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Stanford Report, April 2, 2003

Vantage Point: Community Day is a celebration of year-round partnership

By Gordon Earle

Last spring, I spent a lot of time shuttling between Palo Alto and New York City, which was then my home. I was interviewing for my current position at Stanford and getting to know the university and local community. During one of my final visits, I noticed colorful banners strung along El Camino. It only took an instant to read the words: "Community Day at Stanford." I was intrigued.

I didn't know about the event and wanted to find out. Community Day, I was told, was an all-day open house during which members of the community could visit the campus with their families and participate in activities ranging from music, arts and athletic events to science displays, a children's carnival and health fair. And all for free. "Cool," my 9-year-old said, after I filled him in.

Unfortunately, I missed last year's Community Day, the first ever held at Stanford. But when I moved here several months later, I knew what my first official act would be as the new vice president for public affairs: to announce the university's second Community Day, which takes place on Sunday, April 6.

Why was this so important? Because Community Day is both real and symbolic. The reality, of course, is the actual event, which brings Stanford together with its neighbors. Everyone is invited, and last year more than 6,000 people participated. But the symbolism -- the spirit of the event -- is just as important. It's a day when the university celebrates its partnerships with the community and highlights many of its academic and recreational programs.

The event is significant because it fosters ongoing interaction and engagement between Stanford and the community. The East Palo Alto Mural Project is just one example. The project represents a collaboration between artists and area residents, who work with local teenagers to create murals in East Palo Alto schools that celebrate the community's history and culture. The project's current mural, as well as the artists who created it, will be part of Community Day.

With engagement comes discovery and the exploration of new ideas. I, for example, had not heard of Gravity Probe B until a few weeks ago when I reviewed the Community Day program schedule. It's the name of a future NASA mission based at Stanford that will study Einstein's theory of relativity, among other things. A booth explaining the project will be on display during Community Day and include models, demonstrations and presentations. Mission specialists -- under the gaze of a life-size picture of Einstein -- will be available to describe complicated science in a way we can all understand.

Community Day also allows us to glimpse into the future. Students involved in the Stanford Solar Car Project (SSCP) will talk about the latest developments in pollution-free transportation -- and it's anything but theoretical. When they're not explaining the wonders of solar power, these students build solar cars and race them in competitions around the world. In its last competition, the group placed second out of a field of 32 in a race from Chicago to Los Angeles. The project's goal is no less exciting: to develop the fastest two-person solar-powered car on the planet.

While many of us won't be zooming around in such cars any time soon, there are other Community Day activities that deliver an immediate impact. For example, the Haas Center for Public Service, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Stanford University Communications will sponsor the first Community Day 5K Run/Walk at Stanford. All proceeds from the event will benefit the East Palo Alto YMCA, and we expect to raise between $5,000 and $15,000.

Other benefits of Community Day cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The American Red Cross will demonstrate how to cope with fire and other emergencies in the home, for example, and Stanford Hospitals and Clinics will provide a variety of safety and injury prevention activities.

Diversity -- which celebrates all peoples and cultures -- represents a final important aspect of Community Day. Gamma Zeta Alpha, a fraternity with a Latino focus, will host a vasos-making workshop (vasos are traditional Mexican bowls), allowing local residents to understand the historical and cultural significance of vasos in Latino culture. The Kuumba Dance Ensemble will educate Community Day visitors about dance traditions from Africa. And the Taiwanese Cultural Society will share Taiwanese culture through interactive, hands-on activities featuring calligraphy and Chinese yo-yo performances.

Yet, for all its benefits, Community Day can only be successful if it promotes interchange between Stanford and its neighbors throughout the year. A true community partnership -- in spirit and fact -- must be more than a one-day event.

"Discovering Dickens" provides a good example. This community reading project culminates during Community Day with a final reading of Great Expectations. But the project, launched in December, has been part of the lives of over 6,000 local residents for the past four months. The Haas Center for Public Service is another example of ongoing involvement between Stanford and its neighbors. It will offer a school-to-college information fair during Community Day that describes academic support services for children and teens in local communities. The center operates these and many other community service programs throughout the year.

Shortly before his death, Leland Stanford wrote in a letter to David Starr Jordan, the university's first president, that "one of the most important things to be taught in the institution is co-operation." It is this spirit that drives Community Day, as well as the university's desire to be inclusive, encourage partnership, stress education and learning, and promote engagement with others.

We hope to see you there.


Gordon Earle is vice president for public affairs.