By Kylie Jue
After receiving only two applicants for their winter quarter, the Hopkins Marine Station canceled its courses for the first time in 20 years.
Stephen Palumbi, director of Hopkins Marine Station and professor in marine sciences, explained that by Nov. 15 they knew there would not be enough students for the program to take place.
“When we came back from Thanksgiving we basically knew,” Palumbi said. “We needed to make sure they had housing and were registered for courses. We did it pretty quickly because we didn’t want to make their lives more difficult.”
According to Palumbi, normal enrollment varies from 40 to 45 students in a quarter, with low numbers around 10. Participants range from sophomores to coterminal students and are usually evenly split between biology and earth systems majors.
Having only a couple of students at Hopkins would not provide them with the right course structure, Palumbi said.
Reflective of scheduling problems
Palumbi explained that the problem is not a lack of awareness about the Hopkins program but rather students’ lack of time in their schedules.
“Part of what seems to be going on is students seem to be very busy fulfilling degree requirements,” Palumbi said. “If students are busy meeting requirements of their major and they want to take a quarter off to go overseas and take a quarter in some of these field programs, they may not have a lot of extra time to leave campus for another quarter.”
According to Palumbi, since winter quarter usually includes more specialized, upper-division classes, fewer students tend to participate. Students usually take three or four of the four to six offered classes in the winter, and a typical lecture lab class would have between six and 12 students, although the numbers have dropped as low as four.
Zack Gold ’15, Hopkins’ on-campus undergraduate representative, echoed Palumbi’s views that program advertisement was not the root of the problem.
“We know of at least 150 people that are really excited either to do Hopkins…this spring or the next spring,” Gold said.
Gold believes that the low enrollment numbers are reflective of an overall trend toward taking pre-medical requirements and majoring in computer science at Stanford. Since spring courses at Hopkins can be counted as the biology core, more students can fit it into their schedules.
In addition, Gold explained that Hopkins tends to compete with study abroad options such as the Bing Overseas Study Program in Australia and the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii.
“People can justify going away from Stanford for one or two quarters at most,” Gold said. “So if they’re going to go and they’re going to learn ecology, why not go to Australia…versus living in Monterey which is only 90 miles away?”
Gold emphasized that although many students choose Australia or Hawaii instead, Hopkins also offers unique opportunities, such as whale watching and diving classes. He also spoke about the appeal of small class sizes and the sense of experiencing what it’s like to be in academia.
“You’re living in this awesome community that you only get if you’re living in a co-op on campus, but you’re living in a city,” Gold said. “It has a completely different vibe than main campus. It’s much more relaxed. It’s a lot more fun…I feel like I learn more down at Hopkins than I do on main campus.”
Adjustments for the future
According to Palumbi, faculty are looking for ways to make Hopkins more accessible to students.
“We’ve just started a program evaluation that promotes the center called the Faculty Colleges that’s a way of looking at curricular development and course programs,” Palumbi said. “[We] are quite active right now working on essentially what we can do to provide the students the flexibility to take advantage of Hopkins.”
Both Gold and Hannah Black ’15, the other Hopkins’ other on-campus representative, have spoken with professors about ways to improve the winter quarter curriculum.
“Hannah and I have been working with professors at Hopkins to really review the structure of winter quarter,” Gold said. “The biology department in general is restructuring the entire undergraduate curriculum.”
According to Gold, Stanford’s biology department plans to meet one-on-one with every biology undergraduate student to discuss changes to the major requirements. But for Hopkins, Gold believes that the small bump this quarter is the first step towards important change in its winter program.
“They’re going to revamp Hopkins winter quarter – whether that’s adding a Steinbeck class because that’s where Steinbeck’s from, or there’s a new professor there who does really awesome work with computer science,” Gold said. “Just open it up to more audiences at Stanford.”
In general, Black and Gold have also increased advertising for Hopkins throughout the academic year. As campus representatives, they hold office hours, send messages to email lists and take students to tour Hopkins Marine Station.
“Every quarter we take a trip so we take 20 students down to Hopkins and the aquarium,” Gold said. “We got to meet a couple of professors, explore the area…we’re really just trying to get the word out.”
Faculty from Hopkins are also teaching some on-campus courses this year, including Palumbi’s Bio 21: The Science of the Extreme Life of the Sea this winter.
“Even though we’ve had this enrollment glitch, there has been huge growth in other areas of the program,” Palumbi said.
According to Gold, the Stanford@SEA program in the spring will have at least 100 applicants for the 20-spot program, and Palumbi explained that the Hopkins summer research program has also been growing.
“There seems to be a shift toward experiences that students are seeking,” Palumbi said. “Experiential education and learning seems to be very avidly being sought.”
Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford.edu.