Photo credit: Stephanie Burbank

Sophomore College

Sophomore College (known as SoCo in Stanford vernacular) is an immersive, three-week academic opportunity available to rising sophomores. Students arrive on campus on Labor Day, three weeks before the traditional late September start of fall quarter. They join a cohort of 12 students embarking on a multidisciplinary course of intensive study. 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. 

The 2024 SoCo course will be Coastal Resilience: Problems and Solutions to Extreme Weather Challenges on the West Coast, led by Professor Bruce Cain, (Political Science).

The September 2024 SoCo begins on Tuesday, September 3, 2024 (with students arriving on campus on Labor Day, Monday, September 2, 2024) and ends on Friday, September 20, 2024. Classes start for fall quarter Monday, September 23, 2024. 

The first few and last days of SoCo will be on campus. The approximately two weeks in between will be in the field. 

Students interested in applying should visit the Sophomore College website. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, April 16 at 11:59 p.m. (week 3 of spring quarter).

Up Next

2024: Coastal Resilience: Problems and Solutions to Extreme Weather Challenges on the West Coast 

This course will explore the resilience challenges that coastal areas in the American West must deal with in the face of climate change. These include problems such as projected sea level rise, flooding, land subsidence, drought-stressed water supply, pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, wildfires, and erosion. Solutions to these problems - such as sea walls, levees, and grey infrastructure like dams and reservoirs - are often controversial and the politics over them happens at all levels of government. Some of this controversy occurs along partisan lines, but even in the politically bluest areas adjacent to the oceans and bays, many communities have been slow to take on the planning and actions needed to protect people and property from future extreme weather challenges. 

Traveling up and down the West coast, this course will combine classroom instruction with visits to the communities, facilities and agencies involved in coastal resilience from the Canadian to the Mexican border. We will look at solutions like conventional desalination that have been debated and implemented for decades, but also novel possibilities such as wave-powered desalination. We will discuss the relative merits of creating more water storage through groundwater recharge and water recycling versus building more dams and reservoirs. And as we have done in the past with Bill Lane Center Sophomore Colleges, 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

Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences, and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.







Headshot of Professor Richard Luthy in a blue collared shirt and blazer, smiling at the camera.

Richard Luthy

Silas H. Palmer Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), a four-university consortium that seeks more sustainable solutions to urban water challenges in the arid west.

Past Courses

2023: River and Region: The Columbia River and the Shaping of the Pacific Northwest 

This seminar will explore the crucial role of the Columbia River in the past, present, and future of the Pacific Northwest. Topics will include the lives and legacies of the indigenous peoples that Lewis and Clark encountered more than two centuries ago; the historic fisheries that attracted thousands of Chinese and, later, Scandinavian workers; the New Deal’s epic dam-building initiatives beginning in the 1930s; the impact of the Manhattan Project’s plutonium bomb development at Hanford Atomic Works in WWII; and the twenty-first-century server farms dotted across the Columbia Plateau. We will visit with local water managers, farmers, ranchers, loggers, Native American fishermen, and energy administrators, as well as elected officials and environmental activists, to examine the hydrologic, meteorologic, and geologic bases of the River’s water and energy resources, and the practical, social, environmental, economic, and political issues surrounding their development in the Pacific Northwest region.

The Columbia River and its watershed provide a revealing lens on a host of issues. A transnational, multi-state river with the largest residual populations of anadromous salmonids in the continental US, it is a major source of renewable hydroelectric power. (The Grand Coulee dam powerhouse is the largest-capacity hydropower facility in the US; nearly 50% of Oregon’s electricity generation flows from hydropower; in Washington State it’s nearly two-thirds, the highest in the nation.)  The river provides a major bulk commodity transportation link from the interior West to the sea via an elaborate system of locks. It irrigates nearly 700,000 acres of sprawling wheat ranches and fruit farms in the federally administered Columbia Basin Project. We will look at all these issues with respect to rapid climate change, ecosystem impacts, economics, and public policy.

We will begin with classroom briefings on campus, in preparation for the two-week field portion of the seminar.  We will then travel widely throughout the Columbia basin, visiting water and energy facilities across the watershed, e.g., hydro, solar, wind, and natural gas power plants; dams and reservoirs with their powerhouses, fish passage facilities, navigation locks, and flood-mitigation systems; tribal organizations; irrigation projects; the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; and offices of regulatory agencies.  We will meet with relevant policy experts and public officials, along with several of the stakeholders in the basin.

Over the summer students will be responsible for assigned readings from several sources, including monographs, online materials, and recent news articles.  During the trip, students will work in small groups to analyze and assess one aspect of the river’s utilization, and the challenges to responsible management going forward.  The seminar will culminate in presentations to an audience of Stanford alumni in Portland, Oregon.


David M. Kennedy

David Kennedy

Founding Co-director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University








Photo of Professor David Freyberg outside in a sweater and brown brimmed hat with a waterfall behind him.

David Freyberg

Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

A girl in an orange hard hat leans forward and inspects something at the Spokane Waste to Energy Facility as an employee looks on

This course explored the crucial role of the Columbia River in the past, present, and future of the Pacific Northwest. Instructors: David Freyberg and David Kennedy.

In 2019 and in 2022, our SoCo trip spent two weeks in Hawaii studying the future of sustainable energy sources. Instructors: Sally Benson, Terry Surles and Bruce Cain.

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. 

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

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

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.

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.

2019 SoCo in Hawaii