Stanford University
Dean Stephan Graham

Dean's Desk

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

Photo by Steve Castillo

Living in the era of COVID-19

ClockMarch 26, 2020

When I became dean two and a half years ago, I never could have even imagined the situation we now face. As we settle into a new reality driven by COVID-19, I am amazed and gratified to see how quickly we are adapting. It is a testament to your resilience, creativity, stamina, and empathy. I applaud all of you – faculty, staff, and students – for your swift responses to all sort of requests, from moving off campus to shutting down labs, and moving courses online, as well as your support for those who are traveling home or struggling with questions. I know this is not easy and causes anxiety around many things, from the health of loved ones to academic progression.


Steve Graham viewing laptop
Zooming in my Mini Cooper. Photo by my wife, Jan Oakley.

The challenges we face are both large and small, but tangible. I live on the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Palo Alto and can’t get a strong network connection up there, so I am joining Zoom meetings from my Mini Cooper outside Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Road where I can catch a  signal. While on Zoom I’ve convened with Stanford’s Executive Cabinet, the Dean of Research, the Dean’s Office staff, individual students, and faculty. I’ve met colleagues’ dogs, cats, and children. In some ways, it’s been a way to grow a bit closer and learn more about individuals. 

Of course, my Zoom issues are the least of it. I want you to know that I appreciate the juggling you are all doing in order to keep our academic mission going from your homes. It is, I know, especially difficult for those with children in the house. The swift move to online teaching is an enormous lift for our faculty and the staff who support them. We will get through this – and we may even gain long-term benefits from increased exposure to online work tools and online teaching methods.


As the virus surges in our area, I want to remind you to stay self-isolated and protected, but to keep communications up with family, friends, and colleagues through all means available to you, including reading this simple blog.

I cannot stress enough the importance of communication at a time like this. Associate Dean for Marketing/Communications Barbara Buell  is currently pulling together for me a list of all the different ways we are communicating as a school – and it is truly impressive. I am thrilled to see that departments and research groups are already finding ways to “gather” remotely, as well as to conduct business.

To my knowledge, ERE was first out of the gate with a daily Zoom morning coffee hosted by chair Hamdi Tchelepi with Margot Gerritsen. The department will host their first PhD defense via Zoom on Monday. GS and ESS are now having their weekly or bi-weekly bagels and coffee – just as they did before this crisis – only it's BYOB, bring your own bagel. There are department yoga sessions going online, as well as student gatherings. Biondo Biondi is hosting a brown bag lunch on Tuesdays in Geophysics. Faculty and staff meetings have gone online. I am told Geophysics students are even mounting a Zoom-based Talent Show for 7 p.m. Friday night and all are invited. Of the 194 groups in our Stanford Earth Slack workspace, 30 of them are new in the past 30 days. Contact our web services director Aaron Cole if you need help setting up.

Our Educational Affairs team, led by Senior Associate Dean for Educational Affairs Margot Gerritsen and Associate Dean for Educational Affairs Robyn Dunbar, is in constant cross-university meetings about academic continuity, including issues of grading, exams, and online support for both learners and teachers. In a few weeks, my aim is to host one or more Town Halls where we can share some of our challenges, and some of the problems solved.

Beyond our school, a grassroots effort called Stanford University Mutual Aid, has come together to provide a mechanism for mutual aid and support within the Stanford community during this difficult time, especially for those who cannot leave campus. They have created a spreadsheet of people willing to share resources – from shopping runs to child care to spiritual support. Take a look at the goodwill all around us, and I know there is more.

In the coming weeks, you may see more emails coming from Senior Associate Dean Amy Balsom, from CIO John Freshwaters, Facilities and Planning Director Sandy Meyer, Margot, Robyn, or myself. It’s a lot to keep track of, I know. These will be aggregated and stored for easy reference on our Stanford Earth COVID-19 Information page, a school-level web resource curated by Barbara.  This does not replace Stanford Health Alerts. Continue to check there for updates, and sign up for an email push to their alerts, delivered after 6 p.m. on days when there are new posts.


As we hunker down, I also want to celebrate what you have already done, as well as what you will do, to create as robust an online learning experience as possible. For example, against the backdrop of several canceled Spring courses due to their unsuitability for online delivery, some instructors have already created or submitted proposals for new online courses to take their place.

One of them, Nature Journaling (EARTH 83), to be taught by Ryan Petterson and Richard Nevle, is an introduction to the practice of observing and recording the natural world through focused drawing, writing, and mapping, using only the most basic tools. Assignments can be done in the wilderness, in a backyard, or in one’s home. This is an interactive, online alternative to Natural Perspectives, now canceled, which normally takes a group of students to the Sierra for the same purpose of honing observation skills in nature. Find more information on canceled courses, new online offerings, and highlighted classes on our new virtual course announcement page, which will be regularly updated.

In addition, we have some individual academic achievements to celebrate: Tiziana Vanorio has earned tenure and will be an Associate Professor of Geophysics as of September 1. Paul Segall has been named to a chaired professorship – the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geophysics. Congratulations Tiziana and Paul!

Your health

Remember we are still a community, still working and teaching and researching in new formats. That said, your health and the health of the larger community are the priority. You may find this Stanford Health Alerts chart useful. It explains what to do if you test positive or are exposed. With the number of cases expected to grow exponentially soon, and with a concern for both tracking and privacy, this Monday the university posted new guidelines on how to report if you are ill. Please also self-report to your department manager. In the meantime, it is important that you stay home and off campus until the shelter order lifts. Your good health is my chief concern.

We will get through this. You are all doing your best and I so appreciate it!


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