Stanford is easily considered the best college in the west. It’s also the best in the country, taking the No. 1 spot on our list of the Best Colleges in America this year.
Known in particular for its exceptional computer science and engineering programs, Stanford is an active hub for talented and impressive students in all fields, from art to tech to business.
We’ve profiled 15 incredibly impressive undergrads at this top “dream college”. They’re starring in feature films, playing with the U.S. National Soccer Team, teaching kids to code, and a whole lot more.
Class of 2016
By the time he was 15, Catalin Voss produced the No. 1 podcast on the German iTunes store and commuted back and forth between his native Heidelberg and Silicon Valley to work with Steve Capps, one of the designers of the original Apple Macintosh computer.
By freshman year he founded Sension, a visual interface company seeking to revolutionise the way we learn. Voss and his team of roughly eight employees developed a lightweight facial recognition software, one that could track and understand many points in a person's face.
Their software can be used in testing and web lectures to improve the user experience (it might prompt you with a question if it senses you're not paying attention, or explain something further if you appear confused), and provide analytics to instructors about which test questions stumped students the most. Voss expects the product to be adopted by most major standardized test associations and universities in the next year.
His passion project, however, is Sension's groundbreaking Google Glass app, which allows the wearer to recognise people's facial expressions in real-time. It begins clinical trials with young people diagnosed with Autism later this month.
Class of 2015
At 21 years old, you're probably more likely to expect Clancey Stahr to be pitching to venture capitalists, rather than being one. But Stahr has been working at cross-border venture capital firm ZenShin Capital for the last two years, advising startups on product design, business strategy, intellectual property, and general legal advice. He was recently made partner at the firm -- the third after the company's two co-founders.
Stahr leads the firm's investments in two major startup clients, Iotera and Simple Emotion, and sits on Simple Emotion's board of directors. Stahr has also raised significant capital, an undisclosed seven-figure sum, for the first close of ZenShin's Core Technology Fund.
School doesn't stop for the Management Science and Engineering major, who still manages to get all his coursework done while working anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week in Silicon Valley.
Stahr graduates in May and plans to continue in his role as partner at ZenShin, but hopes to someday start his own company.
Class of 2015
This past summer, Garima Sharma set off to teach human rights education to girls in Forbesganj, India on a Stanford fellowship. While there, she interviewed 80 mothers in order to better understand why they force their daughters into early marriage.
India is home to 24 million child brides, according to the New Delhi native. The consequences of marrying so young can be devastating: A child bride is twice as likely to suffer from spousal domestic violence and 1.5 times more likely to die in child birth.
'The aspirations that parents have for their daughters shape decisions around education, marriage, and career choices,' Sharma says. 'I want to better understand the incentives that drive parents' decision-making process(es).' She designed a research study and spent more than 100 hours interviewing the mothers.
Sharma, who also designed and implemented a curriculum to engage adolescent girls in Forbesganj who are at risk of trafficking, plans to pursue a joint MBA/MPA-ID degree and one day run an organisation that provides sustainable livelihoods to girls and women in small-town Indian communities.
Class of 2017
The young redhead originally deferred her enrollment to Stanford for a year in order to pursue her budding acting and singing career. As a senior in high school, she landed the part of a lifetime, as Foxface in the first 'Hunger Games' movie.
Emerson's father was recently sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and she divides her time between Palo Alto, her home in Los Angeles, and Berlin.
Emerson is studying Chinese and East Asian Studies at Stanford, and is a contributing writer to Maria Shriver's SHE'S SO BOSS campaign. Since 'The Hunger Games,' Emerson has co-starred in a short and a full-length film, and will be playing the role of Eyde in the upcoming horror film 'The Curse of Downers Grove.'
Class of 2016
Last year Jesse Leimgruber co-founded NeoReach, an internet platform that helps bloggers discover new products they love and awards them on a pay-per-click basis for sharing them with their audiences.
Despite the relative newness of Leimgruber's startup, it has already raised a $1.5 million seed round (after a $US300,000 angel round in January) and $US100,000 from Founder.org's $US100K challenge. Let's just say the company's off to a great start.
This isn't Leimgruber's first hand in the world of entrepreneurship; as a sophomore he was recruited to live in a house with other entrepreneurial sophomores where they could brainstorm and support each others' ventures, and the group raised a collective $US5 million in venture capital for four startups.
Even before that, his first e-commerce site, Rage Hats, which he started in high school, ended up grossing over $US500,000 in revenue.
Leimgruber's focus now lies with NeoReach, which he hopes to grow into a mainstream company and take to IPO after he finishes his management science and engineering degree.
