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.





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.”



Stanford lecturer Anthony Marra wins Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction

April 7th, 2014

Anthony Marra

Novelist and Stanford lecturer ANTHONY MARRA has received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

Marra joins the ranks of past winners like NADINE GORDIMER, TONI MORRISON, WOLE SOYINKA and MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. in winning the only national juried prize for literature that recognizes works that confront racism and examine diversity.

While on a recent book tour in Germany, Marra received word from the jury’s chair, Harvard Professor HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., that Constellation received this year’s award in fiction.

“I was, to say the least, stunned,” Marra said of winning the award. “So many of the previous recipients are writers of artistic vision and moral urgency whose work has inspired and continues to inspire my own. I’m deeply humbled and grateful for this extraordinary honor.”

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, set in war-torn Chechnya, begins as Russian officers burn down a Muslim home and abduct the father but can’t find his daughter. A neighbor hides the 8-year-old girl in a barely functioning hospital. The story unfolds over five days, as the child is hunted and the protective adults around her try to navigate radically different circumstances.

While studying in St. Petersburg, Russia, Marra was drawn to the region of Chechnya initially because he knew so little about it.

“The more research I did,” said Marra, “the more I realized that the scant and often stereotypical images of Chechnya that have permeated American culture do little justice to the enormous complexity of the conflict there.” And when Marra discovered there were no novels in English about the recent Chechen wars – and the psychological, ethical and emotional tolls taken on the civilian population there – he decided to write a novel about it himself.

The novelist’s work has garnered much critical and popular acclaim over the past year. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena has been a New York Times Bestseller and a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year, and Marra recently received the 2013 National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, which recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre.

Marra finished Constellation during his first year as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in 2011 in Stanford’s Creative Writing Department.

“The support of the Creative Writing Program allowed me to devote myself entirely to [the novel] during that delicate final-draft phase,” said Marra, “and the feedback of my fellow Stegners and the faculty was invaluable.”

When asked if he began the book with the intention of examining race and diversity, Marra said,  “My only agenda was to write the kind of book I would want to read, and the kinds of books I most admire usually explore the moral conflicts that arise in the space between the individual and society, culture and history.”

The book’s enthusiastic reception has certainly surprised Marra: “I don’t think anyone would write a nonlinear novel set in Chechnya with the expectation it would be published, much less read and received so generously.”

In addition to the literary accolades, Marra’s book has also resonated with war survivors. Recently, a young woman from the Caucasus wrote to him to say that the book helped her deal with memories she’d long tried to ignore.

Connecting with a reader like that surprises and encourages Marra: “You realize your story has become a part of other people’s stories in ways you never could have imagined,” Marra said,  “It’s a remarkable thing.”

—TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford

Stanford Recreation to host a climbing festival this weekend

April 3rd, 2014

On Saturday, April 5, and Sunday, April 6, Climbers Rage Against Gravity (CRAG), an annual intercollegiate bouldering competition, will take place at the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center.

Saturday’s competition is a members-only event for the Collegiate Climbing Series.  However, spectators are encouraged to come out and watch the CCS climbers compete beginning at noon that day. You also can view a livestream of that day’s finals here.

On Sunday, the wall is open to climbers of all ability levels. All you need is the $15 registration fee and a current student, staff or faculty ID card from any college or university to participate.

“Although CRAG is a competition, the atmosphere is supportive and fun,” the festival website notes.

Sunday’s events begin with registration at 9 a.m., competition from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and finals from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. The weekend concludes at 4 p.m. with raffle prizes and awards.

For the full schedule and more information, visit the Outdoor Education website.

Watch a video from last year’s event:


High schoolers get a taste of Stanford Medicine

April 2nd, 2014
Students exam brain of animals during the brain lab session at Medicine on the sidelines at Med School 101 at Stanford University School of Medicine on Friday, March 28, 2014. ( Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford School of Medicine )

Students examine brain matter of animals. ( Photo credit: Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford School of Medicine )

“I was once in high school,” anesthesiologist SEAN MACKEY, told a roomful of high school students last Friday at Med School 101. Now he runs a large NIH-funded lab, takes care of patients, makes scientific discoveries, and helps people get better. Mackey delivered his talk on pain and the brain to the aspiring medical professionals at a high level.

“This is the same talk that I give a national audience of experts,” he said – for his younger audience he just explains the jargon. And he includes clips from The Princess Bride, selected with the help of his 17-year-old son, to illustrate certain pain points.

Classes at Med School 101 tend to swing this way – with the instructors not mincing science while still making learning about medicine as fun as it is. In its eighth year, Med School 101 drew 140 students from 10 local high schools to Stanford’s Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge to try on white coats, so to speak. ANN WEINACKER, chief of staff at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, welcomed students in the morning and shared, “It is so cool to be a doctor.”

