President Hennessy writes to parents of freshmen

September 2015

Dear Stanford freshman parent,

Move-in day at Stanford is one of my favorite days in the academic year. There is so much excitement and anticipation as students meet their new roommates and settle into their new homes.

This year I also look forward to serving as the faculty moderator of our summer Three Books program. In this first Stanford experience, students read, discuss and reflect on works selected for their common themes. The three books I chose—The Innovators by Walter Isaacson; This Boy’s Life, a memoir by Stanford professor Tobias Wolff; and Lalita Tademy’s Cane River—are all stories about people, the challenges they face and their resilience as they confront adversity. The students have already been discussing the works online, and we will continue the conversation in a roundtable with the three authors during New Student Orientation.

Orientation week also features the annual First Lecture. Margot Gerritsen, associate professor in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering and director of the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, will deliver a talk that offers students a framework for approaching their Stanford education. Gerritsen’s talk is also the starting point for the Education as Self-Fashioning lecture series. Throughout the series, students are challenged to think about, and discuss as a community, the meaning of a liberal education. Professor Gerritsen is an award-winning teacher and a wonderful speaker—I know your son or daughter will be inspired by the presentation.

The First Lecture is just the beginning of a year of discovery as students explore course offerings and choose their classes. Many of these classes will come from our innovative Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing curriculum. During the next four years your son or daughter will take courses in eight categories, including aesthetic and interpretive inquiry, applied quantitative reasoning, creative expression, engaging diversity, ethical reasoning, formal reasoning, scientific method and analysis and social inquiry, and gain critical skills that will help him or her navigate and adapt to our changing world.

Freshmen will also take a Thinking Matters course, which will introduce them to university-level critical inquiry. Courses range from Inventing Government to Meeting the Global Sustainability Challenge and are designed to provide a foundation for advanced study in an academic field.

In Introductory Seminars students explore new subjects in small classes of no more than 16 students. Seminar topics are wide-ranging. African American Women’s Lives and Advanced Topics in Light and Heat are two of the more than 200 seminars offered only to freshmen and sophomores. Although Introductory Seminars are not required, I highly recommend them. In a seminar setting students get to know senior faculty, and ideas generated may form the basis for future research collaboration.

During the freshman year we support your son or daughter through a robust academic advising structure. PhD-level, full-time Academic Advising Directors work closely with students and assist in a range of academic matters from course selection to research opportunities. Their offices are located in the residence halls, providing opportunity for both formal and informal meetings.

Your son or daughter will also be part of a small advisory group led by a Pre-Major Advisor. Pre-Major Advisors are Stanford faculty or staff members who can direct them to university resources and offer perspective as they make decisions about their academic careers. More specialized advice on topics such as pre-professional planning is available in the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research.

Led by Dean of Freshmen Robert Urstein, the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research is a resource for freshmen and their parents. We encourage your son or daughter to make full use of the available resources, advising and opportunities. We want the first year at Stanford to be a great one.


John L. Hennessy