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UAR and VPUE to fund interdisciplinary capstone program

Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) and the Office of the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education (VPUE) have launched a new Senior Synthesis grant intended to help rising seniors integrate and reflect on their time at Stanford. Students have until March 1 to apply.

[Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service]

[Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service]

The grant will allow students to create a capstone project connecting all their academic and extracurricular Stanford experiences in one place, reflecting the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford’s (SUES) call for more integrative and interdisciplinary learning projects.

While the impetus for the new grant program stems largely from the SUES committee’s presentation to the Faculty Senate in January 2012, Brian Thomas, associate dean of UAR, said that the underlying support for the program stemmed from an array of unconventional or integrative grant proposals that UAR had turned down in previous years.

“We wanted to find a way to support really compelling student projects that weren’t clearly in pursuit of a research agenda or a public service agenda,” Thomas said.

The synthesis grant is unique not only in its fully interdisciplinary nature but also because it will allow students to apply as a team for a collaborative project. Thomas cited the work of a group of engineering students– whose initial request for grant funding was turned down– currently working with UAR on a pre-pilot trial as evidence of the grant’s potential.

The students’ project involves the construction of a mobile demonstration lab illustrating techniques for synthesizing biodiesel fuel that they hope to bring to area schools and across the University campus for public educational exhibitions.

While the engineering students’ project is currently the only one that UAR oversees, Thomas said that this year’s pilot program was an opportunity to gauge the range of projects students are interested in pursuing.

“It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem right now,” Thomas said.

In the meantime, UAR is creating a set of guidelines that faculty mentors and UAR advisors can use to help students craft a synthesis project proposal.

Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam expressed anticipation for this year’s grant proposals and his hope that the new grant would encourage students to connect experiences within their major, like electrical engineering, to other activities, like past fellowships from the Haas Center for Public Service.

Elam asserted that Stanford students often lack the time to reflect on what they explored and learned during their undergraduate experience, and he said that the synthesis grant could be a means of countering that lack of perspective.

“We see it becoming a signature Stanford thing,” Elam said.

Students that work on a synthesis project would have to present a final product that can take on almost any form, including opinion essays, workshops or traveling displays that can effectively communicate the students’ goals and inspire others to think about pursuing their own capstone project.

“We see the projects as giving something back to the Stanford community,” Thomas said.

Elam also highlighted the professional value of the synthesis grant, saying that a synthesis project would prepare a student to become an adaptive learner at a time when career requirements are constantly changing and professions require more creative thinking.

“It doesn’t just prepare you for one job, and it may help you get that job, but it prepares you, in a sense, for a career,” Elam said.

Even though only rising seniors are eligible for the grant, all undergraduate academic departments and advisors were notified of the program. Thomas framed the outreach as a means of increasing awareness and encouraging students to think more about the long-term direction of their Stanford experience.

About Ileana Najarro

Ileana Najarro is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She previously worked as a News Desk Editor and Staff Writer.