Archive for the ‘In the Spotlight’ Category

Stanford celebrates sustainability

April 22nd, 2014

On Tuesday, April 22, hundreds of faculty, staff and students gathered in the Science and Engineering Quad to celebrate sustainability at Stanford. The interactive Earth Day festival was designed to educate members of the campus community about Stanford’s sustainability efforts and achievements through fun, engaging activities and displays. In addition to healthy food, the festival offered information on green practices and products, such as water conservation and energy-saving light bulbs. University Photographer LINDA A. CICERO captured the highlights in a slideshow.

Precourt Institute for energy names new leaders

April 21st, 2014

 

Sally Benson

Sally Benson

SALLY M. BENSON has been appointed director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, a hub of energy research and education at Stanford University. Her colleague, ROLAND N. HORNE, has been named deputy director. Both are professors of energy resources engineering and senior fellows at the institute.

ANN M. ARVIN, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford, announced the appointment. “Sally Benson has a remarkable record of research contributions and international leadership in the field of energy sciences, which will be of great value to the Precourt Institute,” Arvin said.  “We are delighted that Sally has agreed to serve in this important role at Stanford, and that Roland Horne will provide his expertise in Earth sciences and as a faculty leader to support the Precourt mission.”

Benson succeeds FRANKLIN M. “LYNN” ORR JR., a professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford, who has served as director of the Precourt Institute since its founding in 2009.  Benson was named acting director of the institute last fall when President Obama nominated Orr to be under secretary for science at the Department of Energy. He is awaiting Senate confirmation.

“The Precourt Institute supports education and game-changing research, promoting energy literacy and accelerating solutions that will transform the global energy system,” Benson said. “I am grateful for Lynn Orr’s leadership and delighted to work with Roland Horne to help lead this important effort.”

Roland Horne

Roland Horne

A groundwater hydrologist and reservoir engineer, Benson is a leading authority on emerging energy technologies, and geologic carbon capture and storage. She leads a research laboratory that studies fundamental aspects of carbon dioxide sequestration in saline aquifers.    

Horne’s research focuses on the quantification and efficient recovery of subsurface energy resources, including oil, gas and geothermal energy. He is the director of the Stanford Geothermal Program and past president of the International Geothermal Association. 

In addition to her new leadership role at the Precourt Institute, Benson will continue to serve as director of Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), a position she has held since 2007.

“During her tenure at GCEP, Sally Benson has played a key part in developing a diverse research portfolio that funds innovative, low-carbon energy technologies,” said GEORGE SHULTZ, director of the Hoover Institution’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and chair of the Precourt Institute advisory council. “She will continue to provide strong leadership at the Precourt Institute in the years ahead.”

Read the full announcement on the Precourt Institute’s website.

 

— BY MARK SHWARTZ, Precourt Institute for the Environment

More than 2,000 middle and high school students take a dive into learning at Stanford Splash

April 21st, 2014
Splash2_cropped

Andrew Guo ’16 makes liquid nitrogen ice cream treats during the walk-in seminar “Sweet Liquid Nitrogen Demo.” (Photo credit: Rohit Talreja)

Twice a year, a group of Stanford undergraduate and graduate students hosts Stanford Splash, a two-day learning extravaganza for middle and high school students. On April 12-13, Splash attracted 2,141 participants who took part in hundreds of classes and walk-in activities from “Quidditch for Muggles” to “Microbes and Mud” to “Chocolate: Food of the Gods.”

First-time Splash attendee ADITYA KRISHNAN took a math class on the binomial theorem. “I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about and I couldn’t learn outside,” said Krishnan, who also took classes in performance comedy and improv.

Eighth-grade students SHELBY BROOKS and KAYLA TURNAGE, both of whom were attending Splash for the third time, were eager participants as well. Brooks’ favorite class was “Psychology and Neuroscience of Religion” because “it was very educational and really makes you think.” Turnage, who “likes to take science classes,” was able to explore 3-D printing and genetics.

For teachers, Splash is equally fulfilling: JEFFREY DAVIS, a local volunteer, taught a class on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He noted that this year he “had a lot of kids both days, it was great.” As for his students? They all clapped for him at the end, and some even sent him notes about how much they enjoyed his class. Without pause, Davis said, “I would love to teach again.”

