Widgets Magazine

Increased interest in education leads to rise in minors, formation of pre-professional group

A surge of undergraduate interest in the field of education has led to both a significant rise in the number of education minors and the formation of Stanford’s first pre-professional education group, according to Graduate School of Education (GSE) administrators.

The GSE’s undergraduate minor program started in 2012, with only two students declared. That number grew to 12 in 2012 and is expected to grow to 15 this year.

Jennifer Wolf M.A. ’91 Ph.D. ’05, director of the GSE undergraduate minor program, emphasized that the interest in the field of education among undergraduates is not limited to those who declare the minor. Each fall, between 50 and 70 students register for the GSE’s EDUC101: Introduction to Teaching and Learning on average.

“People take our education classes for all [kinds of] different reasons,” Wolf said.

According to Wolf, those reasons include fulfilling a sub-field of a declared major, understanding how to teach the subject they are majoring in and sheer personal interest.

Wolf argued that, given the variety of approaches to education — economical, psychological and political, among others — and the variety of reasons to study education, it is important to break the stereotype that students interested in education go into teaching jobs.

“If you want to go into teaching, we want to support you in that goal,” Wolf said. “But beyond that, we hope that they [students] take education as a kind of side-car to wherever they want to go, because the successful act of transference of knowledge from a teacher to a learner is at the core of all we do.”

Erica Fernandez ’12 M.A. ’13, a coterm student at the GSE who has focused primarily on educational policy with the aim of studying law in the future, argued that education can be a significant tool for social change in the broader world, such as in efforts to improve literacy in her native Mexico.

“In my masters at the GSE, I bring together environment, education and immigration, three issues that I really care about,” Erica said. “I want to change the educational system [back home], and the only way to change it is to understand how it works.”

Julia Quintero ’15, on the other hand, said that more attention should be placed on guiding students towards teaching careers.

“I think education, especially teaching, is looked down upon at institutions like Stanford,” Quintero said. “They see it as easier than other careers, with not a lot of pay and not a lot of prestige. That is frustrating for me, because I know I want to go into education.”

While there are a number of education-related Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs) and nonprofits, including Students for Educational Reform (SFER), there has never been a pre-professional education group, as there are for law and medicine.

Quintero has taken the lead in creating Stanford’s first such group — the Stanford Pre-Education Society. The group received official approval as a voluntary student organization last week.

She described her vision for the Stanford Pre-Education Society as one of a centralized place where undergraduates interested in education can learn about available resources and opportunities, talk to people with experience and consequently make smart career choices.

“An important priority is taking away the stigma around teaching at Stanford,” Quintero said. “I don’t see teaching as a two-year stint, I see it as a career, and I feel it’s a shame that people who want to become teachers feel like they shouldn’t.”

Christine Min Wotipka M.A ’99 Ph.D. ’01, resident fellow at the Education and Society Theme (EAST) house, expressed support for Quintero’s desire to create a more structured and organized platform for education enthusiasts.

“Having such a group would be helpful to go hand in hand with what we already have at the university, and I would love to partner with her,” Wotipka said.

EAST, formerly the East Asian Studies Theme house, shifted its focus to the field of education three years ago in response to the growing undergraduate interest in education and as a complement to the creation of the GSE minor that same year.

One of the main goals of the theme shift was to bring students with an interest in education together and offer courses within the house. However, EAST’s resources are not limited to residents.

“We have a weekly seminar, EDUC 100 ABC, which is open to anyone on campus,” Wotipika said.

This article has been edited to reflect the following corrections: Christine Wotipka’s full name is Christine Min Wotipka. She earned her master’s degree in 1999 not 1991 and EAST offers EDUC 100 ABC not EDUC 180C. The Daily regrets these errors.