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Undergraduate Student Life

The 5 Pathways to Service

The 5 Pathways to Service are a way of conceptualizing the work you do in your community. By better understanding the work we seek to do and how it can impact those we seek to help, the better we can serve.

Your community is any group for which you feel a connection, whether it be on campus, in your family, neighborhood, nation, or world. You may or may not personally know the individuals in a community of which you feel a part, but regardless, you recognize a sense of human connectedness and commonality. 

Each community challenge calls for a unique response and a particular type(s) of service. An important component to helping communities in need is identifying what is needed and what is not. Providing a type of service that is not needed, while well-meaning, may be counterproductive and even harmful to communities in the long-term.  

1. Direct Service

Work that addresses an immediate community challenge. 

2. Activism

Work that influences or persuades others in a particular way to address a community challenge.

3. Political Participation

Work that uses the processes of democratic self-governance to address a community challenge.

4. Financial Stewardship

Work that secures and/or manages financial support for a type(s) of service to address a community challenge.

5. Engaged Scholarship

Work that seeks a long-term, sustainable solution to a community challenge using the skill sets and knowledge base of all those addressing that community challenge.

 Understanding Engaged Scholarship better

While all of the Pathways are important in particular situations, we see a need for increased efforts in Engaged Scholarship.

All of the Pathways present their own particular challenges, but Engaged Scholarship carries the additional challenge of being work done for the benefit of the long-term. This means that a sustained efforts and longer commitment is usually required of individuals. In addition, Engaged Scholarship sometimes lacks the “instant gratification” or sense of accomplishment someone gets from working on a short-term challenge. Working on an Engaged Scholarship project often means working on one smaller piece that then fits into the work done by others, which results in long-term solutions to community challenges.

All the Pathways work best when members of the immediate community being served drive, or are a part of, the proposed solution. Engaged Scholarship, however, is the only Pathway that requires the participation from immediate community members in order to be effective.

Engaged Scholarship will always entail employing one or more of the other Pathways in such a way that (a) involves members of the immediate community in which the work is being done, and (b) where the work is designed to create a sustainable and long-term solution to a challenge.

 Examples of The 5 Pathways to Service

  • Volunteering with a local organization that distributes food to the homeless (Direct Service) and develops and harvests community gardens to increase the capacity to reach more people (Direct Service and Engaged Scholarship).
  • Donating money to your friend's 5 k-run-fundraising drive to support cancer research (Financial Stewardship).  
  • Running for public office (Political Participation).
  • Working with a group to clean up a neighborhood after a tornado strike (Direct Service).
  • Joining a community health center in their legislative advocacy efforts in the state capital to ensure that mental health services continue to be funded in our safety net clinics (Activism and Political Participation).
  • Tutoring underperforming students in reading and math (Direct Service) and developing a peer-to-peer tutoring program with the community that will be run by the local school community (Engaged Scholarship).
  • Working with a local philanthropic foundation to develop a monitoring and evaluation tool for their grantees (Financial Stewardship).
  • Voting (Political Participation).
  • Visiting shut-in elderly in the neighborhood (Direct Service). 
  • Babysitting at your local church/synagogue/temple for parents attending services (Direct Service). 
  • Working with a nonprofit to develop and run a local campaign to convince the community to eat healthier (Activism).
  • Working with local community members to design and build a rainwater cistern for an isolated rural community in Southern Mexico and evaluating its use and impact (Direct Service and Engaged Scholarship, and most likely Activism, Political Participation and Financial Stewardship).
  • Speaking to a local group about the importance of wearing seat belts (Activism) and promoting the passage of a proposed seat-belt law (Political Participation).
  • Assisting public health officials in the Surgeon General’s office to design a rational community health response to a swine flu outbreak (Political Participation).
  • Surveying local industries and services for evidence of compliance with environmental and safety regulations (Political Participation).

The 5 Pathways to Service were developed by Student Engagement based on previous work done by Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service.

Student Engagement


515 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: 212-854-3611

Fax: 212-854-6972

Office Hours
9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.