Meet our faculty

Scholarship is at its best when it draws upon a diverse community. Here, Stanford faculty members share the life experiences and interests that fuel the dynamic learning environment on campus.

Image credit: Andrew Brodhead

Elizabeth Reese

Assistant professor of law

Navi towa hahweh Yunpoví. Navi Americana hahweh Elizabeth Reese. Nah Nambé Owingeh we ang oh mu.

My name is Elizabeth Reese, Yunpoví, and I am from the Pueblo of Nambé. I was born in a house that was originally built by my great-grandparents out of traditional adobe brick, and I grew up praying in one of the oldest buildings on the continent.

My parents met as teachers at the Santa Fe Indian School. My mother is Pueblo and my father is from a small town in Pennsylvania, the seventh child of a Lutheran minister. Growing up, my mom took me to ceremony and instilled values from my Native culture and heritage, and my father—who loves history and the classics—read to me from Homer and took me to Shakespeare plays. I was navigating both cultures and worlds.

When I was 4, we moved away from Nambé Pueblo to Champaign–Urbana, and that was really hard. I went from being in this very Indian world to being basically the only Indian family in town, where the university had an Indian mascot. Some of the other kids in my class would say things like, “You can’t be an Indian. All the Indians are dead.” Or, “You don’t wear feathers.” That hurt, but it was also profoundly confusing. There’s still so much mythology around native people as being this thing of the past, as being erased from contemporary existence in the United States.

I’m not sure there was ever a moment when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, or study law. What really happened was that I saw how much of our life on the reservation was dependent on federal law, from the price of gas and groceries to who answers a 911 call. It became clear to me that learning those rules and using them to fight and advocate for my community was something that could be really important.

I also realized that there were not a lot of people who looked like me at the table, who were in a position to be telling the important stories about who we were and where we belong in the future of American law and society. I just knew that was wrong and I was going to do something about it. I knew that we deserved a say in our own destinies.

There are 574 tribal governments that are making and passing laws all across the United States, that govern as much territory as the state of California. One of the things I write about is just how powerful it is to start paying attention to these communities in a more real and robust way as part of what we think of in the American system.

That point does this beautiful thing, when it clicks for people: it shatters an invisibility that has been comfortably the status quo for far too long.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Kurt Hickman & Julia James

Portrait of Fei-Fei Li

Fei-Fei Li

Professor of Computer Science

“Humans are the only animals that can tell stories from seeing pictures. One of my projects involves teaching a computer how to do this kind of work, how to look at an image and determine what’s important and tune out the ‘noise.’ Combining language and vision isn’t easy, and every day it’s challenging to think of the most fundamental questions of what intelligence is. I like the feeling of being challenged and not completely at ease – we should reinvent ourselves and our research.

“Artificial intelligence is a deeply humanistic discipline. We tend to focus on the ‘cool’ factor, but what excites me and my students is the mission of changing transportation, health care, human communication and more for the better. Even still, deciding to dive into computer science and AI in graduate school was difficult. As an immigrant, I felt an intense personal responsibility to take care of my family, including my parents, who were then immigrants in survival mode. Pursuing graduate studies meant delaying the start of my working career, with unclear prospects after finishing graduate school. Ultimately, no one can give you this kind of pressure – it’s something you choose to take on, just as you choose to stay true to your responsibilities. When you know you’re staying true to yourself, you stay happy, even if things aren’t always easy.”

Heather Hadlock

Associate Professor of Music

“As an undergraduate, I double majored in history and music; at that point I didn’t really understand that they could be intertwined. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that one of my professors suggested that I pursue musicology, which is the study of the history of music. Earlier this year actually, my mother told me, ‘When you went off to study musicology in grad school, we didn’t know what you were doing, but we kept our mouths shut.’ And I’m thankful that my family didn’t plant a seed of doubt or skepticism back then, because I see that anxiety in more and more students: There’s reluctance to study something without a clear path toward a job and supporting oneself. I remember that sense of uncertainty myself as I searched for an environment where I could immerse myself in music, its history, and how it intersects with and informs our understanding of the world today.

