Students disperse globally for public service

Hundreds of Stanford students are currently engaged in public service fellowships locally, nationally and globally through the Cardinal Quarter program.

Every summer, hundreds of Stanford students leave the Farm to complete service fellowships through the Cardinal Quarter program. The initiative offers students the opportunity to participate in a full-time, quarter-long public service experience designed to integrate academic learning with field-based experience. This year, 484 students are spread out across the globe, serving communities in a variety of capacities.

Shawn Filer

Shawn Filer, ’21, decided to return to his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, to serve through the Black Diaspora Fellowship. He’s working with the Ferguson Youth Initiative, an organization that supports and empowers teens in the local community. (Courtesy of Shawn Filer)

Students of all majors, class years, backgrounds and professional and service interests are serving through Cardinal Quarter. Some are across the bay in Oakland working on behalf of low-income residents, transgender people and immigrants. Students are also working in Boulder, Colorado, with the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, which works to increase access to education for children in low-income communities. Others are working with organizations that support refugees in Greece or develop sustainable solutions for underprivileged communities in Malaysia.

Shawn Filer, ’21, decided to return to his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, to serve through the Black Diaspora Fellowship. He’s working with the Ferguson Youth Initiative, an organization that supports and empowers teens in the local community. Filer’s been working with the group since he was 15 and was eager to return home through the fellowship program.

“As soon as I heard about the Cardinal Quarter Fellowship, no other organization even crossed my mind,” Filer says.

This summer, Filer will assist with grant writing, help develop programs, chaperone youth and assist in formulating strategies to increase program participation. He hopes to learn how to network with specific goals in mind, effectively connect with people for the purpose of executing a goal, and sharpen his people skills and resourcefulness.

“As far as personal contribution goes, I am here to add my deep empathy for the teenagers that we serve, my connections to local business and education leaders, and sheer effort,” Filer says.

Harika Kottakota, ’20, is spending the summer in Uganda working with EmbraceKulture, which develops education for children with developmental disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. For Kottakota, choosing to work with the organization was personal – her younger brother, Sriharsha, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 3 years old.

“As I meet and work with every disabled student here in Uganda, I can trace my journey back to him,” says Kottakota, whose service is supported by the Donald Kennedy Public Service Fellowship.

Harika Kottakota

Harika Kottakota, ’20, is spending the summer in Uganda working with EmbraceKulture, which develops education for children with developmental disabilities. (Courtesy of Harika Kottakota)

She says it wasn’t until she arrived at Stanford that she began to think about how autism is received outside the United States, and she soon learned that individuals with disabilities, particularly those in developing countries, are often marginalized and hidden away. More often than not, she says, the world is working against them.

“I chose to work at EmbraceKulture as a stepping stone into the global movement trying to change this, particularly as the disability movement in Uganda grows and strengthens,” Kottakota says. “At EmbraceKulture, empowerment and self-advocacy are important pillars of our work. Children, teens and adults with intellectual disabilities have the right to services that can help them achieve independence and self-respect, to help them live a dignified life.”

This summer she’s developing an art-based curriculum for the organization that involves using photography, video and art activities to capture student stories. Her curriculum will teach students about human rights, their own rights, building self-confidence, stimulating creativity and developing skills for self-expression.

Kottakota, who is interested in a career in pediatric neurology or child psychiatry, hopes the fellowship will give her a better understanding of how disabled people live in the world. Specifically, she’s interested in understanding the socioeconomic hurdles that limit access to disability services, the risk factors that make disabled youth especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse, and how community outreach can foster awareness and acceptance of disabled people.

“Personally, I am coming into my fellowship with very Westernized notions of disability that are based off my experiences in California,” said Kottakota. “I would like to use my experiences working with EmbraceKulture to challenge my own conceptions about disability, confront new questions about how disability should be perceived, and learn about ethical considerations that the organization takes into account.”

Cardinal Quarter started as a small fellowships program through the Haas Center for Public Service, but has since grown into a large, collaborative, campus-wide initiative of 39 centers, departments and student organizations. Nearly 500 public service opportunities are offered through Cardinal Quarter each year.

To learn more about Cardinal Quarter and explore public service opportunities, visit the program’s webpage.