Photo credit: Stephanie Burbank

Sophomore College

Sophomore College (known as SoCo in Stanford vernacular) is an immersive, three-week academic opportunity available to incoming sophomores. Students arrive on campus before the traditional start of fall quarter in early September and join a cohort of 12-16 students embarking on intensive study of one subject. The Bill Lane Center for the American West sponsors a SoCo course every year covering topics and issues central to the Western region. 

The course usually involves a week of on-campus learning and two weeks of field study somewhere in the West. Past courses have taken students to Utah and the Southwest, Washington and the Northwest, and Hawaii and the Pacific. We hope to be able to host this course and travel again soon.

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Energy in Hawaii: Forefront of Clean Energy Technology and Policy

We will explore practical, social, technical, and political issues surrounding energy production and use in Hawaii. Hawaii is at the forefront of changes in the electric grid and the uses of electricity, with an aspirational goal for 100% carbon-free electricity in 2045. Hawaii also has passed legislation that aspires to 100% fossil-free transportation by 2040. Significant growth of behind-the-meter solar generation with storage has led to opportunities for the better use of these resources for maintaining grid reliability, while also increasing concerns related to grid stability and social equity. Because of these factors, there is a heightened interest nationally from federal agencies, particularly Energy and Defense. We will consider the availability and viability of solar, wind, and geothermal resources, while also considering the economic impact on Hawaii of large-scale importation of oil for generating electricity and transportation. We will consider emerging questions related to the reliability and the resiliency of the grids on different islands in the State. All of these issues will be considered in the technical, societal, cultural, natural resource, and political milieu which is the unique nature of Hawaii.

We will learning about energy and its context in Hawaii, then travel to various field sites in Hawaii, including a wind farm, a utility-scale solar farm, an oil-fired power plant, a waste-to-energy facility, wave turbine, an oil refinery, a synthetic gas production facility, a biofueled thermal generator, a geothermal plant, and areas where natural resources are impacted by energy resource utilization.   We will meet with relevant policy experts and public officials from governmental agencies, utilities, universities, and public interest groups. The course will conclude with group presentations by the students.



Bruce Cain

Bruce Cain
Faculty Director, The Bill Lane Center for the American West






Terry Surles
Senior Advisor, Enabling Technologies, California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE)

Past Courses

2019: Energy in Hawaii

In 2019, our SoCo trip spent two weeks in Hawaii studying the future of sustainable energy sources. Instructors: Sally Benson and Terry Surles. 

2018: Fighting Over our Common Heritage

We journeyed to the heartland of the American West to learn about public lands and the issues that surround them. Instructors: Bruce Cain and Buzz Thompson. 

2017: Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest

This course brought students to the Pacific Northwest to study the ever-important issue of water. Instructors: Sally Benson, David Freyberg, and Bruce Cain.

2016: Managing Natural Resources on Native Lands

This course traveled across the Northwest studying contemporary issues facing Native American communities. Instructors: Bruce Cain and Buzz Thompson. 

2015: Energy in the Southwest

This course examined the technical, social and political issues surrounding energy management and use in California, Nevada and Arizona. Instructors: Sally Benson, Bruce Cain, and David Freyberg.

2014: Energy in the West

Students travelled 1,500 miles across Wyoming to study energy generation and extraction. Instructors: Sally Benson, Bruce Cain, and David Freyberg.

Student Profiles


There are many ways to get involved with the Lane Center and each students' road will be different.  We invite you to read the stories of previous Lane Center students who shared their paths. You may decide to follow their lead or use their experiences as inspiration to write your own story.

Visit our student profiles page.