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Stanford Report, January 13, 1999

Haas Center links classrooms to communities with service projects


While many students were gearing up for the final push to the end of Autumn Quarter daydreaming of home-cooked meals and the cozy bedrooms they grew up in, Cliff Quan and several of his fellow students were planning ahead for Spring Break -- on skid row.

No fantasies of wild parties on some exotic beach for Quan and a dozen other students. Most likely they'll be sleeping on the basement floor of a bible college in San Francisco's Mission District. Their meals will be communal, modest fare, even when they eat out -- at soup kitchens and shelters.

Quan and his group will participate in an intensive week-long service-learning project called "Homelessness in the Bay Area," one of 11 Alternative Spring Break projects offered this year through the Haas Center for Public Service. They won't just spend a week doing good deeds. First, they'll have to spend some time Winter Quarter taking a crash course on the issues -- a directed reading on all aspects of homelessness from the high cost of Bay Area housing to the impact of HIV on the region's indigent population. Once Spring Break begins, they'll spend their days with homeless children, government housing officials, heads of social service agencies and others.

"I thought it was really an eye-opening experience for me. It really brought a lot of issues in my life to the forefront that I really didn't think about," said Quan, a senior biology major who participated in the spring break program last year and will be one of its leaders in 1999. "It made me look at both sides of the issue before I made a judgment. It showed me how large the problem is, especially in the Bay Area. I wanted to make sure that I didn't just go on the Alternative Spring Break and then forget. This program really compelled me to share what I learned with other people."

Getting students to view social problems through a new lens is the Haas Center's raison d'être. "I think service learning ultimately is a way of seeing," said Timothy Stanton, the center's director. "In traditional education the task is often an abstraction, but in experiential education -- service learning -- the task is on the perception. If we go into experiences with green lenses, we tend to see the experience as green, but if we don't know our lenses are green we conclude that what we see is actually green, when it's actually our lenses . . . not what's out there."

Established in 1985, the Haas Center has evolved into a combination think tank, internship clearinghouse and alternative student union for the socially conscientious. The center houses university-run programs such as Ravenswood Reads, which places Stanford students as tutors in the Ravenswood School District, and Upward Bound, a year-round program that provides low-income high school students with the skills and motivation they need to prepare for success in college. Student groups affiliated with the center run the gamut from pre-professional groups like the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers to the Stanford Project on Nutrition, or Spoon, which collects unused food from campus facilities and distributes it to community organizations.

There also are "partner groups" such as the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring program, or EPATT, which provides one-on-one tutoring and tennis lessons to 65 school-age youngsters. Although that program is funded by the Youth Tennis Foundation, it maintains strong connections to campus. Tutoring sessions are held at the Taube Tennis Complex. Its staff -- most of whom are Stanford graduates -- use office space in the Haas Center, and the vast majority of its volunteers are Stanford students.

The center serves as the clearinghouse for several fellowships, including the university's portion of the John Gardner Public Service Fellowships, awarded to six graduating seniors -- three from Stanford and three from the University of California-Berkeley -- who participate in a paid internship in a public- or private-sector service organization. Recently, the center began administering the Amy Biehl Fellowship, a summer fellowship for Stanford students who pursue volunteer work in South Africa, named in honor of a Stanford graduate killed there in 1993. The Haas Center also sponsors the Public Service Scholars program, launched in 1994, which provides academic support to students from a variety of disciplines who pursue senior honors theses related to an area of public service.

"I'm very proud of the Haas Center," said John Gardner, now a consulting professor of education, whose involvement in the center dates back to its beginnings. "Among such centers in the country it really has set standards. It is one of the few ways in which Stanford reaches out into the community. Too many of the universities are non-players as far as the community is concerned. That's why I feel that the Haas Center is a very important activity for Stanford," Gardner said.

The center's beginnings

Decades before the idea for a public service center emerged, Stanford students, faculty and staff were reaching out in various ways. In the 1960s many traveled to Mississippi to participate in the civil rights struggle. Others were involved in community projects through their sororities, fraternities and ethnic organizations. Still others were teaching courses through SWOPSI, or Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues, and other programs. But it was President Emeritus Donald Kennedy who set in motion the establishment of an institution that would promote and institutionalize many of these efforts.

In his 1983 commencement remarks, President Kennedy urged students to "put some of the talent, energy and training you possess into public service at some time in your lives." By early 1984, Kennedy had hired Catherine Milton as a special assistant to the president to look into the feasibility of expanding how students got involved in community service.

"Successful institution-building projects need an initiation step or an initiator, then an implementer and establisher," Kennedy recalled recently. While Kennedy is by all accounts credited with being the initiator, he praised Gardner for his inspiration and lauded Milton as "the real star. She did the hard work of implementing and cheerleading and arousing interest in the project, and eventually getting it up to escape velocity."

