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Students, Staff Aim to Make Public Service Opportunities More Accessible

Phillips Brooks House.
Phillips Brooks House. By Amy Y. Li
By Simone C. Chu, Crimson Staff Writer

Phillips Brooks House staff members and College students affiliated with a variety of campus public service organizations are working together to create a new public service initiative.

The goal of the new program, dubbed the “Seamless Service Pathways Process,” is to make public service options more transparent to students, as well as to remove barriers that prevent low-income students from participating.

The initiative is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and seeks to strengthen relations between programs hosted by the Center for Public Interest Careers, the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship, the Phillips Brooks House Association, and Public Service Network.

One of the new program's guiding principles is to bring public service to the forefront of the College experience, Assistant Dean of Student Life for Public Service Gene A. Corbin said.

“Could we develop one loud voice that would move public service from the margins to the center of what it means to be a Harvard College student?” Corbin said.

Discussions which ultimately led to the Seamless Service Pathways Process began in the summer of 2016, when Phillips Brooks House leaders met with Priscilla Chan ’07 to discuss funding for programs, Maria J. Dominguez Gray, the executive director of PBHA, said.

“[Chan] was like, ‘How does this all fit together?’ So it was a good opportunity to think,” Dominguez Gray said.

“There was a great deal of discussion around the public service ecosystem at the College, and how the many terrific opportunities that are available to students fit together to represent pathways for students to be lifelong citizens and citizen-leaders,” Corbin said.

Transparency was also a concern, Dominguez Gray said.

“The end goal is for more students who want to be aware of and be able to take advantage of service experiences during their undergraduate and postgrad years,” she said.

In addition to several Phillips Brooks House staff members, 19 student representatives from various PBHA programs, the Institute of Politics, and the Undergraduate Council sit on the steering committee for the new initiative, which began meeting at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

“We wanted it to have a strong student voice,” Corbin said.

Steering committee member Saim Raza ’19 said students are involved in every part of the process, from identifying shared core values between programs to figuring out ways to make service experiences more accessible.

“When Dean Khurana talks about being a citizen and a citizen-leader, we’re trying to give some teeth and give some understanding to what that means to every Harvard College student,” Raza said.

Connie C. Cheng ’18, who also serves on the steering committee, said many of the students involved in the initiative had participated in multiple public service programs across the separate offices.

“The fact that there are organic overlaps in all of our experiences really testifies to the importance of formally defining these relationships and interconnections between the offices,” Cheng said.

“My own experiences managed to cross all of these places,” she added. “So making sure that we’re setting up a structure so that future generations of students have it laid out for them and have all the barriers removed…is super rewarding.”

Corbin said discussions with the FAS Standing Committee for Public Service about potentially combining “a range of experiences that would lead to some sort of citation or certification” were in early stages.

Though Corbin will step down from his position at the end of this semester, he said work on this initiative will continue.

“The Seamless Service Pathways Process has been a terrific collaboration between student leaders and staff representing all the public service offices at Harvard College,” Corbin wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“This important work will continue without me, and I will be excited to hear about the results and the impact on the future of public service at Harvard College.”

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

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