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Dear Member of the Class of 2016: 


As you stand at the cusp of college, I want to convey a few important things about this institution and what we hope for you here. It is impossible for us to envision accurately what changes and challenges you will see in your lifetime.  

Twenty years ago, Stanford didn't even have a web page. Twenty years from now, there will be new ways of engaging with the world that are unimaginable to us in the present. What you must do here in the next four years, then, is to develop not only deep understanding of a field of knowledge, but the capacities to approach important questions using the methods appropriate to the task, the responsibility to deploy these skills wisely, and the ability to adapt to new circumstances and challenges.


You will learn under the guidance and alongside your instructors and peers, fellow voyagers on this intellectual journey. We will help you to find your own path, but you must also participate actively in navigating the unfamiliar terrain of college.


At Stanford, we do not accept tradition blindly or received wisdom without question. Our faculty and students embrace challenges and possibilities, and we need for you--the newest members of our community--to do this, too. Try new things, take risks, question and reflect. We will seek to provoke and cultivate these habits of mind in you, and will expect you to hold us to these standards. Welcome to Stanford!

After a summer of anticipation, I am sure you are ready for New Student Orientation (NSO) to begin and for the chance, finally, to meet your roommate. I want to take this opportunity to alert you to some upcoming events, as well as to tell you about important opportunities in your freshman year.

You will soon meet your two initial advisors: your Academic Director and your Pre-major Advisor. By  now, your Academic Director (AD) has been in touch with you. With an office conveniently located in your dorm, your AD is perfectly situated to assist you with immediate matters pertaining to academic requirements and policies, course selection, and university resources.

Tomorrow you will learn the name of your Pre-Major Advisor (PMA). Your PMA is among a select group of dedicated faculty and staff who especially wish to serve as freshman advisors. We have carefully matched you with a PMA based on your initial interests. Your PMA is specially prepared to help you think through important questions such as academic majors and research opportunities at Stanford. They can offer a perspective that is complementary to, but distinct from, that of your AD. You will meet with your PMA and his or her other freshman advisees during NSO at a site assigned in your NSO packet.

You might ask your PMA or AD about the winter quarter reflection seminars. These elective seminars provide an opportunity for you to think about your overall Stanford journey with a small group of other first-year students led by a PMA. We have designed these seminars, specifically for freshmen, to foster structured reflection about aligning your potential choices at Stanford with your values and objectives.

As you know, we have reserved a space for you in one of the new Thinking Matters (THINK) courses.* You will be the first Stanford students to experience these courses, which were designed specifically for freshmen, and we hope many of you will take more than one during the year.

In addition, the autumn quarter Education as Self-Fashioning (ESF) courses offer a lecture series featuring world renowned scholars, from Stanford and elsewhere, discussing the meaning of liberal education. Even if you are not enrolled in the discussion and writing portions of ESF, you can take this exciting lecture series as a one unit course this autumn.
The lecture series serves as an extension of the "First Lecture," delivered this year by English professor and internationally acclaimed poet Eavan Boland on Thursday, September 20 at 9:00 am. Professor Boland will examine the challenges and rewards of a Stanford education. We hope the First Lecture will inspire you to reflect on your upcoming journey through Stanford and to consider why both exploring broadly as well as pursuing depth in a specific subject area will be critical to your undergraduate education.

Because of recent changes in undergraduate education, you will have fewer required courses than previous years and more room to explore. If you have not already discovered and utilized the Cardinal  Compass, please do experiment with it. This is a new online tool created to help you find classes that fit your particular interests. Cardinal Compass can assist you in selecting Thinking Matters and PWR courses, as well as Introductory Seminars, based on your areas of interest.
In addition to your THINK course, we recommend that you take at least one Introductory Seminar. There are over 100 freshman preference IntroSems and over 200 seminars in total. As you are probably aware, Introductory Seminars require that you submit a brief application. 

For help with writing this statement as well as for assistance with the various writing assignments  you will have this year, we encourage you to visit the Hume Writing Center, which is located in the basement of Margaret Jacks Hall, Building 460. You can make a writing center appointment online.

You can also make appointments online with subject tutors in large lecture courses such as math, chemistry, and economics. Subject tutors are also located in many freshman dorms to assist you.

We hope that you have an exciting, challenging, and rewarding freshman year.  Here at the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) in Sweet Hall, we are ready and able to answer your academic questions.

Please stop by. I would be more than happy to meet with you personally as well. Just make an appointment with my executive assistant, Lisa Bilgen. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at Convocation! 

Harry J. Elam, Jr.

Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities
Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

Stanford University  

*For those freshmen enrolled in Structured Liberal Education (SLE), you will not have a THINK course assignment but will fulfill your freshman year requirements through SLE. If you desire, you are still welcome to take the one unit ESF lecture series.  

Stanford University VPUE

Sweet Hall

590 Escondido Mall

Stanford, California 94305