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Harshi Mogallapalli: SCCAP, Singing and Service

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, and she founded a non-profit in high school to bring music into an afterschool program in urban Milwaukee.


While in college, 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. We cover how her major of biology ties into these experiences, how SCCAP has impacted her and what goals she has pursued this year as director.  

Selected Interview Highlights

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 had learned Indian classical singing since I was five years old. I knew that other people loved other kinds of singing and music. I’m from a little town outside of Milwaukee, and 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 after-school program. It was definitely a learning experience because I don’t know if I took time to listen to the community as to what they needed. If I didn’t have that experience, I don’t know if I would have learned the importance of listening.


GC: Why did you come to Santa Clara?


HM: I applied to a lot of California schools because my dad was working in San Diego at the time. I got invited for a really great scholarship and they had a scholarship weekend. One of the student speaker talking about his experience at Santa Clara, and he said that Santa Clara had made him a global citizen. That just sold me. I don’t remember anything else he said, but I knew that in the next four years, I wanted to be a global citizen.


GC: How did you find those global citizen opportunities at Santa Clara?


HM: There are so many opportunities here! In some ways, they found me. I did the Global Fellows program and Jean Donovan. All I would do is go to SCU’s website and look for international opportunities. I found the different scholarships that were provided that would let me do them.


One of my best friends did Global Fellows in The Gambia and said, “you have to go!” It just so happened that the founder of the organization in The Gambia was at Santa Clara giving a talk that week, so I went and it blew me away. I called my parents and said, “I’m going to the Gambia this summer because I don’t know how I can do anything else.”


GC: How does your major of biology tie into your abroad experiences?


HM: When I was abroad, I don’t think my major was tied. But the tools biology has built me and the tools these [abroad] experiences have built for me are shaping my future. 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: This past summer you did a Jean Donovan scholarship 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, ten departments, doctors and patients everywhere. There I learned what a busy healthcare environment is like.


GC: Were there any SCCAP experiences in you 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 are 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 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: 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 has been great practice for being a doctor.

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