Public service careers draw graduates

Oct. 25, 2011, 2:05 a.m.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, also known as the ‘,’ is an offshoot of the Graduate School of Business. In fact, the is an offshoot of the School of Engineering.

Recent Stanford graduates are increasingly interested in pursuing public service opportunities after graduation, according to representatives of the Haas Center for Public Service and the Career Development Center (CDC).

Jim Murray, the Haas Center Postgraduate Public Service Program director, thinks that this trend may be correlated with recent changes in the world.

“I think this generation sees themselves as a part of a much larger global community,” Murray said. “You’ve been exposed to things like global warming, inequities around food distribution, healthcare, educational inequities.”

Murray added that the definition of public service is broader than one may think.

“Public service can be working for a nonprofit organization, a philanthropic foundation, a government entity at the local, national or international level,” Murray said. “It can be working for a for-profit organization that has a public service aspect like social corporate responsibility.”

Murray cited examples such as for-profit groups that help with making housing for disaster victims, and the Institute of Design at Stanford, or, which uses design to help make extremely affordable products for public service goals.

The economy may also influence a student’s choice to go into public service.

“When the market is really bad, some of the options that they usually might jump into like the business world aren’t there,” Murray said. Instead, students look to public service opportunities such as AmeriCorps and Teach for America.

“Some people enjoy working with people,” said CDC director Lance Choy. “They enjoy helping. Others find it very rewarding to shape policy.”

Olivia Hu ’12 said she wants to work in public service after graduation because of the magnitude of her potential impact.

“It’s so important,” she said. “It’s important because it’s billions of people.”

Hu hopes to work in education policy, especially for girls in the Middle East.

For Lucia Constantine ’10, spending a year in AmeriCorps working at a community garden to help in nutrition and food issues helped her explore her interests. Constantine now works in the Haas Center as the public service leadership and postgraduate programs coordinator.

“It was an opportunity for me to explore the concepts that I had spent four years learning about in a real-world setting,” Constantine said.

At the same time, a career in public service can enhance skills.

“I gained some work experience and some intangible skills that you don’t develop in school,” Constantine added.

The experience may also help students in applying to and during graduate school.

“It helps you decide what you want to do with your graduate degree,” Murray said. “I think it brings a lot more experience and qualifications, especially for business school, [medical] school and law school, because they’re looking for mature candidates.”

However, many students cite financial concerns as a strong deterrent against a public service career, or at least a worrisome aspect.

“Financial things are weighing heavily on my mind right now,” said Jaclyn Le ’12. Le has decided to pursue public service after graduation despite these concerns.

The Haas Center provides students with services including a career database, summer fellowships and an alumni-networking service. More than 30 organizations will come to recruit students at the center’s Year of Service Fair on Oct. 27.

Ultimately for Le, financial concerns are trumped by her wish to help shape policy.

“I think it’s ultimately that if public service is something you love to do, there’s ways to make it work,” Le said. “This is what I’m passionate about. That’s what’s going to make me happy.”


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