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Welcome to our School of Engineering graduate students in the 2020–21 academic year

A letter from Dean Jennifer Widom

Dear School of Engineering graduate students, 


Welcome to the 2020–21 academic year. Many of you are here on campus, but some of you are many time zones away. For those of you who are new to Stanford, the School of Engineering faculty and staff are excited to get to know you and support you in your academic journey. 

One of the things that has become especially clear to me over the past few months is the vital importance of good communication. So, in addition to your many interactions with faculty, staff, and fellow students, I’ll be sending you a letter about once a month throughout the academic year. I hope it won’t just be more clutter in your inbox — my goal is to keep you informed about what’s happening across the School of Engineering, and the important issues that are on my mind. 

This past half a year has been an extraordinarily difficult period for students, faculty, and staff alike. Some of you or your families may have been directly affected by COVID; some may have lost jobs. Many people in our community are struggling to take care of themselves and loved ones while also working and studying. Recently, those of us in the Bay Area have been enduring record-breaking heat and wildfires in the surrounding areas, compounding the complexities of living during a pandemic. 

We’ve also been experiencing devastating manifestations of this nation’s long history of anti-Black racism. What has happened in Kenosha, Rochester, Louisville, and many other cities throughout the country is deeply disturbing. Here at Stanford, including in the School of Engineering, over the past several months we’ve heard from many students, faculty, and staff, telling us of their experiences on campus and challenging us to do more to support the success and well-being of Stanford’s Black community. Some of the stories were painful to hear, but they moved us to redouble our many previously existing efforts to combat anti-Black racism with new programs and initiatives that are now underway. In addition to activities at the school level, our nine departments and ICME have been holding town halls throughout the summer, identifying opportunities and actions to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in their people and programs. In the months to come, I will share more about progress in this area.

It can be hard sometimes to look beyond our day-to-day challenges in this extraordinary time. For me, I continually remind myself that in the end our mission is to educate future leaders and advance research that has a meaningful impact on some of the world’s most urgent problems — and we have continued to deliver on that mission despite the many obstacles. At the same time, as we begin the new academic year, I urge you to take care of yourselves. Education and research are important, but physical and mental health are paramount. Take time to do things you enjoy that are away from the screen or the lab, and make use of the many Stanford resources available to you. (Some of them are listed below.)

Even though we may be more physically distant than any of us would like, I also encourage you to develop and nurture relationships with one another. Our graduate student population is incredibly diverse. Each of you brings your own experiences and expertise to Stanford, and these connections are part of what makes the graduate school experience so special. Faculty and staff can help you forge and foster these relationships. 

It’s clear that we’ll continue to grapple with many challenges in the months to come, but we’re absolutely committed to helping you navigate through them and ensuring your Stanford experience is as successful as possible. To our new Stanford students, welcome; to everyone else, welcome back. I wish you all a safe and healthy year. 

Jennifer Widom

Stanford Resources for Well-being

  • The Virtual Well-Being site offers a wide scope of resources available to you virtually, including coaching and counseling sessions. Expect updates with new resources and events as we move into fall.
  • Well-Being at Stanford provides resources to keep you informed as you go through the academic year.
  • The Office for Religious Life can be a support when dealing with grief and loss, including for students who do not identify as religious.