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An update on School of Engineering diversity initiatives

A letter from Dean Jennifer Widom
Spheres in the Engineering quad

Dear Stanford Engineering graduate students,


For many years it has been one of the School of Engineering’s highest priorities to increase the diversity of our student population and to nurture a culture that’s welcoming and inclusive of students from all backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. We’ve redoubled those efforts over the past year, and in this month’s letter I’d like to update you on some of our new and existing initiatives.

Many if not all of our existing programs are “high contact” in that they involve meeting with students face-to-face, supporting students on campus, or finding ways to bring new and prospective graduate students to campus for opportunities to conduct research, take courses, or become acquainted with Stanford. The pandemic forced us to pivot to a virtual format, but thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the staff in our Equity and Inclusion Initiatives group, along with faculty and staff from throughout the school, we were still able to achieve a remarkable level of success in a number of areas.

I’ll name just two: Last summer, we “brought” 20 students to campus (virtually) for our annual SURF program, which helps prepare undergraduates from across the country for research and graduate school. Despite the change in format, we received terrific feedback from student and faculty participants. Also, in partnership with the Black Engineering Graduate Student Association (BEGSA), we had another successful SERGE program, in which 65 prospective graduate students had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day realities of graduate student life. In a more typical year SERGE hosts about 20 participants, and this year for the first time one of our departments, Management Science & Engineering, worked with BEGSA to hold its own SERGE program.

I’m also thrilled by the enthusiasm among our entire community for expanding our DEI efforts. In the Dean’s Office, we’ve hired a new staff member to focus on our undergraduate population, working closely with engineering diversity clubs and organizations, and managing some of our existing programs. A group of staff, including some of those who work most directly with students, have created a program called BRIDGES that brings together individuals from across the school to learn about DEI issues in the workplace and implement training and educational programs.

Each of our nine departments have launched DEI-specific committees to come up with new ideas and hold themselves accountable for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion within their department. These committees are collaborating with partners throughout the school and the university — students, faculty, and staff — to expand the number and variety of anti-bias and related trainings, improve the overall student experience, and identify and implement strategies that will enable us to reach a greater diversity of prospective graduate students. The departmental committees have begun working together to share and document best practices that will help guide the further development of programs, initiatives, and efforts.

In addition, we’re working in new and expanded ways with you, our graduate students. In 2019, the school launched the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee (DGSAC), a student organization, as a way to increase transparency and communication between graduate students and school leadership, and to inform decision-making. Last year, we allocated funds to DGSAC to use for new activities, events, and programs around antiracism that will benefit graduate students. They have decided to use a portion of those funds to recognize fellow graduate students who have gone above and beyond in their outreach and mentorship of peers. DGSAC has formed a number of subcommittees focused on areas essential to our ability to build an ever more inclusive culture, including the all-important relationship between advisors and advisees.

Increasing the diversity of our population and improving inclusion in SoE will not happen overnight, but we’re committed to investing further. In fact, I’m very pleased to let you know that we recently received a significant donation from an organization that will help us meaningfully expand two of our successful outreach programs, SURF and SERGE, and some of our other initiatives. This organization is also offering external scholarship opportunities for incoming Stanford master’s students who identify as Black. I’ll continue to update you as we move forward, and I welcome your feedback and ideas in the meantime on how we can make progress on this essential goal.

Jennifer Widom