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From the Bridge: The Clockwork Cities of Summer PWR

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It’s finally summer.  Spring quarter has officially wrapped up: grades filed, commenting done, commencement concluded, and students off to their various national and international destinations (and internships).  With any luck, many of you have shut down your Zoom, without any real sense of when you’ll open it again.  That, in itself, is the sign of summer starting.

But while campus calms as we laze toward summer solstice, PWR itself is just charging up.  Every year, come September, many of you drop by, virtually or physically, and say, “How was your summer?” and I may pause for a moment to choose my words and consider how much to share. And I’ll usually just say, “Busy.” Because PWR doesn’t know Summer. For PWR, “summer” is less a state change (on/off, work/vacation) as it is a modifier that connotes extra sunshine, a quieter Sweet Hall, and perhaps ice cream treats stashed in the freezer of the third floor (check for it if you come by!).  Marvin always says that we have one quiet week in summer: the week between commencement and the start of summer quarter.  And that’s where we are, poised and ready, about to spring into action.

In my newsletter reflections this issue, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into Summer PWR – as I take a breath during this quietest week of the year – so you could see it like I do: like one of those clockwork cities from the opening of Game of Thrones, expanding, changing, and embellishing as we move toward the new academic year.

The greatest misconception about Summer PWR, is that teaching stops. In fact, it doesn’t. This year, we have 14 colleagues who will be teaching between June 20 and September 1 ; that’s pretty much one third of our lecturers.  We have three PWR 2 sections designed specifically to help us get ahead of the sophomore (née freshman) surge for next year. We also have a summer pilot this year just for incoming Transfer students who were unable to use transfer credit to fulfill their WR 1 requirement; a collaboration between our program, Transfer Advising, and the Registrar’s office, this pilot is six months in the making and represents a deliberate effort to create a meaningful space and a welcoming experience for a particular type of student.  On the back end, it’s been an elaborate process of coordination and negotiation, more complicated on the Systems end of things than you might imagine, involving a complete reimagining of transfer advising and transfer credit vetting and timeline to make it happen.  And then, there’s the course design and teaching end of things: it’s a lot, and it is taking a lot of goodwill and smart people to make it happen. Those of us involved are, to put it bluntly, a bit giddy that it's actually happening and that the students are already emailing, saying how excited and grateful they are for this pre-Fall class.

Transfers and sophomores are only two of the demographics we’re serving this year: we’ll also be teaching high school students as part of Summer Session, incoming student athletes in a pre-PWR 1 course, and incoming first-years (FLI, international, and those who identify as wanting an extra pre-frosh writing boost) through Leland Scholars and SOAR.  Course development (collaborative and individual) for all these classes is ongoing -- as in happening right now! -- as the instructors prime for the launch of their summer classes.  All of this is to say, the teaching is busy, it’s active, it’s engaged. There’s definitely a slightly more chill vibe to teaching summer PWR, but there’s the same underlying hum of engagement and intellectual discovery. And drafts. And revisions. And conferences.  Behind the scenes, Lisa and I will be doing what we always do to support the instructors and students: student inquiries, enrollments, classroom jockeying, course evaluation prep, mid quarter evals, consultations about pedagogy and or student absences, coordination with advising and residential education about student challenges, incomplete contracts.  Those 225 students – and those 14 instructors – will have the full benefit of the PWR infrastructure behind them, as they do during the regular school year.

But, the Summer PWR described above – Summer teaching – is a minor portion of what June, July, and August are about in the physical (and metaphorical) Sweet third floor. Summer PWR is about preparation and anticipation, putting supports into place that play out throughout the nine months of the upcoming academic year.  

Just as much on our mind as summer course offerings are the courses-yet-to-be: fall 2022, winter 2023, spring 2024.  We’ll be developing our 2022-2023 course catalog, creating/editing a webpage for each course; updating videos and course descriptions; finalizing marketing for our elective offerings for the year; checking and double-checking the time schedule and making sure it’s accurately represented for students on our 120+ course pages.  It’s detail-oriented work, but one that really gratifies the OCD-inflected aspects of my personality as well as the part of me that delights in showing our best face to the world, showcasing what’s so amazing about our program and generating enthusiasm for our courses.

