By Karly Schledwitz, MPP’14, Staff Writer
“Ask what you can do.”
It is the phrase plastered on the Littauer Building of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as well as the school’s Web site, but how often do we actually ask ourselves the question?
The Student Public Service Collaborative (SPSC) is here to help. SPSC connects HKS with the greater Boston and Cambridge communities through a variety of direct service opportunities for students. SPSC is gearing up for an active semester. With three sustained volunteer opportunities in the works and Public Service Week coming at the end of the semester, there are a variety of exciting ways to serve.
SPSC leaders asked themselves, “How do we continue the momentum from the ‘HKS Serves’ day of orientation week?” In response, they developed a diverse set of initiatives that give students an opportunity to get involved throughout the semester in a more committed way. Three of HKS students are leading these initiatives.
Alex Lawrence, an MPP1, is coordinating student participation in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that trains volunteers to prepare taxes for low-income individuals. In
addition to VITA, Lawrence works with students who want a home for their projects, “We are supporting people who have their own ideas and facilitating projects that they want to run.” Her goal is to be seen as a resource for student groups that have an idea but need organizational or financial support.
Colin Jones, a former teacher and current MPP1, is leading a project in which eight HKS students co-teach a global cultures course at a high need middle school in Dorchester. Jones explained that he is working on scheduling a field trip to Harvard because, “I want the community here to understand the impact that they can have and for the kids to understand that the world is open to them.”
There is also an urban farming program spearheaded by Jane Lee. This project brings together students from the Graduate School of Design and HKS to increase food security and promote healthier food consumption in ‘food desert’ areas that lack access to groceries and healthy options.
In addition to these three ongoing service projects, SPSC is preparing for the annual Public Service week (April 15-19), which will focus on direct service this year. Says Lee, “We hope that through direct service, especially through long-term volunteer commitments, students are able to better apply what they have learned in classrooms.”
SPSC co-directors Tiffany McCormack and Marvin Kang see Public Service Week as a complement to the service day during orientation week. McCormack explains, “It is a powerful reminder to start at the beginning of the year and cap it off at the end of the year to remind us of the work that needs to be done in this community … Sometimes we get lost in the problem sets and the papers.”
Kang hopes that students will form longer-term partnerships with organizations where they volunteer. “We are pulled in so many different directions, but Public Service Week is a time to engage the community and remember our sense of purpose. I hope everyone — the centers, students and student groups — will collaborate on that effort,” he said.
About the Student Public Service Collaborative: Funded through the Dean’s office and the Kennedy School Student Government, SPSC elects each co-director to a two-year term at the start of their first year on campus. The two-year term helps maintain institutional knowledge and creates better continuity for the group. As McCormack explains, “It is great to have a two year position, but at the same time it can still be limiting when building relationships with outside organizations. It is something we are working on to improve.”
For more information, join the SPSC listserv by emailing SPSC@hks.harvard.edu and visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/HKS-Student-Public-Service-Collaborative/127170950790981