Cardinal Service, two years old, shapes public service at Stanford

Oct. 30, 2017, 12:40 a.m.

The Haas Center for Public Service’s Cardinal Service program has now been in place for two years, after being introduced at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year. The programs it created have given students new ways to participate in public service at Stanford, although it is unclear if Cardinal Service has led to an increase in service among the student body.

“We…heard from students in the years leading up to 2015 that there was this desire to really elevate that [public service] campus-wide,” said Kelly Beck, director of programs at the Haas Center. “To be able to say, as Stanford students, yes we’re about research, yes we’re about amazing start-up organizations, yes we’re about the Silicon Valley, but we’re also about doing service and looking to the Haas Center to take the lead.”

The Cardinal Service programs offered by the Haas Center consist of four different categories: Cardinal Quarter, Cardinal Commitment, Cardinal Courses and Cardinal Careers. Cardinal Quarter consists of a quarter-long service fellowship, while Cardinal Commitment refers to involvement in one volunteering activity for three or more quarters. Cardinal Courses are classes that combine an academic curriculum with a service project, and Cardinal Careers refer to service fellowships after graduation as well as a pledge to incorporate service into any career.

Participation in Cardinal Quarter, Cardinal Commitment or Cardinal Courses programs qualifies students for a Cardinal Service Transcript Notation, which appears on students’ official transcripts.

Cardinal Service 2020, a report produced by the Haas Center, set out as one of its goals to have 500 students participating in Cardinal Quarter each year by 2020. This past summer, 486 students did a Cardinal Quarter, indicating that Cardinal Service is closing in on its intended reach. In the report, Haas also aimed to have 200 courses qualify for Cardinal Courses by 2020; this year, Stanford offers 160 service-learning classes, compared to 45 when Cardinal Service was initiated in 2015.

Luis Ornelas ’18, a senior who has been involved with public service on and off of Stanford’s campus, appreciates Cardinal Service for the “flexibility” of its programs and opportunities. Ornelas participated in Cardinal Quarter.

“It was one of those things where I saw a lot of my friends looking for summer opportunities…There’s this culture of ‘you have to have an internship,’” Ornelas said. “But for me, I just really wanted to do something meaningful that was related to what I care about.”

For Ornelas, Cardinal Quarter challenges a culture that emphasizes obtaining competitive internships by offering students a fellowship that gives prestige to a public service project.

In addition, Ornelas said the Haas Center has helped him develop a critical perspective on public service.

“In order to do good, high quality service it’s really important to constantly be questioning yourself,” Ornelas said. “Like, ‘What is my place in this service? What sort of privileges do I sort of have going into this work? What are the power dynamics that are going on?’”

He views service as an essential part of a Stanford education.

“You’re receiving a phenomenal education here at Stanford, then the service gives you an opportunity to really be able to apply it and grow, not only as a student but as a person, as a citizen of the world who is interacting with others on a day to day basis,” he said.

In many ways, Haas intended Cardinal Service to support a tradition of service that already existed, both at the Haas Center and Stanford as a whole, rather than build an entirely new infrastructure.

“A lot of programs that exist within Cardinal Courses and Quarter and Commitment and Careers are programs that we’ve been developing and building upon for decades,” Beck explained.

Ornelas agreed that Cardinal Service’s main function has been to consolidate and organize service at Stanford, rather than to drastically change how it operates. Ornelas recalled that he did not see any big shift on campus when Cardinal Service was introduced, but rather sees Cardinal Service as providing a formal structure for students to participate in public service.

“When Cardinal Service came around, it was more about, ‘Now there’s this support system around [service], and there are even more opportunities, and they are solidified,’” Ornelas said.

Some students believe that not enough is being done to attract students to public service. Alexis Kallen ’18, chair of Stanford in Government, argued that participation in public service is more common in certain segments of the Stanford community than in others.

“While there are a large number of students involved with the Haas Center, Stanford puts a huge emphasis on the STEM fields,” Kallen said, adding that Stanford “should make more of an effort to involve [STEM fields] in public service.”

Kallen says that Stanford can do a better job of promoting service opportunities to students in fields that track largely into for-profit jobs such as tech and finance.

“There should be Cardinal Courses in way more majors and [the University should] engage Stanford students more intimately in solving global issues with our leading technology and research,” Kallen said.

Beck, however, says that in her experience, “it’s students in every major and discipline, students from every background” who engage in service at Stanford.

Beck also made clear that the Haas Center’s primary goal is not to simply track and increase the number of students involved in public service at Stanford.

“We like to focus on the quality of the service that we’re doing, rather than spending a mass amount of effort counting, quantifying,” Beck said. “We do some of that, but we’re really looking at improving the quality of opportunity for students to engage in service.”

Kallen attested to the value of public service in her own time at Stanford.

“Public service has been a crucial part of my Stanford career, and becoming a leader of policy as public service at Stanford really helped me form my life path and goals,” Kallen said. “No matter what you’re studying or interested in, every Stanford student should engage in public service here at some point to understand how their field can be used to help others.”


Contact Nohemi Davila at nohemi ‘at’

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