Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meeting with School of Engineering Dean Jim Plummer

On November 17, 2009 I met with the School of Engineering Dean, Jim Plummer. Dean Plummer attended UCLA as an undergrad and majored in general engineering. He then earned an MS and PhD from Stanford in Electrical Engineering. His thesis was about silicon chip technology focusing on the design of integrated circuits. He joined the Stanford Electrical Engineering faculty as a tenure track professor in 1978. In 1993 he became the School of Engineer Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and in 1996 became Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department. In 1999 he took on his current position as Dean of the School of Engineering.

As Dean, the most important thing Plummer does is think about the strategic direction of where the school is going in the future. Today the School is one of the best in the country and in order to maintain this high level of quality, Dean Plummer most be forward looking. Dean Plummer believes the School is well positioned because Stanford is fundamentally a liberal arts institution with an engineering school in it. The School of Engineering is surrounded by six other great schools focusing on earth science, law, medicine, business, humanities and science, and education. This is the perfect setup for the future in which the answers to many “grand challenge” problems lie in the intersection of disciplines. For example, many life science problems today are bioengineering problems that are being tackled by collaborative efforts between life scientists, doctors, and engineers. It is building these connections and partnerships that is the most interesting part of Dean Plummer’s job. For example, the bioengineering department is the only department at Stanford that is managed equally by two schools (the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering) and Stanford is one of the few places where this could happen.

Dean Plummer also spends a lot of time on development efforts and is also involved with faculty appointments and searches. He is still has a research group with four to five students and teaches EE 212, Integrated Circuit Fabrication Processes, every fall. When he is done being Dean he plans to return to return to being a fulltime professor.

Meeting with Biology Department Chair Robert Simoni

On November 19, 2009 I met with Professor Robert Simoni. Professor Simoni is also currently the Chair of the Biology Department. Professor Simoni was born and raised in San Jose and attended San Jose State University as an undergrad. He wanted to attend Stanford but his parents couldn’t afford it and he was not offered any financial aid. There were merit based scholarships but he did not get one. At San Jose State, Professor Simoni bounced around between majors. He ended up majoring in biology and chemistry and considered attending dentistry school but failed the dexterity test. He also considered being a high school science teacher like his father but instead decided to attend UC Davis as a PhD student in biochemistry. After UC Davis, he completed a post-doc at Johns Hopkins University. He then came to Stanford University as a tenure track assistant professor in 1971 and has been here ever since. Professor Simoni loves his job and for almost 40 years he has been excited to get to work every day.

Professor Simoni likes to be very involved with the Department and believes there is no better department on earth. The Department has a strong teaching culture which came from former Chair and former Stanford President, Donald Kennedy. Professor Simoni believes it is a great privilege to be a part of the Biology Department and gets great satisfaction from being very involved. He has been Chair for over 15 years spread over his tenure. He takes the position of Chair very seriously and works very hard. Professor Simoni believes the position of Chair is more of a management position than that of a leadership position. The Department is very democratic and important decisions are decided by a faculty voting process. Professor Simoni believes his role as Chair is to manage this process and that his biggest job is that of a convener. He is also very in touch with what is going on outside of the Department in the broader University and acts as a connector.

Professor Simoni serves on several committees including the VPUE Governing Group, the Provost’s Budget Committee, and the Faculty Advisory Board. He also sits on the Faculty Senate and has been on it more years than any other living person. He immensely enjoys being a part of the Faculty Senate as it allows him to meet many interesting people and learn what is going on throughout the University. Professor Simoni served as Chair of the Faculty Senate for one year.

Professor Simoni has watched the Biology Department more than double in size during his time. He notes that coordinating the curriculum has become an increasing challenge and managing the Department is like managing a big business. The Biology Department is one of the biggest departments on campus. It is easily the biggest department among the natural science departments. The Department has grown in part because there is enormous funding available for life science research. In addition, many scientists from other disciplines such as chemistry, computer science, and physics, are beginning to work on biological questions in which they can harness their expertise to find answers.

Professor Simoni’s most exciting research project was related to regulating cholesterol metabolism which is strong correlated with coronary artery disease. Professor Simoni was very involved with this research but did not work on the clinical side. For 60 years there was a public health initiative to get people to lower their cholesterol levels through dietary control and while this was well intentioned, it was actually misguided since blood cholesterol cannot be controlled by eating habits. The level of blood cholesterol is kept within a narrow range by a complicated biochemical pathway. Professor Simoni spent significant time studying this pathway and today there is a class of drugs known as statins that regulate the pathway. One example of a statin is Lipitor, which is made by Pfizer and generates $12 billion in annual income. Multiple trials have shown that Lipitor lowers cholesterol and reduces heart attack frequency by 30%.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meeting with Vice President of Land, Buildings and Real Estate (LBRE) Robert Reidy

On November 9, 2009 I met with Vice President of Land, Buildings and Real Estate (LBRE) Robert Reidy. VP Reidy attended Cal Poly and majored in mechanical and environmental engineering. He has been at Stanford for twelve years. VP Reidy at a high level oversees six main areas: land use, real estate, capital planning, project management,campus planning and design and operations. He has five direct reports, one in each of the areas of operations and project management, land use, real estate, finance, and contract negotiations. VP Reidy spends 30% of his time on land use, 20% on real estate, 30% on capital projects, 10% on capital planning, and 10% on operations.

