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February 8, 2012

Stanford concludes transformative campaign

The Stanford Challenge fundraising campaign raises $6.2 billion for a new model of research and teaching on the environment, human health, international affairs and other issues.

A key priority for The Stanford Challenge was to reduce traditional disciplinary and organizational boundaries to bring together experts from all across campus. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

Stanford University today announced the successful conclusion of The Stanford Challenge, having raised $6.2 billion to seek solutions to global problems and educate leaders for a more complex world.

The five-year fundraising campaign was launched in October 2006 with a goal of $4.3 billion.  The effort ended Dec. 31, with the final tally of gifts completed this month.

Although the campus-wide campaign benefited every school and every part of the university, a key priority for The Stanford Challenge was to reduce traditional disciplinary and organizational boundaries to bring together experts from all across campus.

"The Stanford Challenge has transformed the way our faculty and students work," said Stanford President John L. Hennessy.  "We've undertaken a new model in higher education, with experts from different fields joining together not only in research, but also in teaching.  This kind of collaboration has enabled Stanford to assume a larger role in addressing global problems.  We are already making a greater difference."

The Stanford Challenge provided funding for:

  • More than 130 new endowed faculty appointments, including innovative professorships that enable scholars to operate across school and department boundaries
  • More than 360 new fellowships for graduate students, including traditional school-based fellowships as well as new fellowships to encourage interdisciplinary study
  • $27 million in seed grants that allow faculty and students from different fields to team up on innovative research
  • More than $250 million for need-based undergraduate scholarships
  • 38 new or renovated buildings that enhance the student experience; provide modern, sustainable and leading-edge space for teaching and research; and encourage experts from multiple fields to work side by side on problem-solving

A new website with results of the campaign, including highlights by initiative and by school, is now available at

The campaign attracted an unprecedented number of donors and gifts, with more than 166,000 alumni, parents, students and friends making more than 560,000 gifts.  More than 10,000 volunteers also played a pivotal role, reaching out to alumni and others to win support. Also noteworthy is that more than 80 percent of campaign commitments – totaling more than $5 billion – has already been fulfilled.

"The response from the extended Stanford family was tremendous.  This was a community joining together for something they believe in," Hennessy said.

The campaign also allowed Stanford to significantly enhance its financial aid program. Stanford remains one of the few private American universities to offer need-blind undergraduate admission, even during challenging economic times.

Seeking solutions

The Stanford Challenge began with the premise that many of society's most formidable problems do not present themselves in conventional academic categories around which universities have been organized for centuries.  Rather, issues like climate change, cancer and global security have become too complex to be addressed by scholars working in silos; they require a multidisciplinary approach. 

Stanford's strength in a wide range of fields created a rare opportunity for just this kind of collaboration.  Stanford had realized this potential in certain areas over the years, for example by creating a Center on International Security and Cooperation that blended experts from political science with those from engineering and physics.  The Stanford Challenge set out to make such teamwork commonplace rather than an exception – a departure from business as usual in higher education.

Major initiatives within the campaign marshaled funds, people and facilities from all over campus to focus on issues in human health, environmental sustainability, international peace and security, the arts, K-12 education and other areas. These efforts have resulted in measurable advances, including:

  • The formation of a new field known as "optogenetics," which uses pulses of light to manipulate brain cells and provides enormous potential to understand conditions such as depression and Alzheimer's disease
  • A new biodegradable building material that could save trees and reduce landfill
  • Endowed funding for a training program that exposes leaders from countries in transition to a blend of economic, political and social development
  • A baby warmer that costs less than 1 percent of a traditional incubator
  • Software that factors the value of natural systems into land-use decisions, now in use in several countries throughout the world
  • A new quadrangle housing much of the engineering school and replacing outdated buildings, many of which were 40 to 50 years old
  • A multi-year collaboration with the Chinese government that examines the many obstacles faced by students from poor rural households, such as anemia and intestinal worms
  • A data-driven approach to K-12 education policy that is helping inform the decisions of legislators, superintendents, school boards and other policy makers
  • A new concert hall and extensive arts programming that expands the role of creativity and the arts in the university's educational and public offerings

"One of the things that has made Stanford a wonderful place to do this sort of work is the interdisciplinary environment that is available here," said Professor Karl Deisseroth, a physician and bioengineer who pioneered optogenetics.  He has worked closely with people like Professor Mark Schnitzer, a physicist and biologist.  "Stanford's innovative lab facilities and research seed grants helped us to develop this technology and to spread it and help other people use it," Deisseroth said. 