The Splash outreach program is growing in popularity every year and continues its effort to attract students from underserved schools. The event is open to students from all schools and to those who are home-schooled. As the program grows in popularity, so does the need for volunteers and teachers. During the recent Stanford Splash, 367 teachers and about 200 volunteers help to make the event a success.

The next Splash event is scheduled for November 8-9.

—VIVIAN W. WANG, Stanford Splash

Norwegian freshmen meet with former prime minister

April 18th, 2014
norway

From left, Joachim Reiersen, Olav Brundtland, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Rob Urstein, Miriam Strom Natvig and Marie Fosli (Photo: courtesy Rob Urstein)

This quarter, GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND, former prime minister of Norway, has been leading seminars and giving lectures on many weighty topics, including sustainable development, global collaboration and her tenure as president of the World Health Organization

Last week, Brundtland added lunch with three Stanford freshmen – Norwegians all – to her busy schedule as the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford.

The students who joined Brundtland for lunch at the Faculty Club were: INGERID MARIE FOSLI, of Sola, a coastal town known for its windsurfing; MIRIAM STROM NATVIG, of Oslo, the nation’s capital and most populous city; and JOACHIM REIERSEN, of Haugesund, a historic town dating back to Viking times that is also known for its film festival.

Brundtland’s husband, OLAV BRUNDTLAND, accompanied her to the lunch.

The luncheon conversation was mostly in English, but Natvig took the opportunity to converse in Norwegian while she and Brundtland were waiting in the buffet line.

“Sharing our observations in our mother tongue emphasized to me the importance of making one’s background a resource in whatever work one wishes to do for the world, as Gro has definitely done,” Natvig said.

During the lunch, Brundtland asked the students how they had ended up at Stanford and what they were getting out of the experience.

“I was both humbled and amazed to find that she took such a great interest in us at a time when we are just starting our journeys, which we can only hope will be half as impactful as hers,” Natvig said. “It is also very inspiring to know and to experience how she is so very committed to global issues and at the same time so obviously in touch with our home country.”

Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen ROB URSTEIN, who arranged and attended the lunch, has a special connection to Norway. During the 2000-2001 academic year, he served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar with the Norwegian Ministry of Education. At the time, he was on a sabbatical from San Francisco University High School, where he served as chair and instructor in the English Department.

Urstein, now associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford, was a “roving scholar” in Norway, visiting different towns and cities to lecture on topics in American culture, language and history to groups of faculty members and students.

Brundtland, a physician, scientist and former United Nations special envoy on climate change, currently serves as the deputy chair of The Elders, a group of world leaders convened in 2007 by the late Nelson Mandela and others to tackle some of the world’s toughest issues.

Under the Distinguished Visitor program, Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service brings individuals to campus who have had significant public impact in their home country or abroad, and who have distinguished themselves in public service.

On March 12, Brundtland delivered the Distinguished Visitor Lecture: “From Public Health to Sustainable Development in an Interconnected World: A Life in Public Service.”

—KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

James McClelland wins Heineken Prize

April 15th, 2014
jmcclelland

James McClelland (Photo: Angela Drury)

Psychology Professor JAMES MCCLELLAND, founding director of Stanford’s Center for Mind, Brain and Computation, has been awarded the C.L. de Carvalho-Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The prize, which includes a $200,000 award, recognizes McClelland “for his important and fundamental contributions to the use of neural networks to model cognitive processes of the brain.”

The research that led to this prize began in the early 1980s when a group led by McClelland and DAVID RUMELHART (who later joined Stanford’s faculty) pioneered what they called the parallel distributed processing approach to computation in the brain. Instead of thinking of the mind as a single computer, they envisioned it as a vast network of more than 10 billion tiny computers working together every time a person engages in a mental process – from activities as simple as recognizing a word to tasks as complex as solving a difficult mathematical problem. The work, published in the two-volume book, Parallel Distributed Processing (MIT Press, 1986), challenged the popular “mind-as-computer” metaphor, replacing it with a very different way of thinking about the nature of computation in the brain.

