CDDRL Deputy Director Stephen J. Stedman received the 2018 Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award For Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education. Stedman is a Freeman Spogli Senior Fellow, an affiliated faculty member at CISAC, and professor of political science (by courtesy) at Stanford University. He has directed the Fisher Family CDDRL Honors Program for the past three years during which time several students have won prestigious university awards for their outstanding research.
According to the Stanford News Service, Stedman was honored for his work in shaping the intellectual development of students with thoughtful and forward-thinking ideas, as well as for his profound and lasting contributions to the quality and richness of the undergraduate experience.
CDDRL sat down to learn more about why undergraduate teaching is so meaningful to Stedman and how his own experience as an undergraduate at Stanford has informed his teaching style.
What does this award mean to you?
It’s nice recognition from the university about something that has been a big part of what I’ve done at Stanford over the last twenty years, but more importantly it’s incredible to hear from so many students about how I’ve touched their lives and helped them reach their potential.
It’s also a validation of Corinne - my wife - and my decision to live our lives among undergraduates as Resident Fellows, a role that we’ve had 15 of the 21 years we’ve been at Stanford. We are huge believers in the mission of residential education at Stanford, and since many of the students who supported my nomination either staffed for us or lived in our dorms, I want to say that Corinne deserves a lot of this award and that our kids deserve a shout-out for being willing to live with college students in a dorm most of their lives. It’s not a normal upbringing!
Your work as director of the Fisher Family CDDRL Honors Program is a big part of this recognition. Can you tell us more about your commitment to the students and to this program?
The Fisher Family CDDRL Honors Program in Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law is a special program. We are getting terrific students who are smart, hard-working and really interesting. It takes a special kind of undergraduate who can see the value in studying with a cohort of diverse majors from engineering to earth sciences, English and History to political science and international relations. We stress to our students, and they take it to heart, that to do good interdisciplinary work you have to be strong in a discipline. Interdisciplinary work that is founded on weak disciplinary skills and knowledge will be weak interdisciplinary work.
Didi Kuo, who is a superb teaching fellow for the program, and I spend more than a year with every cohort. It’s an enormous amount of fun to see how the students develop and what they produce. And their work has been spectacular as evidenced by the fact that in the last six years the program has produced three Kennedy Award winners which recognizes the single best thesis in each of the four areas of humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering at Stanford.
Being a mentor - how important and rewarding is this for you?
It’s a huge part of who I am and by far the most rewarding part of my job. I was fortunate to have an incredible mentor, John Lewis, when I was an undergraduate at Stanford. John passed away last fall and I spoke at his memorial service in January about the impact that he had on me and my career. He taught me how to write, how to create a clear, coherent argument, and how to think about how knowledge can and should contribute to solving problems. He also had a profound ethical core. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that my big light bulb moment when I was an undergraduate was to realize that I wanted to do what he did.
A lot of Stanford faculty are incredible undergraduate teachers, but I also think if you are a faculty member who was an undergraduate here, you especially care about undergraduate education at Stanford. It’s no accident that faculty like Larry Diamond, Mike McFaul and Norman Naimark, among others, are superb undergraduate teachers and care deeply about the lifelong development of our students.
One last note on the Stanford undergraduate experience and why this award is special. My freshman RA over 40 years ago, Al Tomaszczuk, won the Dinkelspiel Award as a graduating senior; his RA when he was a freshman was Larry Diamond, who won the Dinkelspiel Award 11 years ago.