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Provost Drell and Caroline Winterer sit at a round table with students

Dual investments strengthen COLLEGE—Stanford’s reimagined curriculum for first-year students

Alum Nehal Raj has created two funds to ensure that more students can benefit from the new first-year curriculum for all first-year students.

Two new philanthropic gifts are bolstering Stanford’s efforts to create a shared intellectual experience for undergraduates that helps students think broadly and deeply about their responsibilities as local and global citizens, engage in constructive dialogue, and seek lives of meaning and purpose.

Nehal Raj, ’00, MS ’00, has made two gifts to establish the Nehal and Jenny Fan Raj COLLEGE Faculty Fellow and the Nehal and Jenny Fan Raj Lectureship in the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S). These positions will strengthen Stanford’s Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE), the new first-year curriculum for undergraduate students.

“This gift is an investment in the entire undergraduate experience,” says Sarah Church, the Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford.

“It provides resources for the core COLLEGE curriculum as well as the senior capstone projects, brings COLLEGE curriculum into the neighborhoods, and builds faculty engagement in the residences. We are immensely grateful to Nehal and Jenny for helping to make these opportunities possible for students.”

Nehal Raj headshot

Nehal Raj, ’00, MS ’00. Photo courtesy Nehal Raj

Emerging from Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, the COLLEGE curriculum is designed to provide first-year students with a foundation for personal and academic exploration. COLLEGE courses center on topics of liberal education, citizenship, and global perspectives on issues shaping the world today. In addition to fostering community, these discussion-focused courses encourage empathy, diversity of thought, and deep consideration of what it means to be good citizens and pursue lives of purpose—skills useful to all students, regardless of major, during their time at Stanford and beyond.

“Employers overwhelmingly report that they care little about majors and much more about communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills,” says Dan Edelstein, the William H. Bonsall Professor of French in the School of Humanities and Sciences and faculty director for Stanford Introductory Studies. “These are precisely the skills that students hone during discussion seminars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. These same skills make us desirable both as friends and as co-workers.”

Stanford introduced COLLEGE as a one-course requirement for frosh in 2021–22. The new program and its expansion to two required courses this year has created a demand for faculty to teach COLLEGE courses, which are offered during the fall, winter, and spring quarters. The Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) is hiring additional lecturers to meet this need and prepare for the program’s possible expansion to three required courses, which would follow the conclusion of the pilot period in the 2024–25 academic year.

Additionally, the School of Humanities and Sciences is looking to endow 10 H&S lectureships to support COLLEGE instruction and fulfill other school priorities.

“These new lectureships will enable departments to play a multi-faceted role in the new freshman COLLEGE program,” says Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. “Nehal and Jenny’s generous gift will allow Stanford to hire superb lecturers who can teach effectively in the COLLEGE program; help build bridges between COLLEGE and upper-level department and program courses; support departments and programs with the new capstone requirements; and help maintain course offerings in areas where faculty are expected to contribute heavily to COLLEGE.”

Of the faculty recruited to teach COLLEGE courses, eight will initially serve as COLLEGE Faculty Fellows. These appointments will come with an expectation to teach in the program for three years, with fellows assigned to bring elements of the curriculum into each of the eight undergraduate residential neighborhoods. The multiyear assignments will allow the fellows to build relationships with students over time.

The COLLEGE Faculty Fellow and H&S lectureship endowed by Raj will help transform the first-year experience and broadly benefit the School of Humanities and Sciences, which undergraduates engage with throughout their time at Stanford. Supporting the entire undergraduate experience—from matriculation to graduation—is important to Raj, who acknowledges the complexity of getting a program like COLLEGE off the ground.

“Stanford is constantly in need of investment because the university is always innovating across numerous areas,” Raj says. “Implementing something new like COLLEGE can be difficult. COLLEGE won’t be as successful as quickly if it doesn’t have philanthropic support behind it. I want to help ensure the COLLEGE vision is fully realized sooner rather than later.”

Provost Drell and Caroline Winterer sit at a round table with students

Back row from left to right: Professor Caroline Winterer, PhD candidate Theresa M. Iker, and Stanford Provost Persis Drell engage in discussion with students during a fall 2022 COLLEGE seminar. Winterer is the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies; Drell is also the James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering.

Raj says that when he arrived at Stanford as a first-generation college student, he had a singular focus on his intended career in medicine with little interest in exploring courses beyond the pre-med track. The required first-year curriculum at the time exposed him to courses and experiences he never would have pursued on his own, sparking a love for economics and opening the door to a successful, fulfilling career as an investor. Raj hopes COLLEGE can give students the same life-changing experience he had as an undergraduate.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in industrial engineering at Stanford, Raj completed an MBA in 2006 at Harvard. Today he is co-managing partner of investment firm TPG, where he co-leads the firm’s flagship private equity business (TPG Capital) as well as TPG’s technology-focused capital solutions business (TPG Tech Adjacencies).

Raj believes that undergraduate education is where his philanthropy can have the biggest impact, and he has also made it the focus of his volunteer efforts at the university. Raj currently serves as a member of Stanford’s Undergraduate Cabinet and the H&S Council. He and his wife, Jenny, have previously endowed a scholarship fund for Stanford undergraduates.

“I see this as one of the highest return-on-investment opportunities to invest in Stanford because of how transformative the first-year experience can be,” says Raj.

He was able to further magnify the impact of his giving through matching funds offered by the university: Endowed gifts supporting COLLEGE and other VPUE programs are eligible for a match at certain levels to establish a COLLEGE Faculty Fellow.

Raj says that as students leave Stanford to start careers or continue their academic journeys, the impact of COLLEGE will follow them—and could spread beyond the Farm.

“As a leading university, Stanford should be modeling what undergraduate education looks like,” says Raj. “If COLLEGE is emulated by other institutions, this will magnify its impact and ultimately result in more people who find joy and meaning in their lives.”