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First impressions as I join Stanford Engineering as its ninth dean

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September 2014

It has been nearly three months since Stanford President John Hennessy announced that I would be the ninth dean of the School of Engineering. Although I am not new to Stanford – I grew up on the Stanford campus and, after some time back east, returned here as a faculty member in 2002 – I am new to the School of Engineering. Since being named dean, I have devoted my time to introducing myself to the school and learning as much as I can about it.

By the time classes start next week, I hope to have met with almost 90 percent of the faculty one-on-one.  I also plan to have met with most of the staff in work group Q&A meetings. Spending my summer meeting and talking with the SoE faculty and staff has been a great learning experience and great fun.

Some common themes have emerged from my many conversations. Certainly the most common sentiment expressed is that SoE is in great shape, and we all have Jim Plummer to thank for that. Under his leadership there has been a tremendous renewal of the physical infrastructure of the school. There has also been a tremendous renewal of the faculty under Jim’s leadership. More than 60 percent of current faculty members were hired in the past 15 years.

We face challenges going forward. The tremendous surge in undergraduate enrollment in engineering is straining resources in several departments, most notably ME and CS. We have concerns about the stability of federal funding and challenges in supporting some of our critical technical infrastructure for experimental research. And we always need more space.

As I’ve talked with the faculty of the school, two things have really struck me. The first is the quality of the young faculty. Their broad vision, civic mindedness and raw brainpower are a wonderful harbinger for our future. They are the future of the school. The second thing that has really struck me is how committed faculty are to having an impact on society by contributing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Some of the research is directly attacking the challenges of today. Other research is laying the foundation so we can solve the problems of tomorrow.

Stanford’s School of Engineering has a decades-long tradition of changing the world. I look forward to working with all of you in the years to come as we continue that tradition.


Persis Drell

Frederick Emmons Terman Dean, Stanford School of Engineering 
James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Physics, Stanford University