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Frosh 101 supports students through first-year challenges

Now in its sixth year, the popular residentially-based program offers a holistic support system to nearly 1,000 students as they navigate their first year at Stanford.

Frosh 101 student participants gather on campus green

Frosh 101 student participants take part in small-group, peer-led, discussion-style conversations about elements of the Stanford experience.

Even before arriving on campus, Layton Rosenfeld knew her transition to college would be challenging. Rosenfeld grew up in Oregon and traveled from first grade through high school with the same, close-knit group of friends. This marked the first time living away from home at her dream school, unsure of how her first year would unfold.

During New Student Orientation (NSO), she learned about Frosh 101. Specifically for first-year students, this student-led, discussion-style fall quarter, two-unit course is designed to help frosh adjust to life at the Farm. Intrigued by the premise, she enrolled.

“I felt overwhelmed as a frosh,” Rosenfeld says. “Going to Frosh 101 was that chance to reflect on my experience, take a step back, see the big picture, and realize that I’m not the only frosh that’s feeling the things that I’m feeling, and I’m not the only person that’s homesick, or that’s struggling with classes. That had a huge impact on me.” After her frosh experience in 2019, Rosenfeld has served as a co-lead for the course for two years in a row.

Intentional Conversations

Through weekly activities and discussions during fall quarter, Frosh 101 creates space for first-years to establish friendships, gain advice, develop stress-management skills, thrive in a diverse environment, set goals, and reflect on their new community. Students enroll in a section within their assigned residence that meets for 80 minutes once a week. Each section is comprised of approximately 10 students and is co-facilitated by two trained upperclass students known as co-leads. One co-lead is a student who recently went through the program’s facilitator and curriculum training, and the other is a resident assistant or ethnic theme associate within the participating dorm.Students also complete short readings and reflections throughout the quarter. The program was so well-received that a Transfer 101 version was created to meet the needs of that cohort.

Patti Hanlon-Baker, Frosh 101 director, emphasizes the importance of creating an environment for students to gather in an intentional manner. Hanlon-Baker formed part of the original  committee, where she collaborated with the former founding director Cheryl Brown and colleagues across campus to design parts of Frosh 101, which launched in 2017.

“We want students to discover that Frosh 101 is a space where you can work on building community, but it’s also a great space to think about what it means to come to college in all the ways—the fun stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that makes you laugh,” said Hanlon-Baker. 

The course features a discussion-based curriculum, covering three core topics related to transitioning to college and developing a sense of belonging: building a healthy community, engaging diversity and inclusion, and reflecting on purposeful living and learning. By the end of the quarter, the goal is for students to gain insight into their own and others’ social identities, their personal values, and their sense of purpose, to gain a sense of belonging and inclusion within the program and to Stanford in general, and to explore strategies for making healthy choices at college, developing friendships, and managing stress.

As Hanlon-Baker describes, “​​Students are figuring out boundaries with everything from sleep schedules to choices they’re making with friends and social choices. We encourage them to pay attention to how this space feels different, what that feels like, and how that impacts their own sense of identity.”

Throughout Frosh 101, participants engage in various activities designed to help them reach those goals—from personal spotlights, during which students share their experiences uninterrupted, to an exercise in which they write letters to their future selves. 

For first-year student Maya Goldsberry, one of her favorite activities during the class involved a ball of yarn. During the yarn weave activity, students in her section gathered in a circle. While holding the ball of yarn, each participant shared something they had been worried about or struggling with in their first five weeks at Stanford. Other students who agree or resonate with that experience would then raise their hands. The first student would then toss the ball of yarn while holding onto the end of the string. This continued around the circle, and ultimately, the end result was a fantastic network of connections. “We talked about hard topics, but it was in a way that was constructive and enjoyable. Over time, everyone was holding a piece of string, and it’s just like this big web,” Goldsberry says. “It really showed how connected we all are.” 

Frosh to Facilitator

After participating in Frosh 101, students can apply to serve as co-leads in a future section. As a co-lead, students are trained to facilitate difficult conversations and spearhead community-building initiatives with their peers.

When senior Finn Paisley participated in Frosh 101 in 2019, he didn’t imagine the impact the course would have on his Stanford experience. As a first-year student, this was the place he could have dedicated time to think about his transition to college and ask questions to his peers and co-leads without feeling judged. He then became a co-lead and led a course during his junior and senior year.

“For me, it was such a no-brainer. It sounded fun,” Paisley says. “I was going to get to meet all these new students that I might not otherwise interact with in the dorm. And I think it’s really cool to pass on the joy of Stanford.”

In Layton Rosenfeld’s case, she also felt a calling to serve as a co-lead after experiencing Frosh 101 her first year. She took on this role for the second time during the 2022-23 academic year. “I see it as a personal mission of mine to help people understand that they do belong at Stanford,” she says. “There are so many different reasons why people feel overwhelmed when they come to school, and it’s nice to have a role that helps me facilitate those conversations that help people know that they’re valued and that they bring something special to Stanford—that’s what drew me in.”

To learn more about Frosh 101 or Transfer 101, which supports transfer students, visit