Milton spent months back then talking to students, staff, faculty and community leaders and assessing the projects that were in place. "None of them were coordinated, and no one was aware of what the others were doing," Milton recalled during an interview from Westport, Conn., where she is executive director of Save the Children programs in the United States. "It was the first time that anybody had met anybody else," she said, adding that community organizations were often confused about how to get and make the most of student volunteers.

In a report Milton submitted to Kennedy in the spring of 1984, she recommended that the university establish a public service center. "Many of the problems are related to fragmentation, lack of coordination and missed opportunities," Milton wrote then. "A center with a staff responsible for promoting new opportunities and publicizing relevant opportunities could do much to solve this problem, and would enable us to address the barriers to more involvement."

A conference held in the spring of 1984 helped convince Kennedy and other faculty members of the need for a public service center, Milton said. The first "You Can Make a Difference" conference, which focused on entrepreneurship in the public sector, drew about 500 students not only from the undergraduate ranks but also from the medical, law and business schools. Gardner gave the keynote speech. "There was a certain level of energy and enthusiasm that you could almost feel in the air at the conference," Milton said.

By the following year, in 1985, the Public Service Center was up and running. Milton, who became the center's first director, said that once plans were in motion to go forward with the center, students were enthusiastic about their involvement. "The students were very instrumental in helping to design and generate interest in the programs, whether it was Stanford in Washington or the center's programs on campus," Milton recalled.

Establishing the center, however, was just the beginning. "I realized early on that in order to make this a real institution we had to do several things: We had to get an endowment; strong faculty support to give it academic value; and real estate. When Don Kennedy was president, this was obviously something he supported, but we didn't know if five presidents later on would support this. But if we had a building, it would be something that the university would support in future years," Milton recalled, noting that a gift from Thomas Ford, a former trustee who died in December, helped her to raise the funds needed for a new building.

During its formative years, the center, then simply called the Public Service Center, operated out of Owen House. One of the first programs established in those early years was the Ravenswood-Stanford Tutoring Program, the precursor to what is now known as Ravenswood Reads. That program originally was designed to coordinate the various tutoring efforts offered by Stanford students in East Palo Alto.

The Stanford in Washington program, which provided opportunities for students to participate in internships in the nation's capital, also was formalized in those early years. In 1986 the Haas Family of San Francisco endowed the center and the Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professorship for Public Service. Gardner was the first faculty member to hold that chair, which currently is held by the Business School's J. Gregory Dees.

"Owen House was always full to bursting with students doing these great projects and ideas just ricocheting off the walls," said Lorne Needle, who earned an undergraduate degree in public policy in 1987. Needle was involved in several Haas Center programs and was one of the founders of EPASSA, the East Palo Alto Stanford Summer Academy, which provides educational enrichment to 30 middle school students from Redwood City, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. He earned an MBA here in 1992, a year before the center moved into a new building on Salvatierra Walk.

"Then they built this new Haas Center, which is three or four times the size, and that place is full to bursting. There were maybe five to 10 student-created and student-run organizations when I was in the public service center. They have a sign-in board in the Haas Center now, and I counted 42," said Needle, who is currently the director of San Francisco Peer Resources Program. "It's like you could probably move them into a building twice that size and they'd fill it up again. It has the same vitality and the same student energy."

Many Stanford students are involved in service projects that have no connection to Haas. Rather they are involved in projects through their residences, ethnic centers, fraternity houses and professional schools. "It doesn't all happen out of the Haas Center," Stanton acknowledges.

A great deal of it does, however. Stanton estimates that 3,000 students are involved in some service-learning activity through the Haas Center, whose budget is approximately $1.75 million.

The three circles

Ask any of the leaders of the center about its mission and it won't be long before they start drawing three connecting circles. The first, according to the center's mission statement, represents the center's relationship with those it serves, by responding "effectively to community needs as identified by community members." Another circle represents the center's commitment to developing students' "knowledge, skills and commitment for a lifetime of effective participation in public life." The third part of this triad stands for what has become an increasingly important component -- the circle that represents service learning: "to connect community needs and academic scholarship in a way that expands students' intellectual development and provides effective assistance to off-campus communities."

When these circles intersect, Stanton said, "that's when we feel that our programs are operating at the highest level."

Kesha Weekes chuckles knowingly at the mention of the circles. During her undergraduate years at Stanford, Weekes worked with the Ravenswood-Stanford Tutoring Program and had a work-study job in the Ravenswood School District, a placement made through the Haas Center. She spent a quarter with the D.C.-based Institute for Educational Leadership as part of the Stanford in Washington program. Her most powerful experience, she said, was running EPASSA.

Although Weekes was not a public service scholar, under Stanton's supervision she wrote an honors thesis that assessed local, state and federal youth programs. After graduation in 1997 with a degree in public policy, Weekes was hired as the academic coordinator for the afternoon tutorial program for EPATT, where she now works.

