GSDs Community Service Fellowship Program propels students into range of practices and places

From researching urban governance in Nairobi to confronting homelessness in Harvard Square, Harvard Graduate School of Design students are spending the summer developing their skills—and giving back to local and global communities—through the GSD’s Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP).

Via the CSFP, students apply for full-time summer employment or internships with community organizations, nonprofits, and state, federal, and international agencies, and receive funding to support their work and travel. Students gain opportunities to apply and sharpen their skills, while organizations benefit from project assistance that they might not ordinarily be able to access.

The program has grown significantly since it began in 1993, says the GSD’s director of career services Meryl Golden, who has managed it since 2005. She attributes the expansion to growing interest in nontraditional career paths and passion for community service.

“This generation of students is committed to making a positive contribution to the world,” Golden says. “They are interested in sustainability, solving the problems in our cities, and applying design to solve health and housing issues around the globe.”

This summer, six GSD students are working through the CSFP’s Greater Boston Community Service Fellowship. Among them is LeeAnn Suen (MArch ’17), who is working with the student-run nonprofit Y2Y Harvard Square.

As Y2Y works to renovate a space in Harvard Square’s First Parish Church into an overnight shelter for homeless young adults, Suen is supporting the project architect with drawing and modeling duties.

“What drew me to this opportunity was the idea that the problem the organization is trying to tackle is layered with issues that I have considered academically but never tackled in practice,” Suen says.

“It has recast for me the importance of design quality for organizations like this, whose success will depend directly on the success of its space design.”

Elsewhere in greater Boston, Joseph Steele (MDes ’16) is documenting the Black Citizenship Project through the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DSSI), gathering footage in Copley Square, Dudley Square, and throughout Dorchester and editing it in the DSSI’s studio in the South End.

Concentrating his MDes program studies in art, design, and the public domain, Steele says he hopes to weave footage and field notes from his internship into his GSD thesis on affect in the city and spatializing media.

Linking GSD students with current and former Loeb Fellows, the Doebele Community Service Fellowship presents unique opportunities for cross-GSD collaboration. One of this summer’s two Doebele fellows, Sarah Bolivar (MLA ’16), is working on the LivableStreets Alliance’s Greenway Links Initiative, sparked in 2013 by GSD alum Alice Brown (MUP ’13). Brown served as liaison between the Loeb Fellowship and the student-run Harvard Urban Planning Organization while attending the GSD.

Bolivar is helping to visually synthesize research and generate renderings that illustrate new uses of Boston’s greenway network, which comprises a 200-mile, multiuse and multimodal path system around the Boston area.

Meanwhile, this summer’s second Doebele fellow, Cara Michell (MUP ’16), is working with Theaster Gates (LF ’11) and his Arts + Public Life Initiative at the University of Chicago. Calling Gates her “role model,” Michell met him at the GSD last fall and embraced his offer to join his practice in Chicago for the summer.

The CSFP also sends students like Apoorva Shenvi (MUP ’16) across the globe through its international travel grants, introduced in 2007. Past grantees have traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, to work with the nonprofit Healthbridge, and to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a mapping project involving youth living in the city’s favelas.

Shenvi is interning this summer at the Asian Development Bank’s India Resident Mission in New Delhi, India, helping to develop a framework for implementing aspects of smart-city development. She credits planning studios and courses at the GSD as “instrumental” in exposing her to the sorts of innovative planning practices and governance strategies she is applying in her internship.

Fellow MUP student Fernando Granados (MUP ’16) is interning at the United Nations’ UN-Habitat headquarters office in Nairobi, Kenya, working in the local government and decentralization unit to conduct research on urban governance and public-service delivery. Timothy Nawrocki (MLA ’16) is traveling to Bolivia to work with International Design Clinic as a volunteer designer helping to develop and build projects serving communities in need, and Pedro Aparicio Llorente (MDes ’16) received funding to travel to Indonesia to volunteer with Rujak.

Among the CSFP’s other offerings are the Harvard Club of New York Community Service Fellowship, which provides funding to work in a nonprofit setting in New York, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) Community Service Fellowship, which supports students working with organizations focused on housing, the built environment, and community development.

To see a full listing of this summer’s fellows, please visit the official announcement, and to learn more about the fellows’ work as it unfolds over the summer, please visit the CSFP’s news portal.

Photo: Alykhan Mohamed (MUP ’13) traveled to Indonesia for a summer internship with Solo Kota Kita, a nonprofit collective of designers, planners and activist, through the CSFP in 2012.