Reflections seminars get rave reviews

Jan. 22, 2013, 11:33 p.m.

The Stanford 101 Reflections seminar for freshmen returned this year with more offerings, thanks in part to last year’s successful pilot. According to the program’s site, 100 percent of previous participants who responded to a post-seminar survey stated that they were glad they chose to be a part of Reflections.

The program debuted in winter quarter of 2012, offering the 50 freshmen who signed up three 90-minute sessions to discuss big-picture questions about life at Stanford. As a result of overwhelmingly positive feedback, Reflections filled up much more quickly this year. Eight of nine winter quarter seminars were full at time of publication.

Kirsti Copeland, director of residentially based advising, believes that this is due to earlier recruiting, word-of-mouth publicity by last year’s participants and the dedicated efforts of Program Associate Kwadwo Nana Osei-Opare ’11.

Osei-Opare drew upon his personal experience to explain his profound belief in the value of Reflection, which aims to help freshmen ask questions about their future plans. After his graduation from Stanford, Osei-Opare went to law school for six months until he realized it wasn’t the right fit for him.

“It’s never too late, but it’s always better to start questioning the next step sooner rather than later,” Osei-Opare said.

In addition to increasing the number of classes from five to nine, the program will also be offered for spring quarter this year.

Last year, the groups consisted of 10 to 12 freshmen, each co-facilitated by a trio of one faculty or lecturer, one staff person and a junior or senior.

This year, many previous participants will be returning as co-facilitators in order to relive the experience from a different perspective.

Sharon Barazani ’15 recalled feeling surprised by the honest personal revelations that came forth in the context of the seminar, which seeks to keep all discussions completely confidential.

“It would be awkward to talk about that kind of thing to your friends over dinner – but it seemed perfectly natural in this context,” Barazani said.

Thomas Ehrlich, visiting professor in the school of education and one of the pioneers and co-facilitators of Reflections, said the program was the perfect setting for this kind of deep questioning.

“The experience is both internal and interactive,” Ehrlich said. “You learn so much about yourself from interacting with others in a safe, comfortable environment.”

Austin Block ’15, a Reflections alumnus and current co-facilitator who also writes for the Daily, added that the group setting creates an ideal bonding environment.

“It’s a chance to meet other freshmen whom you would never have met otherwise and to have conversations with them that go deeper than those you would normally have,” Block said.

Ehrlich pointed out that there is no rigid structure that the sessions are required to follow and everyone ultimately takes something slightly different away from it.

“Although there is a general framework which requires that the deeper questions be addressed, the discussions are very flexible,” he said.  “It’s all about responding to the students’ needs.”

Barazani remembered feeling overwhelmed by the question of whether she was “doing” Stanford right.

“I really didn’t know much about it when I signed up, but it really made me think. Like one of the participants said, ‘it makes time slow down,’” Barazani said.

Block added that, while conserving the low time commitment of the initial seminar is important so it remains accessible to as many students as possible, there should be the option of a Reflections extension for those wishing to go on.

“[The questioning] tends to fade out after a little while, which is why I think it’s important to keep having those kinds of meaningful conversations with people,” he said.

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