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New summer program showcases humanities at Stanford

The Stanford Summer Humanities Institute, a faculty-run program geared toward high school students interested in the humanities, ended on July 13. It was the program’s first year, and organizers are hopeful that it can help address a perceived “pipeline problem” in humanities at Stanford: the declining number of incoming undergraduates that have an interest in humanities majors.

The program, which accepted 50 rising high school juniors and seniors from a rigorous application process involving a writing sample, letter of recommendation, transcript and standardized exam score, aimed to increase awareness of the strengths of Stanford humanities both among high schoolers and more broadly in the community.

Debra Satz, senior associate dean of the humanities and arts, introduced the idea of a summer humanities program to address the perception that Stanford is exclusively a math and science powerhouse.

“The percentage of our applicants who express a strong interest in the humanities is low, only about 10 percent. One reason for this I think is that Stanford is closely associated with Silicon Valley, and many high school students with humanities interest look elsewhere,” Satz said in an email to The Daily. “This program is part of an effort to showcase Stanford’s excellent humanities faculty.”

History Professor Caroline Winterer and French Professor Dan Edelstein were the program’s lead faculty. In addition to lectures, seminars and group discussions, students went on weekly field trips to places like the Cantor Arts Center and the San Francisco Opera.

The institute was designed to be a college-level program, and after two weeks of lectures and discussions, students were given a week to write a 10-page paper, helped by undergraduate residential counselors (RCs) and graduate teaching assistants (TAs). According to Kathryn Vanderboll, an RC, undergraduates lived in the dormitories with the students and attended their lectures. TAs led discussion sessions, and both groups assisted the students with the demanding course load.

“I was really impressed by the level of intellectual commitment the professors demanded of the students,” Vanderboll said. “Professors Edelstein and Winterer really expected [the students] to think and work like college students.”

Both Edelstein and Winterer were similarly impressed with the students’ level of dedication to the humanities.

“The really memorable experience for me was how good the students got at asking questions,” Winterer said. “By the third week, they had just formed this wonderful group of really inquisitive young scholars to a degree that really surprised us.”

Some students, like Jae Shin from Temecula, Calif., found the college-like experience invaluable and appreciated the elevated intensity of the program.

“The classroom experience was really great because it’s not like the traditional high school setting where you just sit down and do a lecture and go home and do homework,” he said. “You actually discuss your ideas with other students and get input from the professors.”

Shin added that his favorite part of camp was meeting new friends, commenting on the skills of her peers.

“All the people [here] are so smart,” Shin said. “You can talk to them and get ideas from them, and it’s just a great place to be for inquiring people.”

Due to its smooth first run, both Edelstein and Winterer hope to expand the program beyond the two classes they currently offer.

“Really what we hope to do for next year is to build, to offer more courses in the other disciplines of the humanities,” Winterer said.

Satz agreed that the program was an overall success in providing an educational experience for the students. But as this was only the program’s first year, the jury is still out on whether it elevates the perception of Stanford’s humanities program.

“The real test of the success of the program will depend on whether or not its reputation grows and we have more applicants with humanities interests applying to Stanford,” she said.

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