Lisa and I will also be locking down room assignments, a complex process involving an overly complicated spreadsheet, all your preference forms, and delicate negotiations with our friends in the Registrar’s Office, Learning Spaces, and Classroom innovation.  Spoiler alert: there is tech-shuffling, room-swapping, and furniture replacements afoot this summer.  And (dare I say it?), there may even be a few windows involved.  No matter what, it’s going to be a fun one.  As we get closer to September 1, we’ll also be lining everything up for the opening of fall enrollment (I'll spare you detail on this one, but let's just say it involves lots of prep and diplomatic engagement with The Great PWR Algorithm and its Keepers).

Just as much on our mind as our summer students are our students-to-come.  Summer is when Lisa and I reconcile the quarter assignments of 1750 incoming first-year students, often in conversation with our colleagues in SIS (COLLEGE, SLE, ITALIC).  We take into account their preferences as well as our staffing capabilities and other data as we give each student a PWR quarter.  It’s kind of an awesome responsibility to help shape the frosh entry into Stanford through something as simple as assigning them their writing quarter; for many students, our email is one of the first they receive that signal to them, "This is real; you're going to Stanford; your first year is taking shape." The summer is also the time we settle our sophomores into their PWR 2 assignments, bringing our ESFers and ITALIC students into the fold (who didn’t take PWR 1), and coordinating with our colleagues in IntroSems to figure out just how many students will be taking a Write-2 introsem instead of PWR 2, and how to vet those students to make sure they all are actually eligible to do so.  We’ll consider individual petitions from Transfers about their PWR 1 and PWR 2 placement, reading syllabi, assignments, and essays, and in some cases meeting with the students.  In each case, we pay careful attention to special cases, trying to promptly and empathetically respond to the inevitable email petitions/complaints from those students whose PWR quarter doesn’t exactly align with their expectations. Lisa has become a master of this; I just learn from her example and help where I can.

And just as much on our mind as summer instructors are all our PWR instructors.  From Cristina, Michelle, and I refreshing the third floor for the new year (Decor! Supplies! Workspace assignments! Bookcase organization! New signage! Marie-Kondo-esque decluttering!), to questions around staffing that Marvin, Lisa, and I wrestle with, you all are always on our minds, even if you’re not on campus. We keep our eyes firmly set on your return; in fact, the Septembrists have already started meeting to plan our September Sessions, consulting with leadership, sorting through the various recommendations, requests, and suggestions you’ve all shared with us.  We’ll be developing a few all-hands sessions, but also will take many of you up on your offers to help us populate our menu-driven concurrent sessions with your own workshops and talks, allowing each instructor to customize their own September Session experience.  As many of you know, designing September Sessions is essentially event planning, as much about the collegial as pedagogical elements.  We’re working hard on creating meaningful spaces for professional growth and interpersonal (re)connection, and on finding the best physical and virtual spaces to hold the sessions in (outdoor classrooms are a no-go, but don't worry - we have some tricks up our sleeve!). And, yes, with the (at least partial) return to in-person September Sessions there will be a return to food (Asian Box? Backayard?) and perhaps even swag.

So those are the givens of Summer PWR.  Just to spice things up, we have a few other projects in the mix: remember that Box Migration?  That’s happening.  We also have two websites to migrate between Drupal platforms that involves working with at least 700 individual webpages, then cleaning up and beautifying –- and on occasion reimagining -- the pages when they land in their new home.  The result, however, will be a sturdier, more accessible and sustainable infrastructure for the program, one that, with any luck, will be in place for years to come. And, as many of you know, I groove on webwork (and have the good fortune to partner with the amazing Jenne Stonaker on this one), so I'm actually looking forward to digging in and getting it done.So, when you stop by in September, I’ll be delighted to see you.  If I look a bit tired around the eyes, you’ll have a better sense of why. And when you ask me about my summer, I may pause, and just tell you it was busy. Or maybe I’ll tell you about the novels I’ve read (PWR summer bookclub, anyone?); or the lazy evenings in my backyard with my dogs, hub, and flowers; a funny Sweet Hall story involving my partners in crime, Michelle and Lisa; my bike rides to and around campus; or even my idyllic tech-free time on a Massachusetts island with family and friends.  But in any case, any tiredness you see in me (or Michelle, or Lisa, or Cristina) will also be a sign of a successful summer. PWR will be ready and waiting to welcome all of you -- the heart of our Program -- back. And maybe there will still be some ice cream left in the freezer.   

To close, let me just wish you all the best summer you can have, given your own constraints, obligations, and fixed points: ideally one with plenty of time for sunshine, catching up with good friends and family, and time to recharge and refresh. 

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