Sleep expert RAFAEL PELAYO, explained to the students attending his lecture why we sleep and outlined some common sleep disorders in adults and children and how medical science has addressed them. “When I started at Stanford 20 years ago, we didn’t know what caused narcolepsy,” Pelayo said. “Now we know it’s an autoimmune disease.”

For her session on global health, SHERRY WREN, a professor of surgery, talked about her experience volunteering with Doctors Without Borders in Africa. She caught students’ attention with some sobering statistics: Only 3.5 percent of surgeries worldwide are done in low-income countries; 2 billion people have no access to surgery; and in Africa alone, 42 million people presently have problems that could be treated by surgery.

In the ever-popular session, “So you want to go to med school?” with CHARLES PROBER, senior associate dean of medical education, students named different specialties within medicine and Prober explained their functions and sub-specialties.

Questions on preparing for a career in medicine, and on what it takes to get into a good medical school, flowed, with Prober telling the students that the name of their college doesn’t matter as much as what they do there. (Check out the @SUMedicine Twitter feed and the hashtag #SUMed101 for more.)

While Prober mentioned the “big three” list of uses for an MD – patient care, research and education – many of the presenting faculty described other ways to be involved in health care, including public health, nursing, and physician assistant roles.

One young lady said she was in seventh grade when she got the idea that she might want to be a doctor, but really solidified her plans in eighth grade. Where is she now? “Ninth grade.”


— BY EMILY HITE, for the Stanford Medicine SCOPE blog

Jazz virtuoso Wayne Shorter explores the universe at SLAC

April 1st, 2014

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter, fifth from left, with his fellow jazz and cosmology lovers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology.

Grammy-winning jazz legend and sax virtuoso WAYNE SHORTER took a few hours off recently from a busy weekend of sold-out shows at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco to indulge in his second love – the cosmos. In fact, all four members of the Wayne Shorter Quartet left a rainy Saturday afternoon behind to take an impromptu tour of the universe, courtesy of jazz fans TOM ABEL and RISA WECHSLER, who are Stanford professors of physics and astrophysicists at Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

“I heard through some connections that Wayne Shorter is a big fan of astronomy, and that one of his inspirations for his jazz compositions and improvisations is the universe,” Wechsler said. “Tom and I thought it would be great to bring together a jazz legend who visualizes the universe through his music with the scientists who visualize the universe through computer simulations.”

Abel’s and Wechsler’s expertise lies in computational astrophysics – they figure out how the universe works by building computer models of it and comparing the models to what we see in the cosmos around us. That sounds straightforward, but it’s a gargantuan effort. They’re exploring vast stretches of time and space from the Big Bang to now in an effort to explain how all the matter and energy in the universe evolved over nearly 14 billion years from an amorphous, almost featureless blob to the universe we see today.

As part of this effort, the scientists and their colleagues often render their models as gorgeous 3-D movies of galaxies embedded in ghostly webs of dark matter, supernova explosions blasting dust and gas into the surrounding void, or the wild whirlpools of matter surrounding black holes, to name only a few.

Shorter was thrilled to accept their invitation, Wechsler said. Accompanied by his wife CAROLINA, band mates DANILO PEREZ, JOHN PATITUCCI and BRIAN BLADES, Blades’ wife LURAH, and band manager ROBERT GRIFFIN settled into seats at the KIPAC Viz Lab and donned 3-D glasses, the nerd version of cool shades, for more than an hour of concentrated inspiration.

All the simulations proved irresistible to Shorter, but he was especially interested in the black hole simulation – after winning a Grammy this year for “Best Improvised Jazz Solo” for his work on a track called Orbits, Shorter said he’s working on another piece called Event Horizon and he wants the music to accurately express what’s happening at that border between the known and the unknowable.

The simulations were accompanied by a wide-ranging discussion of astrophysics, jazz and where the two intersect. Abel’s description of a research team working together to push the boundaries of science drew knowing nods and smiles from all the band members, while a discussion of how orbits of the planetary kind remain stable drew a comment from Blades: “It’s a groove!”

The musicians channeled some of their inspiration straight back to their fans at their SFJazz concert that night. “It was a fantastic show,” Wechsler said. “A few of the band members said they were so inspired they saw dark matter while they were playing!”

“I was completely blown away by their performance,” Abel said. “The whole experience is still with me and is certainly among the highlights of my entire life.”

