Presidents Public Service Fellows Foster Service and Community
While giving back over the summer as part of the University’s President’s Public Service Fellowship, several Chargers connected with and supported the local community while also developing their own skills and appreciation of the impact of public service.
September 26, 2023
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
For Marcus Harvin ’25, volunteering with Neighborhood Housing Services in New Haven this summer wasn’t just a rewarding chance to serve the local community. It was an opportunity to serve his community – the community he grew up in.
As a member of the University’s President’s Public Service Fellowship (PPSF) program, Harvin, a native of New Haven, Conn., immersed himself in giving back to and connecting with the community. He recently shared his experiences in the program, from cleaning up the grounds of an elementary school to what he gained by giving back, with his fellow Chargers.
“I was putting my hands in the ground to serve the community, the community where I began,” said Harvin, who is pursuing a degree in general studies. “This is the embodiment of who I am. I hope to give those who come after me a better start than I had.”
‘This is experiential education’
Harvin was among the half dozen students who took part in the President’s Public Service Fellowship over the summer. The Fellows shared their experiences in the program as part of a recent presentation on campus.
For Harvin, his service didn’t just reflect where he came from – it also was indicative of the future he is creating. As he told members of the University community, he is a convicted felon who has now been out of prison less than 18 months. He was a member of the University’s Prison Education Program and the Yale Prison Education Initiative’s inaugural graduating class this past spring. After graduating with his associate degree, he’s continuing his education at the University.
“This has given me the opportunity to realize I can work in ways I haven’t before,” he said. “The University opened doors for me and didn’t judge me. My route to the University was an alternative route, but I’ve been welcomed.”
The program places undergraduate and graduate students of all programs of study in a nonprofit or public service work environment. Students build their skills and develop an understanding for and appreciation of the importance of public service.
“You represent the best of what we do at the University,” said Sheahon Zenger, Ph.D., interim president of the University, to the Fellows. “This is experiential education. This is it. You make us so proud.”
‘A tremendously fulfilling experience’
This summer, the Fellows spent nearly 2,000 combined hours in the program, which enables them to build critical skills – particularly those that are central to the University’s Competency Learning Experience such as leadership and resilience. The Fellows reported higher CLE scores after their time in the program.
Audra Theberge ’24, who worked with children at the West Haven Community House, says the program was a wonderful experience. She developed her communication skills as she served the local community and learned from the kindergarteners she interacted with.
“I noted the different communication styles with the kids versus adults,” said Theberge, a criminal justice major. “Young kids can’t always articulate what they need. I had to help them with emotional dysregulation. I worked hard to communicate with the kids and learn what they needed.”
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the fellowship program, which has provided hands-on and impactful experiences to more than 250 students. It has offered Chargers community connections and networking opportunities that have led to employment. It has also supported local nonprofits, enabling them to receive additional support without an added expense.
“I got out of my comfort zone with the younger kids,” said Theberge. “It was a tremendously fulfilling experience. It was wonderful to work with an organization and still get to help without being a financial burden.”
‘Ambassadors in the world’
The program was initially created through the support of Henry Bartels ’91 Hon. and Nancy Bartels ’11 Hon., longtime University benefactors. The Bartels family, which includes many of the University’s most gracious benefactors, has supported the program ever since.
As part of the presentation, their son, Philip Bartels ’11 Hon., told the University community that he and his family believe in the importance of what students learn at the University – not just in the classroom but outside of the classroom as well.
“Just before he passed away, my father reaffirmed this was the program he was most proud of,” said Bartels. “This is exactly what my father wanted. It’s what I – and the rest of our family – want. We’re very proud of the Fellows and every generation of these students who serve as ambassadors for the University and ambassadors in the world.”
During the presentation, Fellows shared their experiences serving at organizations such as New Haven Reads, CitySeed, and the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall. Nicole Harry ’23, ’25 M.S., a candidate in the University’s cellular and molecular biology graduate program and fellowship coordinator, led the Fellows in a question-and-answer session, during which they shared what they learned with the University community.
During their time in the program, the Fellows also developed a sense of community among themselves. They took part in educational workshops focused on topics such as resume writing. They also connected with each other and experienced everything the local community has to offer through fun experiences such as movie nights and going out to local restaurants.
For Harvin, the Neighborhood Housing Services volunteer, serving as a Fellow was a pivotal moment of his life. It was a turning point, of sorts, as he reflected on where he’s been and looked ahead to the future.
“Staying on campus this summer as a Fellow symbolized my restart after leaving prison,” he explained at the presentation. “I had to start school over, and after my restart, I’m now doing well.”