Stanford University
Stephan Graham Dean Earth Sciences

Dean's Desk

Posts for faculty, students, and staff from the desk of Steve Graham...

Photo by Steve Castillo

An evolving Long Range Plan

ClockMay 31, 2019

Earlier this month, the school hosted its first Town Hall since I began serving as Dean. The event offered an opportunity for me to share my view of the state of the school and to entertain questions. Thanks to all of you who attended. I was particularly happy to share the great news that of our 10 most recent faculty hires (seven of whom will report later this year and next), eight are women!

The Town Hall also afforded me a chance to provide an update on the University’s Long Range Planning (LRP) process and how our school interfaces with it. 

Dean's town hall by Elenita Nicholas
Some 150 faculty, staff and students attended the May 8 Dean's Town Hall.

I specifically spoke of our connections with four of the research initiatives closest to Stanford Earth: Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence; Data Science; the Natural World (especially the Oceans and Universe initiatives); and Sustainability. Sustainability, in particular, is closely identified with our school in the LRP. The school was ably represented on the four design teams associated with those initiatives, as well as other initiatives, by numerous of our faculty and staff.  On behalf of the school, I thank everyone involved.

A new chapter

But the LRP is an evolving story, and another chapter was added May 23, when President Marc Tessier-Lavigne addressed the annual Academic Council meeting and laid out ‘A Vision for Stanford’ with details provided by a panel consisting of Provost Persis Drell, H&S Dean Debra Satz, and GSB Dean Jon Levin. Stanford Report carried an account of the meeting with new information posted to the Our Vision website.

Many in our school, especially the faculty and staff involved with the Sustainability Initiative Design Team, expected sustainability to be featured prominently as a principal theme in the President’s address and the panel discussion, and were surprised when it seemingly was disaggregated across two of three newly articulated themes, Advancing and Bridging Disciplines and Building Pathways to Impact. (A third theme is Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond, aspects of which will benefit our community.)

The higher administration was faced with the huge task in its recent presentation of condensing the past two years of LRP planning into digestible and coherent elements spanning multiple initiatives. Sustainability was expressly, if briefly, called out under both themes. The Our Vision website hosts a one-sentence summary on the landing page, which captures the spirit of the Sustainability Initiative: "To develop transportable sustainability solutions for our region, nation and world; and to launch Stanford as a Lab, with the goals for Stanford to be 80% carbon-free by 2025 and zero waste by 2030." More detail is provided under each of the two themes on the website.

New Opportunities

The May 23 presentation does not reflect the eventual governance structure of sustainability or other initiatives, and I believe that the Sustainability Initiative will continue to evolve. By summer’s end, I hope and anticipate that we will have honed the initiative to the point where we are permitted to present a well-crafted vision to the Board of Trustees in October and be able to move forward with the initiative. In the meantime, I expect funding will become available for pilot projects in multiple initiatives. One such opportunity, a distinguished postdoc program – the Natural World Fellows Program – was announced at the May 23 presentation.

Beyond the four LRP initiatives I’ve mentioned, there also will be a number of ways for faculty to participate in opportunities in other initiatives. One of them will be through the Stanford Social X-Change, an initiative enabling scholars to work with the public, social, and private sectors to tackle social problems.
As the co-chairs of the Social Problem Solving Design Team,
Pascaline Dupas and
Jeremy Weinstein, wrote in an announcement May 30, the main vehicle for achieving impact will be through the creation, funding, and support of “Impact Labs" – multi-year partnerships between faculty and external collaborators from the public, social, and/or private sectors around a concrete social problem with a clear agenda that connects research to innovations in practice. 
Recruiting for an inaugural faculty cohort of up to six Impact Lab Design Fellows who will begin in Fall 2019 started this week. Applications are due Monday, July 8. You can find the application 
The aim is for fellows to join other exceptional Stanford faculty who are at the early stages of exploring and/or designing a multi-year program of research and partnership that has significant promise to inform the work of practitioners around a well-defined social problem. Fellows will receive exploratory funding to seed their efforts ($50,000); benefit from dedicated support from professional staff that are expert in building partnerships; and participate in a monthly professional workshop to develop and hone their plans. By the end of the year, fellows will have developed a compelling pitch for what an Impact Lab could accomplish with a clear vision for how science can contribute to social change, as well as a plan for partnership, resource generation, and organizational design. Find more details 
here. I encourage you to consider this program.

There will be two information sessions for potential applicants. You should email Leah Hazard at if you plan to attend or feel free to contact her with questions.

  • Friday, June 7th from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, Studio 2, the dschool. 
  • Thursday, June 13th from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm, Donald Kennedy Conference Room, 1st Floor Haas Center.

In sum, I am confident the Long Range Plan will offer our faculty and school many new opportunities – this is just the beginning.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at graduation and our diploma ceremony on June 16.  My very best wishes to our graduates! And for everyone else, have an enjoyable, productive summer.

Steve Graham

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