Two days after arriving on Stanford’s campus, in the middle of summer, Andres Michal ’23 already felt like he had found a community.
“Everyone’s different, but everyone has similar struggles because everyone’s either FLI or low-income,” Michal said. He had come early for the Leland Scholars Program, (LSP) joining a group of students from first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) backgrounds. The four week summer program attempts to “render the mysterious Stanford less mysterious and less large,” said Senior Vice Provost for Education Harry Elam, who spearheaded efforts to initiate the program in 2011.
“If you look at Stanford, this elite institution, it was not made for students of color,” Michal said. “I think LSP was made with the intention of giving these FLI students a time to know that they’re not alone. If they didn’t do LSP maybe they would be like ‘Oh, there’s a lot of rich people here, I don’t see myself in them’, but with LSP you know there’s more than that.”
The program accepts 60 to 65 students every year. There’s an academic component to the program — participants take classes in chemistry or math and writing — but it’s the social aspects that most participants remember.
“It was literally like a family,” said Lizzie Avila ’23. “Over the four weeks we all really got to know each other. There’s a few [people] that I [still] hang out with almost every day.”
“A community and belonging are central to success,” Elam said, and the program strives to do just that: build a community among its FLI participants, emphasizing that their backgrounds aren’t unique among Stanford students.
The community built during LSP is also helpful for tackling academic challenges.
“Four weeks is not going to make up for four years at a not-great high school,” Elam said. Instead, the program tries to build a support network for FLI students. “One of the major things it does is saying that you’re not alone. There’s a support system of other students that you meet that will work with you.”
Building community is a priority at LSP, according to Maximiño Manzanares ’22, a math TA for the program.
“Every aspect of the program fosters community,” Manzanares wrote in an email to The Daily. “In essence, I feel that this program helps reinforce to students that they are so meant to be at this university. From day one, there is the space to honestly talk about struggles in and out of Stanford and to be supported by folx who carry shared identities and experiences.”
While LSP’s enrollment is limited, FLI students can also enroll in FLI Student Orientation (FLI-SO). The three and a half day long program takes place right before New Student Orientation, and introduces 30 FLI students to Stanford.
FLI-SO prioritizes admission to students who haven’t participated in LSP, or another Stanford sponsored summer program. The program is open to all FLI students, who must apply to be accepted.
“I think there were 75 applications,” said Jennifer Rolen, the Assistant Dean and Associate Director of the Stanford FLI office. “When you prioritize the people who didn’t do the other programs, we were probably right about 30 to 35 [applicants].”
The program offers a whirlwind tour of Stanford.
“We got exposed like the different resources on campus,” Angel Ortiz ’22 said. “We went to BEAM, the Haas center and Vaden. We went to the financial aid, and we talked and had a workshop with them. It was a lot of introductions to campus.”
“What I hope for them is that they feel empowered to get what they need — to take what they need,” Rolen said. “We go to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services), and we got to the financial aid office, because these are the people you need to know.”
“Eventually we hope to increase the numbers, but right now funding keeps it at 30,” Rolen said.
Both summer programs try to create a community among FLI students.
“What often happens for FLI students is that their experience in high school may have been one where they felt they had to do things alone, study alone and do projects alone.” Elam said.
FLI-SO doesn’t incorporate academics, which are a large part of LSP and serve as an introduction to classes at Stanford.
“Chemistry wasn’t really taught in my high school, and a lot of people have the same experience where they either took a very basic chem class or it wasn’t taught at all,” Avila said. “Going into chemistry with LSP has been such a help.”
“The math program at LSP focuses on developing students’ problem solving skills and fostering a growth mindset,” Manzanares said.
But learning calculus was only part of the goal.
“The Teaching Team sought to make the space for students to, in the context of calculus, examine and develop the ways in which they think and learn so that they can further adapt to and thrive in future learning contexts,” Manzanares added.
LSP also seeks to introduce FLI students to the specifics of college life.
“[LSP] does is acclimate you to Stanford,” Elam said. He noted how students who enrolled in LSP were more likely to attend office hours or speak to professors than their peers who didn’t.
LSP extends through the main school year in the form of two one-unit seminars held in the fall and winter quarters. These classes meet for around an hour to discuss topics ranging from budgeting to career and class planning.
The seminars are open to all first-year FLI students, giving those who were not accepted into the summer program the chance to join the LSP community. All FLI students, regardless of whether they participated in LSP or FLI-SO, are encouraged to join the seminars.
“I didn’t do the summer program,” said Fateemah Faiq ’22, “but whenever I go to LSP events and I say I didn’t do the summer program; everyone else says that [that] doesn’t matter; you’re LSP.”
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without learning all these things,” she added.
Despite the current impacts of LSP, Elam wants to do more. Approximately 300 students, or 17.5% of the class of 2022 are first generation college students, the last year data is available. About one third of these students are served by LSP or FLI-SO.
“We understand that … even given all that we are doing right now for FLI students, we know that we need to do more,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out, you know, what’s the best way to give continued support?”
Rather than an expenditure, Elam sees FLI programming as a way for Stanford to benefit from allowing students from all backgrounds to thrive at the University.
“We want the, and the brightest students, no matter where they come from or what their economic circumstances are,” Elam said.
“If you dwell too much on the feeling that you’re going to fail, or you aren’t meant to be here, it’ll absorb all of your happiness,” Avila said. “You won’t be able to enjoy your time here. But if you have that realization that this is a place that was, maybe not made with my type of person in mind, but is something I can make a mine, then you can find happiness.”