Class of 2015
A couple of years ago, Jessie Duan learned a shocking fact: Only 12% of computer science degrees are awarded to women. That's because in freshmen intro courses, the men often come to class with a bit of background on the subject under their belts already, while women typically don't. That's when Duan co-founded Girls Teaching Girls To Code (GTGTC), an organisation that gets girls interested in computer science in high school so that they can be more competitive in college.
The program has only been around for two years, but already GTGTC has reached over 450 high school girls, including a day-long coding experience that brought together over 200 high school students and 40 female computer science students from Stanford to serve as mentors.
Duan, now the executive lead for GTGTC, has also served as teacher's assistant for Stanford's introductory computer science courses, and currently serves as the CTO for Stanford's student government.
Duan is still figuring out her plans for when she graduates with a dual bachelor's-master's degree in mathematical and computational science -- a program that usually takes five years, but which she finished in four. What she does know, however, is that she wants to continue creating change in maths education.
Class of 2017
From a young age, Jordan Morris proved himself a talent on the soccer field. He captained his high school's team, and was named Gatorade-ESPN Washington State Player of the Year. But this summer, after just a year on the Stanford soccer team, Morris got a call from U.S. National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann inviting him to play against the Czech Republic in Prague.
It's an incredible honour: Morris is the first collegiate player to play for the U.S. National Soccer Team in almost a decade.
Morris contributed to a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the international friendly, earning him his first national team cap (and subsequently opening countless doors for a future as a professional player).
The 5'11' forward still has three more years of school to complete, but hopes to play professionally in the near future. In the meantime, Stanford has offered him opportunities that he says 'I never thought were possible,' and looks forward to continuing his education both on and off the field.
Class of 2016
At the age of 18, Kristen Powers became legally able to test herself for the gene for Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative disease that, over time, destroys an individual's ability to walk, talk, and reason. It's the take-no-prisoners condition that took her mother's life when Powers was just 17 years old, and Powers had a 50% chance of inheriting it.
While many at-risk adults refuse to get tested, choosing ignorance over a death sentence, Powers decided to undergo the emotionally draining genetic testing process in order to find answers and raise awareness.
'The stigmatization of the illness makes it hard to talk about. Fifty years ago, (people with Huntington's) were put away in insane asylums,' Powers says. 'It's incredibly important to normalize the disease; that alone can help a family affected.'
Thanks to a successful Indiegogo campaign, Powers was able to produce 'Twitch,' a documentary that explains the science through interviews with experts and activists, and draws back the curtain on the Powers family's experience. The film premiered at Stanford during Powers' freshman year and has since been screened in 17 cities.
Powers, a communications major, discovered that she does not carry the gene for Huntington's Disease. She plans to continue working toward a cure on the advocacy side and pursue a career in the non-profit or social enterprise sector.
Class of 2015
Lara Mitra's summer-long research project revealed that, despite improved access to hospitals (including free ambulance transportation and government incentives to deliver there), the vast majority of women in rural Gujarat, India, still showed an overwhelming support for delivering children with a dai, or a midwife figure.
The only problem is that most
dais are now in their 70s, and new ones aren't being trained. Mitra said that dais were indispensable, especially to women in rural villages who may not have access to ambulances. They work in the same villages for decades.
Mitra noted in her research that government health workers have recently started providing services in these villages, but they don't have the same rapport with village residents as their trusted dais do. Her research suggests long-term solutions that respect the wishes of different cultures, rather than just encourage village women to go to hospitals.
Being that she studies human biology with a focus on international rights and maternal health, Mitra hopes to continue her research on the subject in the future. Her plans after Stanford involve working in public service, possibly for the government, in a way that combines her interests in medicine and human rights.
Class of 2015
The summer after his sophomore year, Luke Lorentzen packed up his necessities and video camera and flew to Colombia, where he spent two months living on one of the most densely populated islands in the world.
More than 600 people live on Santa Cruz del Islote, a tiny island which is fewer than three acres. Lorentzen set out to document how people in extreme cases of overpopulation live. He found that residents, due to similar goals, values, and a unified sense of purpose and identity, are able to peacefully coexist and treat each other like they all live in one big, cooperative family. Lorentzen turned his footage into a film, called 'Santa Cruz del Islote.'
Lorentzen's film previewed at the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest this year, where it received the President's Award. It also won the Golden Gate Award and Best Bay Area Short at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and received an honorable mention at the Camden International Film Festival. The film will continue to be screened over the next few months.
Lorentzen is currently working on another short film, which he hopes to have finished in May, and plans to make a feature-length documentary after he graduates. In the next few years, he sees himself looking at graduate programs in documentary filmmaking, and thinks he may want to eventually teach.
Class of 2015 and 2017, respectively
Situated between the Google and Facebook campuses, the racially mixed city of East Palo Alto has seen rapid gentrification since the technology industry boom in the last decade. Still, gangs and staggering levels of unemployment seem to define the area.
