Craig Kapitan, News Service (650) 724-5708;
'Think Again' tour makes inaugural stop in Portland, Ore.
It's not often Stanford throws a gala of the size kicked off last Saturday.
Part learning event, part mass reunion and part high-tech celebration, the 12-city "Think Again" tour made its first stop at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
The purpose of the gatherings, which organizers hope will engage up to 9,000 people by the time the eight-month tour has its campus finale, is to reacquaint alumni with the university and the strides it has made in undergraduate education over the past decade. Think Again is just one component of the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, a five-year drive to raise $1 billion for the new initiatives.
"Whether alumni give money or their time, we want them to be involved with the university," said director of campaign outreach Donna Garton, who organized the tour. "We are hoping there will be people who will volunteer in a whole lot of ways as a result of this campaign."
Since 1994, Stanford has instituted multiple programs aimed at improving the undergraduate experience. Those include Sophomore College and Summer Research College, as well as freshman and sophomore seminars small group, specialized classes that are taught by top-notch faculty members.
Back to the books
"For today, you can think of yourself as a freshman class, and the only freshmen for whom I can say, 'Welcome back,'" President Emeritus Gerhard Casper told a group of more than 400 local alumni Saturday afternoon during opening convocation remarks.
One way alumni will get a taste of the new undergraduate experience is through classroom re-creations during each Think Again stop. A dozen faculty members came to Portland for a series of afternoon panel discussions and seminars.
"Clearly, they want to link us with the freshman and sophomore seminar program," English Professor Emeritus Ronald Rebholz told his impromptu class before engaging the alumni with a lecture on Shakespeare's sonnets. However, the hour-long session would come nowhere near the intensity of the actual freshman and sophomore seminars, he predicted. "[The seminars] are the ideal way to teach."
In another room, John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education, introduced a panel of current students who demonstrated how the new programs have enriched their education. Senior Lindsay Arnold recapped how, through the Stanford-in-Washington program, she was able to become the first White House intern of the Bush administration. Junior Jamie Hui was able to do research at the Medical School once reserved for graduate-level students, and senior Josh Haner was able to obtain research funding to travel to Africa and use photography to document the lives of a Masai village.
"It's a great privilege to be a vice provost at Stanford and approve the purchase of a goat," Bravman said, smiling as he explained that one of Haner's seven research grants was used to purchase the unusual welcoming gift for the Masai village. "You can see why I have one of the best jobs in the world."
An unusual reunion
"Do you remember . . . ? " resonated from various tables throughout the evening, as attendees balanced dinner conversation with a two-hour movie portraying campus life then and now.
Because audience members ranged from people who graduated 60 years ago to those who graduated just recently, the event swayed from the usual reunion format.
"Ron [Rebholz] looks pretty good," said Carol Jennings Blenning, '84, recapping the seminars she attended earlier in the day. "I don't really have an interest in Shakespeare, but I went because Ron was an RF in my dorm."
Sitting across the table, Thomas Gregory, '88, was surprised to learn that Jennings Blenning, who was a resident assistant at his dorm during his freshman year, now worked at the same hospital as he does.
The event also was a reunion of sorts for President John Hennessy, who last visited with Portland alumni eight months ago during his inaugural welcome tour. In recent years, Stanford has undergone the "most sweeping and profound changes" since its founding, he told the group during a pause in the film.
"Tonight, I would like to share some of my personal experiences," he added. Hennessy personally has participated in the undergraduate improvements; on top of his other responsibilities, he has taught a Sophomore College course.
He spoke of taking students outside the classroom to see the old computers on which he learned to program and meeting with his students for dinner on the evening of Sept. 11. At the close of Sophomore College, Hennessy agreed to serve as faculty adviser for all 12 students.
"Our goal with these programs is simple: to create the most rewarding, effective and compelling undergraduate program in the country," he said. "Your support will help ensure that we achieve our noble goal."
No gauge for success
The daylong festivities made up one of the biggest Stanford events ever brought to Portland. Because donations were not directly solicited, it will be difficult to gauge how successful the endeavor was, organizers say.
However, Gregory was impressed. The only other Stanford event he had attended in past years was his 10-year reunion.
"This was much more highfalutin," he said. "It's clear they're trying to move people who can afford to put money back into the system. To that extent, I think they've reached their goal. I've always thought my experience as an undergraduate was beyond words, so when they started pulling at the heartstrings, I responded."
Steve Herring, who never experienced a Stanford education himself (he attended the event to accompany his wife, an alumna), put it more simply:
"It was impressive," he said. "I'm ready to send my kid to Stanford."
By Craig Kapitan