Early applications of these theoretical models addressed human perception, language and memory. Today, artificial systems based on the same ideas are sweeping the field of machine learning. “We finally have computing systems that can simulate the massively parallel processing activity that takes place in the human brain,” McClelland said. “Models based on the neural networks of the kind we envisioned in the 1980s are now the state-of-the-art methods for machine speech and vision and may soon take the lead in language processing.” For example, the speech recognition systems in today’s smart phones use advanced versions of the neural network models McClelland and his colleagues explored three decades ago. Capturing insights into how the brain solves mathematical problems remains a challenge that McClelland has recently begun to explore.

McClelland joined Stanford’s faculty in 2006. He is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences and served as chair of the Department of Psychology from 2009 to 2012. He also recently received the inaugural National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences for his research.

Five Heineken prizes are awarded every other year to internationally renowned scholars in biochemistry or biophysics, medicine, environmental science, cognitive science, and history. A sixth Heineken prize also is given to an artist living and working in the Netherlands. Several recipients of this prestigious international award, including Stanford pathology and genetics Professor Andrew Fire, subsequently won Nobel Prizes. The Heineken prize will be presented Oct. 2 at a special meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

—LISA TREI, School of Humanities and Sciences

Stanford birders beat Cal

April 14th, 2014
Western Bluebird (Photo by Jasen Liu)

Western Bluebird (Photo: Jasen Liu)

The whistle blew at 7 a.m. The two teams hailed from opposite ends of the Bay. Stanford sports an acreage advantage, but Cal was counting on its redwood-lined creeks to put it ahead.

The game was birding – and fundraising. The longtime rivals squared off Sunday, April 13, in the first Big Game Birdathon, a match of eyes and ears to see who could spot the most birds in four hours. Stanford – the winner – now has bragging rights as the birdiest university around (sorry, no Axe). The final score? Stanford 75, Cal 64.

“We have so many birds, we’ll win,” ROB FURROW, a biology graduate student and captain of Stanford’s birding squad, predicted in an interview with Stanford Report last month.

His UC Berkeley counterpart, MAUREEN LAHIFF, a public health lecturer at Cal, said she first thought Stanford would not agree to the contest.

“These Stanford people, they aren’t any dummies,” Lahiff said. “They know our advantages.”

The good-spirited bout raised money for the Audubon Society and drew attention to the joys of bird-watching and the importance of birds in the natural environment.

Pitting the longtime rivals seemed like a “win-win,” said STEPHANIE ELLIS, the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon chapter. The annual  Birdathons are the major fundraising event for Audubon Society chapters throughout the Bay Area, she said. Teams compete to count the most birds in a set period of time.

The Stanford Birding Club attracts a mix of graduate and undergraduate students as well as some staff members.  At the birdathon, the Stanford team  focused on Lake Lagunita and the Dish Area. Cal’s birders focused their attention on the Faculty Glade and the botanical garden.

Even though this year’s matchup is over, supporters can still contribute to the cause. Visit the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society’s website for more information.

 —BECKY BACH, Stanford News Service intern

 

Michelle Obama praises ‘sound advice’ of charter school student

April 14th, 2014

 

What do you do when MICHELLE OBAMA walks in while you’re talking about the importance of learning a second language? Keep your cool.

That was the situation for East Palo Alto Academy (EPAA) student EDGAR ARROYO during a recent videoconference at Stanford. Arroyo was invited, along with four peers from his high school and several Stanford students, to take part in a virtual meeting with Obama during her trip to China.

EPAA is a charter school affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The meeting took place in two highly immersive classrooms – one at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the other at the Stanford Center at Peking University – that made it seem like all were in the same room.

While waiting for the first lady to arrive, the students in each classroom chatted with MARIANO-FLORENTINO CUELLAR, the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. Cuellar asked how he could get his children to be more interested in speaking a second language.

As Arroyo dished advice to Cuellar (“Speak Spanish always to them”), Obama entered and made her way to a seat.

“Hello, First Lady!” Arroyo said, without skipping a beat.

