Abraham Verghese in, football out, at this year's New Student Orientation

This year's New Student Orientation program includes a brand-new program, a "First Lecture" by author and Stanford medical Professor Abraham Verghese. There also will be expanded opportunities for freshmen and incoming transfer students to connect with faculty. But with no home football game scheduled during NSO weekend, organizers are planning alternative social activities to introduce the Class of 2015 to the Farm.

L.A. Cicero Freshmen Transition Coordinators

The Freshmen Transition Coordinators for 2011 are, from left, Adielyn Mendoza, Brad Moylan, Skylar Peterson, Christie Brydon, John Dodini, Casey Khademi. Not pictured is Bana Hatzey.

There will be no football game, but the Class of 2015 can look forward to learning how to pursue all of their passions during this year's New Student Orientation, scheduled for Sept. 20-25.

The official university welcome and orientation for freshmen and incoming transfer students will offer a variety of programs to introduce new students to the intellectual, social, cultural and leadership opportunities at Stanford.

About 1,718 freshmen and 48 transfers are so far expected to attend NSO this year. Traditional orientation programs include Opening Convocation; Discover Stanford, a program in Memorial Auditorium with Provost John Etchemendy; and Faces of Community, featuring students' narratives about their Stanford experiences. The Three Books panel discussion, moderated this year by professor Scott Sagan, will take place on Sunday, Sept. 25.

A brand-new NSO program, called the First Lecture, will feature a talk by author and School of Medicine Professor Abraham Verghese, which will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 9 a.m. in Memorial Auditorium. (Community members may watch a live simulcast of the lecture in Pigott Theater.)

Edith Wu-Nguyen, director of New Student Programs in the office of Undergraduate Advising and Research, said the lecture will introduce students to the meaning and opportunities of a liberal education.

"It's a great honor to be giving the First Lecture," Verghese said. "Broadly speaking, I want to encourage students to not become too narrowly focused, and to find their intellectual home at Stanford: a place where they feel comfortable, where they can explore all their interests, a place where they read about things that keep them up at night."

Abraham Verghese portrait

NSO speaker Abraham Verghese

Verghese knows something about the value of exploring all of one's interests. He is professor for the theory and practice of medicine and senior associate chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the medical school as well as the author of three books: two memoirs – My Own Country: A Doctor's Story and The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss – and the novel Cutting for Stone.

Born in Ethiopia, Verghese graduated from Madras Medical College in India in 1979 and then completed his residency in Johnson City, Tenn., and a two-year fellowship specializing in infectious diseases at the Boston University School of Medicine in 1983.

In 1985, he returned to Johnson City, and his experiences treating rural terminal AIDS patients inspired My Own Country, published in 1994, which he wrote after receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1991 at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The book was named one of Time magazine's five Best Books of the Year and was adapted into a TV movie directed by Mira Nair and starring Naveen Andrews in 2000.

The Tennis Partner (1998), about Verghese's friend David Smith's struggle with addiction, was named a Notable Book by the New York Times.

The family saga Cutting for Stone combines Verghese's passions for storytelling and medicine, and appeared on several Best of 2009 lists.

In addition to his writing, Verghese continues to teach at the medical school and is a leading voice in the study of bedside medicine and the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

Verghese said his lecture will draw on his own experiences, and "how a novel brought me to medicine, and how a career in medicine brought me to novel writing."

Verghese has said he was inspired to become a doctor by reading Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham.

"A liberal education trains one to think both qualitatively and quantitatively. It makes them 'agents of change, not victims of it,'" Verghese said.

John Dodini, Civil Engineering '13, one of the seven Freshmen Transition Coordinators planning NSO this year, said he thought Verghese's lecture would help freshmen understand the importance of Stanford's diverse academic requirements.

"I think this is a much better avenue for them to understand what, at the university, we're trying to teach them," Dodini said.

Freshmen and transfers also will have expanded opportunities to meet their future professors in Engaging with Faculty, a program that brings students and professors together in small group discussions about research and learning beyond the classroom.

Typically, students could attend one out of six or seven hour-long sessions. This year, a second rotation was added, so students may now attend two out of 16 offerings.

"That's a really great change," Wu-Nguyen said. "The students are really excited, they can't wait for classes to start, and it sets the stage really well."

Finally, first-year students will have to wait an extra week before experiencing Cardinal football for the first time. While a home game usually falls during NSO, no game is scheduled for the weekend this season.

Wu-Nguyen said alternative programming will be offered to provide safe, on-campus entertainment on Saturday night in the absence of the football game. There will be a Stanford Comedy Night, Open Mic Night at the CoHo, music at the Black Recruitment Orientation Committee's BROC Party, and Chill-Axe, a night of music, games and raffles at the Axe and Palm.

New programming will include raku pottery firing, the Cataracs in concert at Memorial Auditorium, and First FLiCKS double-feature movie screenings in the Old Union Courtyard.

The Freshmen Transition Coordinators, dubbed FTCs, said all the orientation events are designed to show new students how Stanford works.

"NSO is a really good time for them to get a taste of a lot of the Stanford experience," said Bana Hatzey, Psychology '14.

In addition, organizers hope freshmen and transfers begin to feel at home and find their place in the Stanford community.

"We recognize how hard of a transition coming from high school to college is," said Casey Khademi, '14. "Since they're just straddling this border between two different worlds, it's not like NSO has to push them into leaving home and coming to Stanford, but [rather get them] feeling comfortable coming into this second phase of their lives."

Robin Migdol is an intern for Stanford University Communications.