Burbank to get residential programs based on SLE

Jan. 14, 2013, 2:00 a.m.

Stanford will launch two new yearlong residential programs for freshmen, modeled off of the well-reviewed Structure Liberal Education (SLE) curriculum, next fall.

One, titled “Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture” (ITALIC), will focus on the arts and will be led by a team of faculty drawn from the dance, art and music departments. The other, called “Science In The Making: Integrated Learning Environment” (SIMILE), will revolve around the history of science, a topic University administrators hope will bridge a perceived divide between the humanities and the sciences on campus.

Both will be housed in Burbank, currently an un-themed all-freshman dorm, and accept approximately 45 members from the Class of 2017.

Creating a “buzz” about Burbank

Dance professor Janice Ross, one of the three main faculty members heading ITALIC, talked about how the new programs hope to transform Burbank—both physically and culturally.

The University plans to turn the basement of the residence into a series of art labs and a portion of Stern dining hall into a flexible space for performances and rehearsals. These changes will allow students to collaborate on art projects in their own residence.

“It will be like having…an art commune community dropped into the midst of Stanford,” Ross said. “Down the hall, you’ll have people working on music while you’re working on dance.”

“I think that Burbank will have a certain buzz about it, so that there is not an end to the art-making or the conversation or the art-consuming when class ends or when evening comes,” she added. “I think it is going to saturate the culture there and will be a benefit for everyone who passes through Burbank.”

Paula Findlen, a history professor and one of the leaders of SIMILE, said she hopes the new programs will capitalize on the dorm atmosphere.

“There will be more opportunities for students to continue conversations with us over lunch or anywhere in the dorm,” Findlen said. “If you are looking for an experience that is going to have lots of direct contact with faculty and opportunities to talk to them—not just about the course, but generally about your freshman experience at Stanford—I think these residential programs are going to be terrific for that.”

Following the success of SLE

The move follows a recommendation made last January by the Study of Undergraduate of Education at Stanford (SUES) committee, which was tasked in 2010 with evaluating the essential aspects of a Stanford education. The committee’s report heralded the success of SLE, a residential program based in Florence Moore Hall that has been operating since 1974.

Citing student and alumni surveys, the report suggested offering more programs like SLE, which integrates learning into a student’s residential environment.

“The point…is not that all freshmen should be enrolled in SLE, which flourishes precisely because it is a small, alternative program that students choose to join,” the committee members wrote. “But the experience did prompt us to ask whether some of the elements that make SLE so successful might be replicated in other freshman residences.”

The committee recommended the University to take the structure of the SLE curriculum and apply it to other thematic areas. SLE is focused on the humanities classics.

“The SUES report found that one of the most successful freshman programs in the last 30 years was SLE,” said Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam. “The hope is to create other programs like SLE that have the same investment in intellectual learning, which is reinforced by the residential nature of the program.”

Like SLE, both of the upcoming programs will allow freshmen to fulfill several requirements, including Thinking Matters, Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) 1 and some of the University’s new general education electives that will take effect next fall.

These new programs, however, will have a more relaxed unit requirement than SLE. Both will require five units in the fall and winter quarters and six units in the spring. SLE requires nine units every quarter.

“We want to be facilitating the idea that requirements should be fulfilled in an easy and interesting way that continues to open up lots of room in your curriculum to take other things that you are interested in, and not just courses that fulfill requirements,” said Findlen.

An interdisciplinary approach

While ITALIC will focus specifically on the arts and SIMILE will concentrate on the history of science, both programs are looking to accept students from a wide range of interests and expose them to a variety of disciplines.

“The goal of ITALIC was never for it to be a recruitment vehicle for art majors,” Ross said. “We want to instill in students a consciousness from the very beginning of how to make a rich and full life at the same time as they are trying to get the skills to make a living.”

“Our hope is that it is going to be a new model that makes the arts really fun, that makes the arts absolutely central, but still allows students to take in the richness of the university,” she added.

Findlen also stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach.

“One of the great things about the history of science is that it is a prism into a lot of different disciplines,” Findlen said. “It allows students from all backgrounds to start thinking about the value of history as a window into the world.”

The University hopes to bridge the perceived “fuzzie” and “techie” divide through SIMILE.

“We want students to understand that science doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Elam said. “The goal of SIMILE is to bridge the relationship between science and the humanities by allowing students to think historically about the context and the history that surrounded certain scientific discoveries.”

The programs plan to share speakers, collaborate on events and work together to understand the differences between and similarities in writing reports in the science and art disciplines.

“We really hope that we can do exciting things together to work to continue to breakdown the idea that these are distinctly different things,” said Findlen. “Instead, we hope students can see them as complementary and intersecting ways of thinking about the world.”

If successful, programs like ITALIC and SIMILE—referred to as “integrated learning environments” (ILE)—have the potential to transform the freshmen experience, as well as the face of liberal arts education at Stanford.

“What we understand and appreciate in what the SUES document points out is that the freshmen year is a really important time to discover, to take risks, to think about a variety of subjects and to not get locked in to a certain area of study,” Elam said. “ILEs offer a unique way to do that by allowing freshman to experiment, focus and think critically.”

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