Special interest groups create close-knit communities with creative offerings

April 19, 2016, 2:14 a.m.

From performing plays written by elementary schoolers to a cozy crocheting circle in the lounge, a number of special interest groups work to enrich campus life outside class with their creative offerings.

The Daily took a look at some special interest groups on campus, exploring how crocheting, fruit picking and performing for children have created spaces for students to bond in close-knit communities.

Cardineedle and Hook

Born in a one-time dorm crocheting session, crocheting club Cardineedle and Hook was founded in the lounge of Cardenal, Florence Moore Hall in fall 2015.

Founders Nora Kelly ‘19, Dabiyyah Agbere ‘19 and Julie Freels ‘19 were thrilled to discover fellow crocheters in the same hall.

“We just knit and chill; that’s what we do,” said Freels, the Financial Officer for the group.

Cardineedle and Hook is made up of its core leadership and anyone who happens to stop by for yarn and cookies. Their yarn creations to date include scarves, mittens, and “granny squares” — a particular crochet motif that comes in a neat square.

Freels added that the club is a way for her to “do something productive with a hobby,” and hopes to work with a charitable organization in future so that their yarn creations can go to a good cause.

Cardineedle and Hook aims to recruit a solid membership beyond the hall community over the course of the next year. Kelly said she is hoping for a membership of about 40, with 10-15 regular members at meetings.

“I don’t want it to just be a dorm thing, I want it to be an everybody thing,” said Kelly. “We’d also really like to show people who’ve never done this before how to crochet so that they can have that in their lives, even if they don’t come for meetings.”

The fledgling student group is chummy and non-hierarchical, and has discussed recruitment ideas ranging from Cardinal Nights to a “knit-in” at White Plaza.

“We’re equal in all things, especially in enthusiasm,” quipped Kelly, who is co-President along with Agbere.

A crocheting club at Stanford was in the works since 2014, when the former club president founded and registered a group named “Cardineedle and Hook,” from which the present group took their name. Recruitment difficulties and time constraints stopped the first version of Cardineedle in its tracks, but the present leadership was more than happy to take it on when they discovered the group last year.

Having secured funding and a steady leadership, Cardineedle and Hook might just get the push it needs to get going.


The Stanford Gleaners get together once a week to pick the wealth of fruit on campus and deliver their produce to local food drives. Founded just six years ago to reduce waste and advance food justice locally, the small group of five core members stands for a unique mission.

“It started off as a way to both harvest unused fruit and to donate it. This reduces food waste and helps people to realize the abundance of fruit on campus,” said Club President Sneha Ayyagari ’17.

The small club has branched out over the years, reaching out to fellow student group Spoon to donate to local food banks as well as a food justice Alternative Spring Break group. They also maintain a regular partnership with Stanford Educational Farms.

And even when it comes to fruit-picking, the Gleaners don’t settle for the lower-hanging fruit.

“Sometimes people climb trees, but we have fruit pickers that can reach pretty high,” Ayyagari said. “We also have a ladder that we use sometimes when we pick the persimmon tree behind the bookstore, because it’s a tall tree.”

The group manages to pick a wealth of fruit on a low budget — their only real funding needs are replacing worn-down equipment, such as fruit pickers and wheelbarrows. Ayyagari explained that they make each fruit picker last several years.

In place of lavish activities, Ayyagari said that fruit-picking has helped her and her fellow members to discover the riches of nature on this campus.

“I really like the persimmon tree and I really like the orange tree in front of the post office,” Ayyagari said, reflecting on the favorite trees she has discovered. “I think it’s really beautiful. Usually they’re ready in spring quarter, so we’ll probably go out there sometime and pick it.”


HELIOS — or Humanity Expanded: Life in Outer Space — is a new group with a vision. Members of the group came together to work on research projects that envision human existence in space beyond the usual logistical questions of space travel.