“I think the performing arts are exciting because they always have to be reincarnated: A musical score is a set of instructions from the past, and you need live people to reanimate it. So a musical work exists in multiple eras, from the moment it was first created through the most recent performance. The work I do on gender in opera is a perfect example of that. We can explore how changing ideas about gender inform our perception of operas from the past and our performances of them now. The gender systems and values of the past have changed so much, and we come to old artworks with new questions about modern people, voices and new ideas about gender and sexuality. The arts are a wonderful place where the past and the present are in conversation. And here at Stanford, people are constantly in conversation with one another. During my time as the director of the Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I saw how faculty and students in different disciplines were incredibly engaged with their material and with one another. People are very intellectually generous here.”

Jonathan Calm

Assistant Professor of Art and Art History

“At times, art has been an escape from a reality that I didn’t see myself as being a part of. It’s served an escape from some of the brutality I’ve witnessed. It’s a space where I’m able to make things right and whole, where I can question things and craft my own method for reorganizing the world. It’s also an opportunity for me to step outside of what’s happening around me and become a mirror, creating things that reflect where we are as a culture. I’m part of the culture, but as an artist, a portion of me feels that it’s my job to step partially outside of it in order to record it. I love what I do: It allows me time and space to process, question and create. My field also allows me to explore and advocate for areas of our world that aren’t getting enough attention. Ultimately, art is a way to remake and redirect the world. I’m lucky I get to spend my life doing that.

“I’m a photographer because ultimately that’s the way I look at the world, and it’s the medium I always return to. One nice feature of saying you’re a photographer is that everybody knows what that means and can relate to it. I think that in a way, being a photographer has simplified identity for me, while still leaving it open-ended enough to define the aspects of it that I want to. Photography is everywhere, and people connect with it on a personal level. Everyone’s taking photos and storing them, daily. Most people may not know what to do with them, how to categorize them, or if they’re good or bad, but we all have catalogs of our lives that we’re carrying around wherever we go.”

Portrait of Grant Parker

Grant Parker

Associate Professor of Classics

“Studying the ancient Romans is like doing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 53 pieces. When studying contemporary society, there’s no shortage of source material. With the Romans there’s much less, so we need to be creative to fill in the picture and bring it to life. I want to show students the rich variety within ancient cultures and their afterlives. They’re much more than just the columns outside the Supreme Court building. Let’s try to understand the hopes and fears of different communities around the ancient Mediterranean, even if they’re not the ones whose texts have survived.

“I focus on what happens when different groups of people come into contact: What persons, ideas and objects can we discern? What kinds of impact are involved? Generally speaking, it’s the victors that tell the stories, so we need to look for ways of going beyond that. It’s an intellectual challenge, but also an ethical one. In such ways we need a critical and self-aware dimension in our research. Stanford makes it easy to collaborate with scholars from different fields, and this has helped me develop a broader approach. In studying any society, ancient or not, language deserves to be a key element whenever possible. Regardless of your field, you can never know enough languages. Studying languages – even just a little bit, and even if a language is no longer anyone’s mother tongue – is fundamental if we’re going to be humble, respect different perspectives and see the breadth of human experience.”

Portrait of Debbie Senesky

Debbie Senesky

Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics

“It’s an exciting time to be an aerospace engineer. There have been amazing breakthroughs in the field, such as the realization of rockets that can launch, land and launch again. My research group is developing micro- and nanoscale sensors that can survive and function within extreme conditions found on the surface of Mars, Venus or within rocket engines. It’s thrilling to think that our work could eventually impact space exploration.

“Deciding which engineering problems to solve and how to pursue the best solutions can be challenging. After completing my doctorate, I didn’t know which career path to choose. I ended up taking a job in industry, which opened my eyes to the challenges of commercialization and taught me how to transition a design concept to an actual product. However, I realized that I missed being in an academic research environment, so I took a nontraditional path and became a postdoctoral researcher after working in industry. It was a risky career choice, and people close to me questioned my decision, but the move was a helpful deviation in my career path. As a postdoctoral researcher, I learned how to run a lab, mentor students, teach classes, write proposals, and eventually, I decided to pursue a career in academia. Now, as an assistant professor, my work is multifaceted – I’m never doing the same thing every day – and I get to work with amazing students.”

