Introductory Seminar apps rise for freshmen, drop for sophomores

Justine Moore co-reported this article.

The number of freshmen who applied for fall introductory seminars (IntroSems) has risen 36 percent from last year while the number of sophomores has dropped by 13 percent, according to IntroSem Program Director Russell Berman.

67 percent of incoming freshmen, 1,176 applicants in total, applied to fall IntroSems this year; 23 percent of the sophomore class, 551 applicants in total, applied to fall IntroSems. The total number of IntroSems offered this year is roughly equivalent to last year, with 221 courses compared to 225 in the 2011-12 academic year.

Berman attributed the increase in freshman applicants to a “strong interest in seminars across the board.” He referenced Think Like a Designer, a fall IntroSem taught by associate professor of mechanical engineering Shilajeet Banerjee M.S. ’00, which attracted over 230 applicants, as an example of an IntroSem with high demand.

Stephen Hinton, professor of humanities, who is teaching two IntroSems this year, believes that freshman applications may have increased because freshmen are no longer required to take the three-quarter Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) course. IHUM’s replacement, Thinking Matters, is only one quarter long, leaving more room in freshmen’s schedules for IntroSems.

“I know that it has been a very popular program, and I can understand why,” Hinton said. “[IntroSems] offer opportunities for exploring a faculty member’s specialization with them in a much more intimate setting for the students.”

The increase in freshman applications comes at a time of debate over whether IntroSems should be required. Last year’s Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford report recommended that IntroSems become mandatory by fall 2013, though the Faculty Senate decided to delay the decision until 2016.

While there is disagreement about mandating IntroSems, many students and faculty share Hinton’s view that IntroSems provide a special experience.

“I’ve heard from so many upperclassmen, ‘Take an IntroSem, it’s the best thing ever,’” said Lauren Creadore ’16, who is currently enrolled in Visions of the 1960s.

How Do People Learn Math, a freshman-preference IntroSem taught by professor of education Jo Boaler, was in high demand this quarter, with approximately 75 applicants for 17 spots. Boaler typically teaches graduate and doctoral students but decided to submit a proposal for an IntroSem after being encouraged by Claude Steele, dean of the School of Education.

“I wanted to inspire the undergrads and get them really interested in education,” Boaler said. “I thought it would be really nice to get to them at the beginning of their time at Stanford.”

Berman cited this class as one example of the more unique offerings this year, as Boaler’s course is affiliated with the School of Education instead of an undergraduate department.

“We are trying to offer seminars in new areas, including from the professional schools,” Berman wrote in an email to The Daily. “We are urging departments to diversify the scheduling times of seminars to make them available to more students.”

The Department of Comparative Medicine, part of the School of Medicine, struggled with scheduling the eight IntroSems taught by department faculty this year. This is the highest number of IntroSems the department has ever offered, according to Donna Bouley, professor of comparative medicine.

Bouley, who is teaching a winter freshman-preference course titled Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of Mammals, has been teaching her IntroSem for 15 years, and often does research projects or independent studies with students who have taken her IntroSem.

“I’ve had many students who are English majors or physics majors but still really enjoyed [my IntroSem],” Bouley said. “I would encourage students to try to find something that they are really interested in or something that they’ve never considered doing. It helps broaden your education.”