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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview last Tuesday that he hopes to expand the way Harvard College and its students define public service.
He said he believes people often have a “narrow” perception of what constitutes public service, citing stereotypes that students assign to different jobs and industries.
“I want to have a kind of expansive definition of that, because I think the old definitions tended to be too narrow and not necessarily reflect the array,” he said. “Just based on my experiences, both as a faculty member at the business school and as well as faculty dean in Cabot, this is more of a continuum than these kinds of discrete categories that people often place.”
Khurana said, for example, that students who enter careers in consulting — a profession he said lends itself to “caricatures” — often do service work via advising governments, nonprofit organizations, and companies in sectors such as health care and education.
“But the question of how you approach that job and the orientation you bring to that also matters,” he said.
Keeping this wider definition in mind, Khurana said he hopes that the Phillips Brooks House and the Office of Career Services can collaborate to provide students with a “wide array” of public service opportunities.
He also spoke about the College’s role in promoting public service more broadly.
“We expect all of our students to integrate this notion of service and the responsibility that comes with being an engaged member of our community in whatever aspects or careers they end up choosing,” he said.
He cited both longstanding Harvard institutions like Phillips Brooks House and the Institute of Politics, as well as newer College programs like Service Starts with Summer, which the College launched last year.
Summer Starts with Service offers incoming freshmen the opportunity to serve in their hometowns alongside Harvard faculty and student leaders the summer before matriculation. A select number who commit to more than 100 hours of service receive a $1500 stipend.
Khurana added that the College must provide opportunities for students to serve inside and outside of the classroom.
“Finding opportunities to work on complex problems — which are transdisciplinary, cut across array of institutions or disciplines — and understanding systems is important,” he said.
He gave the example of the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship, which offers courses that include a public service component and cultivates an “appreciation for non-academic perspectives, knowledge, and expertise,” according to its website.
Regardless of their undergraduate pursuits, Khurana said the College should provide many options for students to explore public service after they leave Harvard.
“I think what's also important is that we make sure that we're giving students as many alternatives and choices to consider what their first job would be after college,” he said.
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.
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