The area of land use entails managing the campuses 8,200 contiguous acres which is broadly broken up into three buckets: academic (core campus, SLAC, and the medical center), commercial lands which generate income to further the University’s core mission, and academic reserves such as agricultural reserves. Capital planning is a six month process with a 10 year look ahead that happens every year and comes up with a 3 year plan and a 1 year budget. In the process, LBRE reaches out to all schools and departments and determines what their current capital use and square foot usage is. Each school/department then submits a list of projects they would like to develop to further their mission and LBRE analyzes the projects to determine if they are financially feasible and a priority. LBRE then makes recommendations to the Provost who ultimately decides which projects will be submitted to the Trustees for approval to develop. Project management, campus planning and design entails implementation of the capital plan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meeting with Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Rick Shaw

On November 2, 2009 I met with Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Rick Shaw. Dean Shaw has a master’s degree in guidance and counseling and came to Stanford four years ago after being at Yale for thirteen years in the analogous position. Prior to Yale he worked at the University of Michigan, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. In the last three years he has reworked everything under his purview at Stanford.

Dean Shaw oversees three functions at Stanford: admissions, financial aid, and visitor services. In each of these areas there is a director: Shawn Abbot for Admissions, Karen Cooper for Financial Aid, and John Friesman for Visitor Services . Dean Shaw has over 70 full time employees in his division. During application reading season many additional people (~18 this year) are hired to help with the reading. The readers are often faculty, former faculty, faculty spouses, graduate students, or former admission officers. In addition, Visitor Services employs numerous students part time as tour guides. The current Visitor Operations Center is located in Memorial Auditorium and a new center is opening up within a month at the location of the old Track House.

The responsibility of Dean Shaw and his division is to meet and greet people both on campus and around the world. Most of the visitors that come to campus are prospective families and kids. Dean Shaw’s division travels the entire continental United States as well as other continents advertising Stanford. Their goal is to attract the best and brightest to Stanford. Dean Shaw’s division often travels with other schools. One large program Stanford is a part of is Exploring College Options which is a joint program between Stanford, Harvard, Georgetown, Duke, and Penn. Recruiting programs are hosted in both fall and spring, with spring being the main season. Students find out about these presentations by direct invitations and college counselors. Students are also contacted if they are on the SAT/PSAT prospect list and Stanford works with over 400 non-profits and state specific programs to identify prospective students. Dean Shaw and his team visit all 50 states over the course of the academic cycle. Sometimes a dean from one of the seven schools at Stanford will be a part of these programs. In addition, there is a large cadre of alumni/alumnae volunteers that attend college fairs. Dean Shaw is also utilizing lots of technology in his recruiting efforts.

After recruiting season, Dean Shaw and his team review over 30,000 applications and then start to deal with financial aid. Admit Weekend is also planned far in advance and this year’s is already being planned. Admit Weekend is one of the big five events Stanford hosts every year including New Student Orientation, Homecoming, Parents Weekend, and Graduation. Approximately 2,400 students will be admitted and 1,300 will attend Admit Weekend with their parents. In May, transfer students are reviewed. There are about 1,400 applications and approximately 24 will be accepted.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Meeting with Vice President and General Counsel Debra Zumwalt

On November 3, 2009 I met with Vice President and General Counsel Debra Zumwalt. VP Zumwalt runs Stanford's legal office, which has approximately ten full time lawyers. The office also provides legal services for the hospital. VP Zumwalt reports to the President of the University and has a dotted line responsibility to the Board of Trustees. VP Zumwalt spends a lot of time in meetings. She attends meetings with the University Trustees, SLAC Board of Overseers, Hospital Board, Stanford Management Company Board, and many committee meetings. She also sits on the President's Cabinet and attends a weekly Cabinet meeting.

The legal office practices preventative education. Examples of this are teaching students that downloading copyrighted material is illegal and hosting sexual harassment training every two years for employees. Stanford's legal office is smaller than that of a similar sized corporation as a result of employing very experienced lawyers that work efficiently.