Jennifer Eberhardt

Professor of Psychology and, by courtesy, of Law

“Both of my parents passed away at a pretty young age, in their 50s. My father was a mailman and an antique dealer on the side, and my mother was a data entry clerk working at the federal building in downtown Cleveland. After I completed graduate school, and before my mother told me she was dying, she shared that seeing how far I could go in education had made a real impression on her, and that she wanted to follow in my footsteps. She decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and went on to complete her degree. I didn’t realize I could have that kind of influence on someone I loved just by doing what I loved. Going to college was a big change for her late in life, and I’m really proud of how she took that leap and seized the opportunity to advance her education. It encouraged me to keep doing more of the same.

“When I was twelve, we moved from an all-black neighborhood to an all-white neighborhood. My parents knew there was a better school system in the new neighborhood, and they wanted to try to give us a chance at better educational opportunities. I think that move got me very interested in race and inequality. In the new neighborhood, it was expected that most of the kids would go to college and do great things. I felt like I was on a different path than I would’ve been had we stayed in the old neighborhood, where it wasn’t the expectation that people would go to college. Most people there didn’t pursue degrees. I think that experiencing this racial divide and seeing the discrepancies between the two communities is what first made me want to investigate human behaviors and interactions, and my current research addresses significant social issues such as bias, discrimination, and inequality. The idea that we can use science as a way to explore possible solutions to significant problems is really exciting to me. Social science research provides me with a unique avenue for contributing to society – while also inspiring others to pursue what they’re most passionate about.”

Portrait of Manuel Amieva

Manuel Amieva

Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Diseases) and of Microbiology and Immunology

“We’re really like walking planets to the microbes that inhabit us. For me, looking in the microscope is like being in a submarine, exploring landscapes that most people will never get to see. Shrinking through the porthole of a microscope and exclaiming ‘Mira!’ (Look!) with my students brings me back every day to the sense of wonder that gave me the courage to pursue higher learning.

“In a similar way, a place like Stanford is really made special by the communities of people working and studying here. The freedom to brainstorm with all of these brilliant people is the campus’s biggest asset. I grew up in Mexico, and it was very challenging leaving my home to attend college in the United States, but I was lucky to be able to explore what I wanted to do. That’s one of the reasons that I stayed in the United States. This country lets you pursue things that are luxuries in other places. Along the way, I’ve learned that the personal and cultural history you bring to the medical profession is just as valuable as your medical training – so don’t forget who you are. Even studying biology, you can see that diversity creates resiliency, and increases the number of solutions to problems.”

(Image credit: Holly Hernandez)

Richard Banks

Professor of Law and, by courtesy, of Education

“I’m not sure what grade my father completed, but I know he didn’t graduate high school. He was a barber, and he ran a shop with his brothers. They were well-known in Cleveland: if you wanted a proper haircut, you went to the Banks Brothers. He was a very smart and philosophical man but didn’t have much formal education. He envied people who did. If he met someone who was a lawyer, it was a big deal to him to know someone who’d achieved that status.

“The last chance I had to spend time with him was when I graduated from Stanford undergrad. He suffered from high blood pressure and prostate cancer, and his health went into a steep decline after a heart attack. Before he left the hospital to come to my graduation, the doctor told him not to go, that he wasn’t strong enough for the trip. My father shared with me that he told the doctor he was going to be at my graduation if he had to crawl. My mother had passed away when I was nine, so he was my only living parent. He made it, and that was the last time my family was together before he died. We had a different experience of Commencement compared to most families because he was so sick and I only had my dad and my sisters, but it meant a lot to me.

“It wasn’t until after his death that I decided to go to law school. He’d always wanted me to go to Harvard, which I refused. We had a big fight about it — one of the biggest fights of our life. He’d known someone else whose son went to Harvard and he wanted me to go too, but I refused to apply. He knew so little about college that I think Harvard may have been one of the only names he knew, but he knew that everyone else knew it, too, so that it must be good.

