School focused on climate and sustainability moves forward

In May, when Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced a school focused on climate and sustainability, he tasked Kathryn Moler, vice provost and dean of research, and Stephan Graham, dean of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, with the challenge of designing what he called a 21st-century school to address 21st-century challenges.

 

Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, is leading the effort to create a school focused on climate and sustainability along with Stephan Graham, dean of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead and Tom Shahar)

Moler and Graham are assembling an internal Blueprint Advisory Committee (BAC) and external task force that will guide them in designing a school that embeds sustainability across a Stanford education and fosters both research that is motivated by the desire to understand the world and research that is motivated by the desire for rapid impact. Moler anticipates having detailed blueprint options for the school winter quarter. The BAC will seek feedback from the extended community throughout the fall and again when detailed options are ready.

“This school will provide a home for Stanford students, staff and faculty dedicated to better understanding our planet and the threats it faces, and who are passionate about finding solutions, whether in the form of new technologies or by influencing our own behaviors,” said Moler, who is also a professor of applied physics and of physics. “I’m deeply grateful to those who have advanced our thinking to this stage and who will continue to work with me and Steve as we develop a school that meets our community’s highest aspirations.”

Moler added that she’s been encouraged by the response of students and faculty who believe the school will help Stanford increase its impact on an existential crisis and thereby help them benefit humanity. “The school’s charter will be to understand and protect nature and to serve society, but the joy, commitment and collaboration that it stimulates within the Stanford community has already begun to enrich our university culture,” Moler said.

Focused on the future

Moler and Graham are currently working with the Blueprint Advisory Committee to determine the departmental structures, cross-cutting units and educational programs needed for the school to achieve the scale of its ambition.

“We need to do more than just create departments and educational programs suited to today’s needs,” said Moler, who is also the Marvin Chodorow Professor. “The school has to be structured to address near-term threats like climate change and habitat loss while also probing fundamental questions about the Earth that will expand our knowledge and help address new challenges in the decades to come.”

After the team develops a structure that will carry the school through the coming decades, they’ll begin defining research themes to unite affiliated faculty.

Building on history

The Blueprint Advisory Committee will meet roughly monthly and will form subgroups as needed to advise on progress and issues. Moler said she doesn’t expect all members of the committee to be part of the school, but they will all continue to serve as thought leaders on climate and sustainability across the university.

This new advisory committee builds on the work of a Long-Range Vision design team, led by Lynn Hildemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Scott Fendorf, professor of Earth system science. That group put forward recommendations for how the university could weave climate and sustainability into student education, become a living laboratory for climate solutions, and conduct research and provide solutions to address challenges facing the planet.

Based on the design team report, last winter Tessier-Lavigne tasked Arun Majumdar, professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Noah Diffenbaugh, professor of Earth system science, to convene the Sustainability Structure Committee to determine a structure that would enable Stanford’s commitment to our planet to be as large as the challenges we face. Their report resulted in the decision to create a school focused on climate and sustainability.

Many members of the previous committees will serve on the new advisory committee – representing faculty from all seven schools and five interdisciplinary institutes, and encompassing expertise on climate science, on solutions implementation and in existing and emerging disciplines. In addition, Moler and Graham invited new members to boost expertise in policy and social sciences.

School focused on climate and sustainability will amplify Stanford’s impact

In his address to the Academic Council, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced a school focused on climate and sustainability that will help the university address the urgent challenges facing the planet.

 

Majumdar and Diffenbaugh said their committee had been charged with exploring different types of academic structures, and from that, they created outlines for structures like a school or a college. Now that Stanford has made the decision to go forward with a school focused on climate and sustainability, the task of the new advisory committee is to help turn those artist renderings into actual blueprints.

“It is great that this blueprint phase of the process will have so much continuity with our committee’s work,” Diffenbaugh said. “We learned so much from the Stanford community during our intensive engagement process this winter, and having so much overlap in the composition of the committees will allow the next phase of the process to keep that community input top of mind as the blueprints for the school are created.”

External guidance

New Stanford seed grants create pathways to sustainability

The sustainability initiative that arose out of the Long-Range Vision has awarded 17 seed grants providing one year of funding to faculty pursuing groundbreaking ideas for sustainability solutions.

 

In addition to internal expertise, Moler and Graham will be advised by an external task force led by Stanford alumna Akiko Yamazaki, who has been deeply engaged with other sustainability efforts at Stanford, including serving on the advisory council for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and supporting the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2).

That group includes additional Stanford alumni, trustees and thought leaders in climate and sustainability who will guide Moler and Graham on designing a school that can become a leader in climate and sustainability education, scholarship and solutions.

In addition to the task force, Moler and Graham expect to create broad focus groups to guide their efforts starting in the fall.

“I’m really excited about the potential we have as a community to do scholarship that will help create solutions for problems both locally and around the world. This school will be an important part of creating a better world for all people,” Moler said.

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