Obama was briefed by Cuellar about the topic of conversation, and the first lady gave a thumbs-up to Arroyo. She noddingly approved of his “sound advice” to Cuellar and the others.

After the exchange, Arroyo said the video conference was “fun and informative.” He said he learned the importance of learning a second language and about another culture and of studying abroad.

—BROOKE DONALD, Graduate School of Education

Student Affairs staffer gets national recognition

April 9th, 2014
Diontrey Thompson

Diontrey Thompson (Photo: Joy Leighton)

DIONTREY THOMPSON, assistant director of the Black Community Services Center (BCSC), recently received the Outstanding New Professional award from the American College Personnel Association.

The award recognizes an outstanding new professional who has fewer than five years’ experience in the field of student affairs. Recipients are chosen for their demonstrated promise for future leadership roles and for making an important contribution to their institutions through works related to multiculturalism, specifically as it relates to people of color.

Thompson joined Student Affairs in 2011, starting his career in Residential Education and joining the staff of the BCSC in 2012.

“He brings a fresh perspective, infectious energy and passion for infusing intersectionality into the conversation around student development,” said JARREAU BOWEN, assistant director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, who has worked with Thompson on several Student Affairs projects.

After learning he was a recipient of the award, Thompson remarked, “I feel extremely privileged and honored to receive the award for my contributions to the field. All Student Affairs staff do amazing work, and I am thankful to work with them.”

Currently, Thompson is developing a course designed to educate students on diversity and how issues manifest themselves on college campuses. In addition, he serves on the Student Affairs Assessment Committee, a division-wide initiative. Through his work on the committee, Thompson has helped colleagues develop their assessment ideas to produce projects that enhance the work of each unit and that are inclusive of the unique needs of students, especially underrepresented groups.

GREG BOARDMAN, vice provost for student affairs, is pleased that members of his staff are being nationally recognized for the work they do to contribute to Stanford’s commitment to diversity.

“In addition to enhancing and deepening student academic learning, Student Affairs staff support and promote diversity, in all its forms, throughout the Stanford community. We are delighted that the ACPA has recognized Diontrey and the leadership he has demonstrated in his work and with his peers.”

 

—JOY LEIGHTON, Communications Director, Student Affairs

 

Stanford Professor Harry Elam Jr. honored for contributions to academic theater

April 9th, 2014

Each year the Association for Theatre in Higher Education recognizes an academic professional with one of its highest honors: the Career Achievement Award in Academic Theatre. This year the award goes to HARRY J. ELAM JR., vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford.  He will receive his award in July at a ceremony in Phoenix.

A scholar of social protest theater, performance and popular culture, Elam is praised by colleagues for his scholarship and leadership. Students know him as an advocate and mentor.

“Professor Elam has been a vital artistic mentor and adviser to me during my time at Stanford,” said KEN SAVAGE, ’14. “He has expanded my understanding of theater and inspired me to believe that I am capable of producing meaningful productions that can have an immense impact on the larger landscape of American theater. Without Professor Elam’s constant support, I would not be pursuing a professional career in directing after Stanford.”

The Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) applauds the national recognition of our wonderful colleague, Harry Elam,” said TAPS department chair JENNIFER DEVERE BRODY.  ”Quietly charismatic and extremely caring, Harry epitomizes the best qualities of a scholar, director, mentor and teacher. From his work as the editor of Theatre Journal, to his directing and his books on [LUIS] VALDEZ, [AMIRI] BARAKA, [AUGUST] WILSON and more, to his extraordinary encouragement of generations of theater enthusiasts, Harry has changed the field not only for the better but also for good.”

Criteria for the career award include acclaim, test of time, service, innovation, mentoring, advocacy and support of multiculturalism and diversity in education.

“Harry Elam is so highly regarded as a scholar, teacher, artist, mentor and administrator. We are thrilled to honor him this year,” said DANI SNYDER-YOUNG, vice president of ATHE awards,  “His nomination included a wide range of stunning, heartfelt letters from scholars and artists whose lives and careers he has touched. Their love for him pours out, highlighting his generosity as a mentor and ‘rigorous collegiality’ alongside the way he has opened critical avenues of investigation in African American theater, built a career balancing scholarship and artistry and inspired students in classroom contexts.”

