February 14, 2006
$30 million gift jump-starts environmental effort at Stanford
Ward W. Woods, a Stanford University trustee and 1964 graduate of the university, and his wife, Priscilla, have committed $30 million for the Stanford Institute for the Environment. Their gift will enable institute leaders to launch innovative environmental programs and fund collaborative research that may well produce breakthroughs in environmental science and policy. The institute, established in 2004, will be renamed the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University in recognition of the gift.
The Woods Institute serves as the cornerstone of the campuswide Initiative for Environmental Sustainability. The initiative's central goal is to promote an environmentally sustainable world, where human needs are met while protecting and restoring Earth's natural resources for people today and generations to come.
"Stanford University has long been recognized for its broad strengths in environmental scholarship. The Woodses' generous gift builds on that foundation and enables us to expand our efforts," says Stanford University President John L. Hennessy. "Through his leadership and service to the university, Ward has done much to contribute to its excellence. He has a great appreciation for what it takes to nurture innovation. The Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford will serve as an incubatorpioneering multidisciplinary solutions to environmental challenges and educating the next generation of leaders on these issues."
A key aspect of the initiative is that it promotes work at the intersection of traditional disciplines by attracting faculty and students from all seven of Stanford's schools, plus independent labs and institutes. It also harnesses the university's historic strengths in interdisciplinary research, teaching, outreach and technology transfer. The Woods Institute focuses on four key environmental areas in which Stanford has the greatest expertise and is thus likely to do the greatest good: freshwater; energy and climate systems; land use and conservation; and oceans and estuaries.
"Solving the world's urgent environmental problems takes bold ideas from leaders and experts in many fields, and involves collaboration of researchers from diverse disciplines," says Ward Woods. "Most of all, it takes a conviction that these problems are largely solvable and a tough-minded commitment to seeking the solutions that gain traction in the real world. Stanford's preeminence as a research university and its history of multidisciplinary cooperation provide the best academic combination for addressing these problems."
The institute has three major themes: strengthening environmental infrastructure, including developing new knowledge and leaders; fostering collaborative technology transfer; and promoting economic opportunities. Key to all three is engaging in new ways to develop working solutions, both on campus and with external decision-makers.
"The ultimate goal of the Woods Institute is to produce working solutions to major environmental challenges," says Barton H. "Buzz" Thompson Jr., co-director of the Woods Institute and the Robert E. Paradise Professor in Natural Resources Law. "To achieve this goal, interdisciplinary teams of experts at the institute actively collaborate with the private and public leaders who will implement the solutions. The Woods gift will enable the institute to work on a broader set of issues and with more groups around the world."
The Woods Institute already works closely with undergraduate and graduate students in several innovative, interdisciplinary programs. For example, Earth Systems is a highly popular undergraduate major that exposes students to Stanford's integrated approach to understanding and solving environmental problems. The Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources (IPER) trains doctoral students and offers a joint master's degree through Stanford's business, law or medical schools.
The first part of the Woods gift will be used to further three ambitious programs: Environmental Venture Projects (EVP), Strategic Collaborations, and Environmental Management and Leadership.
Through EVP, multidisciplinary faculty teams are receiving crucial seed money for environmental research projects that show substantial promise but take new approaches that are difficult to fund in their initial stages through traditional sources.
"Many multidisciplinary proposals with the greatest potential for finding solutions to complex environmental challenges can have difficulty getting outside funding because they do not easily fit into existing programs," says Jeffrey Koseff, co-director of the Woods Institute, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Michael Forman University Fellow in Undergraduate Education. "This infusion of the Woods gift will help us accelerate support for this sort of high-risk, potentially transformative, collaborative research."
The EVP already has funded more than a dozen of these visionary projects. For instance, engineers and medical faculty working through the Woods Institute are devising new membrane technology that will let rural communities in developing nations purify their drinking water cheaply.
Strategic Collaborations bring Stanford faculty together with outside organizationsincluding government agencies, industry leaders, key nonprofit organizations and other universities and research institutionsto address some of the world's major sustainability challenges. These teams generate new ideas, test them, develop needed infrastructure and train students by engaging them in the work.
One Stanford research team is working with the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy to find innovative ways to give property owners financial incentives to restore natural habitats on their land.
In another example, Stanford global climate experts are working with the state of California to identify the next steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and with decision-makers to determine how California should implement them.
The Woods gift will go toward spurring two such collaborations. The first is the Program on Global Food Security and the Environment, a joint project with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The mission of the program is to find fresh solutions to the closely related problems of hunger and destructive farming practices around the globe. The second is a new center for energy efficiency, which will explore innovative, economically sound technologies, policies and systems for reducing energy consumption and for using energy more efficiently.
A planned Environmental Management and Leadership Program will help provide environmental scientists with leadership and management skills. This will build on the success of the institute's Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains scientists to communicate and interact more effectively with policymakers and the media.
"Academic scientists and engineers often lack the leadership and communication skills to interact with and provide decision-makers the knowledge they need to address sustainability challenges," says Pamela Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences. "The Woods gift will let us launch several new leadership training efforts that will be tremendous learning opportunities for our faculty and students, as well as for others around the world."
Ward Woods has given his time, money and expertise to environmental causes for many years. Most notably, he is a trustee and chairman of the executive committee of the Wildlife Conservation Society and a director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Priscilla Woods, a clinical social worker, is actively involved in community affairs in Idaho, serving on the boards of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Citizens for Smart Growth. She has been a trustee of Radcliffe College and Outward Bound.
Ward Woods also has been a Stanford donor and active volunteer for decades. Currently a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees and chair of the Stanford Management Company's board of directors, he served on the board of visitors of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford from 1996 to 2002.
He was president and chief executive officer of Bessemer Securities LLC, a privately held investment company, from 1989 until his retirement in December 1999.
Other early major investors in the Initiative for Environmental Sustainability also have made substantial contributions, bringing total contributions to more than $40 million:
Longtime Stanford supporters Melvin B. and Joan F. Lane made a gift that was matched with a challenge grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. These are being used to endow a senior fellow at the Woods Institute, as well as the Melvin and Joan Lane Professorship for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences.
Franklin and Susan Orr, both Stanford alumni, made a gift for projects yet to be determined. Franklin "Lynn" Orr, the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor of Petroleum Engineering and director of the Global Climate and Energy Project, is a former dean of the School of Earth Sciences.
Stanford alumna Alison Wrigley Rusack and her husband, Geoffrey, are also supporting projects yet to be determined.
Grants from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation support IPER and the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program.
A gift from Stanford alumni William C. and Jeanne M. Landreth is funding efforts to restore and sustain river systems.
Some additional gifts were made before the initiative launch. These include one from Stanford alumna Victoria Sant and her husband, Roger, to help fund the Earth Systems Program. This gift was matched by the Campaign for Undergraduate Education.