All seven of Stanford's schools participated in and benefited from the campaign.  New centers and institutes forged connections between them, such as the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, and the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance. Existing institutes were bolstered by transformative gifts, such as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Traditional departments and existing programs also were supported by The Stanford Challenge.  In every unit on campus, the campaign added significant funding for faculty appointments, graduate fellowships, buildings, research and curricula.  The depth and breadth of Stanford's strength in these traditional fields remain the foundation of scholarship and teaching at the university and enable cross-disciplinary innovation.

Long-standing programs have been connected in new ways.  For example, said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer, "Lawyers today need to know more than how to spot problems and crunch cases.  They need tools that can be acquired only from exposure to other disciplines." As part of the process of creating what Kramer calls "the most truly interdisciplinary law program in the nation," the law school now offers 28 joint degree programs with other schools on campus, and the number of law students in joint degree programs has increased nine-fold over the past six years. 

Educating leaders

The law school was not alone in changing the student experience.  The Stanford Challenge set out to prepare every student, graduate and undergraduate to navigate a more complex world.  Just as the campaign enabled more faculty to work together in collaborative research, it also created opportunities for more students to cross-train and work in multidisciplinary teams.

For example, traditional graduate programs emphasize a single field of study, and students often depend on one faculty adviser for funding and guidance. New Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowships help students cut across traditional academic boundaries. The Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources empowers students to combine training in different fields and find the most appropriate mentors. 

For Geoff Shester, PhD '08, who combined economics and marine ecology to study commercial fisheries, the range of faculty was crucial.  "A lot of the people who are influencing current policy are housed at Stanford, and having access to that sort of expertise is why Stanford is one of the best places in the world to start to approach these problems," said Shester, who went on to serve as senior science manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium's influential Seafood Watch Program. 

Increasing financial aid

The Stanford Challenge resulted in an infusion of new scholarship support.

At the outset of The Stanford Challenge, about 40 percent of Stanford undergraduates received need-based scholarships directly from the university.  The university significantly enhanced the financial aid program during the campaign.  In addition, after the economic downturn in 2008 led to an increase in families' needs, Stanford's budget for need-based aid more than doubled. 

"Part of the greatness of this university is that it is rich, poor and middle-class," said student Michael Tubbs, '12.  Raised by a single mom in Stockton, Calif., he is the first in his family to go to college.  While at Stanford, he has worked in the White House and helped others apply to college – and yet, he said, "My story is not singular."

Approximately 50 percent of the undergraduate population now receives financial aid directly from the university. Stanford relies on the generosity of alumni, parents, friends and other donors in order to meet their needs.

Transforming the campus

Buildings created or renovated through The Stanford Challenge accelerated the flow of people and ideas and literally transformed the landscape of the Stanford campus.

State-of-the-art facilities have replaced outmoded buildings for engineering, medicine and the sciences, many of which dated back to the 1950s and 1960s. One of the largest construction projects was the creation of a four-building Science and Engineering Quad that places basic scientists side by side with medical researchers and engineers.  The campaign also funded the world's largest facility dedicated exclusively to stem cell research.

New homes for the business and law schools promote collaboration between faculty and graduate students and support revised curricula. Undergraduate students benefit from new classrooms, enhanced research space, a new dining hall and new athletic and recreational facilities that help enhance student life. In addition, a new arts district is taking shape to better integrate the arts throughout Stanford.

An interactive map in the campaign final report provides an overview of this transformative campus development.

Inspiring philanthropy

Initiatives focusing on global problems have made the university a vehicle for issue-driven philanthropy that reaches far beyond campus.

"We believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are the engines of growth to lift people out of poverty," said Bob King, MBA '60, who along with his wife, Dorothy, contributed $150 million to establish the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, based at the university's Graduate School of Business.  "And we believe Stanford's tradition of innovation coupled with a forward-thinking global bias, as well as its multidisciplinary resources, will make a real impact." 

Isaac Stein, MBA '70, JD '72, convening co-chair of the campaign, said The Stanford Challenge had repositioned the university.

"The Stanford Challenge was about the problem-solving capacity of the university and the graduates we send into the world," said Stein.  "That capacity is greater than ever.  And it's not just about the problems we have now.  It's about the future.  We have changed the way that the university can help society deal with everything that comes our way."

The following is a list of donors who made gifts totaling $50 million or more to The Stanford Challenge. 

Six anonymous donors
John Arrillaga
Anne T. and Robert M. Bass
Helen and Peter S. Bing
Estate of Dudley Chambers
Bradford Freeman
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Dorothy and Robert King
Philip H. Knight
Lorry I. Lokey
The Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund
Tashia and John P. Morgridge
Jay A. Precourt
Richard Rainwater
Ronald Spogli
Kat Taylor and Thomas Steyer
Estate of Richard W. Weiland
Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang



Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for university communications, (650) 725-5456,

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