Pamela Matson to step down as Stanford Earth dean

The scope of research and teaching at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences greatly expanded under Matson, one of the university’s longest serving deans.

Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), announced today that she will step down on Dec. 31. She will have led the school for 15 years. Stanford Provost Persis Drell will share plans for a search early in spring quarter.

Pamela Matson

Pamela Matson will step down as dean of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences on Dec. 31 after 15 years in that position. (Image credit: Toni Bird)

“Under Matson’s leadership, the scope of Stanford Earth’s research and teaching has expanded greatly and in ways that have never been more important for our students and for society,” said Drell. Today, the school’s faculty and students focus on challenges that include securing a sustainable energy future, food and water resources, mitigating natural disaster risks, and climate solutions.

“She leaves the school strongly positioned as a key platform for educating the next generation of students to be stewards of Earth’s resources and environment in the 21st century,” said University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who noted Matson’s ability to work with others to create a shared vision for interdisciplinary problem-solving and education.

“We have a strong community of faculty and students who make positive impacts every day, increasing the understanding of the planet we share and developing solutions for the most critical challenges we face as a society,” said Matson, who is a MacArthur fellow, member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and global thought leader focused on reconciling the needs of people and the planet. “I am enormously grateful for the partnership and guidance of the Stanford Earth faculty and colleagues across campus.”

Broader scope, more students

Under Matson’s leadership, the school grew to accommodate a broader scope of research and teaching around Earth’s resources and the environment, with the faculty growing from 44 professors in 2002 to its current cohort of 65. During her time as dean, the school hired geomicrobiologists, soil scientists, agricultural and land use researchers, resource economists, geographers and oceanographers while maintaining and growing the school’s already strong bench of geologists, geophysicists, geochemists, paleontologists and energy engineers.

With those changes in expertise, the school expanded its focus to include the “fluid envelopes” of Earth – oceans, atmosphere, climate, and land and freshwater systems – as well as its subsurface systems. The expanded portfolio allows faculty and students to investigate planet Earth’s processes as well as its resources and environment and to address issues that are critical to both science and the well-being of people.

“Pam has been an agent of change for the school,” said geological sciences Professor Stephan Graham, who has been at Stanford under six deans and served as an associate dean for Matson and her predecessor. “The outside world can now look at Stanford and recognize a school committed to studying Earth change over all time scales, including those happening today.” The increased scope of the school was so sweeping that by 2015 it warranted a name change by the university: The School of Earth Sciences became the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

With more faculty and fields of study, the school’s student body has also seen a 55 percent increase in graduate students and an 11 percent increase in undergraduates during Matson’s tenure. As a result, Matson has also put in motion conceptual plans and fundraising for a new building to accommodate its growing research community and student body.

Interdisciplinary champion

Before taking the deanship, Matson co-directed the Center for Environmental Science and Policy in the Institute of International Studies and was director of the interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Earth Systems. Matson was instrumental in building Stanford’s Initiative on Environment and Sustainability in the early 2000s. She helped create the Woods Institute for the Environment, where she is a senior fellow, and the Precourt Institute for Energy. Both institutes draw faculty and students together from across campus to carry out research focused on solutions to societal problems. She was a key participant in the planning for the Jerry Yang & Akiko Yamazaki Environment + Energy Building (Y2E2), the first large-scale, high-performance building at Stanford to house cross-disciplinary teams and programs focused on sustainability.

Other accomplishments include:

  • Founding of Stanford Earth’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER), which trains graduate students to combine science, technology and policy knowledge and approaches in their research and teaching endeavors. The program offers doctoral degrees as well as joint master’s degrees for professional students from business, law, medicine, engineering and education.
  • The launch of the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm on 6 acres near Campus Drive and Santa Teresa Street. The farm, which harvests 15,000 pounds of produce a year, allows students to test new ideas and learn about sustainable agriculture. Since last fall, more than 450 students from across Stanford have made a field visit or taken a class module at the farm.
  • Investments in new undergraduate programs and experiences that aim to increase the reach of the school’s teaching and research to all Stanford undergraduates.
  • Approval in February of the school’s newest interdisciplinary degree program, Sustainability Science and Practice, which will offer a coterminal MS/MA as well as an executive education program for working professionals called Change Leadership for Sustainability.

Over the years, Matson led several strategic planning processes that resulted in significant changes in the school, including a shift to shared analytical facilities, the creation of a new interdisciplinary department and a school-wide commitment to and action plan for increasing diversity. On her watch, the percentage of female faculty grew from around 10 percent to 29 percent and underrepresented minorities rose from 2 percent to 5 percent. Matson and her colleagues also created an Office of Multicultural Affairs to catalyze and sustain diversity efforts across the school. A resolute and gracious presence in the dean’s office, she instituted a training program for all new staff, graduate students and faculty to encourage a collegial, collaborative and respectful working environment for all.

Matson plans to continue teaching at Stanford Earth after she steps down as dean. “I look forward to spending more time advising and teaching both undergraduate and graduate students, leading executive training and returning to research,” she said.