If you can't find your niche at Stanford, go and build it

Looking back at my four years on the Farm, there are many things I remember fondly - lazy afternoons fountain hopping, late night PSET brainstorms, sunset bike rides back from the lab. With the sheer amount of experiences that Stanford allows you to have, your undergraduate years fly by with enough memories/memorabilia that you alone could probably fill all of the time capsules in Memorial Church. I felt that way on graduation day, and I still do today. Of all my experiences though, the one I appreciate most doesn't involve a course or even an event. The experience I'll never forget involved a student organization and the people in it. My starting and expanding of the Stanford Undergraduate Research Association (SURA) gave me meaning beyond academics and allowed me to build something that would persist beyond my four years at Stanford.

As an undergraduate, I had a variety of interests. I wanted to learn about entrepreneurship and how to succeed in the startup world; at the same time, I had a penchant for biological and computational research. For the prior, it was easy to get involved and meet other students with similar interests; I simply joined the Business Association for Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES), a group dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship on campus. With the latter though, I learned Stanford was a mass of unconnected resources with no central hub for students wanting to pursue research during their time in college. Undergraduate researchers like myself were in silos, with no way to learn or network with each other in an organic manner. During my junior year, my frustrations hit a tipping point, and I decided that I would do something to help the undergraduate research community at Stanford. I decided to use my experiences in other organizations such as BASES, to build SURA as a resource for researchers, by researchers.

So I gathered a small group of people passionate about that idea and launched SURA in the fall of 2014. I learned how to recruit new members, led a team of ~20 people, and found new ways to get funding, all while constantly expanding the organization. And thankfully, it worked. In its first year, SURA grew from 10 members to >350 members, had the third-highest approval rating for student fees, and hosted a national undergraduate research conference for students across the United States. Our team was relentless, consisting of the most amazing co-founders I could ask for. Through everything we did, I discovered so many others like me, and SURA was a way in which we could all come together that hadn't existed before. Every midnight meeting with the leadership team and hour spent prepping for our events, I gladly did because I knew we were making a real difference for the research community and building something that could last. 

Overall, with the founding of SURA, I was able to combine an interest in entrepreneurship with my research background to build an organization from the ground up. Along the way, Stanford helped tremendously, and SURA would not exist today if not for the resources Stanford offers new student organizations. I also know other students who did something similar. They never accepted the status quo, and went out to build their own communities and groups, each of which have contributed to Stanford and impacted countless students. Many of these communities came from disparate interests and experiences, and all it took was for someone to put them together. 

As an incoming frosh, embrace every interest you have because they might come together in beautiful ways you could never expect. And know Stanford will help you along the way.

An Luong

engineering, biomedical computation

class of 2015