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Thinking big and building on our strengths at the School of Engineering

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March 2015

When you ask smart, creative people to think outside the box, the results can be amazing. The SoE-Future strategic planning effort that was launched in January is a good example. It has generated many provocative questions such as:

  • “Why stop your planning at 20 years in the future? At least spend a little time thinking about 100 or 500 years into the future!”
  • “What is the role of departments in the future as engineering becomes increasingly interdisciplinary?”
  • “How much should our research and teaching be driven by technology push and how much by mission pull if we really want to have an impact?”
  • “What should the core curriculum for engineers of the future be?”

The answers to questions like these will help to shape a vision for Stanford Engineering in the coming decades.

The SoE-Future committee, composed mostly of mid-career faculty along with representatives from across the School of Engineering and Stanford, kicked off its efforts with a series of open meetings featuring stimulating and insightful presentations from our nine department chairs and the director of ICME. The chairs outlined their vision for a future based on cutting-edge research, best-in-class education, and even greater collaboration across departments and Stanford. I can assure you, there is no shortage of great ideas or enthusiasm for ways to build upon our strengths and capitalize on our opportunities to make an impact!

Now the committee is reaching out to our stakeholders. Faculty and staff are actively engaged in discussions around research, curriculum, facilities, and organizational structure. The committee is also gathering insights from our alumni, our students, colleagues at peer institutions, and thought leaders from academia and industry.  As one of our closest friends and advocates, your input in this process will be invaluable and I invite you to share your thoughts on the future of Stanford Engineering with me or with the SoE-Future Committee. We are looking for new, sweeping ideas, not incremental changes. While we can’t do everything, if we can frame some of these new ideas into a compelling vision for our future, it will enable us to leverage resources across the school and the university and chart a path to a bright future. 

This planning process is good for the future of engineering at Stanford. In addition to helping us thoughtfully and proactively create a plan for the school’s continued success, it also brings us together and unites us behind a common objective. One important outcome is that it is empowering our young and mid-career faculty to take ownership of the future of the school. As one faculty member told me, “this process has already changed us.” This was music to my ears and a sentiment I hope to hear many more times in the months ahead!

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