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the impact

of indirect service

By Gabi Stein

Gabi is a second year Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently majoring in Computer Science and is planning on applying to the Gillings School of Public Health for a second major in Biostatistics. Her research interests include mathematical modeling, public health, and education. In Gabi’s free time she listens to as many podcast as possible, looks for new trails to run, and watches various sitcoms on Netflix. In the future, Gabi hopes to find the intersection of research and start-ups.

Many high school and college students participate in service projects—either to fulfill various requirements for school or other organizations or just out of a desire to make the world a better place. However, the question often arises: how is “service” defined? Too often, service is only defined as direct engagement within a community, and students fail to see the impact of indirect community involvement. Direct service is certainly useful because it allows for people to see immediate results and gain immediate satisfaction from their actions, but as individuals grow, so does their desire to have longstanding impact. I believe this is something to be achieved through indirect service.


While studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, I was encouraged to develop my own idea of service. The Morehead-Cain Scholarship is the oldest merit scholarship in the USA and provides recipients with a stipend that covers all academic-year expenses as well as summer internships and other educational opportunities. Additionally, Morehead-Cain Scholars entering their second year at the University are offered a summer experience in public service.


The public service summer is prompted by the idea that it is the responsibility of those to whom much is given to give much in return. The Morehead-Cain Foundation wants its scholars to broaden their worldview, gain problem-solving skills, and understand the impact of their actions.


This mission to give and complete service can be fulfilled by direct as well as indirect service. While indirect service could be overlooked because of the fact that it often consists of solitary work done by researchers and policy managers, it is this type of service that is so crucial in solving deadly public health problems, environmental concerns, and many other pressing problems where critical thinking and repetitive trials must be utilized. In this vein, I recently spent nine weeks with Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health (SESH) in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. I believe that the work I completed in China shows the potential impact for indirect service on specified communities.


One of thousands of organizations attempting to put a dent in the public health epidemics throughout the globe, SESH plans contests to crowdsource ideas for HIV testing and other pressing sexual health concerns and then tests the effectiveness of each solution compared to the current government standard.


Research of this type is typically classified as indirect service because, while it does impact a community, researchers spend a majority of their time in an office or lab. Yet this public health research has a long-term effect on HIV prevalence rates, clinical trials, and genomics, to name a few major areas. These results will not only impact one community, but also greater global health goals such as eliminating HIV from the current population.


While the immediate repercussions of such a contribution are not as visible as they might be with a direct service project, I believe that my interactions through indirect service still served to impact a greater cause.No, I do not have a picture to share featuring ten ‘token’ kids smiling. No, I cannot post a picture with me standing in front of a newly built house.  But, I can share with you pictures of hard-working individuals trying to develop community interventions, discrete choice experiments, randomized control trials, and systematic reviews. Such is the beauty of indirect service.

Thus, I urge you to consider indirect service opportunities at organizations working to better health and schools. Beyond these sectors, community building and engagement are also key factors in creating a successful society. When considering new opportunities for service, consider how to involve yourself in more than just the surface of different organizations. Put energy into the policy, administration, and logistics to see a new side of impactful service.

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