Stanford University

Earth Systems Program Celebrates 25 Years

Alumni, faculty, students, and staff gather to celebrate and share stories of putting learning into action.

BY Elizabeth de Oliveira
ClockFebruary 06, 2018

It may have been heavy with mist, but the atmosphere was one of celebration when the Earth Systems community gathered between rainstorms for the program’s 25th anniversary event on November 3, 2017.

Faculty, students, alumni, and friends of the program networked and caught up at a reception on the grounds of six-acre O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm—a facility central to the learning of many current Earth Systems students that may have inspired a certain amount of envy in alumni. Official remarks and an alumni panel discussion followed in the newly constructed Terry Huffington Barn.

“One of the things that makes it such a great program is that it continues to learn and change and try to improve. It’s always asking, ‘What do our students need and how can we help meet those needs?’” —Professor Pamela Matson

Launched in 1992, Earth Systems is now the most popular major within the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and one of Stanford’s largest interdisciplinary programs. The program has awarded nearly 700 bachelor’s degrees and more than 350 coterminal master’s degrees. Around the world today, alumni of the Stanford Earth Systems Program are approaching and solving problems in a systematic, interdisciplinary way as scientists, educators, environmental professionals, and citizens.

Though a quarter century old, the Earth Systems Program remains extremely dynamic, said Professor Pamela Matson, who moderated the alumni panel. “One of the things that makes it such a great program is that it continues to learn and change and try to improve. It’s always asking, ‘What do our students need and how can we help meet those needs?’”

Matson is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies and a former director of the program who recently completed her 15-year tenure as the school’s dean. The event also featured remarks by Kevin Arrigo, the Victoria and Roger Sant Director of the Earth Systems Program, and Steve Graham, who became the school’s Chester Naramore Dean on November 1. Graham is also the school’s Welton Joseph and Maud L’Anphere Crook Professor.

The program has both driven and benefited from an expansion of Stanford’s overall expertise in Earth systems, broadly writ, Matson explained. It now offers six tracks for advanced study: Biosphere; Energy, Science & Technology; Human Environmental Systems; Sustainable Food & Agriculture; Oceans & Climate; and Land Systems. Having long offered a coterminal master of science degree, the program launched a coterminal master of arts degree in environmental communication in 2015.

“Earth Systems teaches students both how to be good scholars and how to be good stewards of the environment,” said Arrigo, an oceanographer and the school’s Donald and Donald M. Steel Professor.

Noting how little change there has been in leadership of the program over 25 years, Matson admitted that “It’s so much fun, no one wants to give it up.” Arrigo agreed. “The best part of being director is having the opportunity to interact with our students,” he said.

“I am always amazed at the things our students accomplish when they go out into the world. They are an inspiration to me every day.”

former deans and directors

Past and present leadership of the Earth Systems Program and the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences was well represented at the program’s 25th anniversary event on November 3, 2017. Pictured, left to right, are Earth Systems deputy director Richard Nevle, current director Kevin Arrigo, former director and former dean Pamela Matson, former dean Franklin (Lynn) Orr, former director Julie Kennedy, former dean Gary Ernst, former director Rob Dunbar, and at far right, associate director Deana Fabbro-Johnston, who has been with Earth Systems since its launch and who was singled out as “the heart” of the program by new Stanford Earth dean Steve Graham in his remarks.

alumni panel and audience

In a panel moderated by Professor Pamela Matson, four alumni spoke about their experiences putting an Earth Systems education into practice. The speakers were Danny Cullenward, '06, MS '07, JD '13, PhD '13, of Near Zero; Bill Faries, '95, MS '97, of Bloomberg News; Jenny McColloch BS '04, MS '05, who works in global sustainability for McDonald's; and Jenny Rempel, '12, of the Community Water Center in Sacramento, CA.

Photos by Chloe Peterson-Nafziger, ’21


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