Widgets Magazine
Exploring outside the classroom
(Courtesy of Pixabay).

Exploring outside the classroom

At the beginning of freshman year, we were all encouraged to “explore.” This was mostly in reference to our academics–with major declarations far on the horizon, we were encouraged by Academic Advisors, professors and RAs to take classes in a variety of departments, trying them on for size.

Having taken classes here in economics, psychology, sociology and creative writing, along with requirements in math, THINK and PWR, I would advocate for exploring different departments. However, I am also glad to be well along the way to completing the core for my major, Economics. This year, I will complete five core classes towards the major, and thus have limited opportunity for breadth in the classroom, particularly this spring quarter.

For those who have already identified a passion for a unit-heavy major, or simply want to get ahead on their major requirements so that they can complete theses and research in the area, robust academic exploration during freshman and sophomore year might be unrealistic. But that doesn’t mean all exploration is off the table. A less-discussed but equally valuable way to learn about a wide variety of fields and subjects is through exploring extracurricular opportunities at Stanford. As I’ve learned, there is nearly endless opportunity to expand and adapt your extracurricular involvement. Activities Fair at NSO is not the end-all-be-all of club recruitment, and each quarter offers new opportunities in research, employment and athletics.

Fall Quarter, I joined the Mariachi Band and The Stanford Daily staff. Winter Quarter, I began working as a tutor on Saturdays for Tutoring for Community, took a research position at the Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Program through the Psychiatry department and started working as a companion to a wife and husband with dementia in Menlo Park. I also played Indoor Soccer for my dorm’s intramural team, and sat on a panel for the Stanford Mental Health Outreach club. Now, in Spring Quarter, I am in the process of training to be a Stanford Tour Guide, and I attended my first meeting of the Stanford Effective Altruism club. I am not involved in all of these activities today–I dropped Mariachi and my research position along the way because, though I enjoyed them, I wanted to explore other activities during my freshman year.

Through these experiences, I’ve learned and experienced so many things that, even with a diverse academic course load, I could not have learned in the classroom. In Mariachi, I learned what Mariachi music actually is, and I learned to play guitar with a pick (I was previously a classical player, which meant I picked with my fingers alone). As a research assistant, I learned about mindfulness programs in East Palo Alto elementary schools, and how to conduct ethical, confidential research. Through tutoring, I developed a wonderful mentor relationship with the 10-year-old son of a Stanford cook. Being a companion to a couple with dementia and Parkinson’s has given me unprecedented perspective on the fragility and value of a human life, and has given me the opportunity to practice compassion in the face of debilitating and frustrating mental decline.

Extracurricular involvement does not have to be a static aspect of your Stanford experience. Some clubs require year-long commitment starting fall quarter, but many allow new members to join each quarter. As you meet new faculty members and get more familiar with your departments of interest, research opportunities may arise throughout the year. If you’re looking for a job, Arrillaga Dining is always hiring–and at a pretty generous starting salary. No matter what opportunities you take–whether intellectually challenging or physically laborious–you will learn something, and you will grow. That is equally true of a fancy-sounding biochemical research position or a job swiping student IDs at a dining hall, as long as you are trying something new and pushing yourself to improve each day on the job.

So, whether you are an incoming freshman in the Class of 2022 reading the Daily online or a current junior nearing the end of your Stanford career, you have countless opportunities ahead of you to find a new extracurricular pursuit. Explore when and where you can, and don’t be afraid to change direction or drop activities that you haven’t sworn commitment to. We’re here in college to expand ourselves, to gather experiences that will inform us in our personal and professional futures and to have a good time. This can and does happen in classes, but it happens outside of classrooms as well–so don’t despair that your chemical engineering degree is preventing you from having a wide range of experiences here.

So this quarter, whatever club you’ve been eyeing, drop in on a meeting and see where it takes you; whatever faculty member you admire, ask if they’re conducting research and what kind of help they might need. Yes, Stanford has a million opportunities, and you can’t do more than scratch the surface of extracurricular life here. But don’t let that stop you from scratching it.


Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.