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Student Volunteers Are Making a Difference in Yale SOM’s Hometown

Many Yale SOM students build bridges to their neighbors in New Haven by pitching in with a variety of local organizations and nonprofits. Every year, student clubs and course projects offer opportunities for students to make an impact on the community by putting their business skills to work—and to learn by doing.

By Karen Guzman

New Haven’s Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy for Global Awareness Magnet School played host on March 31to a crew of volunteers from Yale SOM who acted as guest teachers for the day.

Thirty-nine Yale SOM volunteers—including a handful of faculty and staff members—taught in classrooms from kindergarten through eighth grade. Each grade had an age-appropriate curriculum focused on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, careers, and their roles in community life.

Organized by Yale SOM’s Education Club, the event marked the launch of a new partnership between Yale SOM and Junior Achievement, a national nonprofit with a chapter in Connecticut that teaches young people the knowledge and skills needed to foster both academic and economic success.

This new partnership is the latest initiative in Yale SOM’s robust engagement with the city of New Haven. In recent years, the school has built on existing frameworks while also launching new ones. Students forge connections with diverse city organizations through a variety of campus conduits, including clubs, coursework, and individual outreach efforts.

At Roberto Clemente School, Gayatri Mehra ’24 told a roomful of third-graders, “We’re here today to talk about money and spending and how money makes our city work.” With the help of an animated video, Mehra and her co-teacher, Malcolm Davis ’24, introduced students to four financial choice concepts: “earn, save, spend, and donate.”

Next door in a first-grade classroom, Niall Demando ’24 and Hana Ezaldien ’24 discussed the role of business in a community. “What is a business?” Ezaldien asked, and a sea of little hands popped up to answer the question.

Education Club co-leader Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser ’23 and budget officer Joandy Pratama ’24 helped organize the event. “This is something that we haven’t been able to do as much since COVID, both as a school and as a club,” Piccirillo-Stosser said. “If we can make even just a little bit of a difference in these kids’ lives, it will have been totally worth it.”

“Here we were talking to kids about credit scores and credit reports—no one ever told me about that when I was their age!” said Professor Teresa Chahine afterwards.

Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente
Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente
Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente
Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente
Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente
Volunteer Day at Roberto Clemente

Yale SOM’s Women in Management (WIM) club has been involved on multiple community fronts in recent years. The club’s volunteering has been diverse and impactful. Last December, WIM coordinated a winter clothing drive to benefit New Haven’s Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, which provides necessities to local residents in need. Club members have also volunteered at the soup kitchen’s sites, serving food and assisting clients.

“WIM is committed to creating opportunities for students to give back to the New Haven community,” says Hallie Whitman ’23, co-leader of WIM’s Community Committee. “The winter clothing drive was a great example. We also support local, women-owned businesses. We’ve  partnered with (Sandra’s) Remember the Lilies, Katalina’s Bakery, and JoyRide Cycling.”

WIM’s “very successful 2022-2023 academic year” also included hosting the innovative Young Women’s Leadership Launch annual conference in February, says co-leader Kelsey Niehoff ’24. The event is a day of speakers and discussion designed to expose high school girls to careers in fields where they are typically under-represented, including business, politics, and engineering. Last year’s event brought more than 80 speakers to campus.

Yale SOM’s Nonprofit Board Fellows club is another major conduit for student volunteers. The club places students on the boards of local nonprofits, matching students with organizations that have a variety of missions. Organizations gain new perspectives and operational expertise, and students get valuable board experience.

Pascal Su ’22, who has a self-described “passion for youth development,” served on the board of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA in 2022. “The Y does such a good job at youth development, and it’s really aligning with what I’m interested in,” Su said last year. “Being able to see how decisions are made at the top level, being able to see how different board members contribute and how initiatives go from idea to execution, has been a huge takeaway for me.”

