Stanford University
Earth science graduates

In this century, planet Earth is everyone's business

Earth Sciences graduates are equipped to address major 21st century challenges, and, unlike prior generations, understand and deal with complex interconnections such as those among access to energy, water availability and food production.

BY Nancy Peterson
ClockJune 17, 2014

Meeting the needs of people while preserving life support systems is the unique mission and focus of research and teaching for the students and faculty in Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences, according to Dean Pam Matson.

“In our school, we know that Planet Earth is our business,” said Matson, in her diploma ceremony address to the school’s undergraduate and graduate degree recipients. She cited major challenges and opportunities associated with dramatic growth in the global population and higher per capita consumption as more people enter the middle class, as well as impacts of climate change and other environmental change.

Pamela Matson
Your knowledge and know-how matter and are crucial at this point in time, Dean Pam Matson told the Earth Sciences class of 2014.  

“Your knowledge and know-how matter, “ Matson said.  “The science and engineering you studied here are obviously crucial at this moment in time, whether you’ve studied how the planet works, how humans are changing it, where and how to safely access its resources, how to reduce our environmental foot print, and how to reduce vulnerabilities to hazards of all kinds.

Faculty and student
Boxiao Li receives his PhD hood from Energy Resources Engineering advisors Prof. Hamdi Tchelepi (left) and Prof. Sally Benson. Credit: Stacy Geiken

“You have something special in that basket of knowledge – something that many of us from earlier generations did not have,” Matson said.   “You have learned to think about and deal with complexity -- the interconnectivity of things, and the interactions and feedbacks and trade-offs that result. Access to energy is linked to minerals, linked to water availability, linked to food production and so on, and what we do in one area can affect another.”

“Short-term changes play out in the context of long-term changes,” she said.  “Natural hazards interact with each other and lead to different kinds of vulnerabilities in different places at different times.  You are better equipped than any earlier generation for understanding these dynamic systems and for dealing with them.”

Boxiao Li receives his PhD hood from Energy Resources Engineering advisors Prof. Hamdi Tchelepi (left) and Prof. Sally Benson. Credit: Stacy Geiken

While emphasizing that Planet Earth is everyone’s business, Matson said Earth Sciences graduates have a particularly big job ahead and need to be part of the answer. She also echoed a key message of the address delivered by Bill and Melinda Gates at the University-wide commencement ceremony earlier in the day: that optimism is essential.

“If you remain optimistic and apply your knowledge and training you will improve both our understanding of this planet and the well-being of people on it – not just those of us here now but for many generations to come,” she concluded.

In the 2013-14 academic year the School of Earth Sciences awarded 169 degrees:  58 Bachelor of Science, 64 Master of Science and 47 Doctor of Philosophy. At the diploma ceremony, the School of Earth Sciences also provided special recognition to faculty and students. 

A native of Hawai’i, Robert Firme embellished his cap and gown with a bird’s nest and leis.  Robert received a BS in Earth Systems with distinction, and was one of two recipients of the Award for Outstanding Service to the Earth Systems Program. Credit: Stacy Geiken

Excellence in Teaching Award to Eric Dunham

Prof. Eric Dunham was named the recipient of the annual Earth Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award. Assistant professor of Geophysics, Dunham was nominated by students who were passionate in their praise of his teaching. Several cited Dunham’s class titled Water, Fire and Ice, which studies phenomena ranging from the generation of tsunami waves to the creep of glaciers. “Great lectures, great problem sets, and great course materials,” one student wrote. A physics major had taken the class on a “whim” but was “blown away” by the first class he attended.  In a 90-minute lecture, he wrote, Prof. Dunham helped the students make reasonable estimates of key aspects such as water depth, speed and lag time for the recent tsunami in Japan.

Nicole Rodriguez received her MS in Earth Systems. During her studies, she worked with Prof. Peter Vitousek on a research project in Hawaii.  They are happily surrounded by Nicole’s family. Credit: Stacy Geiken

Matson also gave a shout out to Prof. Kevin Arrigo, for partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard earlier in the week to honor two graduating Stanford seniors on his Arctic research team who missed Sunday’s commencement activities.  They held a ceremony on the outside deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a polar icebreaker, opening with Pomp and Circumstance and ending with All Right Now!

