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 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.”

Margot Gerritsen

Senior associate dean for educational affairs, professor of energy resources engineering, and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy

“I grew up in the Netherlands, on a small peninsula not too far from the North Sea and surrounded by river estuaries. Our village was quiet and quite religious. Luckily, like most kids at that time, my siblings and I were pretty much free-range kids. We would take our little bicycles and bike everywhere. But on rainy days and Sundays, we were mostly inside the house, and I became a ferocious reader. Reading allowed me to escape, and dream of sunnier places. I was very young when I decided that I wanted to move away.

“I’ve always loved math. In high school, it came easy to me, and I continued on with it at university because I was determined to challenge myself as much as I could; I’m a competitive person, and because there were such few women in the field, it was like, I’ve got to show people that I can do this. At the same time, I really wanted to be an ornithologist and study birds. I’ve also been interested in natural hazards and I was fascinated by fluid flow. I was pulled in multiple directions, but I realized that if I built a foundational background in math and physics I could keep all those doors open—be agile, move around, study different topics through the computational science and engineering lens. That’s exactly what I’ve done, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I’ve always been one of the very few women in my field. It’s a lonely experience at times. People notice you, and when you’re different, you’re often also scrutinized. I remember, in undergrad, our grades were always displayed by our names on a big list by the classroom door. People would look for my grade—”Let’s see what Margot has.” And they would compare and contrast. That was not such a nice feeling. Particularly when you’re a woman who’s like I can be—I wouldn’t say I’m in-your-face, but I’m assertive, I’m active—you can feel quite vulnerable at times.

“You could also say that being one of the few women in my field is what has given me a wonderful platform. I’ve always found that I could help make a difference to girls and other women, and that has been a big motivator for me. Even if I occasionally have trepidation or hesitation to do something, I tell myself, if I don’t do it, then other women may not do it.

“I co-founded Women in Data Science in 2015. I sometimes call it a revenge conference, but that’s a bit too dramatic. It came from the frustration of, for the umpteenth time, seeing a conference with only male speakers, and the response to it being the same as well: “We looked everywhere, but we just couldn’t find any women.” We thought, You know what? We’ll just set up a conference showcasing outstanding women doing outstanding work—simply saying, “You’re looking for women? Here they are.” We sold out and realized we’d hit the nerve; it was almost as if people had been waiting for this to happen. Now we have 500 ambassadors and 230 events and reach tens of thousands of girls and women across the globe each year. I’ve never been part of a conference with such energy and so much positivity. We’re not lamenting the state of things for women; we’re celebrating outstanding individuals. And it feels so good.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Portrait of Jisha Menon

Jisha Menon

Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies

“In India, performance is part of the everyday life of the city. You can’t escape it – whether it’s cinema, visual performances or your cab driver bursting into song. I started acting at a young age and have always been in love with reading, particularly Shakespeare and Chekhov. As I grew up, I wanted to understand drama, not just as words on a page, but also as stories carried by actors’ bodies. Even when a theater is dark and empty, it is still a very affective space.

“At Stanford, many students use performance to draw attention to issues of social inequality. Our students’ commitment to social justice moves me – they’re what I love the most about Stanford. Many students are drawn to my classes because they’re interested in questions of racial, gender or queer justice. Their creativity pushes the boundaries, and although one might assume that studying theater and performance studies means you emerge as an actor, the field is a good training ground for a variety of careers, including law, consulting and education. The humanities-based curriculum develops students’ abilities in critical thinking and writing, leadership, stage presence and collaboration, all essential skills for a range of careers.”

Lauren Davenport

Associate Professor of Political Science

“My mom is black and my dad is white, and I grew up closely with both sides of my family so I experienced a blend of cultures. I know that other people of mixed-race backgrounds have different experiences, though, and I’m interested in understanding the identities and political attitudes of people who belong to multiple racial worlds. Consider, for instance, the 2016 election where we saw a majority of whites vote for Donald Trump and a majority of minorities vote for Hillary Clinton. This political party divide has been present for the last several presidential elections, but where do people who belong to both the majority and minority racial categories fall? The mixed-race population is the fastest-growing youth group in the nation, and most people who label themselves with multiple racial groups are under the age of 18. Mixed-race individuals often have more of a choice in how they identify. I want to understand how people grapple with their identities and the relationship between these identities and their political behavior.

“I studied political science as an undergraduate. I’m not the first person in my family to go to college, but I am the first to get an advanced degree. There aren’t any other academics in my family, so the idea of getting a PhD in political science was foreign to us. One of my professors encouraged me to pursue graduate research in political science and to consider academia as a possible career – which I did. I’m now grateful for the opportunity to be researching and teaching on topics that I’m so invested in. In my work, I draw upon evidence that includes census data, national surveys, experiments and interviews. Our country is profoundly polarized on issues of race, ethnicity and immigration, and hearing people share their encounters and opinions inspires rigorous research of these fraught topics.”

