Student Spotlight: May 2017

Student Spotlight: May 2017

Student Initiatives: Vishnu Shankar and the CARES Initiative

smiling studentVishnu Shankar, a junior studying mathematical and computational sciences, has always been interested in understanding the experiences of those who have struggled with mental health issues. 

Last year he founded the CARES (Care at Stanford) initiative in collaboration with other students, health professionals at CAPS and Vaden, and university administrators. The initiative may be of interest to many PWR students.

“CARES is a joint effort dedicated to creating sustainable well-being programs that promote balanced care of body and mind,” Vishnu says. “We investigate issues surrounding mental health and illness and hope to create long-term change at Stanford that improves delivery and access of university resources for mental and emotional well-being for students.”

 Currently, the initiative is focused on the UP Project, which attempts to understand the individual experiences of those struggling with how to cope with their own mental health. A handful of student narratives have been collected so far. A follow-up pilot study is being developed to capture the insights in order to educate matriculating students on mental health issues, such as “the vocabulary surrounding mental health, general stress management, and what resources are available,” according to Vishnu.

“With the high prevalence of mental health conditions in the student population---I even knew friends and peers in my dorm trying to navigate their own depression and anxiety--I started my sophomore year trying to understand where the current mental health services fail.” Vishnu says he wanted to understand the complexities that surround implementing mental health efforts, along with the perspectives of students, administrators, faculty, and health professionals.

“After iterating many times with the help of other students, administrators and health professionals, we started with this idea to collect student narratives surrounding these issues.”

The narratives will be used to inform the necessary components for an effective mental health curriculum for incoming undergraduate students.

“We hope that once we start posting these narratives anonymously online, that other students undergoing their own mental health condition can take solace in the fact that they are not alone,” Vishnu says. “Further, for students who are not navigating their own mental health condition, we hope this increases sensitivity for one’s peers as it provides a snapshot of what their peers are trying to overcome.

The initiative has also partnered with Ashoka, a social non-profit, which has helped provide guidance and support.

The project is not without its challenges and rewards. The former includes trying to find students willing to share their personal narrative.

“The biggest reward is that I have found conversations with each student inspiring and insightful into how we can better improve student mental health efforts on our campus,” he says.

Students who wish to participate can do so in two ways:

  1. Speak Privately About Their Experience: If students are interested in privately sharing their perspectives on their personal well-being, they can send an email to to speak to students who have been working to improve mental health services at Stanford. Stories will remain confidential and will be used only for informing the new curriculum.
  2. Contribute Their Story Online: If students are not comfortable speaking in person about their experience, they can also contribute to the conversation by submitting their responses anonymously online at the following site:

For more information about the initiative, please email

Student Awards

Selby Schwartz's former student, Ben Schwartz, has won the Donald and Robin Kennedy Undergraduate Award for the best essay written by an undergraduate on a Jewish theme.  His essay, "Beyond the Corporeal: Orthodox Judaism and the LGBTQ+ Community," grew directly from his PWR 2 RBA.  In an email, Ben noted that "[w]riting and speaking about religion and social reform has always been of paramount importance" to him, and he credited Selby's PWR class with giving him a space to do so "productively and creatively." Ben anticipates extending his PWR research on this topic into his honors thesis in religious studies.

Student Publications

Barbara Cardona recently had her essay, "Uncovering the Mystery of Machu Picchu" published in the Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research.  Barbara originally composed the article as her research-based argument for Allison Mickel's PWR 1, "The Rhetoric of Discovery."

Another of Allison's students, Sarah Faye Gurev, also had an essay published this spring.  Her article, "Framing of CRISPR in Popular Media," was published in the  Winter 2017 issue of Intersect.