Supporting Students' Incredible Journeys

At the White House, in the lab or in a Kenyan village, opportunity leads to learning.

March/April 2002

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Supporting Students' Incredible Journeys

Glenn Matsumura

For the past several months, I have been traveling the country with members of the faculty and some of our most outstanding students to talk about what it will take to ensure that Stanford University continues to offer the best undergraduate education anywhere. The Think Again events, part of the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, include seminars by faculty members and panel discussions featuring students. These have been extraordinary presentations. Some of you may not be able to join us at these events, so I want to relate the experiences of three students who traveled with us to the first Think Again event in Portland, Ore. Their stories mirror those of hundreds of undergraduates at Stanford.

Lindsay Arnold, a senior from Eugene, Ore., is majoring in international relations and doing an honors thesis with the University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. As part of her major, Lindsay’s studies have included courses in political science, economics, statistics, history, French, sociology and anthropology.

During her junior year, Lindsay participated in the Stanford in Washington program. With the support of a Stanford alumnus who works in the federal government, Lindsay earned an internship at the White House.

What Lindsay didn’t realize was that she would be the first White House intern in the new Bush administration. She arrived before the staff was complete and was given opportunities that are probably not typical for interns. She worked with the associate director for veterans affairs to develop the Presidential Task Force on Veterans Health Care, which President Bush officially launched a month later.

“I never made the connection between the magnitude of what I can and will accomplish with my Stanford education and the far-reaching effects my education . . . can have on . . . the American public,” she says. Without a doubt, Lindsay’s plans reflect the founders’ hope that Stanford students would use their education to benefit humankind.

A pre-med student majoring in biological sciences, Jamie Hui decided at the end of her freshman year that she wanted to explore research opportunities at Stanford. As a sophomore, she joined the laboratory of Dr. Tony Oro, ’85, in the dermatology department at the Stanford School of Medicine. She is studying the gene BEG4b to see if it is related to basal-cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Last summer, Jamie participated in the campus-based Summer Research College, and she continues her work in Dr. Oro’s lab.

She has discovered how to learn from her mistakes. In the lab, she says, “there is no textbook answer to any setback, so I must think completely differently than I would in class . . . . I need to design experiments that . . . give me results to interpret.”

Jamie is now a junior. By the time she graduates, she will have worked in Dr. Oro’s lab for three years, gaining invaluable experience and knowledge that will pay dividends for the rest of her professional life.

Josh Haner is on another kind of journey of discovery, exploring new approaches in ethnographic photography. Josh is a senior who will graduate with a double major: studio art, with an emphasis in photography, and symbolic systems, with an emphasis on human-computer interactions. Certainly, an unusual combination, but one that appealed to Josh’s multiple interests.

In his junior year, through friends on campus, Josh became interested in learning about the Masai. He realized that they had been idealized, and to a certain extent misrepresented, by the image of the solitary Masai warrior so often seen in photographs. Josh decided he wanted to “photograph a culture from the inside.” To do this, he began studying Maa, the Masai language, with another Stanford student, Kimeli Naiyomah. Josh and the other students working on this project also applied for and received six grants from five different departments.

This past summer, Josh traveled to Loodoariak, a village in southern Kenya. He lived 12 weeks with the Masai, taking more than 6,000 photographs. At the end of this year, he expects to complete his analysis and, as his honors thesis, present approximately 50 photographs along with captions on the cultural and ethnographic significance of each. Josh showed the photos at the Portland gathering and thanked the departments and professors who helped him think about cultural values and differences. “They anticipated things I would never have thought of . . . reminded me to slow down and appreciate the little things. . . .” Viewing his photographs and hearing his commentary was educational and moving.

Whether it is immersion in another culture, seeing firsthand the effects of public policy or learning to think like a researcher, these kinds of experiences prepare our students to play a greater role in our world. They are the kinds of educational opportunities we want to offer to every Stanford undergraduate. With your help, we can make that happen.

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