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.”

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.”

Gabriella Harari

Gabriella Harari

Assistant Professor of Communication

“I thought I’d be a librarian. I was born and raised in Miami, which is a diverse place full of colorful characters and cultures, and I basically spent my childhood there reading books.

“My dad was born in Israel. He’s a jeweler and a small business owner, and he worked seven days a week to support our family of five. My mom was born in Colombia. She was a stay-at-home mom while I was growing up. When I was in high school and old enough to help babysit my younger siblings, she went and got her college degree. I get a lot of my academic ambition from her. She always made it seem like anything was possible, if you just focused on getting a good education.

“In college, I double-majored in psychology and humanities. I’ve been keeping journals since I was 5, and I’ve always been fascinated by the self – how it gets expressed and how it changes over time. Today I focus on the way digital technologies—like social media platforms and smartphones—impact these processes. Those tools, by their design, do the same thing journaling does: they’re mediating and recording our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. But they’re not typically giving us access to the insights. That’s an underlying motivation in my work: I’m always trying to think about ways that we could harness everyday technologies as a kind of digital diary. I’m trying to figure out how we can use data to give something back to people, to promote self-discovery and behavior change.

“The narrative around tech can be so negative, as though we just have to deal with all the ways our gadgets are affecting us. I think that there’s more of an empowerment angle in there. We can use these tools to change ourselves in desired ways, to meet our own self-improvement goals. I try to figure out how to do that.”

Ami Bhatt

Assistant Professor of Medicine (Hematology) and of Genetics

“When I was really young, I was fascinated by space exploration. I thought about becoming an astronaut because it allows you to go out and discover the unknown. In my current work with genetics and medicine, I get to do that, but instead of looking outward, I look within. During my undergrad years I became obsessed with the idea of studying how bacteria and viruses can impact our health when I learned that they could be associated with and cause cancer. After completing a PhD in biochemistry and finishing my medical training, I began a postdoctoral fellowship, which was right around the time that genomics became a fast-growing field. Suddenly, the ability to sequence genomes was at our fingertips. This lent itself well to better understanding the organisms that live within us and on us. While I was still a postdoc, I put together the genome of a newly discovered bacteria. There was something special about being part of such groundbreaking work. That’s when I decided I wanted to go after discovering new organisms, understanding what they do, and applying this knowledge to medicine. We’re discovering new things in our lab every day, so it’s an opportunity to fulfill my desire for a sense of wonderment while working to improve medicine and help people.

“There’s always an opportunity to learn when you work with people. While caring for cancer patients, I’ve had the opportunity to see how people savor and appreciate each day. I try to take the sadness and stress that comes with the job and channel it into motivation and appreciation for life. Being by my patients’ sides as they go through difficult times has allowed me to see some of the best of human nature, which I value deeply. It’s important to me that my trainees understand that there are people and stories behind the samples that we evaluate, so that they can be emotionally connected to our mission. Everyone here is intellectually committed to the work, but that can only take you so far. Having an emotional connection to your work allows you to be truly invested in what you do. For me, another component of that investment is a desire to engage the entire world in our efforts in order to improve global health equity. I think we have a duty to push the forefront while also bringing up the rear by sharing our discoveries and collaborating with researchers from around the world.”

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.”

Portrait of Ge Wang

Ge Wang

Associate Professor of Music

“Anything worth designing is worth designing beautifully. There’s an art to shaping our world in a way that’s both useful and human. Only recently have I realized that my work with music and technology is unified by design, specifically a notion of ‘artful design.’ We can’t simply ‘smush’ disciplines together and hope things work out – and design is how we fit all the elements together in the right place and order to create something new. Stanford is a place where creative things happen naturally at the intersection of many different disciplines, and such an intersection is where I work and play. And the weather here is pretty good, too.

“It’s not enough to follow your interests – you have to fight for them. Back when I was an undergrad, there was no academic program that combined computers, music and design. Even as I pursued it out of interest, it was with constant doubt in my mind: ‘By doing this, am I shooting myself in the foot, or ultimately making myself unemployable?’ The one reassurance was knowing that if I were to ‘fail,’ it would be without regret because it was done out of solid interest. Looking back, life feels like a feedback loop, and I seem to be living what I am working on. And much like the book I’m currently writing, and the design process itself, I have no idea how it will turn out – and along the way, it’s enjoyable, sometimes agonizing, but always filled with curiosity.”

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.”