Stanford grads explore public service careers through fellowships

The Haas Center for Public Service awards fellowships to graduating seniors and coterminal students who have shown a deep commitment to public service while on the Farm.

A commitment to public service was one of the themes that distinguished Claire Howlett’s undergraduate experience at Stanford - and still serves as a beacon for the alumna, who is working at a local nonprofit under a Haas Center for Public Service fellowship program.

Claire Howlett, BS ’18, right, works with her mentor, George Wang, PhD ’09, co-founder of SIRUM, a nonprofit organization that distributes surplus medicine to clinics and pharmacies serving low-income patients. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The Haas Center awards fellowships to graduating seniors and coterminal students who demonstrated a deep commitment to public service as students. The fellows work full time, under the guidance of mentors, at organizations dedicated to serving the public good.

Last summer, Howlett, ’18, joined SIRUM , a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California, that connects organizations with surplus medicine - manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies and health facilities - with clinics and pharmacies that serve low-income patients.

"I loved the idea of using one systemic problem, the fact that billions of dollars of unused medicine gets destroyed every year, to solve another problem, that one in four Americans can’t afford the prescription medications they need to stay healthy," Howlett said.

Howlett, who is considering a future career in medicine, is one of 21 Stanford alumni working as 2018-19 Fellows under the Haas Center’s program, which offers placements in government, public interest, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

The fellowships are part of the Haas Center’s Cardinal Careers program, which is designed to introduce Stanford students to the wide spectrum of opportunities in public interest and social impact work - either as a primary job or in a volunteer capacity.

"We hope students will have life-changing service experiences at Stanford and apply what they have learned to becoming civic leaders," said Tom Schnaubelt, executive director of the Haas Center. "Cardinal Careers provides essential connections and resources to make public interest work more visible, valued and accessible for students."

Cardinal Careers also offers individual advising, hosts special events and publishes the weekly Cardinal Careers Newsletter to share curated resources, events and opportunities for students interested in public service and social impact careers.

A matchmaker for drug donors and recipients

At SIRUM, one of Howlett’s responsibilities is to find more organizations willing to donate surplus medicine.

"The donors really appreciate our service, especially nursing homes that have spent years destroying medicine that would otherwise be eligible for donation to people that actually need it," she said. "That’s the feedback we get all the time."

Howlett said her mentors - two of the nonprofit organization’s co-founders, George Wang and Kiah Williams, launched SIRUM as a student group at Stanford - have shown how leaders motivated by a mission can run a smart and efficient organization with a very small staff.

"I think SIRUM’s success can be attributed to their commitment to the mission, and their willingness to think creatively and challenge convention to make things work," she said.

Fellows near and far talk about their work

Under the fellowship program, alumni are working in several Bay Area cities, as well as Detroit, New York City and Washington, D.C. One fellow is working in Beirut, Lebanon.

Stanford Cardinal Careers Fellowships

The Haas Center for Public Service provides four types of fellowships:

Community Impact Fellowships : Fellows work with nonprofit organizations and government agencies, primarily in the Bay Area.

John Gardner Public Service Fellowships : Fellows from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, work in a government or nonprofit organization of their choice, matched with a mentor to guide their professional growth and development.

Schneider One-Year Fellowships : Fellows work for one year on sustainable energy issues in one of four offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council - Chicago; New York; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.

Tom Ford Fellowship in Philanthropy : Fellows gain firsthand experience in philanthropy by working with community, private, corporate or family grantmaking foundations. Each fellow is matched with a senior mentor.

In Menlo Park, California, Angela Nguyen, ’18, is working at LifeMoves , which provides interim housing and supportive services to homeless families and individuals at nine shelters in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. She is helping to coordinate educational programs for adults and children, including summer camps for kids at three family shelters.

In her role, Nguyen has interacted with people at every level of LifeMoves, from staff who provide food, clothing and housing to the members of the senior leadership team.

"Going into my future medical career, I can absolutely use this insight to connect my future patients with community organizations," she said. "I feel like I have a better understanding of the types of services underprivileged communities are looking for - housing, transportation, mental health services - and the barriers they face in finding them."

Across the country in Washington, D.C., Joshua De Leon, ’18, is working at the Partnership for Public Service , a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing collaboration, accountability and innovation in federal government.

De Leon said the work is fast-paced, challenging and diverse.

"I might be facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings at Department of Labor offices one week, then travel to university campuses to promote our new cybersecurity talent initiative, then return to D.C. to organize a convening of senior leaders in government," he said. "I may be a project manager, researcher, recruiter, consultant and workshop facilitator - all in the same week."

In New York City, Andrew Ntim, ’18, is working at Arnold Ventures , a philanthropy focused on addressing pressing problems in criminal justice, health, education and public finance.

Ntim said the fellowship gave him a new way of thinking about his future career path in criminal justice reform - a revelation he attributed to his mentor, Jeremy Travis , executive vice president of criminal justice at the nonprofit organization.

"At every stage in his 40-plus year career, Jeremy has been at the cutting edge of the reform movement by remaining curious and flexible, and being willing to take on new challenges," said Ntim, who will begin law school in the fall.

"This way of thinking and working - being open, flexible and curious to new opportunities while still working tirelessly on the issues that you’re passionate about - is one that I’ve recognized is more in line with my own personality, personal goals and career path," said Ntim.

Juaquín Sims, program director of Cardinal Careers, said the fellowships have had a profound impact on the lives - and future careers - of the fellows.

"Their growth as professionals and change makers over the course of their fellowships has been remarkable," Sims said. "The fellowships have set them on a course to tackle the complex challenges facing our region, nation and world."

Learn more about the Haas Center’s recently selected 2019-20 Fellows.