An important part of Service Focus is carrying the service experience into the academic year. Service Focus cohorts are designed to connect peers and faculty mentors in conversation around a specific theme. Each cohort experience culminates in a unique group project.


Political polarization in the United States has escalated in recent years, creating challenges for a number of policy fronts — public health and healthcare policies are particularly contested. Among the many pressing health issues facing the United States, gun violence remains a particularly thorny issue -- it is a leading cause of premature death and injury, but is particularly difficult to address. This cohort will examine questions such as the following:

  • What insights can we gain from examining gun violence as a case study in polarization? What are ways to generate bipartisan dialogue and action, and overcome political paralysis?

  • How can each of us as citizens exercise our influence and make our voice heard as constituents? What skills should we develop, and how can we acquire and practice these?

  • What are ways to enhance communication and dialogue among researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders in the community on complex topics such as gun violence?

  • What does research suggest about key drivers and determinants of gun violence in the United States?


Experiential education, in which students actively engage with work beyond the classroom, has been increasingly emphasized in both primary and higher education and hailed as an approach which can lead to more profound academic learning, greater critical and interdisciplinary thinking, and ability to apply knowledge in complex real-world situations. How can we best realize this potential for enhanced learning? This cohort will consider the fundamental epistemological questions surrounding the idea of experiential education and learning through service, including:

  • What sorts of reflection on service experiences can help put it in the appropriate context?

  • Is there an unbridgeable divide between experiential learning and classroom learning?

  • How exactly can practical experience be regarded as a learning experience? What knowledge is produced, and how? How can that knowledge be translated back to practice and community impact?

  • How can we better identify and navigate the tensions and trade-offs that are inherent to learning through service?

  • What are ways of capturing and communicating learning outcomes and benefits?


Ensuring fair representation is critical to a vibrant democracy, but remains a challenge for the United States. Gerrymandering, or the manipulation of electoral district boundaries to establish a political advantage, is widely recognized as a practice that fundamentally undermines democracy. This cohort will to examine questions such as the following:

  • How can we gauge whether electoral district maps allow for fair representation? And how can we better ensure fair redistricting and allow citizens’ views and interests to be properly represented in our democratic processes?

  • What are ways to enhance communication and dialogue among researchers, legislators, and stakeholders in the community on redistricting? In particular, what are ways to engage marginalized communities in conversations on redistricting?

  • How can we best leverage technology, from data visualization to digital media, to support fair redistricting advocacy and reform efforts?


Education is often considered a crucial gateway to opportunity as well as an engine of societal progress. Yet, education in the United States is highly unequal -- in recent years, disparities in access and outcomes have persisted or grown across many dimensions such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status. This cohort will meet to examine questions such as the following:

  • What are the structures and systems that drive educational disparities in the United States?

  • What are practices and policies that can reduce educational disparities?

  • What are ways to enhance communication and dialogue among researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders in the community on educational disparities?


Climate change has been called the defining issue of our time, and there is no doubt that we stand at a critical moment. The effects of climate change range from decreased food production to increased risk of natural disasters, and without concerted immediate action to mitigate these impacts, adaptation in the future will be even more challenging and costly. This cohort will meet to examine questions such as the following:

  • How are the effects of climate change manifesting? How do effects vary depending on socioeconomic, infrastructural, topographic, and built-environment factors?

  • How can cities and municipalities better prepare for the multi-dimensional effects of climate change, working towards both sustainability and environmental justice?

  • How can collaboration and communication among researchers, governments, and communities be enhanced for climate change-related action?


Our food system encompasses everything from the production of our food to its consumption and everything in between. As such, it sits at the nexus of concerns about health, sustainability, politics, and economics. This cohort will meet to discuss questions and topics such as:

  • How can we better understand food systems through our academic studies (across a variety of disciplines)?

  • What are different models and approaches to the food system? What are the fundamental premises they are based on, and what problems do they attempt to address? What are relative benefits and drawbacks of these models and approaches?

  • What are the research approaches and methodologies that can be brought to bear on the food system? What are possible avenues for independent work in the junior and senior year in this area?


‘Health’ and ‘care’ are words that we often use in daily speech as well as in research and policy — but that we do not always fully unpack to ourselves or each other. This cohort will meet to critically reflect on personal and community service experiences of health and caregiving, and explore what it might mean to conceptualize health as human adaptation to changing environments and care as human presence. It will delve into questions such as the following:

  • What are the social and medical implications of how we imagine ‘health’ and ‘care’? How do these concepts vary among patients and health practitioners and from community to community, and how are they intertwined with ideas of therapeutic efficacy and wellbeing?

  • How is healthcare organized and delivered and which values undergird it? Which structural factors and social markers impact healthcare access and health disparities?

  • How do vulnerable communities conceptualize illness and suffering and enact care?

  • How are ‘best practices’ in healthcare evaluated? Which kind of methodological toolkits can we assemble that will allow us to better identify people’s needs and create responsive and caring practices?


Concepts of identity -- such as race, gender, social class, and religion -- may be historically and socially constructed, but have a powerful influence on how we understand and experience the world, as well as how we interact and are perceived by others. The cohort will explore questions and themes such as:

  • The space between partnership, collaboration and coalitions -- how can we work to address systemic issues which impact multiple intersecting identities?

  • How can we interrogate our own positionality, and how it impacts our ability to serve?

  • Identity as a fixed and binary concept -- how do we elevate ‘non-normative’ identities and give voice to marginalized groups?

  • How can we understand identity as it relates to power and privilege in different spaces, and understand the difference between engagement and inclusion?