You may not think of volunteering as a privilege, but working for free, no matter how helpful to others, is not always an option. Students struggling to cover living expenses often can’t benefit from the profound learning experience of volunteer work—or dedicate their time and talents for the greater good. Several alumni and friends are working to change that at Stanford.
Two alumni couples—Jane McConnell, ’85, and TJ Heyman, ’81, MBA '85, and Priscilla and Jamie Halper, ’81 (Parents ’15, ’17, ’20, ’21)—have made key gifts that will ensure that all Stanford students can afford to volunteer.
“We’re excited to see public service become part of the ethos of Stanford, just as much as world-class academics and athletics,” says Jane McConnell.
Last year, she and her husband, TJ Heyman, made a $1 million gift to create the Education Achievement Fellowship Fund at Stanford, one option among a growing menu of Cardinal Quarter service opportunities. Stanford launched Cardinal Service in 2015 with the intent of using public service to transform lives—through coursework, full-time global service, sustained civic engagement, and support to explore public interest careers. With new Cardinal Quarters like this one, more students have a chance to be fully immersed in volunteer efforts during the summer.
McConnell has long been an advocate for programs that close the education achievement gap in the United States. This gift combines a cause that she feels passionate about with Heyman’s support for Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service, which is the hub of Cardinal Service. Heyman serves on the Haas Center National Advisory Board.
“It is so fulfilling for us to be able to make a gift to Stanford while at the same time making a difference in our own backyard,” McConnell says.
She says that volunteerism wasn’t a formative part of her experience as a Stanford student. That passion entered her life later, as she tried to find ways to make connections in a new town. Volunteering for the Community Foundation and other nonprofits in Boulder, Colorado, helped her begin to feel a sense of place—and purpose—and fueled an interest in the role of education in ending poverty.
Last summer, six Stanford students were accepted as Education Achievement Fellows and became the first beneficiaries of McConnell and Heyman’s gift. Of those students, five were the first members of their families to attend college.
One student, Luis Ornelas, ’18, spent his time volunteering with an organization in Boulder called Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes, or ELPASO. He himself is the son of Latino immigrant parents and a first-generation college student. During the summer, he planned a parent summit and drafted a business plan and bylaws to help ELPASO become a full-fledged 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Another fellow, Molly Fogarty, ’19, worked with the “I Have a Dream Foundation” of Boulder County. She recalls how a Latina girl she met there shared a story about being bullied. The girl told Fogarty through tears that it’s why she works hard as a Dreamer year-round.
“This moment, of seeing a kid’s understanding of the achievement gap, will forever be ingrained in my mind,” says Fogarty.
For Priscilla and Jamie Halper, a $1 million gift benefiting Cardinal Service reflects their desire to help students volunteer outside of the United States.
Halper says volunteerism has always been important to him. Both of his parents were public servants—his father a parks commissioner, and his mother a teacher—and they gave him two imperatives: Get the best possible education and give back to your community and country.
Halper accomplished both by graduating with distinction and departmental honors in economics from Stanford, staying active as an alum in various volunteer roles, and later joining the Haas Center for Public Service National Advisory Board. In September, he will become the board chair.
He explained that the couple’s gift to the Haas Center was motivated by their own experience living in Eastern Europe for two years, where they saw the positive impact American volunteers can have overseas. “It's an effective and authentic way of sharing democratic and altruistic values,” he says.
Their endowed gift will support multiple students every summer, including seven in the summer of 2017; both Jamie and Priscilla Halper have enjoyed hearing about the amazing stories and diverse experiences of the students they have funded to date.
Among these fellows is premed student Riasoya Jodah, ’19, who spent a summer volunteering in Guyana, her home country.
Jodah says that when she was admitted to Stanford, she thought it would be her one-way ticket out of Guyana, given her interest in medicine.
“I had thought that the healthcare system in Guyana was broken beyond repair. We were a poor country, ravaged by corruption, starved of resources, and suffering from a shortage of well-trained doctors,” she says. But during her time at the children’s hospital, she met another Guyanese woman who had become the country’s first pediatric surgeon.
“She taught me that you don’t walk away from broken things. You get yourself equipped and you come back and work on it,” she says.
That is exactly the kind of multiplier effect that the Halpers had hoped for and anticipated. Jamie Halper says they see their gift to Cardinal Service as an investment in Stanford students.
“Our hope is that by including public service in their lives, either full or part time, Stanford students will become engaged citizens who share their talents with the country and the world,” he says.