Last May when Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced the university’s long-range vision to the Academic Council, he laid out initiatives that bolster the university’s mission of research and education to advance human welfare in a rapidly changing world.

With just six months since that launch, activities are taking shape to realize the goals of transforming learning, empowering discovery and creativity, and accelerating solutions for our planet, our health and society.

“In creating our long-range vision, faculty-led teams distilled 2,800 ideas from across our community into specific plans that will accelerate our impact and transform education. The vision can be summed up in one sentence: Fueled by optimism, ingenuity and a sense of responsibility, we seek to accelerate our purposeful impact in the world,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “Our faculty leaders are now implementing activities to fulfill this vision of what the future means for Stanford and what Stanford can mean to the world.”

Funding discovery and solutions

Funding for research opportunities can be an incentive to take risks on bold new ideas and spark new collaborations – an approach with a history of success in Stanford’s interdisciplinary institutes and one that several programs arising from the long-range planning process have recently launched. The vision initiatives are offering a variety of approaches for seed funding for individual researchers and teams.

To build capacity around problem-focused research, Stanford Social X-Change awarded 10 faculty members with Impact Lab Design Fellowships to engage in a year-long effort to explore the social problem, generate and strengthen partnerships and navigate operations related to launching impact labs. The fellows include Lisa Blaydes, professor of political science, who is exploring the barriers to women’s labor force participation in Gulf countries. Jeff Hancock, professor of communication, is focused on the effects of technology on the well-being of young people to better inform the public debate, policies and practices. Other fellows are tackling social issues from sexual harassment to gentrification, food insecurity and economic inequality.

“This is a remarkable opportunity to get support to develop meaningful partnerships and to build the infrastructure needed to address social problems. Developing partnerships takes time and dedication and is not often supported through other mechanisms,” said Lisa Goldman Rosas, assistant professor of health research and policy and of medicine, who is exploring the links between food insecurity, nutrition and underlying issues of structural inequality with obesity-related health outcomes among low-income, minority populations.

This quarter Social X-Change also accepted applications for start-up funding for Impact Labs that will drive evidence-based approaches to social problems. Faculty who are working with collaborators, including policymakers and nonprofit organizations, will receive funding to co-create solutions that advance the frontiers of research and have a practical impact.

Likewise, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) has already funded 54 seed grants to faculty teams that span all seven schools at Stanford. The projects include ones that focus on improving social mobility, developing brain-computer interfaces for stroke rehabilitation and safeguarding drinking water.

Stanford HAI is also accepting applications for research collaborations through their Hoffman-Yee research grants, which will fund teams of four to six researchers addressing significant scientific, technical or societal challenges requiring an interdisciplinary team to make substantial progress. The six funded teams will each address aspects of the HAI vision of addressing the human impact of AI, augmenting human capabilities and advancing machine intelligence inspired by humans.

Other initiatives that will start funding new projects in the coming months include the program focused on Data Science, which intends to fund projects where the development of new data science methods may help to solve a scientific or societal challenge. Similarly, the Changing Human Experience will support innovative faculty research projects in the humanities and affiliated social sciences. These Cultivating Humanities Grants are taking applications now and will announce recipients winter quarter.

Supporting students

Programs focused on students and trainees have also begun providing new opportunities for research and education. One such effort, the Stanford Science Fellows program, arose out of the Natural World initiative as a way of incubating new directions in foundational scientific research. The program aims to attract a diverse community of independent postdoctoral scholars driven by a sense of wonder about the natural world. The inaugural group of fellows will be announced in the spring.

“The Stanford Science Fellows Program will empower the best postdocs from around the world to conduct their own independent, blue-sky research,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society. “SSF postdocs will have access to faculty, researchers, and facilities at Stanford’s schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, and Earth, as well as at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. We hope that many of these fellows will also contribute to diversifying the professoriate in the natural sciences at Stanford and beyond. They will all receive the mentorship and training they need to go on to become successful faculty, leading their own research agendas and labs.”

The Data Science initiative also has applications open for postdoctoral fellows and will be announcing its graduate student scholars this winter. These students from across academic departments will spend half of their time taking on new challenges in data science and bringing what they have learned back to their home departments. The initiative also piloted a summer program, Data Science for Social Good, that trained students to find data-driven solutions to pressing societal challenges.

In addition to these new educational opportunities, two design teams are examining the way Stanford educates undergraduates. One team has proposed a new first-year curriculum for all freshmen and a second is working to realign majors to make it possible for all students to choose any major. Those teams held faculty town halls this fall to gather feedback and solidify plans, and Faculty Senate committees are now reviewing the proposals.

Sparking conversation

The campus community has been invited to give feedback and participate in conversations sparked by some of the new initiatives. The Office of the Vice President for the Arts is currently hosting in-person focus groups and making an online questionnaire available to parties interested in the Arts & Culture Incubator, which will serve as a focal point for arts practice on campus.

The feedback from the focus groups and questionnaires will inform the development of the program, which in turn will support Stanford as a home for art and artists and a leader in thinking about the future of culture.

“Community input is critical, as we design and ultimately launch the arts incubator,” said Harry Elam, senior vice provost for education and vice president for the arts. “We want the arts incubator to complement and augment all the diverse arts work currently taking place on campus. It should fundamentally support the projects and practice of Stanford arts faculty. Adopting the pioneering spirit native to Stanford, the incubator will ultimately become a space for meaningful collaboration, for interdisciplinary arts exploration, for cutting-edge experimentation. It should help propel arts practice and research into the future and further establish Stanford as an arts destination.”

Other programs that are seeking community input include a reimagining of White Plaza into a Town Center with a focus on intellectual vitality, social engagement and community-building. That group will be holding pilots for community engagement and sharing updates on planning in the coming months.

Although some of these conversations have looked inward – gathering ideas from the Stanford community – others are trying to foster dialogs around global topics. To this end, Stanford HAI recently held a multi-day conference and series of workshops on AI ethics, policy and governance that convened more than 600 experts and leaders from academia, industry, civil society and government to explore critical and emerging issues related to understanding and guiding AI’s human and societal impact. Likewise, the Ethics, Technology and Society Integrative Hub has been partnering on a series of moderated lectures to highlight ethical issues facing society, including a recent talk about ethics in scientific discovery.

Continued planning

Several teams are continuing to build out their initiatives. In parallel to developing the Innovative Medicines Accelerator, the university entered into an agreement to establish Alexandria LaunchLabs at Stanford Research Park to help expand the vibrant life sciences community. That facility will support early-stage life science companies with turnkey laboratory and office space and entrepreneurial support. The Sustainability Initiative will be guided by faculty shaping the most impactful model to deepen and translate research on climate change solutions, and the Transformative Learning initiative is bringing together multidisciplinary faculty teams focused on advancing learning through the mix of expertise, tools, product development support and a strong network of partners.

Additional teams will roll out information in the coming months including addressing affordability issues, ways to increase a sense of belonging among the campus community, guiding Stanford’s global engagement and expanding staff professional development.

This is one of a series of Stanford Report stories on the vision for Stanford’s future that emerged from the university’s long-range planning process. Read all stories here.