Robert Siegel

The Stanford Safari
September 2008
a description

On September 2, 2008, fourteen rising sophomores embarked on a unique exploration of the farm.

Dr. Robert Siegel (’76, MA ’77, MD ’90) had the idea of merging the Bing Overseas Seminar concept with his 35 year love affair with Stanford. The result was The Stanford Safari, a three week intensive course offered through the Sophomore College Program. (“Safari” is Swahili for “trip”). The purpose of the class was to give a group of 14 rising sophomores an insiders' look into the history, culture, and physical settings that make up the Stanford experience. In particular, we tried to go behind the scenes to give students a unique perspective on the University. They were encouraged to look at Stanford with new eyes not just as students at the University but as students of the University.

Siegel is an associate professor (teaching) in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Program in Human Biology, and the Center for African Studies. His experiences at Stanford at wide-ranging and go all the way back to the 1970s when he performed with the Incomparable LSJUMB (conga drum), competed on the Stanford Soccer Team, and performed as the second Stanford Tree.

Sophomore College Assistants and rising seniors, David Mitchell and Lauren Smith did much of the essential legwork in coordinating the course and running interfering as well as providing a source of probing questions for the speakers.

Like newly arrived ProFros, they began with a tour by guide extraordinaire (and band manager and former dolly) Liz Schackmann. Immediately afterwards, Former Assistant Secretary of Health and UCSF Chancellor, Phil Lee provided a long view of the University with earliest memories dating back to the Inauguration of Herbert Hoover. Now that is “institutional memory”.

Favorite venues included the Stanford Dish, Hanna House, Jasper Ridge, the Angel of Grief, Henry Hoover’s office, the Archives and Special Collections in Green, the Hoover Archives, the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, the Cantor Museum, the Arizona Garden which actually predates the University, the Cantor Museum, the fifth floor balcony in Jordan Hall, the top of Hoover Tower, a visit to the Stanford Dollies inner lair, the abundance of sculptures from the Gates of Hell and Stone River to Gay Liberation and the Law School totem. Julie Campbell observed, “Bay leaves at Jasper Ridge smell like juicy fruit gum.” Wendy Kalkus observed, “It’s nice to have a chance to step back from your own ventures in this red-roofed wonderland and appreciated everyone else's investments, enthusiasm, dreams, and memories.”

The students found that knowing the right people can get you onto the stairs in Hoover Tower, a peak at the steam tunnels, an insiders’ view of the mausoleum, the stadium press box, and the location of the Buddha’s hand citrus tree. Other great moments included a private performance by the Stanford Dollies, hearing Gerard Casper deliver a ten page single-spaced talk on “The Nines Jobs of a University President” written for the seminar, a private demonstration and performance of two of the organs in the Stanford Church (there are four and a fifth is coming), a chance to start at the Shak with the Band on Band Run, and a demonstration of jump roping prowess by Nobelist Doug Osheroff (using a computer cable). In the spirit of exploration, the lunched at a different eatery every day. Even after three weeks, there were many dining spot left unexplored. The class concluded with a three day excursion to Stanford Sierra Camp funded by an unknown donor, with an excursion to Governor Stanford’s Mansion in Sacramento.

But ultimately, it was clear that the quintessence of what makes the university is the remarkable people that make up the institution. In the process, they met with a staggering range of people including four Stanford Presidents: Presidents John Hennessey, Don Kennedy, Richard Lyman, and Gerhard Casper, two Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Doug Osheroff, current and former Trustees including Isaac Stein and Peter Bing, current and former ASSU president spanning over half a century, Football Coach Harbaugh and Baseball Coach Marquess. They were welcomed by the Deans of the Schools of Medicine, Law, Business, and H&S, the Dean of Admission and the Dean of Religious Life, by Vice President Rob Reidy and by Vice Provost John Bravman. The students met with the heads of various Stanford Institutions including Persis Drell of SLAC, John Raisian of The Hoover Institute, Howard Wolfe of the Stanford Alumni Association, Dave Bunnett of Stanford Sierra Camp, and Thomas Seligman of the Cantor Museum. They also tried to meet with everyone who has “University” in their title including the University Ombudsmen, the University Archivist, the University Archeology (who knew?), the University Organist, University Counsel, the University Biology, the University Architect, the University Horticulturalist, The University Library, and even the University Pest Controller. Among other shockers, he described an infestation in FloMo and then produced from his pocket a jar of live bed bugs.

Themes emerged. People at Stanford love their jobs. They love the University. They love to tell stories. Most of their lives include extraordinary examples of serendipity. And they love the students. Despite their immensely busy lives, none was in a hurry; all were open to the wildest of questions. In virtually every case, the Safarians had to reluctantly pull themselves away in order to migrate to their next appointment.

Students were encouraged to see how these diverse pieces of the puzzle fit together and coalesced into a unified whole. Seminar student Nadia Mufti observed, “For my own edification I tried to see what our speakers had in common personality-wise and (almost all of them) love their jobs, are personable and have good sense of humors, are well-read/intellectual, are multitalented, don't seem to sleep that much, appreciate the inter-disciplinarity of Stanford and feel that it makes Stanford the special place that it is, and loved spending time talking to students (so down to earth and not snobby at all).

For the safari students, however, there was a price to pay: 7-10 hours of class seven days a week, daily field observations, introductions of all the speakers (It is remarkable what you can find on the web…”), posting to the class blog: http:://, and reading a pile of books about Stanford including Professor Phil Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, former ASSU President David Harris’ Dreams Die Hard, and President Kennedy’s The Last of Your Springs. How much more meaningful to then meet the authors and visit the locations or find that you have already visited them many times before. What a thrill to have introduced some of these Stanford luminaries to a group of your peers. Wendy Kalkus reflected “I love running into the people that we met around campus and having the confidence to go up to them and chat with them again.”

In describing the experience to fellow students, friends, and colleagues, the universal response was “I want to do that”.

October 2, 2008


Stanford Safari links

+ The Stanford Safari - in pictures
+ The Stanford Safari blog
+ The Stanford Safari reunion
+ More Stanford photos

Other views of Stanford (per Bob)

+ The Stanford Dish
+ Jasper Ridge
+ Stanford from 1000 feet
+ Stanford from below
+ The Arizona Cactus Garden
+ The Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden
+ Stanfordscapes
+ Stanford fungi


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Last modified: January 27, 2009
Created: January 13, 2009