“Some people do look at [the summer before college] like that one moment of freedom before you go from one set of responsibilities to another,” Ezra B. Feder ’23 says. “But I think in that free time, I couldn’t see a better way to spend it than in a way that I really thought was valuable — in a way that I could help other people.”
Feder was one of the 75 students in the Class of 2023 to participate in the new Service Starts with Summer Program, affectionately referred to as 3SP by its organizers. Administered by the Phillips Brooks House Association, the program gives each participant a $1,500 stipend for completing 100 hours of work on a self-directed service project in their hometown.
Feder spent his summer volunteering for Artists for Humanity, a Boston nonprofit that trains under-resourced urban youth for jobs in art and design. He organized the annual summer art and design exhibition, a task that involved everything from gathering refreshments to publicizing it to the community to mentoring the artists one-on-one.
Kevin L. Ballen ’22, one of the founders of the program, explains that organizers guide students through their projects virtually, using platforms like Zoom, a video conferencing service, to produce webinars with Harvard faculty who have experience in professional service work. Webinar speakers included Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Michael H. Brown '83-'84, president of the Board of Overseers and co-founder of the public service organization City Year.
Program participants also conferenced with small cohorts of other students, received feedback on written reflections, and checked in individually with upperclassman leaders throughout the summer.
Despite the program being relatively new and its class relatively small, the feedback from the students in 3SP was overwhelmingly positive.
“There was so much energy from the student body for this program,” says Travis A. Lovett, Assistant Dean of Civic Engagement and Service. “I was overwhelmed by the response we had... hearing the students pitch their ideas to each other.”
Nick J. Brennan ’23 worked at the Grant Cottage State Historic Site, the last residence of President Ulysses S. Grant, on Mount McGregor in upstate New York. He was drawn to the site’s mission of preserving and expanding history education.
Using old newspaper clippings and the cottage’s small library collection, Brennan researched, scripted, recorded, and edited an audio tour to introduce visitors to the history of the mountain. His final product included over a dozen narrators playing different characters from the time period, as well as pictures and interactive quizzes.
“The goal of the audio tour is to really give people a more immersive experience to Mount McGregor and what life was like when Grant was there,” Brennan says. “It's important to be able to engage those visitors and provide them with an enjoyable experience, but also make sure that they're hearing a historically accurate, educational account.”
Brennan adds that participating in the program helped him build confidence and make friends with fellow freshmen before the school year started. He hopes to continue serving his community by guiding students from his hometown through the college application process and increasing access to higher education.
This was a task that Marilynn Miguel ’23 attempted to take up directly in her project. Miguel held a two-day college preparation workshop in her hometown of Cumberland County, New Jersey, where many students lack opportunities in higher education.
For the first day of the workshop, Miguel contacted colleges around the country for help, collecting informational material from over 140 schools in 49 states to distribute to attendees. She also brought in guest speakers to share their advice and experiences, such as a college admissions representative from Princeton and an alumnus from her high school who ran for Congress. For the second day, she recruited recent high school graduates to mentor younger students about the college application process.
Now on campus, Miguel is continuing her efforts to improve access to higher education for lower-income and first-generation communities. Working for Project Teach, she goes to local public schools in Boston and Cambridge to give presentations on how students can make the most of their time in high school.
“A lot of my [college] pathway is based on the experience that I've acquired from 3SP,” Miguel says. “I definitely love the program, and I'm very happy that I did it because it really did give me a type of foundation to do other things once I got to campus.”
Because all communication in 3SP happens virtually, the students do not actually meet each other or the program’s administrators in person until they arrive on campus.
At the beginning of this school year, 3SP held a dinner to welcome students to campus, celebrate the work of participants, and bring the summer to a close. But for the program’s participants, the closing dinner does not mark not the end of their commitment to public service.
“I think it's really important to emphasize a more holistic definition of service,” Brennan says. “It's really cool how students from a lot of different extracurricular disciplines can come together and find … a bond in the service that they do.”