with Cardinal Service.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, from 11 to 11:50 a.m., students can learn about ways to get involved in community engaged learning courses and work with faculty on community-based research at “Learning in the Real World,” held in Building 32, Room 105.

On Saturday, Sept. 19, from 12:30 to 3 p.m., the Haas Center will host the Public Service Open House at its headquarters at 562 Salvatierra Walk.

There will be two events on Wednesday, Oct. 7. “An Introduction to Cardinal Courses” is scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. that day in Room 366 of the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering at 443 Via Ortega. The Cardinal Careers kickoff event “Kickstart Your Social Impact Career” is scheduled for that evening, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in Paul Brest Hall at the Munger Complex.

On Nov. 10, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., there will be a Cardinal Quarter Fair, where students can learn about more than 350 funded service opportunities.

Faculty and staff are also encouraged to become Cardinal Service Connectors, helping students integrate service into their Stanford experience. Information sessions will be held on Friday, Sept. 25, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 8, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.; and Monday, Oct. 26, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.