Like Nonprofit Board Fellows, Yale SOM’s Social Impact Consulting Club lets students serve as consultants to local nonprofits. In 2021 the club was one of the inaugural winners of the Dean’s Mission & Impact Award, an initiative launched by Yale SOM Dean Kerwin K. Charles to recognize students who live out the school’s mission. The award recognized the assistance and advice the club provided to local organizations during the pandemic, including Junta, New Haven’s oldest Latinx-led social services agency.

Since 2020, the Business Students for Racial Equity club has hosted discussions and workshops directed at addressing racial inequities. “Through education, community engagement, and advocacy, we aim to leverage our position in the business community to create structural change and interpersonal empathy in our society,” the club’s website says.

This spring club leaders are organizing a consulting partnership with the New Haven area chapter of the Black Business Alliance. “It’s easy to stay in the Yale bubble, but our focus is reaching out to the broader New Haven community,” says club co-leader Liam Bartlett ’23.

Group of students giving a presentation
Group of students
At left: Students presenting their projects during the Housing Connecticut: Developing Healthy and Sustainable Neighborhoods course; at right: student volunteers who hosted a recruiting event for local academic support organization Flyte Scholastics

Yale SOM students also engage with the community through a variety of ad-hoc events and individual outreach. Last fall, student volunteers took part in beach cleanups, food drives, fundraising 5K runs, community greenspace workdays, and the local literacy organization New Haven Reads.

To help coordinate the growing number of volunteer opportunities, the Yale SOM student government in 2019 launched a new committee, SOM Serves, as a central organizing hub and as the sponsor of the school’s longstanding annual SOM Serves Week.

SOM Serves is basically a beacon to help connect students who are interested in volunteer opportunities,” says Morgan Yucel ’23, community service co-chair. “These are activities that many students are undertaking already. We’re here to connect them with each other and with the wider Yale and New Haven communities.’

More recently, the school created a new staff position to help coordinate Yale SOM’s involvement in the community. Alexis Willoughby Robinson is the school’s first community liaison for faculty and student external engagements.

“What excited me the most when I began this position was the already established community involvement by the clubs like Nonprofit Board Fellows, Social Impact Consulting, the JA in A Day initiative by the Education Club, and course research-based engagement,” Robinson says. “I plan to expand these relationships and create new ones, whether club-based or course-based, to gain even more intentional and impactful community connections.”

Yucel says that community engagement comes naturally to Yale SOM students. “We all self-selected to attend a school that explicitly values business and society,” she explains. “Our students have a deep hunger to serve. Whenever we can carve out time to do so, I think that each of us finds it meaningful.”

Fellow co-chair Celeste Watkins ’24 says students experienced a resurgence of interest in volunteering after the COVID-19 pandemic shut-downs.

“They wanted to re-connect with each other and with the community,” Watkins says. “And then this year, we’ve had speakers on campus like U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who shared that engaging with others, doing service on behalf of others, is such a powerful way to mitigate loneliness.

Some students follow an academic route to service. The Yale SOM curriculum features a number of courses that let students learn by engaging directly with the community through class projects.

Last fall, students joined their peers from Yale’s schools of architecture and law in a new hands-on course aimed at creating proposals for low-income housing in New Haven.

“This class has been a fantastic introduction to the dynamics of local politics, New Haven history, and Connecticut housing policies,” said Ellie Wachtel ’24, who served as a teaching assistant, at the course’s conclusion. “It’s been very exciting to watch the students dive in and produce innovative ideas.”

This spring students in the Global Leadership course helped recruit tutors for underprivileged students in New Haven as part of a class project that required student teams to create a positive social impact for at least 50 people.

Tracy Zhang ’23 and her team joined forces with Flyte Scholastics, which has been providing free tutoring to a school in New Haven for more than 10 years. The team organized and hosted a recruiting event for Flyte to raise awareness among potential student tutors.

The experience left student with a new appreciation for Yale’s role in the city and for how Yale SOM students can contribute to their community.

“We have come to understand the interdependence between the city and the university, and we now feel responsible to make the city a better place,” Zhang said when the event was over. “We’ve also learned that there have been many predecessors before us and there are now many peers who would love to join us.