Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Shivani Aggarwal - Story of Self

What does it mean to be at Harvard? 

We are students at a university, but we also become a citizen of a larger community -- in this case, the city of Cambridge and its surrounding neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic and the remote learning situation that Harvard students experience for Spring 2020 and then the 2020-21 academic year have thrown into sharp relief for me personally just how meaningful it is for us to inhabit that space. 

During my first year on campus, I rarely left the so-called "Harvard Bubble". I lived in Thayer Hall at the heart of Harvard Yard, had most of my classes in the Science Center, and took all of my meals in Annenberg. This would change during my sophomore fall, when I began work as a mentor at the Harvard EdPortal. Once weekly, at around 2:30 PM, I would troop across the Charles River, walking past the business school, the stadium, and the Trader Joe's, to arrive at the Harvard EdPortal. I made that walk when it was sunny, when it was snowing. I observed changes happening around me, including the construction of the ArtLab and the new SEAS campus. I was reminded that people beyond the age range of 18 to 22 existed. Then, within the EdPortal itself, I learned about myself and others as I engaged in the mentoring work itself. 
In large part, it was the desire to be connected with Harvard's neighboring communities that I developed as a mentor at the Harvard EdPortal that then motivate my involvement with the Emerging Leaders Program at the Radcliffe Institute during the spring of my junior year. At the time, it was a developing pilot program, seeking two rising seniors to serve as lead mentors. Convinced of the transformative power and potential that mentoring relationships hold, I was eager to engage with students from Cambridge. I remember vividly my first meeting with the individuals from Radcliffe driving the program's development on the morning of the day meant to be Housing Day 2020. The Emerging Leaders Program pulled off a remarkable adaptation to a virtual format amidst a year of unprecedented challenges, and I have continued to be amazed by how much I have continued learned and growing through my work as a mentor with this program. 

I am the kind of person who likes to plan things. I came to Harvard with a list of things in mind that I was eager and excited to be involved with. Yet neither my involvement with the Harvard EdPortal nor the Emerging Leaders Program was planned. Looking back now, I can't imagine my Harvard experience without these formative spaces. In the context of SOCIOL 1130: Student Leadership and Service in Higher Education, I was thrilled by the opportunity to reflect intentionally on these two programs. They are not typical student-run student organizations --  they involve substantial oversight from and close coordination with staff and administrators, compensate mentors for their involvement, and were fundamentally created to address larger institutional priorities. As a result, there is a need to understand the operation of these programs and the experience of mentors from a perspective centered on undergraduate service and leadership on campus.

Believing wholeheartedly in the impact that these two programs have on all those involved, I was eager to delve into this project. 

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