Making the situation worse still, there are very few places to learn computer science in East Palo Alto. The young people who live there often feel like there's no place in the tech community for them.
Friends Shadi Barhoumi and Rafael Cosman, who met as computer science majors, developed CodeCamp to change that. This past summer, more than 50 students, ages 14 to 23, from East Palo Alto learned to write and design software with the help of over 40 mentors from nearby high schools, universities, and tech companies.
Ten campers have since been accepted into an accelerator program to turn their projects into companies. Others are pursuing internships at local tech companies.
Barhoumi and Cosman are working now to expand the camp into a year-round community center in East Palo Alto called StreetCode Academy.
Class of 2015
When Stefan Norgaard arrived on fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa, to conduct interviews for his thesis, he quickly discovered there was so much more he could do.
The Maboneng Precinct near downtown Johannesburg is a neighbourhood in transition, torn between old and new South Africa. The 'Born Free' generation (young adult South Africans with no living memory of apartheid) are witnessing rapid gentrification, the emergence of a black middle class, and racial segregation giving way to equality. Tensions remain between people of different racial and economic backgrounds, however.
So for 11 weeks, Norgaard enlisted the help of the 'born frees' to construct a 5-foot-by-5-foot plywood box that acts as a vehicle for community engagement. The 'community cube' was built using only local materials and has many features: a meeting table, chalkboards and whiteboards for active discussion, a career resource board with job opportunities, and even a platform for crowdfunding initiatives. It roams from the market one day to a political rally the next, and serves as a symbol of unity.
Norgaard chats with the cube's organisers every few day, ensuring that it continues to bridge the gap. While he hopes to create more of these cubes around the world, he says knowing the community intimately is the only way it can succeed.
The public policy and urban studies double major hopes to pursue a career in public interest law or institutional reform.
Class of 2017
The Mongol Derby is the longest and toughest horse race in the world, and you've probably never heard of it. Last year, its champ was the sprite and seemingly non-threatening Lara Prior-Palmer.
The 1,000-kilometer course recreates Genghis Khan's legendary postal system, with around 30 professionals and semi-professional riders galloping for seven to 10 days through the Mongolian wilderness. Riders change horses at every station, spaced 40 kilometers apart, and sleep among nomadic herders who host them in exchange for small payments or gifts.
Prior-Palmer, who grew up riding horses in her native England, registered for the endurance race just six weeks prior, while her competitors had been training for up to a year. Unlike the Kentucky Derby, she says, you're 'riding through the middle of nowhere in a vast lunar landscape. You're very much alone. There's no audience cheering you on.'
Despite being bucked from horses numerous times, becoming ill on the last night, and even crossing the finish line second, at 19 years old, Prior-Palmer won the crown once penalty points were totaled.
She transferred from the University of Edinburgh to study history at Stanford this fall, and has written a book about her experience (she's currently searching for the right publisher).
Nicolle Richards started a micro-business program for survivors of sex trafficking and abuse in Guatemala.
Class of 2016
Last summer Nicolle Richards lived in Guatemala where she worked with at-risk child rescue and advocacy non-profit Kids Alive to develop a micro-business program for young girls who were victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Richards oversaw the successful implementation of three small businesses, which allowed the girls and their families to live independently from their abusers.
A long-time anti-trafficking and human rights activist, Richards, who grew up in Vienna, Austria, spent school breaks in places like Romania and the Dominican Republic volunteering with women and girls who had been subjected to abuse. At Stanford, she and a professor -- also a human rights advocate -- created a new academic concentration on human trafficking and global inequality that allows students to focus on this issue as a part of their studies.
Richards is currently doing a domestic study abroad program in Washington, D.C., where she's interning at the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
After she graduates, Richards hopes to work for a social good company to find ways to use business to fight human trafficking. Before that, however, she plans to get her Masters in Public Policy (hopefully at Stanford).
Class of 2015
Last year, almost one-third of working-age adults did not fill prescription drugs because of cost concerns, according to Sanchay Gupta. Meanwhile, approximately $US5 billion of unused and unexpired prescriptions drugs are destroyed every year in the US.
Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine (SIRUM) is a non-profit that has developed an online platform to connect surplus drugs with clinics that need them. Gupta, previously a research assistant at the Stanford School of Medicine, earned a fellowship at SIRUM to lead the nonprofit's development in the assisted living space.
Gupta helped build a database of donor residential care facilities -- the largest of its kind in California -- that makes information on how they store and handle medication totally transparent. He digitized thousands of files, enabling pharmacies to vet these organisations and facilities.
Sanchay, a biological chemistry and psychology double major, plans to attend medical school and continue addressing issues of income equality as a physician.