Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 10, 2002

Pamela Matson named dean of School of Earth Sciences


  President John Hennessy has appointed Professor Pamela A. Matson as the new dean of the School of Earth Sciences. Provost John Etchemendy announced the appointment at the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday.

Pamela A. Matson accepted applause from the Faculty Senate after she was named the new dean of the School of Earth Sciences. Photo: L.A. Cicero

A member of the faculty since 1997, Matson, 49, holds three titles at Stanford: the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences (GES) and the Institute for International Studies (IIS); the Victoria P. and Roger W. Sant Director of the Earth Systems Degree Program; and co-director of the Center for Environmental Science and Policy (CESP) at IIS. In addition, she appeared to have been taken by surprise at Thursday's senate meeting when she was named one of eight new Bass University Fellows in Undergraduate Education (see story, page X).

"Pamela Matson brings a tremendous range of talents to the job of dean," Hennessy said. "She is a renowned researcher and teacher and has shown a real gift for leadership as director of the Earth Systems Program. I look forward to her contributions as dean and as part of the senior university leadership team."

Added Etchemendy: "We are extraordinarily lucky to have someone of Pam Matson's caliber stepping up to take the dean's position. She is a gifted and innovative researcher. Her leadership of the Earth Systems Program has been extraordinary and is a hint of the great things she will be doing as dean."

Law Professor Hank Greely, the senate chair, noted at the meeting that it was only a little over three years ago that his dean, Kathleen Sullivan, became the first female named dean in the history of the university. "If my arithmetic is right, we will soon have four of our seven [female] school deans ... so things have changed remarkably in a remarkably short period of time."

Dean Orr

Matson succeeds Franklin M. "Lynn" Orr Jr., who will step down on Dec. 1 after eight years as dean. A member of the petroleum engineering faculty since 1985, Orr will return to teaching and research.

"It's absolutely wonderful to follow in Lynn's footsteps," Matson said of her new appointment. "He's left the school in great shape financially and academically. My hope is that I can continue to make progress on the objectives that he and faculty in the school have set in place."

Hennessy said he will miss Orr's devotion to the School of Earth Sciences and Stanford as a whole. "He has been not only an outstanding dean, but also an important statesman for the university at large. During my two years as president and one as provost, I turned to Dean Orr for assistance on several occasions. In each case, he nobly agreed to find a way to take on yet another task for Stanford. Although we will miss him as dean, we know we will always be able to count on him as a colleague and supporter of Stanford."

Orr said he is "proud of the faculty appointments we've made in the last eight years that build on our traditional strengths and the way we've tried to reach across the university and link with colleagues in other schools through our Oceans Initiative, the new Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources (IPER) and, of course, through Earth Systems." He said Matson "will bring great perspective to this job. She is an inspiring leader and a delight to work with as well."

Etchemendy pointed out that Orr's contributions to the school "have been considerable -- in fact, they are too many to even list." At the senate meeting, he noted that over the summer he had met with more than 40 members of the School of Earth Sciences to consult about a successor. "The most common question that was asked by the members of the school was whether I had in fact done all that I could to see if Lynn would change his mind," he said.

Matson's priorities

Established in 1947, Earth Sciences is composed of three departments -- Geophysics, Petroleum Engineering and GES -- and two interdisciplinary programs: Earth Systems, headed by Matson since 2000, and IPER, which Matson helped launch last year.

"Earth Sciences is a very collegial school with lots of very smart faculty and staff who really work together well," Matson observed. "I want to sustain and maintain the high level of teaching and research that has been established here."

Among her priorities as dean will be to broaden the cross-campus Environmental Initiative launched last year and to continue the ongoing effort to strengthen the field of computational geosciences.

Matson plans to step down as director of the Earth Systems Program and as co-director of CESP, and will scale back her teaching and research, which has focused on tropical forest and agricultural ecosystems. In her work in the Amazon Basin, Mexico, Costa Rica and Hawaii, she has provided evidence that land-use change and agricultural intensification in the tropics alter biogeochemical processes and contribute to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

With a multidisciplinary team of investigators, Matson has analyzed economic drivers and biogeochemical consequences of land-use decisions in developing world agricultural systems and identified alternative practices that are economically and environmentally viable. As a member of the National Research Council (NRC) Board on Sustainable Development, she has used the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico, as one of several case studies that argue for the need for "place-based integrative analysis" -- that is, understanding the dynamics of change in social and biophysical systems as a single, integrated system through the use of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, management and policymaking.

Matson currently chairs the NRC Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability and is a member of the science advisory committee of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. She recently served as president of the Ecological Society of America.

Education and honors

Matson earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin in 1975, a master's degree in environmental science from Indiana University in 1980 and a doctorate in forest ecology from Oregon State University in 1983. She was a research scientist at the NASA/Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., from 1983 to 1993, when she became a professor of ecosystem science at the University of California-Berkeley. She remained at UC-Berkeley until joining the Stanford faculty in 1997.

Matson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1994. In 1995 she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow, and in 1997 she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

She is married to Peter Vitousek, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford. They have two children, Mat, 14, and Liana, 7. Every summer she spends time in Hawaii doing research, snorkeling, reading and hiking with her family.