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The Rise of Nerd Nation

Students and alumni reflect on the Stanford experience

June 29, 2014

This year, Stanford University accepted only 5.07 percent of its applicants and denied roughly ninety-five percent of its applicants a chance to attend The Princeton Review’s most commonly name dream school. Stanford’s staggering admissions rate is just one measure of its prestige. The university’s strong academic, athletic, and research-based programs have earned it a reputation as one of the best universities in the nation. In the collegiate hierarchy, it is often considered a “West Coast Ivy.” Ironically, Stanford surpassed all eight Ivy League colleges by clinching the number one spot on Forbes’ America’s top college list in 2013.

Despite Stanford’s stellar reputation and high rankings, college mongers still question the value in attending such a prestigious university. Nicholas Thompson, editor of newyorker.com and a Stanford graduate himself, criticized the university in a blog post for The New Yorker. The post, titled “The End of Stanford,” discusses the “deep” connections between Silicon Valley and Stanford University. He argues that Stanford is creating an academic environment which encourages students to drop out to pursue start ups- start ups that will not only line the pockets of the drop outs, but of the investing faculty as well.

“But what is the point of having a great university among the palm trees if students feel like they have to treat their professors, as potential investors, found companies before they can legally drink, and drop out in an effort to get rich fast?” Thompson writes. “Shouldn’t it be a place to drift, to read, to meet new people, and to work at whatever inspires you?”

Thompson also jokingly questioned whether Stanford was just “a tech incubator with a football team.” Students, Thomspon mentioned in a follow up post, didn’t take too kindly to the joke. In fact, Stanford students believe Stanford is a place to drift, read, and do all of the things Thomspon says it should facilitate.

“We’re unmatched in pretty much everything. In sports we excell. Twenty years in a row, we’ve won the Director’s Cup… Anywhere you go here, there are really good people,” says Carson Kautz, a rising junior at Stanford.

Stanford, as Kautz states, has some of the nation’s best academic programs. Google lists of top undergraduate and graduate programs and you’ll find that Stanford ranks in the top three in programs ranging from engineering to law or business. The 2012 edition of U.S. News Best Graduate Schools placed Stanford in the top five for every program in which it was ranked. However, many students feel that it is how their peers use the knowledge and skills they gain from their education that sets Stanford apart from other universities.

“At Stanford we value academics, but also having initiative…I think that’s the number one thing for Stanford. Rather than having research or a lot of Nobel laureates, we are creators. We’re brave people who want to change the world,” says Pedro Espinoza, a student at Stanford.

Brenda Torres, a graduate student at Stanford, feels proud to be a part of that innovative community. She feels like she’s found a home at Stanford. Torres became a committee member for the biosciences graduate program at Stanford. The university gave her a chance to participate and become an active member of the community.

Silicon Valley and the larger corporate world is filled with examples of the creators Torres and Espionza speak of. Stanford graduates and Stanford drop outs have created apps, technology, and businesses that shape our everyday lives. Instagram, Netflix, Google, and the GPS are all products of students at Stanford.

“Everything we do here is meant to improve the user experience here. Everything is very applied. I’m from a mechanical engineering background so I really like how what we do here affects every day life,” says Marc Anoma, who just graduated this year.

A school of potential business leaders and technological innovators could very likely create a competitive atmosphere, but Stanford students insist that it is quite the opposite. There is a great sense of community on campus. Students and staff enjoy talking to people of different backgrounds and academic interests. Kautz, Torres, Espinoza, and Anoma all mentioned Stanford’s diverse atmosphere. Each stated that their peers’ drive to be the best and learn new things is what brings them together.

“The students here are awesome and interesting,” says Hansohl Kim, a chemical engineer major sporting a “Nerd Nation” t-shirt. The shirt is just one example of Stanford’s bold intellectualism.

And are Stanford students equally proud of their school mascot? What does it mean to really fear the tree? To rising junior Carson Kautz the answer.

“You see it,” she says, “And you’re like: Damn, that’s Stanford.”

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