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Mark Shwartz, News Service (650) 723-9296; e-mail:

Stanford launches campus-wide Environmental Initiative  

Climate change, vanishing species, dwindling water supplies --three of the many ecological uncertainties facing our planet in the coming century.  

To respond to these challenges, Stanford officials have launched the Environmental Initiative -- a cross-campus effort designed to bring the broad resources of the faculty to bear on

the environment and raise the university's visibility as a world leader in environmental research and education.

The main elements of the initiative -- announced this week by he Provost's Committee on Environmental Science, Engineering and Policy -- include:

• The creation of a centralized website that provides quick access to the vast array of environmental resources atStanford; and

• The proposed establishment of a new interdisciplinary doctoral program in environmental studies.  

Stanford supports a great collection of faculty, staff and students with professional interests in the environment," says Peter M. Vitousek, the Clifford G. Morrison Professor in Population and Resource Studies, who chairs the provost's


"However, many faculty have begun to feel that a lack of structure, especially a lack of coordination, inhibits what we as an institution can do to address environmental challenges," Vitousek adds.  

Early initiative  

The Environmental Initiative has its roots in the mid-1990s, when then-Provost Condoleezza Rice appointed a committee chaired by former university President Donald Kennedy to evaluate the benefits of integrating environmental research on campus.  

Kennedy's report, issued in February 2000, listed a number of research areas where Stanford is particularly strong including environmental law, population studies, geochemistry, climate change, agricultural sustainability, energy policy, biodiversity and world health. The report called for a "major initiative" to create a coherent program that could make Stanford "a national leader in providing solutions for environmental problems."  

Current Provost John Etchemendy then charged a new committee, headed by Vitousek, with the task of suggesting ways to reorganize environmental activities on campus. The result was the Stanford Environmental Initiative a collaboration of faculty and staff from the schools of Earth Sciences, Engineering, Law, Medicine, and Humanities and Sciences.  

"A global transition is under way in which the world is becoming more crowded, more consuming and more connected," write initiative members on their website.

"Meeting the needs of a population of 10 or 11 billion people at the end of this century implies greater production and consumption of goods and services, and increased demands for energy, food, land and materials," they continue. "One goal of faculty, students and researchers at Stanford is that this also be a transition to sustainability, in which the needs of the human population are met while protecting and restoring the planet's life-support systems -- including our ecological, air, water and climate systems."

New website

With principal financial backing from the schools of Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences, as well as the provost's office and the Institute for International Studies (IIS), committee members Jeffrey Koseff and Pamela Matson were able to spearhead development of the Environmental

Science, Engineering and Policy website a  

"The new web portal illustrates the incredible breadth and depth of environmental research at Stanford," says Koseff, professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the School of Engineering.

The website -- officially launched this week provides background information on more than 56 faculty involved in 15 areas of interdisciplinary study.

"The portal is one way to make Stanford's environmental focus stronger -- for ourselves and for the outside world," says Matson, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies and IIS faculty member.

Graduate studies


The provost's committee also announced plans to establish the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources (IPER). If approved by the Faculty Senate on Oct. 25, IPER will offer the first cross-school Ph.D. and joint M.S. degree program designed to achieve an integrated understanding of environmental processes and problems.

Robert B. Dunbar, professor of geological and environmental sciences, is expected to be named IPER's first director.

"Given Stanford's strength in so many environmental disciplines, and the willingness of so many faculty to come together to do something new and powerful, it seems the time is right to start this new program," says Dunbar, associate chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.  

The proposed graduate program also has received strong backing from IIS and the leadership of the schools of Earth Sciences, Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, and Law. More than 40 faculty participated in the development of the program and have agreed to be involved, says Matson, who led the effort to establish the new curriculum.

While other institutions -- including the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Harvard and Duke -- have started similar graduate programs, none have the interdisciplinary reach of IPER, adds Matson.  

"I do not know of another university that casts as wide a net in gathering engaged faculty to a single mission of graduate education," she says.  

Under the proposal, students enrolled in the schools of Law, Business and Medicine would be eligible for the joint M.S. program. Those interested in pursing a master's degree in environment and resources should expect to take an extra academic year to complete the course requirements.  

Stanford could begin admitting graduate students to IPER as early as Autumn Quarter 2002, adding five or six students a year with a maximum projected enrollment of 25 to 30 students.  

A $1.5 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, along with support from the Goldman Foundation, is helping to launch the program by providing financial support for IPER student fellowships.


By Mark Shwartz & Michelle Jesperson

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