By Issra Omer
For many Stanford students, the month of September signifies the last few carefree weeks of summer vacation to be spent without worrying about the start of classes looming in the not-so-distant future. However, during this time, many other students are already on campus hard at work at the Sophomore College (SoCo) and Arts Intensive programs.
As part of the larger September Studies program, SoCo and Arts Intensive may sound like sacrificing summer in order to start school early. But with trips to the White House, filmmaking, dancing to professionally choreographed routines and more, the two programs consist of anything but typical schoolwork.
Students who participate in SoCo, a three-week residential program, enjoy the best of what Stanford has to offer. In a seminar setting, classes of 12-14 students become completely immersed in the focus of the course. Led by faculty and experts in the field, students are exposed not only to the topic of the seminar, but also to a new perspective on learning.
“I applied for SoCo not just out of interest in the topic but because I wanted the chance to learn from and work with esteemed faculty and insightful students from different backgrounds who shared a common interest,” Veronica Polin ’14 wrote in an email to The Daily.
To fully understand and explore the topic, Polin’s SoCo, “The Face of Battle,” traveled to Washington, D.C.
“‘The Face of Battle’ was an in-depth study of warfare focusing on Gettysburg, the Battle of Little Bighorn and Afghanistan,” Polin said. “We applied this knowledge to contemporary issues of national security. By visiting the places in which these critical decisions are made, we got a first-hand look at decisions that affect our entire country.”
Unlike many typical classes, the September Studies classes allow participants to learn the material in a hands-on manner.
For Savannah Kopp ’14, who took an Arts Intensive course on documentary filmmaking, the class was a way to broaden her perspective and knowledge on a subject she already studies.
“I’m really interested in writing, but more specifically, I am interested in screen-writing,” Kopp said. “I wanted to take this course to further explore different sides of the process.”
Kopp and others taking the course spent days filming and directing their own documentaries. Totally immersed in their roles, participants in the class were able to draw conclusions about their own interests.
“Arts Intensive is really fast paced–before one assignment or project is finished, you are assigned another one,” Kopp said. “It is a crash course in filmmaking. They really put the ‘intensive’ in Arts Intensive.”
Makiko Fujimoto ’14, a participant in the ballet Arts Intensive, echoed Kopp’s sentiment. “It’s intense,” Fujimoto said, chuckling.
For Fujimoto, a classically trained ballet dancer practicing since she was four years old, Arts Intensive was something she needed to reset her focus.
“Arts Intensive really rekindled my love of ballet,” Fujimoto said. “I learned so much more about technique and style, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realize there’s so much I know I want to explore in the future.”
Unlike Fujimoto, Kopp’s interests didn’t directly change as a result of Arts Intensive; however, her insight and understanding did.
“Filmmaking is a lot harder and more technical than I thought,” she said. “I definitely earned a lot of respect for the process. Even though I’m more interested in the screen-writing aspect, it’s good that I had the chance to see this side of it.”
Frederik Groce ’14 also came out with valuable insights from SoCo.
“We really were able to delve deeply into the subject since it was what we dedicated all of our time to,” Groce said of his course on American conservatism. “The fact that the class was in an intimate seminar setting and that everyone did the reading made the discussions so much richer.”
Like others, Groce’s SoCo course inspired him to branch out to explore other academic fields.
“It has really motivated me to learn more about public policy, and it also reinforced my idea of going into the social sciences,” he said.
While it is clear that SoCo and Arts Intensive courses usually positively influence their participants, past students add that these benefits only increase with time.
“SoCo was such a valuable experience, and it was how education should be,” said Denise Johnson ’12, who took a course about smallpox and infectious disease. Every day I was so happy and excited to go to class. It made me want to take it upon myself to ask questions and learn the material well.”
In addition to fostering self-motivation and a new approach to learning, SoCo also allowed her to make important connections and friendships, Johnson said.
“After SoCo, I’ve made so much more of an effort to go to office hours and to get to know the professors,” she said. “I still talk to my SoCo professor, and he has helped me with everything from courses to major advising. The experience made me want to take advantage of all Stanford has to offer.”
Nabila Abdallah ’13, a past participant of the graphic design Arts Intensive, considers her experience to be a formative and memorable one.
“For me, Arts Intensive was a way for me to continue my interest in the arts,” Abdallah said. “I was very artistic in high school, but I didn’t really get the chance to explore the arts at Stanford or get creatively involved. Through Arts Intensive, I was allowed to go on a trip to New York with 15 other students to see the art scene up close. We went to Broadway, the MOMA and all these other places that really allowed me to see what American arts culture is all about.”
The verdict from most September Studies participants is clear.
“Think about it, you could be doing nothing at home for three weeks or you could be having the most amazing experience instead,” Johnson said. “Your choice.”