Change a student's life: "Reflections" program

Change a student's life: "Reflections" program

  • “I wish I knew how to tell my father that I do not want to be a chemical engineer.” 
  • “I feel lost in terms of what I want to do with my life after Stanford.”
  • “As a Native American, I get tired of telling everybody around me what it is like to be me.”

These are examples of what I have heard in Reflections sessions.  Over the past three years, I have participated as a faculty facilitator in this program, and it’s been an enriching experience.

 word "reflections" in a white circle on a light blue backgroundThe Reflections Seminar is held annually during Weeks 4, 5, & 6 of Winter Quarter. Faculty members facilitate the three ninety-minute sessions, with ten to twelve freshmen each time.  When I've facilitated, I have been joined by a staff person, and sometimes with an upper-class person. 

Each time I have come away from the experience with knowledge about students generally, not just the group with whom I met.  I also learn about myself as a teacher and as a person.

Although I have been a faculty member and administrator for many years at three different universities, I’ve hardly ever seen students outside the confines of academic learning, despite trying. In visits with them outside the classroom, I have gained understanding of who they are and who they want to be.  Informal lunches and parties at my home helped me to gain insights into their lives and goals.  But we faculty rarely have structured opportunities to talk directly about their values, their hopes and anxieties, their dreams, and their concerns.

In Reflections, it’s different. We do a series of exercises each year that open up just these issues.

One exercise, for example, asks each student to choose six from among twelve values such as “trust” and “success” and “integrity.”  We help them narrow these down to two that are absolutely central.  They each write these on whiteboards and explain what their two values mean to them and why they are so fundamental.  We ask them to go to a quiet spot on campus over the course of the next week and reflect on the values they chose. They are to come to the next session prepared to discuss whether they have changed their priorities, as many do, or have kept the same values as primary, as many others do. 

Each year I’ve participated, I have learned more about what it is like to be a freshman at Stanford and more about how best I can be an effective teacher who recognizes that cognitive learning is only part of the transition that takes place from adolescence to adulthood at Stanford.  By understanding what challenges freshmen face, ones that they too rarely reveal even to their pre-major advisors, let alone their classroom teachers, I am able to take better account of the ways in which students’ emotional selves may be affecting their learning.  Moreover, I always come away enriched by what I have gained from Reflections and eager to engage in the experience again. 

Want to find out about participating in January 2015? Contact Koren Bakkegard, Associate Dean of Residential Education, by Dec. 15, 2015 at or (408) 306-2845.

Visit the Reflections website

Tom Ehrlich teaching. Photo by Rod Searcey for Stanford CTL.Tom Ehrlich is former Dean of the Stanford Law School, former Provost at Penn, President Emeritus of Indiana University, and author, co-author, or editor of 13 books.