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An economics major delves into global mysteries

This story is the fifth in a series of profiles on Stanford’s 2021-22 transfer students. The unique cohort of 60+ undergraduates, who range in age from 18 to 51, brings a multitude of perspectives and life experiences to campus.

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

For Karina Thiagarajan, becoming a Stanford student is the latest milestone in a life journey that began in an orphanage in Mumbai, the second-largest city in India, and continued in Singapore after she was adopted by an Indian family.

Thiagarajan, who has lived in the Bay Area since 2016, had visited campus often in recent years to remind herself why she was working so hard to earn an associate degree in economics at a Silicon Valley community college.

One of her first courses at Stanford involved getting to know Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and Chief Inspector Chen in “The Detective and the City,” a seminar taught by Frederick Stout, a lecturer in the Urban Studies Program in the School of Humanities and Sciences. The course focused on the connections between three cities – San Francisco, London and Shanghai – and the fictional detectives that solved crimes on their streets.

“It’s really wonderful to use an academic lens to see what separates the good from the great mysteries,” Thiagarajan said. “The class was a wonderful way to engage with material I love and carve out some time to read in my busy schedule. I often found it hard to contain myself to the page limit for assignments, even for my final paper.”

Thiagarajan has formed some of her closest friendships with classmates through the seminar, “Heartfulness: Mindfulness, Compassion, and Responsibility,” taught by Stephen Murphy-Shiegematsu, a lecturer at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

As part of the seminar, she visited the Windhover Contemplative Center, which features paintings inspired by kestrels swooping above the Stanford foothills created by the late Nathan Oliveira, who taught art at the university for more than three decades.

“It’s an absolutely stunning building that has a wonderful inside-outside feel,” she said. “It is a really calming place to be and I practice meditation there.”

One of the classes Thiagarajan is most excited about taking in winter quarter is “Wealth of Nations,” a core course for an economics major.

“I have lived in three very different countries in my life – India, Singapore and the United States – and have seen up close how their economic and political differences affect the quality of life in each one,” she said. “I’d like to delve deeper into this topic and discover the nuances of this economic disparity.”