BY LORI ANN WHITE, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory



Stanford Stegner Fellow NoViolet Bulawayo wins the PEN/Hemingway prize

March 31st, 2014

bulawayo1 Wallace Stegner Fellow NOVIOLET BULAWAYO has won the PEN/Hemingway award for her debut novel, We Need New Names.

In the novel, Darling, a 10-year old girl, chronicles the tumult and violence in her native Zimbabwe and later her experience in America when she leaves home to live with her aunt in Detroit.

Born in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo earned her MFA at Cornell University, where she received the Truman Capote Fellowship. This is the second year of her Stegner Fellowship.

The PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award – established in 1976 by Ernest Hemingway’s widow, Mary Hemingway – recognizes a first book of fiction by an American author. The prize includes a $10,000 award, a one-week residence at the University of Idaho, and a fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers. Past winners of the esteemed literary prize include MARILYNNE ROBINSON, JHUMPA LAHIRI and HA JIN.

In addition to the PEN/Hemingway prize, Bulawayo’s novel has earned many other accolades since the fall including being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book prize.


— BY TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford


Schiebinger tells U.N. not to forget women in research

March 31st, 2014
Londa Shiebinger

Londa Schiebinger

LONDA SCHIEBINGER had a big audience for a presentation on gender, science and technology – the United Nations.

A historian who specializes in science, Schiebinger presented a research paper and talked about how to make science and technology more responsive to both women’s and men’s needs. The March 18 session in New York City was titled “Gendered Innovations.”

In her address, Schiebinger discussed water infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, the need for male birth control similar to the pill and gender-specific medicine, including osteoporosis in men and heart disease in women. Schiebinger is the director of the European Union/U.S. Gendered Innovations in Science, Health and Medicine, Engineering and Environment Project.

“It was a two-hour session of fascinating discussion. How great to have representatives from around the world considering these issues together, reporting on what is happening in their countries and networking,” she said.

This was not the first time she has spoken at the United Nations. Schiebinger worked with a Parisian group to prepare a background paper on gender, science and technology that was presented in February 2011. That work resulted in actual U.N. resolutions – or as Schiebinger puts it, “agreed conclusions” in “U.N.-speak.” The United Nations now calls for gender analysis to be integrated into research, thanks to the research of Schiebinger and her colleagues.

Much progress has been made, Schiebinger said, pointing out that the European Commission has adopted gender-based analysis in Horizon 2020, its new funding framework for 2014-20. After her U.N. presentation, Schiebinger traveled to Belgium, where she joined European Union meetings on the issue.

This greater sensitivity to the female context in research is gaining momentum, she said. For instance, since 2010, all 13 Canadian Institutes of Health Research have required applicants to consider gender in their research.

It was not always this way.

In early March, Schiebinger put her thoughts down in a column for Nature. From car design to drug discovery, the failure to acknowledge sex differences can be costly and even lethal, she argued. For example, short people (often women) are classed as “out-of-position” drivers in car engineering and thereby ignored, which leads to greater injury in accidents.

And in medical research, the failure to use female cells, tissues and animals can create greater health risks for women. “Of the 10 drugs withdrawn from the U.S. market between 1997 and 2000, eight posed greater threats to women than to men,” she wrote.

Schiebinger’s point is that including gender analysis in research can save us all from life-threatening errors – and lead to new discoveries as well. It’s about time.


BeWell explores the value of Stanford’s natural beauty

March 28th, 2014
Japanese Flowering Cherries flourish in the Oregon Courtyard, which is located on the east side of the Main Quad, just off Lasuen and across from the School of Education. (Photo: Kate Chesley)

Japanese flowering cherries flourish in the Oregon Courtyard, which is located on the east side of the Main Quad, just off Lasuen Mall and across from the School of Education. (Photo: Kate Chesley)

BEWELL suggests that next time you drive, walk or bike onto the Stanford campus, you consider the physical beauty that greets you. BeWell spoke to Grounds Manager TED TUCHOLSKI to learn more about the natural beauty available to us all at Stanford.

How do you think the Stanford grounds contribute to the culture of wellness?

Grounds Services performs an important role in contributing to the wellness of all who study, work and visit the campus. Maintenance of the outdoor environment enables everyone to play, exercise and rest in beautiful and comfortable places. We maintain turf areas for recreation; trails for hiking; areas for studying, holding performances or resting – perhaps under the shade of a large oak tree. Connecting with nature is important, and often an experience that aids in relieving stress. We provide the opportunity – and plants – for people to literally “stop and smell the roses.”

How big an undertaking is this?

We have 60 employees in the field maintaining more than 1,000 acres of land, including over 1 million square feet of shrubs. We collaborate with the University Architect and Planning Office, Stanford Utilities, students, staff and others to make the program a success.

Read the entire interview on the BeWell website.