Founder Yunha Hwang ‘18 has always wanted to be an astronaut and jumped at the chance to attend the 100 Year Starship (100 YSS) symposium last year. There, she met the first African-American astronaut, Mae Jemison, and two other Stanford students who were passionate about space. HELIOS was thus born with a core leadership team of three and a space dream.

“What struck me about the conference was that the way engineers approach space is so incremental — it’s always about rocket fuel or mechanical engineering,” Hwang said. “And I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but one of the panelists at 100 YSS asked, ‘Who is this for?’ And it made me realize that space is about something different, something beyond what we can imagine now.”

“What kind of culture would we create in space?” Hwang continued, listing the questions she dreamed of exploring with HELIOS. “How could someone possibly give birth and raise a child in space without the healthcare or education systems on earth? How do you select people to go to space?”

However, founding a small student group from scratch at Stanford hasn’t been easy. The core group of Hwang and co-founders Nick Abram ‘16 and M.S. student Ashton Meginnis relied on email list blasts and friends-of-friends to recruit new members, and have a group of 12 at present.

The next stumbling block was funding. Though HELIOS is hoping for funding to carry out their own space research projects, a conversation with Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) saw their request for funding turned down for the moment.

“I think it was mostly that there’s a limited budget to go around, and so many groups applying for funding,” Hwang said. “I think it’s fair because we don’t really have much to show for ourselves yet.”

Right now, the group is trying to work out a direction going forward. Hwang said that she is considering a collaboration with Stanford Space Initiative (SSI). The plan does not come without some reservations, since SSI is rooted in more traditional, engineering-centric aspects of space research, but Hwang, Arbam and Meginnis are determined to get the group going.

“I want to make an impact with this, so we’ll be working towards that for sure,” said Hwang.

Flying Treehouse

Flying Treehouse is the only theatre group on campus that teaches elementary schoolers. Founded in 2011 by a graduate student in the School of Education, Flying Treehouse tutors local second-graders in creative writing. Members of the group collect stories from their kids and the whole team workshops the stories into full-fledged performances for students, parents and the whole community.

Today, the group has a close-knit core of about 15 that relies largely on word-of-mouth for their shows, which are free and open to everyone.

Of the three members whom The Daily spoke to, all had been on board for at least three years. Even the group’s T-shirt was designed by current member Emma Steinkellner ’16 while she was still in high school, while her brother was a member of the group.

While Flying Treehouse’s size and structure are similar to those of other theatre groups, the emphasis on teaching draws a slightly different and no less devoted crowd.

“Once in a while we get an email from a teacher telling us to take note of a particular kid or a particular story because the kids who wrote it are quieter, or have trouble expressing themselves,” Dylan Fugel ’16 said. “And every time they’ll manage to work it out, and it turns out to be amazing; their parents love it. That’s pretty meaningful for me.”

He added that commitment and willingness to work regularly to build relationships with kids are key at auditions.

“We’re a very low-budget group,” said Emma Neiman ‘16. “Most of our sets are handmade by someone three or four years ago who’s still in the group.”

“Our sets and costumes are made out of stuff that kids might use if they were putting on a show,” said Emma Steinkellner ‘16 with a touch of pride. “We use felt, pipe cleaner, and cardboard – lots of cardboard!”

“A lot of it is up to the imagination,” Steinkellner added. “If I’m doing this” — she cupped her hands behind her ears — “then the audience has to imagine that it’s a bear.”

The show’s kick comes from the song, dance and kids’ wildest dreams. Flying Treehouse’s winter quarter show at Stanford featured the inventive inner life of a second-grader stuck in school, ranging from a sporadically animate Eraser Man to a fraught romance between two Midwestern states.

“Kids just have this way of phrasing things that no one else can,” Fugel said.

Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Fangzhou Liu ’19 was Vol. 253 Executive Editor; before that, she co-led the news section. She grew up in Singapore and studies computer science and linguistics.

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