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Reasons for optimism in 2021

A letter from Dean Jennifer Widom

Dear engineering graduate students,


Welcome to winter quarter. Whether you’re on campus or many miles away, the SoE faculty and staff remain committed to helping you succeed on your academic journey and we wish you the very best as your studies get underway once again.

Last year was undoubtedly one of the most difficult in any of our lifetimes. Unfortunately, the first couple of weeks of 2021 have also been very difficult, and it’s clear that many challenges lay ahead. However, with this first letter of the new year to all of you, I want to share some of the thoughts and projects that bring me hope and optimism.

First, our people. Every member of our community — students, faculty, and staff — can be proud of the fact that we spend our days making meaningful contributions to learning and education, and to world-changing research that addresses some of the many challenges we are now facing. One of my favorite parts of being dean is the window it gives me into the extraordinary breadth of high-impact activities in our school and across the university. Although I’m not on campus much these days, I’m in constant communication with students, faculty, and staff, and I continue to be inspired by the groundbreaking research across so many areas, along with many innovations in teaching and learning.

I’ve also seen over the past several years, further heightened in recent months, our community’s dedication to nurturing a diverse and inclusive environment. We’ve certainly made mistakes, and we still have an enormous amount to do. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the school, and indeed the entire university, is committed to making sure that our environment is welcoming and inclusive of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and beliefs. I look forward to sharing an update with you in next month’s letter about some of our new and existing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Finally, I want to share two ongoing projects that I’m particularly excited about:

Planning is well underway for a new pair of buildings we’re currently referring to as the “Bridge Complex.” These buildings will form a vibrant interdisciplinary hub bridging the School of Engineering and the School of Humanities & Sciences, in a phenomenal location at the corner of Lomita Mall and Jane Stanford Way, right on the Oval. The theme of the complex includes foundational research and education in data and computation, and bringing this work to bear on societal challenges and on scholarly discovery across many disciplines. The complex will house faculty and their research groups from Computer Science and Statistics, several initiatives and centers, and a new home for three popular undergraduate majors: Computer Science, Mathematical & Computational Science (MCS), and Symbolic Systems. Some of you who are early-stage PhD students will find a place in this exciting new complex during your years at Stanford.

Those of you who have been on campus over the past few days may have noticed construction beginning in the Science & Engineering Quad (SEQ). Preparation is underway for a permanent, large-scale art installation by artist Alicja Kwade. The work was selected by a broad committee of faculty, students, and staff from SEQ and the university. Without giving away too many details, it will be a creative, eye-catching, playful piece based on stones from every continent. We expect the outdoor art will become a centerpiece of the SEQ, enjoyed by our own community while also attracting people from across campus and beyond.

I want to acknowledge again the challenges we’re all facing. I encourage you, again, to take care of yourselves and make use of Stanford and other resources, some of which are listed below. But amid all the challenges and obstacles, I also hope you can take pride in our tremendous community and bright future — one that brings together diverse individuals from across disciplines to learn, expand scientific and engineering knowledge in the world, and work toward solving issues that now seem more urgent and pressing than ever.

Jennifer Widom

Health and Wellness Resources

  • The Virtual Well-Being site offers of resources available to you virtually, including coaching and counseling sessions.
  • Well-Being at Stanford similarly provides resources to keep you informed and empowered as you journey through the academic year.
  • The Office for Religious Life can be a support when dealing with grief and loss (and it’s not just for students who identify as religious).