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Students work on an experiment during summer for Leland Scholars program

Donor generosity enables Leland Scholars Program expansion

Gifts, including $1 million in alumni and parent support through The Stanford Fund, will support expansion to 90 incoming students and a hybrid offering.

In 2012, Stanford launched the Leland Scholars Program (LSP) and welcomed its first cohort of 33 incoming first-year students who were among the first in their families to attend college or who were coming from under-resourced schools.

Housed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE), LSP aims to support and embolden the transition to the rigors of Stanford’s academic experience for first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) students. Leland Scholars live, learn and develop together on Stanford’s campus for four weeks during the late summer. The program covers all costs for participants – courses, housing, meals, transportation and excursions during students’ residential experience.

Among one of the earliest LSP cohorts was incoming first-year student Ria Jodah, ’19, from Georgetown, Guyana. With academic interests in using science to help others, Jodah had no idea what college in the US would be like – no one in her family had gone to college and many students from her secondary school started working after graduation or stayed local for their post-secondary education.

“At the start of college I had no idea what I wanted for myself,” she said. “I was just so excited about all the opportunities to learn that were suddenly laid before me.”

Jodah was eager, yet apprehensive to be challenged and exposed to new ideas and experiences. While she had excelled academically, the preparation she received at her under-resourced school was not on par with the intensive groundwork many other Stanford students experienced.

“I was excited to attend Stanford, but it was an incredibly different transition. I was far away from the only place I’d ever called home, surrounded by people whose academic, cultural, financial and life experiences could not be further from my own,” she said. “But through LSP, I learned that finding your people could make all the difference. They believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Preparing FLI students for rigors of Stanford

During their LSP experience, participants receive a holistic introduction to what they will encounter in the Stanford curriculum. Each Leland Scholar takes some combination of intensive writing, mathematics and chemistry problem solving, for which they receive academic credit toward graduation, in addition to working collaboratively on a research project.

The unique mix of these hands-on, group-oriented experiences are designed to enhance students’ analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills with an intentional focus on preparing each LSP student for the academic rigor of their first quarter and beyond.

LSP enrolls roughly equal numbers of men and women annually, with more than 70% of participating students being the first in their families to attend college. The majority of participants have no Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in their financial aid and come from under-resourced high schools.

Once admitted to Stanford, prospective Leland Scholars apply in May and learn whether they are accepted into the program by mid-June.

The documented impact of LSP on its participants is both broad and deep. Internal assessments of LSP students made in comparison to similar students demographically in an ongoing control study demonstrate that LSP students are comparably more likely to embrace learning opportunities, new challenges and leadership roles at Stanford – such as being selected for RA positions, participating in a study away program, providing peer tutoring to fellow Stanford students, establishing meaningful connections with faculty, and tackling courses that arouse their curiosity, regardless of their perceived difficulty. And while there aren’t statistical differences in GPAs, LSP students maintained higher retention rates through prominent first-year STEM courses in chemistry, math, physics, and computational and mathematical engineering.

LSP expands to largest enrollment ever

Due to ever-increasing demand, over the years the program has gradually increased its enrollment and intensive annual support. Over the last six years, LSP has enrolled 60 Stanford students annually from among 150 applicants, as demand has far exceeded available spots.

Thanks to recent gifts to the program, including $1 million in alumni and parent support through The Stanford Fund, LSP will mark its 10-year anniversary this summer with fitting celebratory news – a substantial program expansion from 60 to 90 incoming Stanford students. In addition, an anonymous donor has also committed resources that will help expand the number of students served by LSP as well as funding some other key existing and new pillars of FLI support at Stanford.

Overall, these recent gifts will undergird the program expansion for the next several years, and Stanford will continue to fundraise for longer-term support for LSP.

New funding will also help broaden program access. Recognizing that not all potential Leland Scholars are able to dedicate a month to an in-person experience due to family or other obligations, LSP will offer a hybrid pilot program this summer for up to 30 additional incoming students. The hybrid offering will couple online courses and workshops in the late summer with an in-person component for community building and resource connections just before New Student Orientation.

All students participating in both the traditional residential and new hybrid summer programs will receive continued support during the academic year through the LSP first-year seminar, advising, academic and co-curricular workshops, and social events.

Brandi Pretlow, director of LSP, said that the program is a vital part of the Stanford experience for FLI students and reflective of Stanford’s commitment to its IDEAL initiative.

“Inclusivity and belonging are the foundation of LSP. Every year, we design our program to center the experiences of FLI students. We acknowledge and celebrate their strengths, provide opportunities for learning and growth, and advocate for their needs.”

In future years, Pretlow hopes to work with partners across the university to ensure that all FLI students or students from under-resourced high schools have a program option to support their transition to Stanford. Said Pretlow, “We want to utilize everything we’ve learned over the past ten years to continue to support the university’s commitment to holistically support FLI students throughout their journey at Stanford.”

LSP has flourished in its first decade at Stanford, largely due to strong leadership, dedicated students and facilitators, and the support of a university community and friends of the program cheering its successes. LSP also sees one of the very highest student impact “scores” among its participants. Surveyed students report the program having a significant impact on their transition to Stanford with participants regularly recommending the program to others.

Reflecting on her own experience, Irva Guadalupe Pineda, ’16, now a technical program manager in equity at Instagram, said: “LSP made an immeasurable positive impact on my life beyond my undergraduate career. The most important thing I learned was that I didn’t have to go through the difficult transition of being first generation and low income alone. My LSP cohort went from being close friends to the family on campus that I could turn to when I felt like I didn’t belong or when I encountered challenging courses. I am grateful for LSP and would not be where I am today without the investment they have made in me.”

Devika Patel, ’17, currently a design director at The Better Lab within the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, added: “The role of LSP in my life has been profound. From my first experience in college during the program in 2012, I knew I had found my community and friends for life. Now that I’m an alumna and have started my dream job as a designer in the healthcare space, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without what I learned from my mentors and friends in LSP.”

As for Jodah, she remains closely connected to the LSP program and to her alma mater. She staffed as a preceptor for LSP during her senior year and is currently enrolled at Stanford’s School of Medicine. She also works part time in Stanford’s FLI office, providing support to a new generation of first-gen and/or low-income students.

“Thinking back on my time in LSP, it was one of the best decisions I could have made,” said Jodah. “I experienced what it was like to be unconditionally loved and supported, and how, in addition to access to resources, we can be set up to achieve whatever we dream, regardless of our backgrounds. I strive to create a similar sense of belonging in all the spaces I’m now privileged to occupy.”

This story originally appeared in Stanford Report.