Design teams shift their focus to developing recommendations to implement Stanford’s vision for the future

To foster community engagement, the university will create a vision to transform the White Plaza area into a vibrant town center.

Design teams are deep in the process of developing their recommendations for how Stanford University will implement its long-range vision. More than 300 Stanford community members from across the campus are serving on design and discovery teams working on initiatives centered around mission and values, research, education and community.

Meanwhile, the university plans to redesign the White Plaza area and develop new programming for the space, as part of a larger initiative to promote community engagement on campus.

The design and discovery teams are employing various strategies and tactics to develop concrete, detailed plans for implementation from the high-level vision outlined by university leadership last spring. Teams spent the fall quarter cataloging current efforts, analyzing existing data, looking at best practices and conducting outreach for stakeholder input, among other work. Depending on the objective, the teams are engaging in various approaches to community engagement, including town halls, focus groups, surveys, submission portals and meetings.

Over the next five months, most teams will be wrapping up the discovery phase and working to develop their recommendations. The teams will present models that leverage existing resources with both modest and significant incremental funding. Metrics to measure accomplishment will also be included in the recommendations.

The teams have varying milestone deadlines to complete their planning during the current academic year, depending on the scope of their work. A few initiatives were deferred pending completion of work on related initiatives.

However, some initiatives are further along in their development. A few design teams had their recommendations reviewed by the Executive Cabinet before winter break, while some teams will have their plans ready for review in early February. This group of initiatives includes Data Science, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, Res-X, Innovative Medicines Accelerator, Social Problem-Solving Accelerator, Flexible Resources and the Changing Human Experience.

Plans for the initiatives will roll out in phases over the next six to nine months, said Megan Pierson, chief of staff in the Office of the President and staff lead for the long-range vision. Some initiatives will begin implementation through initial steps and pilots this academic year, while others will need more planning time.

“Some initiatives need more time to develop specific recommendations since they are tackling more complex issues, are dependent on work from other teams or will benefit from further investigation” said Pierson. “For example, the magnitude of the affordability issues facing our community will require more time for analysis and development of recommendations.”

She noted that many of the design teams will be gearing up for presentations to the Executive Cabinet in the coming months. After analysis and acceptance of the recommendations by the Executive Cabinet, selected teams will present their recommendations to the Board of Trustees at the April and June meetings. Leaders of three initiatives – IDEAL, Data Science and Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence – gave presentations at the trustees’ meeting in December 2018.

Provost Persis Drell, whose office oversees the university’s budget process, said that funding for the initiatives will come from a variety of sources.

“It’s important to remember that this is a strategic plan, not a fundraising campaign,” she said. “There will be varying funding strategies for implementation of the vision initiatives, including the realignment of expenses from other projects and programs, individual school and unit budgets and central funding sources, as well as fundraising.”

Drell noted that central funding had been set aside in the 2018-19 budget for long-range planning and it will be factored into the development of the university’s 2019-20 budget.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said he has been pleased with the progress of the teams and with the long-range planning process in general. “Stanford is poised to put into operation a series of bold initiatives that will help us reach our overarching goals of empowering creativity and agile research, accelerating solutions for society and supporting a 21st-century learning community,” he said.

In the coming months, Stanford Report will highlight progress in different areas of the long-range vision. Following are recent activities related to some of the long-range planning initiatives.

New Town Center

As part of the Community Engagement initiative, the university will pursue a master space plan to help foster community on the campus. One of the key elements of this plan is reimagining the White Plaza area as a vibrant gathering space.

Memorial Fountain, White Plaza

Stanford plans to redesign the White Plaza area as part of a larger initiative to promote community engagement on campus. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Matthew Tiews, currently associate vice president of the arts, will take on a new role as associate vice president for campus engagement in the Office of the President. Among other responsibilities, he will lead the town center planning effort, which will include collaborating with University Architect David Lenox and the Land, Buildings and Real Estate division on the design and working with students, faculty and others to develop programming for what is envisioned as a new social and community hub for the university.

Vice President for the Arts Harry Elam said that the university’s commitment to the arts remains strong and that the search for Tiews’ successor will begin immediately. “For the past eight years, Matthew has played a pivotal role in the university-wide Arts Initiative and his work has been critical to its success. I know he will bring tremendous leadership, insight and energy into this new role,” he said.

Changing Human Experience

Lisa Blaydes, professor of political science and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and Ian Morris, the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor in Classics and senior fellow in the Stanford Archaeology Center, are leading the Changing Human Experience (CHE) research initiative. This effort is seeking ways to continue deepening our understanding of humanity in order to make sense of our world – and ourselves – in a time of accelerating change.