Graduate with baby
Sustaining Earth’s resources for future generations, including 10-week old Duncan Osborne, is a unique focus for the School of Earth Sciences.  Although he slept through most of the proceedings, Duncan helped proud papa Mike celebrate both his first Father’s Day and receipt of his PhD in Environmental Earth System Science. Credit: Stacy Geiken

Student Awards

The School of Earth Sciences certificate for Outstanding Achievement in Mentoring was awarded to 16 students who “contributed substantially to their research groups and school communities.  They include Glwadys Gbetibouo (postdoctoral scholar in Environmental Earth System Science), Rebecca Hernandez (Environmental Earth System Science), Sam Johnstone (Geological & Environmental Sciences), Leif Karlstrom (postdoctoral scholar in Geophysics), Matthew Knope (Geological & Environmental Sciences), David Koweek (Environmental Earth System Science), Kimberly Lau (Geological & Environmental Sciences), Jessica Lee (Environmental Earth System Science), Cynthia McLain (Geological & Environmental Sciences), Kelly McManus (Environmental Earth System Science), Julie Padowski (postdoctoral scholar in Environmental Earth System Science), Elen Schaal (Geological & Environmental Sciences), Charlotte Stanton (Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources), Aaron Strong  and Samantha Ying (postdoctoral scholar in (Environmental Earth System Science)

Eight Earth Sciences students received Centennial Teaching Assistant awards presented annually by the University to recognize outstanding teaching by students. They are Patrick Freeman (Earth Systems), Pablo Garcia del Real (Geological & Environmental Sciences), Aaron Strong (Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources), Amir Salehi (Energy Resources Engineering), Nicole Sarto (Earth Systems), Yi Shen (Geophysics), Dana Thomas (Geological & Environmental Sciences) and Dan Urban (Environmental Earth System Science)

Twenty-six students received 2014 Dean's Award for Undergraduate Academic Achievement. Recipients from Earth System's are Coral Abbott, Isabella Akker, Fabian Bock, John Butterfield, Kevin Diau, Skyler Dougherty, Hannah Druckenmiller, Robert Firme, Julius Fischer, Patrick Freeman, Jason Kaufman, Kendrick Kho, Hana Larson Kajimura, Gabriela Leslie, Jared Naimark, Anne Osborn, Jonathan Proctor, Linta Reji, Nicole Sarto, Nessarose Schear, Elena Stamatakos, and Andy Wang.

Awards from Energy Resources Engineering include Sharad Bharadwaj, Molly Hayes, and Sumit Mitra.

ZiXiang Zhang of Geological & Environmental Sciences also received the award.

Additional awards, presented by departments and programs, follow.

Earth Systems Program

  • Outstanding Research in Earth Systems: Michelle Berry, Caleb Kruse and Clare LeDuff
  • Outstanding Service to the Earth Systems Program: Robert Firme and Lauren Gimmillaro
  • William W. Whitley Citizen-Scholar Award: Jared Naimark
  • Miller-Marsden Prize for Innovative Research in the Environment: Claire Zabel

Energy Resources Engineering

  • Frank G. Miller Fellowship Award for High Academic Achievement:  Zhaoyang Jin, Chandler Kemp and Hailun Ni
  • Henry J. Ramey Fellowship Award for Outstanding Research: Charles Kang and Boxiao Li
  • William H. Brigham Memorial Award for Best Departmental Citizen: Orhun Aydin

Environmental Earth System Science

  • 2014 Graduate Student Award for Scholarly/Research Achievement: Laura Erban and Deepti Singh

Geological & Environmental Sciences

  • Outstanding Senior: ZiXiang Zhang
  • Outstanding Graduate Student: Glenn Sharman
  • Harriet Benson Award: Cynthia McClain


  • Student Citizenship Award: Marine DeNolle

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