“After everything, I ended up going to Harvard Law. I applied about a year and a half after he died. It was in the wake of his death that I decided to go. Truth be told, in retrospect, I think it was partly a way to please him because of how much he had always respected lawyers – even if he wasn’t alive to see me become one. I was also drawn to Law because it’s a place where ideas meet the world. I get to think about the connections between big abstract issues and the concrete issues that arise in people’s lives.”

Chang-rae Lee

Professor of Creative Writing

“Writing a novel is like going off on your own and painting a giant mural that no one has commissioned or asked to see. You make a big commitment to a risky project. You have to be willing to take those risks, while also managing the negative ideas and feelings that come up while pursuing such a difficult goal. It takes a lot of guts, it takes a lot of stubbornness, and it takes a lot of faith. Even now, as deep in my career as I am, I’m still managing those challenges.

“When I graduated from college, I took a job on Wall Street. I ended up quitting it pretty quickly to give writing a serious shot, taking odd jobs while also writing on my own. At the same time, my mother became terminally ill with cancer. I was working on my own, considering what I was supposed to do with my life. My mother’s illness and later, death, were a huge blow to our family, but it provided a moment of clarity about the fragility of life and that we should all try to do what we really want to do. The first novel I ever wrote failed – no one wanted to publish it. It wasn’t any good, but it helped me learn the value of endurance and facing serious failure. I wrote my first published novel while pursuing my Master of Fine Arts, with the support of colleagues and a great mentor. I still struggle with the challenges that come with writing novels, but with experience I gained a measure of faith that things will work out, even when it seems that they won’t.”

Zhenan Bao

Department chair and K.K. Lee professor of chemical engineering and, by courtesy, of materials science and engineering and of chemistry

“My father tells stories about how when I was younger, I often opened up gadgets in an attempt to figure out how they functioned. He also says that when I would ask questions, I already had some postulated explanations in mind—like hypotheses. Because I was naturally interested in building hypotheses and testing them through experimentation, chemistry felt like a natural fit once I discovered the field. I was drawn in by the limitless possibilities of chemical reactivity—the ability to create entirely new substances that could serve as solutions to complex real-world problems was really exciting to me. Over time, I dove deeper into materials chemistry, feeling called to create useful innovations for the world.

“Human skin—which is a remarkable organic material that is stretchable, self-healable, and biodegradable all at the same time—serves as an inspiration for one of the current focuses of my research group: artificial electronic skin. We started out by trying to mimic our human sense of touch and were able to show that we can create flexible sensors that are just as sensitive—or even more sensitive—than human skin. Through material design and engineering, we added properties like stretchability, self-healing properties, and biodegradability without compromising electronic properties. Incorporating these skin-like abilities into our electronic devices will transform how we interface with electronics.

“These new materials open up so many possibilities, particularly for their applications in electronic medical devices. For example, it’s now possible to implant soft electronics inside the body without causing damage, while also being able to collect electrical and chemical information directly from within. We can build electronics that grow with the organs they wrap around without constraining the tissue. We can also make electronics accommodate dynamic human movement naturally, whether they are attached to the surface of the body or implanted inside. I believe this rapidly expanding research frontier is going to positively impact the lives of many, and I feel fortunate to be a part of the vision.”

Image credit: Holly Hernandez

Risa Wechsler

Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and Associate Professor of Physics and of Particle Physics and Astrophysics

“One of my goals as a leader is to cultivate an environment that allows everyone to flourish. Physics is still a very white and male dominated field, and we lose a lot of talented people because we don’t have an environment that allows them to do their best work. I’ve faced challenges as a woman in physics, but I think obstacles are more severe for first generation college students and students of color. Now that I’m the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, I want to make sure that we take advantage of our position as a leading institute to reach out to people who are underrepresented in the field, by doing active outreach and also by including a more diverse community of scientists. We host open houses where our students lead scientific activities for kids, we have researchers visit schools, and we bring students into SLAC for field trips to see our research in action.

