Skip to content Skip to navigation

Public Service Leadership Program

PSLP class of 2017


The Public Service Leadership Program is a guided path on which students complete courses, a practicum, and a capstone project related to a particular public service focus area. Its goal is to develop thoughtful, skilled, and reflective practitioners equipped to effect social change.

Enrollment in PSLP is open to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Completion of the program typically takes two years. PSLP members receive competitive priority for Cardinal Quarter opportunities, and they are eligible for Leadership Enhancement Grants to use toward further leadership development. Seniors in the final stage of completing PSLP are inducted into the Public Service Honor Society.

Program Components


To enroll in the Public Service Leadership Program, students must:

  • Complete a Gateway Course: Ethics and Leadership in Public Service (winter quarter) OR Leadership Challenges in Public Service (spring quarter). Each gateway course explores ethical questions that arise in public service work, as well as leadership theory and skills relevant to public service work. Through readings, discussions, in-class activities, assignments, and guest lectures, students develop a foundation and vision for a future of ethical and effective service leadership. At the end of the course, students who plan to participate in PSLP are asked to identify a Public Service Focus Area that they intend to engage through 1+ Cardinal Course, a Practicum, and a Capstone Project.
  • Identify an Advisor to meet with quarterly throughout program to discuss goals and opportunities. This can be a faculty member, staff member, graduate student, or community member with significant experience related to the student’s Public Service Focus Area.


The following experiences are required for completion of the Public Service Leadership Program:

  • 2 Cardinal Courses: At least one Cardinal Course must relate to the student’s Public Service Focus Area.
  • Practicum: Significant experiential work addressing a social problem, societal need, or community issue. Can be fulfilled by Cardinal Quarter or Cardinal Commitment.
  • Capstone Project: A culminating project or honors thesis that is community-engaged and supported by an academic advisor. See below for details.
  • Leadership Practice: PSLP members must undertake a leadership challenge in their Practicum, Capstone Project, or another context related to their Public Service Focus Area. See below for details.
  • In conversation with a Cardinal Careers advisor, develop a Postgraduate Plan to work in the public interest, either through a job or in a volunteer capacity, after leaving Stanford.

To synthesize their learning and leadership development from various program components, students are expected to participate in reflection sessions once a quarter throughout the program. The reflection sessions will provide an opportunity for participants to connect with each other, share what they are experiencing and learning, and learn from each other’s experiences.

Capstone Project Details

The Capstone Project is a culminating and integrative intellectual and public service experience for a Stanford student who chooses to undertake it. It is completed at the end of the Public Service Leadership Program, typically in the senior year.

The Capstone Project can be research-oriented (e.g. an honors thesis), design-oriented, or project-oriented, and it must be community-engaged, meaning that it:

  • Engages with a community to address a societal problem or need
  • Integrates academic knowledge and community-based experiences
  • Produces benefits for community partners
  • Provides opportunities to critically examine public issues and explore one’s civic identity
  • Embodies Stanford’s Principles of Ethical and Effective Service

A Capstone Project can be undertaken individually or as a group. A student proposing a Capstone Project must show how it will be supported by an academic advisor (a faculty member or lecturer) and a community partner advisor.

We expect that most students will complete their Capstone Project with their home academic program. Students have completed community-engaged Capstone Projects with over thirty academic programs. A student doing a Capstone Project without the support of an academic program must participate in at least the first two quarters of the Public Service Scholars Program.

Deliverables can include: developing usable curricular materials, writing and presenting a policy paper to policy makers, implementing or evaluating an intervention, organizing or facilitating a community workshop or training, etc.

Examples of qualifying capstone experiences:

  • Developing a curriculum for an environmental education program for students from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula to visit and learn from ecological resources at Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve (Songhee Han ’18, Earth Systems)
  • Providing policy recommendations to improve the San Francisco Unified School District’s policies for identifying, tracking, and providing services to homeless and highly-mobile students (Marly Carlisle ’17, Political Science)
  • Creating an alternative “health census” of Pescadero that accurately represents the entire community in future policy and programming decisions, working with Puente de la Costa Sur (Madeleine Kane ’14, Human Biology)

Leadership Practice Details

Public Service Leadership Program members must undertake a leadership challenge (i.e. a major effort to guide people to a new place) in their Practicum, Capstone Project, or another context related to their Public Service Focus Area. The leadership challenge provides a laboratory for developing leadership skills and a personal approach to leadership, and serves as a focal point for the reflection sessions that are a part of the program. PSLP members are expected to write a reflection on their leadership challenge upon completion of the program.

Qualifying leadership challenges include:

  • planning and implementing an organizational change process
  • organizing a group in accomplishing an important project, goal, or process
  • resolving a conflict or negotiating an agreement within your organization or between your organization and another organization
  • changing the culture of your organization
  • mentoring members of your organization
  • planning and implementing leadership development/leadership transition efforts for members of your organization
  • raising support for your organization from outside groups or significant individuals
  • raising the visibility of your organization

Contact Information

For more information, contact Kristy Lobo.