As a Cardinal Quarter fellow at the Library of Congress, Stanford sophomore Anastasia Sotiropoulos combs through portraits in a collection of Civil War photographs, looking for ambrotypes, tintypes and carte de visite photos featuring African Americans.

Steffi Andersen, a senior majoring in biomedical computation, is working virtually at PVI Rosener House this spring during her quarter of public service through the Cardinal Quarter program, while Ashwin Pillai, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, is working at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. (Image credit: Courtesy Steffi Andersen; Courtesy Ashwin Pillai)

“So far, I’ve curated an album for the library’s Flickr about the experiences of Black children during the Civil War,” she said during an interview in early May. “I’ve created posts for its Instagram, which has almost 90,000 followers. Looking ahead, I’ll be publishing a blog post about how the images can be used in the classroom. I’ll also be giving a presentation to the library’s community – and anyone else who would like to attend – at the end of May.”

During her research, Sotiropoulos discovered that cartes de visite – tiny photo cards traded between friends and families during the Civil War era – have “big stories” to tell.

“I learned that the abolitionist Sojourner Truth copyrighted her own image to raise money for causes she cared about,” she said. “Although I’m not sure exactly what I want to pursue in the future, I know that I want storytelling to be a part of it. The experience of making history engaging to an audience showed me that storytelling is everywhere. It’s an invaluable skill I can’t wait to further hone during my time at Stanford.”

Spring quarter service projects

Sotiropoulos is one of 20 undergraduate students spending spring quarter working full time on public service projects through the Cardinal Quarter program of Cardinal Service, a university-wide effort to make service an essential feature of a Stanford education.

They work remotely – from campus or home – at 18 city, county, state and federal agencies and nonprofit groups. In addition to learning new skills, they are applying existing skills – in research, writing, data analysis and social media – to help the agencies and nonprofits fulfill their missions.

Emiliano Corona, a first-year student, is applying his research and data analysis skills to help the organization First Gen Scholars determine the scope of educational inequality in the high schools the group serves in San Diego, California.

“Creating a data set for First Gen Scholars has been a highlight of my experience and has already proven to be critical to the organization in providing the necessary data for grant applications,” he said.

Sophomore Sean Casey is working at the White House, where he is helping to communicate President Biden’s drug policy priorities to the media, stakeholders and legislators.

“Public service is more than the gridlock and frustration we see every day,” said Casey, who is majoring in economics and political science in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “It can be joyful, it can be humble, and above all, it can help people.”

Cardinal Quarter goes virtual

To continue offering Cardinal Quarter internships during the pandemic, the Haas Center for Public Service, along with dozens of campus partners, worked with students, government agencies and nonprofit groups to identify meaningful projects that students could do remotely.

Jon McConnell, the senior program director for Cardinal Quarter, said supporting students through the program is a powerful way that Stanford educates students for lives of purpose – one of the goals of university co-founder Jane Stanford.

“Through full-time service, students make meaningful contributions to the work of public service organizations while they deepen their knowledge and skills to advance social change, learn from senior leaders and gain a clearer sense of how to incorporate service into their careers and lives in the future,” he said.

McConnell said more than 275 students will participate in Cardinal Quarter this summer, supporting the work of more than 250 organizations across the country.

Students contribute while learning

At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Adam Nayak is helping to develop a tool that will help environmental engineers, government officials and conservationists assess the sustainability of projects that preserve riparian buffer zones – strips of vegetation along streams, rivers and wetlands that help control nutrient levels, sediment runoff and erosion.

Nayak, a junior majoring in environmental engineering in the School of Engineering, said the project required a comprehensive literature review, precise data aggregation and conversations with government officials and experts in cost assessment and project development.

“I’ve been able to explore environmental engineering work that is focused specifically on an area of interest of mine: water infrastructure development and assessment based upon life cycle assessment and sustainability analysis,” he said.

At the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Ashwin Pillai is helping prepare the draft of a plan to ensure that people with limited English proficiency have equal access to fair housing services funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Pillai, a sophomore majoring in philosophy in the School of Humanities and Sciences, is also updating an amicus brief for an upcoming federal court case on rent relief, adding new information and data about the impact of the pandemic on renters.

“I’m doing substantive legal research and policy work that I haven’t yet been able to do at Stanford,” he said. “I think this experience will also inform my academic trajectory going forward. I’ve begun to realize that many elements of public policy work are much more interesting than I previously thought.”

At PVI Rosener House, an adult day services center in Menlo Park, California, Steffi Andersen is creating and leading group activities – via Zoom – about Spanish art, culture and music, including content designed to engage adults living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Andersen, a senior majoring in biomedical computation in the School of Engineering, said working at the center has given her insight into the lives of older adults living with dementia and the challenges they present to caregivers.

“Hearing their stories has helped me better understand what selfless caregiving looks like,” she said. “I hope to bring this wider perspective into my future studies as I work toward a career in medicine.”