Numerous Stanford luminaries discussed academic exploration with small groups of students at last night’s Sophomore Faculty Dinner in Paul Brest Hall. Political science professor Condoleezza Rice, a former Secretary of State and former provost at Stanford, delivered the keynote address, sharing her own experiences and exhorting attendees to explore numerous disciplines.
The dinner was part of iDeclare Week, which was organized and sponsored by the sophomore class council to help second-year students find a major. The class presidents teamed up with Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR), another sponsor of iDeclare week, to assist sophomores in the declaration process.
President John Hennessy and Reverend Scotty McLennan, dean of religious life, hosted the week’s first event on Sunday afternoon. Other events included drop-in advising sessions at the CoHo, where UAR advisors met individually with students to help them refine and focus their academic trajectories.
“Coming into our sophomore year, you have to find an academic footing and an academic home,” said Shane Hegde ’13, one of the sophomore class presidents. “It’s a very difficult process.”
“We hoped, as the sophomore class presidents, to provide an opportunity for students to initiate that conversation,” he added. “That has been the impetus for iDeclare Week and that’s what has been driving us.”
“It’s really just supposed to enable sophomores with the resources they need to make a good choice in declaring a major,” said Jason Lupatkin ’13, a member of the class cabinet.
Hegde said the number of sophomores who have declared their major has not declined this year. But the last five years saw a fairly high percentage of sophomores finishing their second year without having declared a major, he noted.
“We would like for students to really have opportunities to [declare] earlier, so they can begin gaining the depth that they need within their department,” he said. “That has been the focus of this University, in trying to structure a means for students to really get after their departments early.”
Last night’s dinner seated eight students and one faculty member at every table, a move that aimed to foster an open discussion on a wide range of topics not necessarily tied to choosing or declaring a major. The 150 available spots were gone 45 minutes after registration opened.
The personal stories of both the speakers and the faculty members at the tables appeared to resonate the most with students.
“We sought to bring in faculty who could connect with students on a personal level and faculty who were very accomplished within their field,” Hedge said. “We really want to get to the individual behind the face and the name.”
Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, delivered the first address of the evening, building on the theme of turning academic passions into a major, rather than letting career prospects or outside influences dictate the declaration process.
“The task of declaring a major is one that should be approached…not so much in terms of what you’ll be doing down the line in your career…[but] what you’re interested in, and what’s going to grab you and what’s going to excite you in what you’re doing now at Stanford,” he said.
Elam went on to relate his own undergraduate experience at Harvard, saying he chose his major in social studies for the “wrong reasons.” He explained he had originally been determined to go to law school, but discovered a passion for drama during his senior year and went on to get a doctoral degree in drama.
Rice’s keynote address touched on similar ideas, eschewing career prospects or parents’ desires in favor of finding and following one’s true academic calling. She also discussed the importance of interaction between the students and faculty, and encouraged students to seek out faculty members in pursuit of their academic goals.
“I hope that, in this four years, you will worry less about what job you are going to get when you get out of here…and that you will take these four years to make sure that you have found your passion,” she said. “Because once you have found your passion, nothing is ever the same.”
Rice detailed how she entered college as a concert pianist, abruptly changing her academic focus in her junior year. She told the attendees how she went through a number of classes before taking a class taught by an expert on the Soviet Union. Inspired by that experience, she went on to major in international relations with a focus on Soviet affairs.
“For those of you that have already declared majors, that’s terrific — maybe that means you have found a passion,” she said. “In any case, I hope you keep looking, because sometimes, your passion finds you, rather than the other way around.”