Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Skip to content Skip to navigation

State of the School 2016

September 23, 2016
Pam Matson in front of a screen with a blue globe

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Pam Matson

Pam Matson

As I write this, we are preparing to engage the next class of students to enter Stanford. More than ever, they will need to understand the changing Earth and address the enormous resource and environmental challenges facing us in the decades ahead. This year’s excitement is compounded by the arrival of our new university president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne. I have had the opportunity to meet Marc, a Canadian-born neuroscientist and former president of Rockefeller University, several times. As you, too, get to know him, I think you will find him to be a thoughtful and ardent supporter of the sciences and of the need to bring our knowledge to decision-makers everywhere. I hope you will join us for the October 20-23 reunion when our 11th president is inaugurated or watch the live stream video.

As we welcome students, we are onboarding new faculty like Earth system scientist Alexandra Konings, who uses remote sensing technology to study water resources, plus three other new faculty in the midyear. They join a faculty already 65 strong, including Anne Dekas and Jamie Jones in Earth system science, geophysicist Bill Ellsworth, and Erik Sperling in geological sciences—all of whom arrived in the last year.

Inspiration and Impact

Class in the field
Professor Page Chamberlain leads Environmental and Geological Field Studies in the Rocky Mountains.

Over the past 12 months, our incredible faculty have led field expeditions to Alaska, the Sierra Nevada, Death Valley, the Oklahoma oil fields, California’s Central Valley, the streets of New York, Boston, and Baltimore, Italy, Cambodia, Patagonia, China, and virtually every corner of the world.

All of them do the important work of inspiring and teaching our students, and creating fundamental knowledge about our planet. A number have also made impacts in other ways. For example, in November, Noah Diffenbaugh gave testimony before the California Assembly Select Committee on Water Consumption and Alternative Sources about the state’s five-year drought and its management. Chris Field was a scientific leader within the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which laid groundwork for the Paris meeting of 195 countries last December. This month he takes on leadership of the Woods Institute for the Environment, which encourages and supports interdisciplinary efforts across Stanford.

In May, Mark Zoback worked with CBS News’ 60 Minutes to explain why injection of massive amounts of saltwater co-produced with oil in Oklahoma is causing the state to experience more earthquakes than California. Rob Jackson worked with CNN to warn about serious issues with gas leaks in the aging infrastructure of our biggest and oldest cities. Geophysicist Paul Segall was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for his studies of earthquake and volcanic processes using GPS and radar.

Engaging Undergraduates

We are focused as never before on engaging more undergraduates. Last year we added several new introductory courses to join those already taught. Climate and Society covers the causes, consequences, and solutions to climate change. Sustainability  Challenges and Transitions surveys issues related to food, water, and energy resources. We continue to offer great intro courses in areas related to energy, hazards, and geology.

This fall, we will offer Unintended Consequences, a course that looks at surprising outcomes of policies and practices that affect Earth and its inhabitants in both positive and negative ways. New freshman seminars will include The Invisible Majority: The Microbial World That Sustains Our Planet and The Legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster.

Link Nature, Technology, and Leadership

In the year ahead we plan to create a suite of 1-credit courses that use big data to examine, measure, or solve questions about our planet. This series—called “Big Earth”—underscores the critical role of data analytics in everything from identifying underground water sources to tracking ocean temperatures, monitoring safe and efficient oil and natural gas extraction, and predicting tectonic movement. These courses will train students, including nonmajors, to apply computational skills and harness the power of the increasing availability of large data sets to understand Earth.

Conceptual drawing of social space
ZGF building space concept drawing

We also will propose a coterminal Master’s curriculum in Change Leadership for Sustainability. As our students, and students across Stanford, pursue a variety of careers in industry, government, and non-profit organizations, we want them to have both technical knowledge and leadership skills to manage complex social-environmental systems and lead change for long-term, intergenerational human well-being. In July, we piloted that curriculum to deliver a very successful executive program with the Graduate School of Business for 43 Young Global Leaders selected by the World Economic Forum.

We have made big strides in planning for a new Stanford Earth building with ZGF Architects of Portland, Oregon. After two decades of rapid growth in our faculty and student populations, and significant changes in how we do research and teaching, we now are in great need of a cutting-edge facility. Replacing the Mitchell Earth Sciences building will allow space for continued growth as well as alignment of faculty expertise around four critical challenge areas of our school-wide initiative: Securing the Energy Future, Reducing Disaster Risks, Food and Water Security, and Climate Solutions. With the building’s planned location in the oak grove on the old Terman Engineering site, we imagine it as a place where nature meets the most advanced technology.

We remain committed to transforming our knowledge of Earth and creating an educational experience that prepares our students to understand our planet.

Best regards,

Pamela A. Matson
Chester Naramore Dean, Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies