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Haas Center. Photo credit: Virginia Bock.

To Be Of Greater Service

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Haas Center. Photo credit: Virginia Bock.


My time at Stanford introduced me to many different ways to ask questions. Through my time at Stanford, I feel fortunate to have taken 70 courses from 20 various departments and 5 schools in the university. Although these courses introduced me to questions and approaches from disparate disciplines – from engineering to history, from biology to political science, the majority of them hinged somehow on the overarching question and motivation that shaped my undergraduate journey at Stanford: how can the knowledge and skills from the academic context translate into better understanding and contributing to addressing social and environmental challenges? In the words of Jane Stanford, how can I use my Stanford education to “become thereby of greater service” to the world?

Growing up, I was incredibly fortunate to be raised by a family that valued service as a way of being and approaching the world. Whether they were taking us to serve at local homeless shelters, introducing us to leaders of international development organizations, or encouraging us to write notes and pictures to give to our neighbors, my parents gave my sister Sneha Ayyagari ’17 and I, many opportunities to listen, contribute, and learn from various public service contexts. Shaped by these experiences, I came to Stanford very idealistic and enthusiastic to gain more skills and experiences to be more useful.

Coming to Stanford, I was grateful for the range of service opportunities that existed in the academic, extracurricular, and residential communities. I found a home in the Haas Center for Public Service, which helped coordinate a variety of student organizations, educational partnerships, research, summer fellowships, and academic opportunities. For example, I had the opportunity to coordinate local projects through a group called Night Outreach, a group that raises awareness about homelessness in the Bay Area. I also conducted global health research and operations internships in a variety of non-profit and government agencies through the Stanford in Government Fellowship, Stanford Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, and the Community Engaged Learning Program in the Bing Overseas Program in Cape Town, South Africa. Each of these experiences sparked my interest in public health and education while providing me with valuable research, community engagement, and teaching skills.

When considering how to get involved in service, I found that a great place to start was to reach out to people who were doing research or running programs that I found interesting and ask them about their work through an informational interview. Stanford offers many opportunities to learn about service projects including talks on campus, guest speakers in classes, alumni events, and student panels. I was impressed and humbled by the dedication and passion of many people I met through these opportunities, and even more impressed by how generous and willing they are to share their experiences with me. These conversations helped me clarify my interests and even opened the door to some transformative research and internship opportunities.

In addition to informational interviews, I also benefitted greatly from residential and academic communities on campus, which gave me space to think critically about the ethics and impacts of public service and community engagement.  During my sophomore year, I stayed in Branner Hall, which had a service scholar program which connected me with other students interested in service. Also, several IntroSems and Cardinal Courses provide the opportunity to engage with professors, students, and community partners who work in fields of interest such as food justice, human rights, and health care. Speaking with staff and peer advisors of these classes and communities helped me learn about options to explore my interests and articulate intentions, assess community strengths and needs, and evaluate impacts of service projects.

Overall, these experiences have left me with more questions than answers, challenging me to continue to seek knowledge from different disciplines and most importantly to continue to listen to other experiences with humility and respect.

Raga Ayyagari

Human Biology, Class of 2017

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