Stern Students Define What ‘Giving Back’ Means to Them

Many Stern students have found ways to give back and create an impact that extends far beyond themselves. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Written by Raeesa Rane

Giving back is a remarkably intricate and ever-evolving idea. Students’ perspectives on what it means to give back may change between their initial experiences volunteering at community service events in high school and learning about it in the institutional setting of Stern.

Contrary to popular belief, stereotypes of the quintessential suit-clad Sternie fade rapidly given the growing influence of social entrepreneurs, activists, and non-profit workers on campus. Giving back is now less about volunteering one day for a few hours just to impress that Ivy League recruiter, and more so about continuous involvement in a cause. The phrase itself has taken on a greater meaning in many students’ lives, raising introspective questions about their impact on the world:

Do I want to invest my time, money and efforts to give back? And if so, how can I, a degree-less undergraduate, actually contribute something meaningful in a world of successful philanthropists and large endowments?

Despite facing these pragmatic and sometimes discouraging questions, many Stern students have found ways to give back and create an impact that extends far beyond themselves.

Cathy Zhang, a sophomore who worked for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) this past summer says, “The problem of involving the community to bridge the gap between museum and audience, and make them engage in dialogue, inspires me.” An artist and arts enthusiast herself, Zhang found it most rewarding when visitors were engaged and enthusiastic about the art she helped curate.

Raghav Saraogi, also a sophomore, says, “Finding sustainable solutions to some of India’s biggest challenges is one of my larger aims, and is the focus of all the social ventures I contribute to.” Back in Mumbai, India, Saraogi worked at m.Paani, a mobile-based big data and loyalty company that served the slum-dwelling population of Mumbai. Saraogi also found time to work on his own venture, Jazz Hands, an organization that seeks to promote English language education to lower-income students in Pune, India.

While most students have a deep personal connection with the causes they are seeking to remedy, Pooja Vittal makes an interesting point. “I believe it is important to work on issues even if they don’t directly affect the person helping.” Vittal worked in the district office of Congressman Paul Tonko and helped with day-to-day constituent casework involving immigration, social security, Medicare, veterans’ affairs, and even female hygiene. Vittal was able to explore a myriad of subfields to give back to.

In trying to give back, students reveal not only their varied interests but also their varied approaches. For example Zhang squeezes projects into her otherwise packed school weeks, while others, like Saraogi, devote a whole summer miles away from home implementing his own project.

Students have also been tapping into the resources offered at Stern to try and make the biggest impact on causes that they care about. Luckily, students have found various outlets of support within the school through the Wasserman Internship Grant, the Stern Social Impact Stipend, and co-curricular programs like the Social Solutions Project where they receive help from professors to start their ventures. While there may be no one definition as to what it means to “give back” to a community, students have found their answers by actively participating in causes that interest them, and continuing to make the term, “giving back”, an evolving idea.

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