Why did you major in Religious Studies?
I was lucky to have discovered philosophy and religious studies in high school, and I loved it from the very beginning! I came to Stanford knowing that I was going to do the combined major, which was a wonderful interdisciplinary program and gave me lots of flexibility. I love learning about the different beliefs that people have and how those beliefs affect the way they live their lives. I think it's a very relevant subject for the 21st century world: now that technology has brought us all closer together, we need to learn to co-exist and collaborate with people who are different from us. Religious studies is one angle for exposing ourselves to diversity of thought and ways of living. I wish that more people could learn about religious studies because I think it would lead to a more peaceful world. That's one reason why I went into education as a career!
Tell us about your senior capstone research or a favorite research project in Religious Studies.
I actually didn't do a senior thesis—instead I did a thesis for my coterm (MA). It was about conservative Christian religious homeschooling. I learned a ton about a subject with which I didn't have prior experience, and I also learned about different research methods. My biggest takeaways were: (1) research doesn't always mean spending all day in a library—it can be out in the world with real people doing social science and can be relevant to modern times; (2) deepening your understanding of another group of people helps you see the world from a different perspective, which builds empathy.
Where are you today, and how has your degree in Religious Studies shaped your path?
I currently live in San Francisco, CA and work at Coursera in Mountain View, CA doing product marketing for our university partners. I studied philosophy and religion because I thought it would set me up well to become a philosophy/religion high school teacher someday. After I finished my coterm, I taught 2nd grade in San Jose with Teach for America. Then I joined my Stanford friend's tech startup in SF. It didn't take too long for me to realize that EdTech was a better home for me, since it combines two of my passions (education and technology) and allows me to have a larger impact around the world by using technology to help scale a social mission I care very much about. I believe that education is the most fundamental problem facing our world and that it needs to be solved first - because if more people are educated, then the rest of the world's problems will be easier to solve, since we'll have more people's brainpower to help.
Why should students consider Religious Studies today?
It's fun! It will open your mind to different people, cultures, mindsets, and histories. If you like small classes, intimate discussions with peers and professors, and reading interesting texts, then you'll like Religious Studies. Get ready to write a lot of essays instead of taking exams (writing is a super useful skill, don't worry!). I enjoyed working closely with a couple professors on my thesis because they gave me guidance and support, while also giving me plenty of autonomy.