At Stanford, new year heralds new breadth requirements, frosh learning communities

The new students arriving on the Farm today are diverse in every way.  They hail from across the country and across the globe, from traditional high schools and community colleges and the armed services. And Stanford is poised to offer them an intellectual journey like no other.

L.A. Cicero Aaron Shkuda, assistant director of ITALIC, meets with student staff members in the recently renovated library in Burbank dormitory.

Aaron Shkuda, assistant director of ITALIC, meets with student staff members in the recently renovated library in Burbank dormitory.

The Class of 2017, which is arriving from every corner of the United States and 66 foreign countries, will be the first to benefit from Stanford's new approach to teaching the essential skills and capabilities needed to flourish in the 21st century.

The new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing breadth system encourages students to explore and shape their own educational paths while honing their abilities in eight key capabilities, from creative expression to scientific method and analysis.

Stanford adopted the updated requirements in 2012 after a two-year, comprehensive study of undergraduate education.

The freshmen – 1,679 students – are the first students who will be required to take "WAYS" courses to earn bachelor's degrees. They will have hundreds of courses to choose from, across a broad range of subjects and disciplines.

"The WAYS are designed to help students integrate breadth requirements with their major requirements more effectively," said Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education. "We hope that the WAYS can encourage students to think and approach their breadth requirements differently, not so much as something they just want to get out of the way, but as something that informs their whole Stanford education."

Some 90 members of the freshman class also will inaugurate two residentially based learning communities – one focused on the arts and another on science. The students, who will live together in Burbank House, will be part of a tight-knit community that lives together and attends classes in the dorm, where they will share a lounge, dining hall, seminar rooms, improv space and music room.

Janice Ross, faculty director of Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture (ITALIC) described the programs as "an art and science experiment in the richest sense of those explorations."

"The ITALIC program has been built around a series of big questions about the historical, critical and practical purposes of art and its unique capacities for intellectual creativity, communication and expression," said Ross, a professor of theater and performance studies.

"Alongside a stellar group of 44 students selected from a pool of applicants, we will investigate the challenges that works of art have presented to categories of knowledge – history, politics, culture, science, medicine and law – by altering one's perspective on the world and expanding the horizon of the possible."

Paula Findlen, faculty director of Science in the Making: Integrated Learning Environment (SiMILE), said the program's teaching team hopes to engage students in a yearlong conversation about thinking and doing, taking the historical evolution of science, technology and medicine as three important and interrelated case studies.

"We don't want the SiMILE students to consider these issues in isolation but in the context of living and talking with the ITALIC students, which naturally raises the question:  How are the arts and sciences entangled forms of human creativity and, equally, expressions of the desire to make something intelligible from the world around us," said Findlen, a professor of Italian history.

Class of 2017

The Class of 2017 includes students from 49 states – none from Arkansas this year – and 66 countries.

The largest group within the Class of 2017 – 35.6 percent – are Californians.

The next top five regions represented in the class are those coming from the South (17 percent), U.S. citizens and international students living outside the United States (12.5 percent), the Mid-Atlantic (9.4 percent), the Midwest (8 percent) and the Far  West (Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii (6.7 percent). The other regions represented are the Mountain States (5.5 percent), New England (3.6 percent) and the Great Plains (1.5 percent).

Among the incoming freshmen, 87.4 percent are U.S. citizens and 2.8 percent are permanent residents of the United States. International students with foreign visas comprise 9.8 percent of the incoming class.

The Class of 2017 is composed of 53.8 percent men and 46.2 percent women.

Among the incoming freshmen, 14.8 percent are first-generation students – the first in their families to attend a four-year college.

Whites make up 31.7 percent of incoming freshmen, followed by students who identify as Asian American (21 percent), Hispanic/Latino/a (14.8 percent), African American (10 percent), international (9.8 percent), unknown – those who declined to state their race or ethnicity (7.9 percent), and Native American and Hawaiian (4.8 percent).

They're smart, of course.

Eight-nine percent of the incoming frosh achieved a 3.8 or higher grade-point average in high school, and 95.9 percent of them ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.

Asked what fields they're primarily interested in at present, 28 percent said the natural sciences, followed by engineering (24.8 percent), humanities (15.3 percent), pre-professional – pre-law and pre-medicine (13.9 percent), social sciences (10.4 percent), undecided (4.9 percent) and Earth sciences (2.7 percent).

New transfer students

Among the new students arriving on campus today are 28 transfer students who range in age from 18 to 35 years old.

The group includes 20 students from public institutions and eight students from private institutions. Fifteen of them graduated from community colleges.

Six transfer students are veterans of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Navy.

Thirteen come from outside California.

The academic, civic and professional accomplishments of the students are varied.

One is an active researcher at the Muscle Physiology and Proteomics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Another works as a Hmong interpreter for local and presidential elections. One is a former music producer who worked with the bands Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and now operates a high-end fashion boutique. Another is a female corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps who led a team through Afghanistan to teach women to read and write. One worked with Village Enterprise, a group dedicated to equipping people living in extreme poverty with resources to create sustainable businesses. Another is a recipient of the prestigious U.S. Dept. of Energy Office of Science Community College Internship at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.