While the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered normal operations at Stanford, it hasn’t stopped the university from delivering on its commitment to public service.

After most students left campus in March, Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service quickly modified its programs and services, and identified and connected students to quality education and career opportunities in light of the changed environment.

Darel Scott, B.S. ’17, M.S. ’19, founder of the organization Earth in Color, speaks during a mini fair for career opportunities working on global climate change issues. (Image credit: Kristina Lobo)

“Like the rest of the Stanford community, we had to adjust to the crisis and rethink how we would continue to deliver on the university’s mission of contributing to the common good,” said Deborah Stipek, faculty director for the Haas Center. “It’s been challenging, but we’ve been able to successfully connect students to engaging service-focused opportunities.”

To meet students’ demand for public service opportunities under such unusual circumstances, staff at the Haas Center and campus partners have successfully identified and connected students to remote learning experiences, facilitated collaborations with community partners and professional connections in various sectors, and awarded hundreds of remote fellowships and internships across the country.

“With everything happening in the world right now, it’s more important than ever for Stanford students to have opportunities to contribute to the larger good, especially in ways that address the social fissures and problems the pandemic has exposed,” Stipek said. “Even with social distancing orders in place, there are still important and meaningful public service opportunities out there.”

Distance learning and service

Among Stanford’s notable public services opportunities are Cardinal Courses, in which students participate in projects and community partnerships that address social or environmental challenges. After most students left campus in March, Stanford instructors and community partners successfully transitioned 35 of 54 planned spring quarter Cardinal Courses to online instruction while maintaining a public service element.

For the class Shaping the Future of the Bay Area (GEOPHYS 218Z), instructors arranged remote collaborations with local governments and nonprofits that enabled students to assist them in addressing the challenges created by COVID-19. One student team, for example, worked with the City of San Jose to analyze the effectiveness of public health orders with the aim of refining strategies over time. The students’ analyses are now being used directly by the city’s emergency operations committees.

As a follow-on to another Cardinal Course, Mechanical Engineering Design: Integrating Context with Engineering (ME170), students worked virtually to design devices. Some students in the class designed a device that improves the gait of children with cerebral palsy, while others designed a camera and machine learning system for use by rural farmers in India. The students consulted with community partners remotely about their needs in order to refine the final designs.

Another notable Stanford program – offered by the Haas Center and nearly 30 campus partners – is the very popular Cardinal Quarter, which offers full-time, quarter-long public service opportunities designed to integrate students’ academic learning with field-based experiences. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, staff have worked closely with students and community partners to shift many of these summer opportunities to remote service. As a result, hundreds of students will be completing remote fellowships and internships with organizations throughout the country, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Midwest Innocence Project and California Rural Legal Assistance.

Professional connections

As Stanford’s 2020 graduates enter a volatile job market, the Cardinal Careers team has connected many of them to advisers in the public service sector. During spring quarter, the team facilitated professional connections between students and representatives of numerous public service organizations – including many alumni – at a virtual career fair with BEAM, Stanford Career Education.

In addition, the Haas Center awarded 2020-21 Community Impact Fellowships to 18 graduating seniors. Under the guidance of a mentor, fellows will work full time for 10 to 12 months with public service organizations, including Ravenswood Family Health Clinic in East Palo Alto and the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C.

The Haas Center also hosted a series of virtual “mini fairs” focused on four areas: defense of democracy and voting rights; basic needs; global climate change; and health care and public health. During these fairs – which welcomed roughly 30 to 60 attendees – students connected with representatives from organizations offering remote service opportunities. The successful events resulted in students landing roles at the U.S. Vote Foundation, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the Stanford Law and Policy Lab and other organizations.

As the nation and world continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 and anti-Black violence, the Haas Center remains committed to public service. The center has compiled numerous opportunities for students to stay engaged in both public health and racial and social justice issues. For more information, visit the Haas Center for Public Service website.