In addition to the two career achievement awards, one in academic theater and the other in professional theater, ATHE bestows eight other awards each year, including recognition for excellence in teaching, leadership and different aspects of writing. Elam won the editing award in 2006. Stanford alumnus DAVID HENRY HWANG, ’79, won the Career Achievement Award in Professional Theatre in 2013.

 

— BY ROBIN WANDER

— Photos BY LINDA A. CICERO

 

Stanford hosts first conference for new California Alliance

April 8th, 2014
Robin Garrell, vice provost and professor of chemistry  and  biochemistry at UCLA, talks with  Gabriela Bernal, Stanford Graduate student of material science and engineering, and Peter Sorel right, UC Berkeley graduate student in chemical engineering during informational discuss session at the California Alliance Retreat.   (Photo credit:  Steve Castillo)

Robin Garrell, vice provost and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, talks with Gabriela Bernal, Stanford graduate student in material science and engineering, and Peter Sorel, a UC Berkeley graduate student in chemical engineering, during informational discuss session at the California Alliance Retreat. (Photo credit: Steve Castillo)

At the inaugural conference of the California Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate last weekend, doctoral students from four of the state’s top research institutions networked and shared ideas about how to successfully chart a path to an academic career.

The alliance, announced in February, includes four leading West Coast universities – Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA and the California Institute of Technology.  With this intellectual firepower, the group was formed to help knock down age-old barriers that have boxed in many people. The effort is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Together, these institutions are targeting a serious problem in higher education – the lack of underrepresented minority PhD students in the mathematical, physical and computer sciences and in engineering.

Among the California Alliance schools in 2011, the year for which the most current data exist, 845 new PhD students in the targeted STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields began their doctoral programs – only 81 of them were from underrepresented minority groups. Of the 753 doctoral degrees awarded in these fields, only 59 of them were to underrepresented minority students. And only 51 of the 1,189 faculty members employed on all four campuses in the targeted fields were from underrepresented minorities.

At the April 4-5 retreat, hundreds of students, faculty members, postdocs and staff from the four institutions attended panels, workshops and small group discussions that addressed ways to build bridges over those walls.

The sessions included a keynote address by California State Assembly Speaker JOHN A. PÉREZ on how minority students can advance to postdoctoral and faculty positions at top-tier research universities.

Participating schools at Stanford include Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences.

“Absolutely invaluable” was how LILIANA DE LA PAZ, a conference attendee and doctoral student in chemical engineering at Stanford, described the retreat.

“The active mentorship theme was critical to the success of the conference,” she said. “To identify role models and be able to follow through will be instrumental to my professional development. It was extremely inspiring to meet fellow peers as well as faculty and research scientists.”

De La Paz added, “I’m excited to create change for the future.”

What is Stanford doing to advance the cause? The School of Earth Sciences, for example, is creating faculty mentoring connections for postdocs and graduate students, according to TENEA NELSON, assistant dean for multicultural affairs in the School of Earth Sciences.

Faculty, she added, plan to host students and postdocs in their labs for weeklong research visits and will strive to develop career connections for them both in and out of the alliance for the foreseeable future. “The California Alliance will exponentially expand the network of opportunities for postdocs and grad students,” said Nelson.

Those smaller discussions – in workshops, labs and offices – were extraordinarily successful at the Stanford event, said GABRIELA BAYLON.

“I really enjoyed attending the faculty panels,” said Baylon, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering and president of the Stanford Latino Engineering Graduate Organization for Students. “But my favorite event was the smaller discussions where students truly had a chance to express their concerns about being a professor.” 

NOÉ-PABLO LOZANO, associate dean of student affairs and director of diversity programs in Stanford’s School of Engineering, said the conference’s biggest benefit was the high-caliber minority faculty involved. “These are premier leaders in the STEM fields,” he said, “who happen to be focused on original discovery.”

Lozano said that such conferences are “slowly dispelling the myth that these quality students do not exist. Their presence defies all the odds and moves them from being a statistical anomaly to one of projecting the future of science and engineering.”

 

BY CLIFTON B. PARKER