“Giving back to the community in which we all live” is one of the “responsibilities students have as scholars and researchers,” Dean Thomas Pollard has said.
The Graduate School takes that responsibility seriously, hosting blood drives, collecting donations for local food pantries and coat closets, and supporting McDougal Public Service Fellows, who organize and promote a wide range of opportunities for students to volunteer their time and talents to the community. To acknowledge exceptional achievements in this arena, the Graduate School honors several students each year with Public Service Awards.
“As a graduate student, it’s easy to become focused on life at the university instead of paying attention to issues in the surrounding community,” says McDougal Public Service Fellow Michelle Legaspi (Chemistry). “For me, public service plays a large role in helping develop a sense of place in New Haven, my home for the next five years. I have seen the positive impact we can make as volunteers, and it is indescribably fulfilling. The community benefits from the energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and experience that the graduate community has to offer.”
Many organizations in New Haven need volunteers. The New Haven Animal Shelter, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), Friends of Edgewood Park, Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and Community Closet “are just a few of the organizations which would greatly benefit from hardworking volunteers. Whatever your interests are, there is a good chance that you’ll be able to find a volunteering opportunity that is right for you,” Michelle says.
“Public service activities offer fun and meaningful outlets to make a significant difference in the New Haven community,” adds Ted Schmid (Immunobiology), who is also a McDougal Public Service Fellow this year. “Volunteering here has provided me with a better understanding and appreciation of our surrounding community and the positive impact that can be generated by student involvement. Plus, public service events are great opportunities to unwind, meet new people, and regain perspective on your studies while benefiting others.”
The first event organized by the Public Service Fellows took place September 23 at the Yale Farm, a core resource of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Students harvested crops, weeded, cleared walking paths, and removed leaves from dried herbs to be used for artisanal tea and soap. On October 13, “we will be holding our largest event of the year, the Yale Day of Service (YDOS),” says Ted. “On that day, hundreds of graduate students will band together to make a substantial difference in their community at a variety of local organizations.” Among the participating not-for-profit agencies are the Eli Whitney Museum, Artspace, Urban Resources Initiative, and New Haven Farms. The one-day event gives volunteers a taste of public service and exposes them to a range of available volunteer options.
In the past, many graduate students have chosen to take on long-term commitments, tutoring children in the elementary schools and at the New Haven Reads Book Bank every week, teaching computer skills at the Dixwell-Yale Community Learning Center, helping public school students prepare projects for the City-wide Science Fair, planting trees with the Urban Resources Initiative, creating science and philosophy units for middle schools and high schools, and more. “This fall, we hope to re-launch the Public Service Corps, to re-establish a group of dedicated graduate student volunteers and recognize their commitment and hard work throughout the year,” Ted says.
Each year, the Graduate School gives three Public Service Awards to honor graduate students who have successfully and meaningfully integrated public service into their classwork or research and into their lives.
The Public Scholar Award recognizes research and activism conducted by a Yale graduate student that engages and betters the world at large. The 2012 Award was given to Sébastian Jodoin (FES) for his doctoral research on the role of human rights in the international climate regime, with a focus on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries (known as REDD+). He has presented on this topic at numerous events organized by the United Nations played a key role in North American efforts to participate in the Rio+20 Conference, and become a regular contributer to global policy efforts on REDD+.
The Disciplinary Outreach Service Award recognizes a graduate school student who uses the specific knowledge of his or her field as the basis for voluntary service in the local community. The 2012 Award was given to Kelley Schiffman (Philosophy) for leading the Yale Philosophy Outreach Program. This initiative brings the study of philosophy to New Haven high school students. To expand the program and ensure its future success, Kelley developed an in-depth curriculum for teaching the course and will make it available to a wider number of schools.
The Community Service Award honors a graduate student’s volunteer work in the local community while enrolled at Yale. The 2012 award was accorded to Mira Debs (Sociology) for developing an informative and interactive website called “SchoolHaven” that helps parents new to the city find information about child care school choices. The website also enables parents to ask questions and write detailed reviews about area schools.
These awards were presented during the Graduate School's Convocation last spring. For more information on ways to volunteer, subscribe to “Public Service Notes”. Contact Public Service fellows via email.