Showing Up at Stanford

mike as a stanford studentcropped Michael McFaul before his study abroad trip to the Soviet Union as a Stanford student. Photo: Michael McFaul

This is part one of six in which Director Michael McFaul talks about his vision for the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the accomplishments he's most proud of so far, and why he keeps returning to the Farm.

I showed up at Stanford as a 17-year-old kid animated by this idea that if we didn't figure out a way to get along with the Soviet Union, we might blow up the planet.

My freshman year I took first-year Russian. I also took PolySci 35, How Nationals Deal with Each Other, taught by Steven Krasner, who incidentally taught that course last fall to my son.

But I felt like I didn’t belong at Stanford at the time. My SAT scores weren’t great and I didn’t have straight A’s in high school. I was fortunate to be taken in by world-renowned scholars, like Alexander George, Alexander Dallin, and Jan Triska.

They were experts in their fields but also using their research to make the world a safer place. Dallin sought to understand the Soviets better. George focused on crisis management and how to manage the U.S.-Soviet rivalry. And Triska was an expert on communist Eastern Europe.

They nurtured me, and demonstrated a deep commitment to teaching, and mentoring undergraduates, but also applying their knowledge to the outside world. That’s what we continue to do with the undergraduates who sign up for one of FSI’s many programs today, whether it’s an internship, grant, or research position.

Undergraduates should know there is a smorgasbord of interesting ideas, programs, research centers, and faculty here that they may not encounter in their day-to-day classes. We are sitting right at the center of campus, in Encina Hall, and yet I meet too many undergraduates that don’t discover FSI and all we have to offer until their senior year.

Students benefit from thinking about their education not only as the regular coursework that they do for their major. There's so much learning that takes place outside of that convention. There are so many learning and research opportunities at FSI, but you have to engage with it. You have to find it and connect with it. Then we’ll show you how to apply your knowledge to make a difference in the world.

Read part two in this series, Our Intellectual Momentum, or return to the Meet the Director page.