“Our goal is to put Stanford at the center of understanding and explaining what it means to be human amidst 21st-century transformations.”

—Ian Morris

Professor of Classics

The human experience has changed more in the last hundred years than it did in the last thousand, Morris said. Lifespans have extended, democracy is now widespread, the world is becoming more interconnected and new technologies have revolutionized society. Morris noted that the next 100 years is expected to bring even greater change for humankind and at a much faster pace.

While questions about what it means to be human have persisted throughout history, these rapid transformations necessitate deeper humanistic investigations to determine how these changes are shaping our institutions, cultures, values, bodies and minds – and how we should respond.

“Developments that would have seemed like magic in our great-grandparents’ day such as stem cell therapy, new medicines, artificial intelligence and infrastructures that allow for instant communication are, for good and ill, linking lives together and transforming them in ways we can barely imagine,” said Morris.

Stanford is among the leading centers for research that is driving current innovations. But what is the impact of these discoveries on the human experience? The CHE initiative brings together humanists and social scientists to provide the long-term historical and cultural context in areas ranging from political institutions to global connections and longevity.

“Our goal is to put Stanford at the center of understanding and explaining what it means to be human amidst 21st-century transformations,” said Morris.

Innovative Medicines Accelerator

The Innovative Medicines Accelerator (IMA) is aiming to help basic and applied researchers from across the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences translate their basic research discoveries into new therapies and diagnostics, and to carry out fundamental research in humans in support of that goal.

The team, co-led by Peter Kim, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor of Biochemistry, and Sam Gambhir, chair of radiology and the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research, has so far reached out to many colleagues across Stanford and held two Town Hall meetings to identify existing programs and resources, and to learn about barriers to translation of research into remedies.

“Stanford University is uniquely positioned to translate fundamental discoveries in basic science to understand biology in humans and lead in academic discoveries of novel therapeutics and diagnostics.”

—Sam Gambhir

Chair, Department of Radiology

From those conversations, they’ve proposed expanding on existing Stanford resources with a biobank that would provide basic scientists opportunities to test ideas in human cells and even models of human organs (organoids). They also propose to expand our existing infrastructure for creating molecular and cellular tools to test specific therapeutic interventions and to provide the starting material for making new medicines.

The group also proposes a new Experimental Medicine Unit, which would include dedicated space to test concepts in humans and begin the translation of discoveries into new medicines. Unlike other human trials carried out at Stanford, the Experimental Medicine Unit would focus not on testing a drug’s dosing and effectiveness in Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials, but on better understanding human biology – ideally finding new biological pathways, identifying molecules that could be targeted by drugs and providing initial study of new therapeutics and diagnostics in humans. Related programs exist at Rockefeller University and in Leiden, Netherlands, but few other universities worldwide have Stanford’s combined strengths in basic and clinical research, access to world-class hospitals, and expertise in discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. The program would also provide seed funding and training opportunities.

“Stanford University is uniquely positioned to translate fundamental discoveries in basic science to understand biology in humans and lead in academic discoveries of novel therapeutics and diagnostics. The IMA will help fuel the next generation of this important work for the eventual benefit of individuals worldwide,” said Gambhir.

Social Problem-Solving Accelerator

The Social Problem-Solving Accelerator initiative is tasked with developing recommendations for how the university can best address large-scale, complex and stubborn societal issues such as poverty and inequality, climate change, political polarization, forced migration and ineffective governments and organizations.

“Powering problem-focused research in the social sciences … Stanford can have real-world impact.”

—Jeremy Weinstein

Professor of Political Science

The initiative is led by Pascaline Dupas, associate professor of economics and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and Jeremy Weinstein, professor of political science and senior fellow at FSI and at SIEPR.

Dupas said that universities are places where tough social problems can be analyzed and solutions can be identified, but social science research can be isolated from the world of practice. Strong partnerships among scholars, practitioners and decision-makers are key to achieving public impact, but are difficult and time-consuming to build. More resources are needed to bring cutting-edge academic research to bear on solutions to important social problems, she said.

The design team is focusing its planning efforts in three main areas: strengthening the resources and infrastructure to advance research and to develop and test solutions to complex societal issues; developing new models to train the next generation of social problem-solvers; and catalyzing the culture of public impact at Stanford.

“Stanford, with its world-leading faculty and top students across the spectrum of disciplines, is uniquely situated to seize this opportunity by creating a new institutional model for powering problem-focused research in the social sciences,” Weinstein said. “With the right investments in people, platforms and new approaches to training and education, Stanford can have real-world impact on some of society’s most pressing problems.”

For more information on these and the other initiatives in Stanford’s long-range vision, visit the “Our Vision” website.