Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Students participate in ESF 1/1A: The Active, Inquiring, Beautiful Life  by Linda Cicero via SALLIE

Why I Teach an Introsem: Bert Patenaude

Main content start
Students participate in ESF 1/1A: The Active, Inquiring, Beautiful Life  by Linda Cicero via SALLIE


I teach a variety of courses for various Stanford departments and programs, both on the main campus and through the Stanford Medical School, both undergraduate and graduate students. To my mind there’s nothing that compares to teaching an IntroSem, something I have done each year for the past four years.  IntroSem students are relatively new to university life, and perhaps they’re more idealistic because of that.  They sign up for an IntroSem because they’re looking for an introduction to a topic that interests them, maybe even fascinates, or perhaps especially challenges them.  IntroSem students are often looking to stretch themselves, to reach outside their academic comfort zone.  The math and engineering students in my “United National Peacekeeping” and my “Famine in the Modern World” Introsems have been among my best (and favorite) students: they’re usually the contrarians in the classroom, ready to question the conventional wisdom about one or another subject matter.  They definitely keep me on my toes.

An IntroSem offers students a chance to participate in a course they don’t need to take for their major or in order to fulfill some other curricular requirement.  In other words, IntroSem students are in the classroom because they want to be there.  In my experience, they tend to be highly motivated and keen to make the most of the opportunity.  As a result, there’s a particular kind of energy one feels in the classroom, an energy that motivates me to give my all, each and every minute of each and every class.  I teach lots of seminars, and I enjoy the thought-provoking give-and take, but there’s nothing like teaching an IntroSem.

Bert Patenaude

Lecturer in History and International Relations

If you have a Stanford Story you would like to share, contact