“I want to share the sense of wonder that I experience in my work with others. I study how the universe forms, from its earliest moments until today, on scales from an individual galaxy to billions of galaxies. Understanding how this structure forms can teach us about what the universe is made of and how galaxies come into existence. We’re now building a camera for one of the largest cosmology projects of the next decade, called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST. It’s a 3.2 gigapixel camera that will scan the entire sky from a given point every three days, for 10 years. Over time, you’ll get a dynamic movie of the sky that captures asteroids, stars, galaxies, and supernova, and when you add the images together you’ll get a map of where all the matter is in the universe. I feel lucky to have a career where I get to enjoy the beauty of our universe, and I’m motivated to drive efforts that create opportunities for more people to explore these marvels.”

Krish Seetah

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

“Going to college and becoming a professor was like a far-off dream. I don’t come from a traditional academic background: I worked full-time as a butcher for seven years, beginning at age 13. Raised in underdeveloped neighborhoods in Mauritius and later the UK, I did not have role models in academia to look to for mentorship. I struggled to see a path toward achieving my dreams. Once I started working full-time, it became even more difficult to sustain my ambition, keep up with school and manage work – which made my academic goals feel that much more unreachable. I was eventually able to break into academia, but it was a difficult journey getting there. And unbeknownst to me, my time as a butcher would unexpectedly provide me with a serendipitous opportunity to enter the area of research I was most interested in – archaeology.

“As luck would have it, the first person that I spoke to about my background happened to have been researching archaeological butchery for some 25 years. Having had degrees in biology, health and ecology, it was a challenge to enter archaeology because I had no experience with the subject – but it seemed to hold the promise of the type of research I hoped to do. Fortunately, my background in butchery was the ideal foundation for studying human-animal relationships in the past. I understand animal anatomy from a morphological perspective, as well as how people interact with the commodity of meat on a social level. My niche expertise within the meat industry opened a door of opportunity for me. Sometimes the things that you feel make you stand out unfavorably are actually what set you apart in a positive way.”

Michael Penn

Professor of Religious Studies

“I had a three-year identity crisis in college, wrestling with the question of ‘Am I going to be a molecular biologist or a historian of ancient religion?’ I started out majoring in molecular biology, but during my second semester of college I randomly took an introductory course in world religion and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I was at one of the few institutions that allowed you to choose only one major – no dual majors, no minors, no certificates, no study abroad. My loophole ended up being that there was no limit on the number of classes I could take. For the rest of college, I took classes toward my degree while also taking tons of courses in world religion, history, and languages. I wasn’t yet ready to let go of molecular biology, but I was increasingly passionate about history. Both fields offer a sense of discovery.

“After graduating, I decided to pursue graduate work in ancient religions and became a professor of religious studies. At Stanford, I have the exciting opportunity to be part of large, collaborative research. I work with computer scientists, data scientists, and software developers, within and outside of our university. Some of my current research involves using advances in how computers analyze modern handwriting for security software to help match up handwriting from ancient scribes. This helps us figure out when manuscripts were written, by whom, and the connections between them. And I get to be one of the first to uncover these findings! I look at artifacts like ancient cow hides that haven’t been seen for over a millennium – precious pieces in a larger historical puzzle. It’s exciting to discover new parts of history and share that context with the world, bringing light to our past as well as our present.”

Portrait of Alexander Key

Alexander Key

Assistant Professor of Arabic and of Comparative Literature

“Nothing separates us from scholars working in Arabic and Persian 1,000 years ago. When those scholars did work in science fields like physics and optics, they didn’t have all the tools we have now, but when it comes to how metaphors work or how poetry is beautiful, we’re at the same level of expertise. We have access to the same raw material – our brains, our words, literature, the things we like reading. Now, the task in my research is capturing the quality of their work and translating it into something that people interested in language can benefit from today. It’s tremendous fun. If you have a familiarity with how a language works, you can better understand the things people say and do using that and other languages.

“And the things we don’t know are worth finding out. Society needs universities that produce knowledge, including knowledge that doesn’t seem to have any immediate impact and doesn’t seem to be immediately monetizable. The process of translating something tells us about ourselves and where we are today. That’s the payoff – you get to think about how we humans find out knowledge.”