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

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.”

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.”

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.”

Allison Okamura sitting in her lab

Allison Okamura

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

“I’m always looking for ways to make connections between humans and science. I’m currently studying the development of an artificial sense of touch for humans, particularly for its applications in medicine and rehabilitation. I’ve always been interested in human-machine interactions, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be an engineer. When I first entered college, I was considering becoming a lawyer because I like working with people. But then I took an introductory mechanical engineering class and fell in love with the field when I discovered how technology allows you to directly improve people’s lives.

“Part of our research efforts to improve the future of human health and quality of life is developing minimally invasive medical robots for pediatric patients. These robots demonstrate enormous potential because they can precisely execute difficult maneuvers. Although some successful surgical robots exist, they’re too large for use on small children in certain procedures. One idea we’re pursuing is personalized surgical robots. These are made possible through 3D printing, medical imaging and virtual modeling — which would allow mechanical engineers and surgeons to work together to create robots customized for an individual’s body and needs. These tailored machines would minimize the invasiveness of operations and advance the precision of procedures, significantly reducing patients’ recovery time and risk of infection.

“To introduce robotics to groups that would otherwise be underrepresented in our field, my lab runs an outreach program to conduct introductory engineering sessions with small groups of students. We demonstrate what robots can do outside of the movies and show them what a diverse team can look like in practice. I strive to make my lab a good role model for diversity, and outreach allows me to share my vision for inclusion with more of the world, as well as provides the opportunity to positively influence younger generations.”

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.”

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.”

Image credit: Holly Hernandez

Sean Reardon

Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education

“I always imagined myself as a teacher or a professor. I liked the idea of it. My dad used to call me ‘doctor’ when I was a little kid, as in PhD, doctor. I suppose that’s because I was always trying to teach people things.

“Over time, my interests shifted. By the time I entered college, I didn’t expect to go to graduate school in education or to become a professor in that field. After my undergraduate studies, I was all set to begin a doctorate in comparative literature. But the summer before I was supposed to begin, I got cold feet and decided to give teaching a formal try. I had been a student for so long, and beginning a doctorate was just signing up for more time as a student, studying theories and abstract ideas. I wondered what the experience might be like on the other side, with much more practical applications. I found a position as a volunteer teacher on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, in a very poor county. They needed someone to teach English, so on a few weeks’ notice I moved out there and ended up teaching high school students for two years. It felt real in some way that mattered. After that, I left to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but within months I missed teaching. I scrambled to find another teaching position, and I got a job at a Quaker school in a wealthy part of New Jersey, where I taught high school math for a couple years. Although I was in a completely different setting, I loved this teaching job as much as the last. I felt that same sense of making a difference in people’s lives.

“My experience taught me that you can’t plan it all out. Doing the thing that’s interesting to you now usually leads you somewhere that’s interesting in the future, even if you don’t know where exactly that will be. My experience of seeing the two Americas—some of the poorest and richest parts of the country—naturally made me think a whole lot about inequality and the different kinds of opportunities kids have growing up in different places. When I finally went back to graduate school, I got a doctorate in education with a focus on race and inequality. I’ve been doing that kind of work ever since. A recent project I’m proud of is the launch of a new interactive data tool that allows users to generate charts, maps, and downloadable PDFs to illustrate and compare educational opportunity data from individual schools, districts, or countries. The tool is part of the Educational Opportunity Project, an initiative I direct in support of efforts to reduce educational disparities throughout the United States.”

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.”

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.”

Portrait of Nadeem Hussain

Nadeem Hussain

Associate Professor of Philosophy

“This past year, I took physics, math and chemistry courses with freshmen. It’s much easier the second time around – I’ve figured out how to learn! When you spend your time as a teacher carefully trying to explain things to others, it makes you better at understanding others’ explanations. Indeed, one of my professors last year taught me physics when I was a Stanford undergraduate. These classes may seem like they don’t have much to do with philosophy, but to make real progress on some central philosophical questions we need to look carefully at the interconnections between philosophy, science and mathematics.

“I think philosophy has often not been taught effectively. We often throw students in the deep end of the swimming pool by giving them difficult classics or hard contemporary research articles. More students would be interested in the humanities if they were given courses that met them where they are. I’ve also been studying non-Western intellectual traditions in the hopes of redesigning my classes so that they do a better job of assessing why we’ve ended up doing the kind of philosophy we do. We need to give our students the tools of rational, critical thinking so that they can engage in difficult conversations even when their disagreements are generated by deep differences in background worldviews.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Jennifer DeVere Brody

Professor of Theater and Performance Studies

“I come from a long line of academics, and that history has been hard-earned. My parents met in graduate school in 1959, and because they were an interracial couple, their marriage would have been illegal had they not been in a northern state. After they graduated, my father’s advisor reached out to a university through the ‘old boys’ network’ because this was before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had been established and before jobs were advertised publicly. My parents were told that the institution had met their quota for Jews and wouldn’t hire my mother because they didn’t accept black professors. Fast-forward 30 years, and they both got jobs at that same institution. Now that I’m the director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, I get to drive the mission to increase faculty diversity and carry on their legacy. As a black queer scholar, I don’t often see my identity reflected in the faculty at Stanford, but we’re working to make this a place where everyone of all faiths and persuasions feels welcome and can pursue their interests, where we can learn from one another and have truly robust intellectual discussions.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t explored and stayed open to new conversations, possibilities and life paths. As an undergrad, I was a Victorian studies major, and early in my career I wanted to be a manuscripts librarian. One of the first fellowships I was awarded was at the British Library, where Marx used to study. While working there, I discovered 75 plays about black women and slavery in the 19th century and these ended up becoming an integral part of my first book project. About 15 years ago, I switched from English to theater and performance studies, which looks at a wider range of material than just the printed word. I’ve always loved thinking about the ways in which art is a matter of social justice. At one point, I thought I might want to be a museum curator, but I’m very glad I became a professor; I like the variety, the new questions that emerge and the opportunity to work with Stanford’s number-one asset – its brilliant students.”