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An update on the SoE-Future process

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July 2015

As we wind down the 2015 academic year, I want to give an update on SoE-Future. For me, one of the best outcomes of this process has been the incredible level of engagement from so many of you each step of the way. Thank you for your enthusiasm and the time you have taken to share your thoughts and suggestions. As we move forward, I want to make sure you stay informed and engaged.

The SoE-Future Committee has completed its work. Committee members held their last meeting mid-June and finalized their recommendations. I express my profound thanks to the entire committee, and particularly to co-chairs Arun Majumdar and Jennifer Widom, for doing such a fantastic job in reaching out to so many people and synthesizing such a comprehensive set of recommendations in less than six months. As I hope most of you have seen, the committee produced 20 whitepapers. Ten papers address research and educational themes where SoE could have significant societal impact, and the other ten outline recommendations on what we need to do to create the environment and culture to achieve these aspirations, and the resources that will be required. The final whitepapers will be made publicly available online by the end of summer, and I strongly encourage those of you who have not had a chance to read them to do so. Each one is thought provoking in its own way and presents the SoE with a host of opportunities to pursue.

And pursue them we will. But it’s critical that first we evaluate and prioritize what needs to be done. In total, the whitepapers offer 132 concrete recommendations. I plan to spend the summer working with faculty, staff, and key external stakeholders to triage the committee’s recommendations. The plan is to sort the recommendations into three buckets. First: straightforward things that can and should be done immediately. Second: more complex process changes that may require some cultural shifts and need to be addressed slowly and deliberately. Third: ideas and programs that will take significant new resources – time and money – to implement. We clearly cannot tackle everything at once, so the prioritization process, particularly when it comes to new resources, will need to be done with great care.

By the fall, I expect to share the results of our triage, and I hope to report on some early progress on some of the simple recommendations. Working with the department chairs, we will craft a strategy and implementation plan that I will share with you and that I will present to the Stanford Board of Trustees and external stakeholders.

As you read through the whitepapers, I believe that two overarching themes are clear: We need to put even greater emphasis on supporting interdisciplinary and integrative research addressing societal challenges where engineering can have a large impact; and it is time to rethink how we educate the engineer of the future. As you might expect, there are a number of tremendously exciting initiatives that will propel both teaching and research. I am also certain that more will evolve with time!

As we begin the second phase of SoE-Future, it’s good to remember why we started this process in the first place. Our ultimate goal is to have an impact through our research and the students we educate on solving major problems facing society, both in the near term and in the long term. The committee’s recommendations have given us an excellent roadmap for how to proceed, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. I look forward to working with all of you to make SoE-Future a reality!


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