While Weekes values all of her experiences with Haas, she acknowledges that student-run organizations like EPASSA have difficulty keeping the circles working in concert. For instance, despite the "invaluable" impact EPASSA has made on the lives of students and parents and on the center, Weekes said, developing community partnerships and maintaining the study/service components of the program was difficult. When it comes to student development, she gave EPASSA "100 points out of 100," but "when it comes to community impact, it gets much fewer. Although [students] have wonderful intentions, their resources, their time, their knowledge base and their experience limits the impact they can have realistically. You want to save the world, but you have to go to class at 9 a.m. And [in terms of] service learning, I'd say [EPASSA is] about midway there too. You get out there and you do it, but there isn't any coming back and talking about the experience and really going over it," Weekes said.

Stanton acknowledges those challenges as he insists that students must have the knowledge or skills or a well-developed partnership with the community that is being served in order for a program to live up fully to the center's mission. "It's a big challenge logistically for the students in the time they have available. Some of this can and should happen in their role as student rather than in their role as volunteer," he added. Stanton also noted that classes that provide the requisite skills and knowledge don't necessarily have to be service-learning courses. "We're striving to have it work well with all the programs," he said.

In recent years, the Haas Center has made an effort to bolster the service-learning aspects of its offerings by encouraging stronger ties with the university's academic departments and faculty. To this end, it has sponsored the Stanford Faculty Service Learning Institute, an annual retreat in which faculty share information about how to link curriculur offerings with service opportunities. Over the last three years, faculty who have participated in the institutes have represented a variety of disciplines, including the sciences and the fine arts.

"They've definitely increased faculty interest in service learning," Stanton said of the institutes. "Originally they were designed to increase faculty interest in service-learning instruction and they've been wonderfully successful at that." Stanton said that in addition to yielding a number of new courses, the institutes have helped create "a community of faculty who are concerned about helping students make study/service connections across disciplines and departmental lines."

Political science Professor Luis Fraga, who recently stepped down as chair of the Haas Center's faculty steering committee, said the center's support is what makes such faculty connections possible. "Without the Haas Center it would be very difficult for many of us to offer classes of this sort," said Fraga, who has taught a 5-unit urban policy seminar with support from the Haas Center for the past five years. The center provides information on the communities being served as well as administrative support in the form of teaching assistants. "The center also serves as a base where those of us who teach such courses can go to learn from each other," he said.

The 16 students in Fraga's class -- who must pass a competitive application process -- are required to participate in an internship in a government department, social service agency or community-based organization. Their coursework covers such issues as public administration, city finance, urban poverty and housing. The first year the class was offered, students worked in institutions from San Francisco to San Jose. In the last four years, internships have been concentrated in East Palo Alto.

"For some students it's the first time that they have ever been exposed to an urban community that has the range of challenges that many of our inner-city communities face," Fraga said. He noted that not only are some students initially uncomfortable in their new surroundings, but that people who work in the agencies often have their own preconceptions about the students. "Our students carry with them the attributed stigma of being Stanford students and, therefore, privileged," Fraga said. He pointed out, however, that most students adapt very quickly and accept responsibility for making a contribution in the limited time they have.

Offering such courses places additional demands on faculty members, Fraga said. Not only do professors have to organize an intellectually rich and rigorous course, but they must find placements for the students and maintain contact with the community organizations where students work. Most departments, Fraga said, give faculty a great deal of freedom in choosing the courses they teach, so developing service-learning courses is not the problem. Finding support for them is.

"The active support that the university provides for such classes has in the past been focused on course development monies that have come from the vice provost for undergraduate education," Fraga said. "Interestingly, the university does not acknowledge the additional time that teaching such courses may take with appropriate compensation for the faculty member who makes a commitment to teach such courses. Those would be additional signs that the university strongly encourages these sorts of classes." He added that other institutions count service-learning classes as double course loads and provide additional pay for faculty who teach them.

Stanton credited Provost Condoleezza Rice, who committed $50,000 in course development funds for three years through the office of Ramon Saldívar, the vice provost for undergraduate education. "For the first time, we have money set aside at an increased level over a three-year period," Stanton said. "Of course, we always wish there were more, but I think we're making progress."

One of the most significant measures of the success of service learning at Stanford may be the academic and professional accomplishments of the students who participate in its programs. Haas alumni have founded programs such as Eastside College Preparatory School, a private high school in East Palo Alto; Plugged In, an East Palo Alto-based web design business run by teenagers; the Family Violence Protection Project, also based in East Palo Alto; and Partners in School Innovation, which enlists AmeriCorps volunteers to promote school improvement in Bay Area schools. Moreover, Haas students and graduates often are academic stars as well, winning such awards as Rhodes, Marshall and Truman scholarships.

"When they get their personal passions and desires connected with their academic work, their academic work usually soars," Stanton said. "They discover they have a passion to learn because they have a passion to serve." SR