SUES Seeks Student Input

The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES), a task force designed to re-examine current general education requirements (GERs), hopes to gain as much student input as possible during its existence.

Professors Harry Elam and John Campbell lead the committee, which is comprised of 14 professors, three staff members and two students.  Aysha Bagchi ’11, a major in history and philosophy, and Nayoung Woo ’12, a chemistry major, serve as the student voices on the committee.

Neither Bagchi nor Woo were appointed through the ASSU or the student-run Nominations Commission (NomCom).  Instead, academic directors and residential fellows nominated students who were then interviewed through the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Office.

Bagchi said that she understands her experiences are not necessarily representative of the student body at large. “I wouldn’t pretend for a second that the two students on the committee are anything like sufficient student input,” she said. Rather, Bagchi stated that her role on SUES helps explain the functions of different GERs and allows for her to relate these requirements to the student experience.

“A lot of the faculty members are still being introduced to the programs, but not all of them knew the particulars about IHUM [Introduction to the Humanities] or PWR [Program in Writing and Rhetoric].  It’s really useful in the meetings to have students who can immediately explain a lot of things, and we have a sense of what students go through,” she said.

Bagchi, Campbell, and Elam all expressed that SUES will be using empirical data to help gain an understanding about the Stanford undergraduate experience.  SUES will have access to the results of the Senior Surveys.  Bagchi noted that the Class of 2012 will be the most surveyed class ever to attend Stanford.  Through the use of surveys, SUES hopes to gain widespread data about the undergraduate experience.

SUES is currently conducting “dorm storms.”  Every Wednesday, SUES meets with a different dorm or student group to discuss GERs and what defines a Stanford education.  Elam stated that the committee always asks, “If you were the Vice Provost, what would you change about the general education requirements?”

“Dorm storms” focus on a multitude of different student niches, ranging from upperclassmen dorms to student athletes.  Matt Izant ’13 and other freshmen met with SUES at a “dorm storm.”  Throughout the experience, Izant felt that SUES “seemed to have a good understanding of the issues and students’ opinion before they even came to us.”

By targeting different student groups, SUES hopes to gain a better understanding of the variety of needs and issues facing Stanford students.  Bagchi noted that the student athlete “dorm storm” was particularly interesting because “athletes have a really unique experience, with different constraints on their schedule.”

To foster dialogue between the student body and SUES, the ASSU Executive created a town hall meeting on May 12, 2010.  Participants at the town hall discussed the effectiveness of IHUM and raised concerns over the number of GERs available and their respective concentrations.

ASSU Vice President Kelsei Wharton ’12 admitted that holding town halls has its own set of difficulties. As the ASSU executives hope to create its own committee to work with SUES, Wharton recognized, “The people who apply [to the committee] will show up to the town hall anyway.”  Wharton indicated that he and Angelina Cardona ’11, ASSU President, hope to revamp the town hall to allow better communication between students, faculty, and the administration.  Wharton stated, “We are not trying to be the town hall executive.”****

SUES created its own website (sues.stanford.edu) to further its reach and gain input from all Stanford affiliates.  Through its website, one can email SUES with any comments or suggestions regarding undergraduate education and GERs.

Through its various outreach programs, SUES hopes to gain as much insight into what defines a Stanford undergraduate education.  Professor John Campbell, co-chair of SUES, stated that because “we’re not proceeding with an agenda or instructions,” the task force can truly value and appreciate student input.  His co-chair, Professor Harry Elam, agreed saying, “Any decisions we make need to be incredible informed by students.”

SUES plans to present their recommendations for the Stanford undergraduate community to the Faculty Senate in Autumn 2011.

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