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Incoming Stanford students already engaged in scholarly community

Through Stanford's online course site created for the Three Books Program, freshmen and transfer students have participated in live chats with faculty and advisers over the summer.

L.A. Cicero Rob Urstein

Rob Urstein, dean of freshmen, said summer programs like the Three Books online course and Approaching Stanford newsletter help engage incoming students.

Next week, Stanford will welcome freshmen and transfer students to campus during New Student Orientation, a six-day program designed to introduce them to the wide array of academic, intellectual, leadership, cultural and social experiences available on the Farm.

But the university didn't wait for the "official" welcome to invite incoming students to become part of its scholarly community.

Instead, in a 21st-century twist on its annual Three Books Program, Stanford invited new students to take part in online chats over the summer with faculty and advisers about the selected books – The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach; The Outsourced Self, by Arlie Russell Hochschild; and First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung.

The June launch of an online course site – "2013 Three Books: This Year's Theme is Home" – with Stanford Online was one of the biggest changes to this year's New Student Orientation program, said Rob Urstein, associate vice provost for undergraduate education, director of undergraduate advising and research and dean of freshmen.

"We wanted to provide an opportunity for students to engage with one another over the summer and to engage a little more deeply in the summer reading – not just to read the books passively, but to think about and help set the agenda for the Sept. 19 roundtable discussion with the authors by coming up with topics for them to talk about," he said.

Over the last two months, incoming students have been able to:

  • Participate in a live online chat with Nicholas Jenkins, an associate professor of English, who selected this year's three books and will moderate the roundtable discussion. He led a discussion on "How to Read a Book."
  • Watch a video in which Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education and a professor of drama, responded to questions posed earlier by students about The Art of Fielding.
  • Take part in a live online chat with Norman Naimark, professor of history, about First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
  • Engage in a live online chat with Cari Kapur, a lecturer in anthropology, and an academic director in Wilbur Hall and resident director in Twain Hall, about the themes of "identity" and "home."
  • Join in a live online chat with Urstein to discuss the themes of The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times.

Urstein said the course site also served as an introduction to one of the ways that Stanford uses online technologies to "foment intellectual discourse," not just convey information.

"This is not the stereotypical way that people might think about online learning," he said. "But we thought of this course site as a way to bring this class closer together, and to get them to learn from and with one another, even before they arrive on campus."

In another change from the past, Stanford kept in touch with incoming students over the summer with the weekly Approaching Stanford Newsletter.

The newsletters covered a wide range of topics, from biking on campus to exploring the Introductory Seminars.

The newsletters also included videos, such as "Getting Ready for Frosh Fall," which featured academic advisers talking about their roles, and three "Ask an Upperclassman Anything" videos in which current students answered questions posed by incoming students.

"We wanted to keep in regular contact with students and provide a steady stream of information without being overwhelming, which could sometimes happen when they were inundated with lots of email," Urstein said. "The newsletters also helped build a sense of anticipation and excitement about coming to Stanford."

Stanford recently delivered a special gift to incoming students from the Class of 2013 – a short video filled with advice, encouragement and wisdom from recent graduates.

The theme of the video, created by filmmaker Kiope Gyzen, '13, is summed up in a phrase that appears at the beginning, written in white chalk on a blackboard: "What we wish we knew when we were you."