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STANFORD - Although the anonymity of large lecture courses may be comforting for some students, those who really want to get the most out of their college educations must work to connect with their professors, a panel of educators told Stanford University freshmen last month.

"Go up to professors and tell them that you'd like to find out more about their research and would like to find a way to participate," Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice suggested. "Keep in mind that many professors are very interested in your interest in research and are willing to take you on."

History Professor Al Camarillo, associate dean and director of undergraduate studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences, urged freshmen to "personalize" their educations, by signing up for small seminars providing more one-on-one contact with instructors.

"We want you to be able to leave this institution claiming that you know 'Professor X' very well, and you can go to that faculty member in the years ahead and ask for a letter of recommendation or counseling," he said.

Other panelists urged new students to experiment with subjects they've never tried.

"Most people, after they have completed their undergraduate years, wish they had experimented more," Mechanical Engineering Professor James Adams told the freshmen. "College is a unique opportunity not only to try things, but to be protected from outrageous punishment."

Rice, former senior director for Soviet Affairs on the National Security Council in the Bush Administration, recalled how she went off to college thinking she would be a concert pianist - until she realized she didn't have the talent or the discipline for that career.

"If I had gone to college and done what I was expected to do, I would be playing the piano at Nordstrom right now," she said.

"Don't get locked into what others think you ought to be, or to what you think you ought to be right now. If you find that for some reason a course really turns you on, go ahead and explore it in depth. You'll never get another chance to go back."

Among their other tips for entering freshmen:

  • Don't be afraid to take on something difficult. "Not everybody is a mathematical genius, not everybody writes like T.S. Eliot," Rice said. "It's still OK to take that course in economics or creative writing. Even if it's not your strength, you will emerge better than when you entered, because you will have taken on something about which you were fearful and succeeded at getting through it. And you might find you weren't so bad in it after all."
  • Participate in public service - and find ways to link that service to academic coursework.
  • Recognize the potential value of your courses - even the ones that don't particularly excite you. Rice recalled a course that she took as a freshman, called Great Religions of the World.

"I did the reading at the last minute, passed the test, and immediately forgot everything," she said. "Fifteen years later I was in Japan, wandering around the temples, thinking, 'I once read something about this. I wish I could remember what it was.'

"You can never tell how a course that might seem quite disconnected from your experience might come back later in your lives," she said.

"Remember, you are just beginning to lay the foundation for education that will take place over a lifetime."

-tmj/frosh advice-


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