Santa Clara student discusses leadership, education and activism
May 10, 2018
Harshi Mogallapalli (say “Hershey” like the chocolate) is the Director of SCCAP (Santa Clara Community Action Program), Santa Clara’s volunteering and community service student organization. Her passion for community service started young when she founded a non-profit in high school to bring music into an afterschool program in urban Milwaukee. While at Santa Clara, she has taken advantage of several of Santa Clara’s summer programs including Global Fellows and the Jean Donovan Fellowship to travel to The Gambia and Nepal.
Gavin Cosgrave: How did you start a non-profit in high school?
Harshi Mogallapalli: I started a non-profit as a sophomore in high school. I loved music, and I learned classical Indian singing since I was five years old. I’m from a little town outside of Milwaukee. There was another school more of the inner city that had an after-school program. They didn’t have any activities, it was just kids hanging out with supervising teachers. I asked if I could come in once a week and incorporate music into the afterschool program. It was definitely a learning experience because I don’t know if I took time to listen to the community and what they needed. If I didn’t have that experience, I might not have learned the importance of listening.
GC: Were there any SCCAP experiences in your first year that made an impact on you?
HM: My first SCCAP experience was what made me stick with it. A group of people with my scholarship went to Julian Street Inn, a transitional shelter in San Jose. We go, we make breakfast, we serve it and eat with the residents there. The leader of that program named Julia was sitting at the table and one of the residents told her, “This breakfast is so delicious. Thank you so much for coming every Saturday and making this breakfast for us.” I realized that Julia wakes up at 5 a.m. every Saturday to make breakfast, and I realized that those were the people I wanted to hang out with. That’s when I decided that SCCAP would be where I found my people.
GC: What were your goals as director this year?
HM: My main focus was to do something about the polarization. When I was department coordinator, the whole president fiasco happened and things just exploded. I thought that SCCAP had to handle it. The director at the time did a fantastic job, but it’s a really hard problem to deal with right when it happened. I knew that I had the privilege of being director at a time when things have calmed down a little bit. People need to be able to talk to each other.
My main focus was the implementation of issue-based meetings. The third Monday of every month, we have meetings dedicated to an issue. We’ve talked about feminism, the new policies of Betsy DeVos for education, one about the LGBTQ community. Anyone can come, and the point is not to bias you in any way, but to provide you with an education. We want to invite different opinions—because for me— there’s a story behind every opinion and it’s worth knowing what those stories are.
GC: This past summer you did a Jean Donovan Fellowship project in Nepal. What were the highlights of that experience?
HM: Nepal is my favorite country on the planet. I love everything about it. I decided to go there because I see myself working at least a little bit in India. I wanted a country similar to India and nearby, but different. In my program, I volunteered at a rural health clinic in the mountains. I would do an hour hike every day in the morning and evening to get to the clinic. We would get two or three patients a day, take their vitals and learn Nepalese.I also worked in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, in a big community hospital. Five floors, 10 departments, doctors and patients everywhere. There I learned what a busy healthcare environment is like.
GC: How does your major of biology tie into your abroad experiences?
HM: In biology, you do research, and often it doesn’t seem like social justice work, but I’ve noticed how many scientists do social justice work. Actual scientists look at health disparities and what that means in terms of genetics and medicine. Scientific literature is actually an incredibly powerful method for advocating for a community. By going to The Gambia, I was able to get the experience of being in a community that I’m not from. From biology, I was able to build the tools I need to further their cause.
GC: What are your plans after graduating?
HM: That’s a good question! I’m still looking at multiple jobs. In the long run, I want to go to medical school and become a doctor. The lessons I’ve learned at Santa Clara about how to be an advocate and how to listen to other people have been great practice for being a doctor.
“Voices of Santa Clara,” profiles noteworthy students and faculty. The Q & A is excerpted from the “Voices of Santa Clara” podcast.
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