Stanford is a $5B/year enterprise and has legal issues on virtually every topic. Many of the legal issues Stanford deals with are on the cutting edge of law. One example is the Google Books project, which brought up novel issues surrounding copyright law and the question of what exactly is digitizing a work. Another example is stem cells and importing a particular gas from Russia.

Meeting with School of Earth Sciences Dean Pamela Matson

On November 11, 2009 I met with School of Earth Sciences Dean Pamela Matson. Dean Matson has a PhD in forest science and her expertise is in biogeochemistry. She studies how nutrient elements like nitrogen move from plants, to soil, to water, and to the atmosphere. She is also interested in what happens to nitrogen and carbon when forests are damaged or cut down, and what happens to nutrients in agriculture. Dean Matson worked as a research scientist for ten years at NASA Ames. During those ten years she worked in many locations including the Amazon Basin and Central America. In 1992 she moved to Berkeley as a professor and stayed there for five years after which she moved to Stanford. In 2002, Matson became Dean of the School of Earth Sciences when she was asked to by the Provost.

A little history about the School is that it was first officially started in the 1940s but its departments have been around for longer. The first PhD awarded by Stanford was in geology. The School is small compared to the School of Humanities and Science or Engineering. There are four departments and three interdisciplinary programs. The vision of the School is to carry out research to understand how the planet works and to use that knowledge to provide energy and resources that people need to make the planet safe and sustainable. Many of the School’s faculty works on energy and environmental issues.

In the early days the focus of the School was on mining but over time the focus has changed to fossil fuel and water resources. Today, many of the faculty and students in the School focus on topics like energy resources, water, earthquakes and volcanoes, and climate and resource sustainability. The area of Earth systems science, encompassing oceans, the atmosphere, land and climate, is growing.

Right now there is a growing student interest in the topics that the School of Earth Sciences studies, because the world is facing huge challenges in terms of meeting the needs of people for food and water. Another big challenge is protecting the climate and environmental systems. Dean Matson notes that the School is well positioned to tackle these problems, as are the students in the school.

As Dean, Matson works to connect the School with the broader university and helps School staff, faculty, and students accomplish their goals. She and the faculty have set some goals for the School and she works to see that they are accomplished. She also serves on the President’s cabinet and works with them to set the academic direction of the University. Dean Matson is teaching a class in winter on urban agriculture and she still does a little research. She spends lots of time working with the department chairs, interdisciplinary program directors, and associate deans on making decisions about academic programs, space issues, financial issues, and external relations with alumni.

When I briefed Dean Matson on the Spring Sustainability Symposium the ASSU Executive is planning, she made an extremely valuable comment, which was to not just focus on engineering inventions when talking about new developments that will change the world but to also remember developments that will come from other disciplines like economists developing a carbon credits system and the Natural Capital Project

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meeting with Vice President for Alumni Affairs and President of the Stanford Alumni Association Howard Wolf

On October 29, 2009 I met with Vice President for Alumni Affairs and President of the Stanford Alumni Association (SAA) Howard Wolf. VP Wolf received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford in 1980. He was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity and participated in the Florence, Italy study abroad program from September 1978 to March 1979. He lived in the Wilbur Madera residence which is now known as Okada during the 1976-1977 academic year. He later received an MBA from Harvard Business School. VP Wolf joined Stanford in his current position in April 2001 after taking a leadership role in a class reunion fundraising campaign and being recruited by the University.

The University's first graduates founded the SAA in 1892. The SAA started out as independent organization but was acquired by Stanford University in 1998. The SAA "aims to deliver the most effective alumni relations program anywhere in higher education. Its diverse offerings include a bimonthly magazine; online communication and networking tools; academic and social programming (on and off-campus); a worldwide travel/study program; and numerous Stanford-related products and initiatives" (SAA About Us Page). One point of confusion with the community that VP Wolf mentioned is that the SAA does no fundraising yet many people think they do. This is because many universities place their alumni association under their development office but at Stanford the SAA and the Office of Development are two completely independent organizations both reporting directly to the university president. At Stanford the Office of Development oversees and coordinates all fundraising activity, which allows the SAA to focus on engaging alumni/alumnae and building community through events like Reunion Homecoming weekend.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Dominating USC

Yesterday Stanford Football dominated USC! Stanford won 55 to 21 - this is the most points ever scored against USC - EVER. Anywhere. From the LA Times Peter Carroll said "'We played hard,' he says, the Trojans apparently giving everything they had but obviously not belonging in the same class as a group of future engineers and astronauts from Stanford. 'We were trying hard.'" I was in the Stanford Stadium Skybox at the Sophomore Class sponsored viewing party watching the game. The atmosphere was amazing! I hope Athletics does this for every away game. Stanford Football is back! Now it is time to Beat Cal and get the Axe back! See you at Big Game!

Meeting with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Director

On November 12, 2009 I met with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Director Persis Drell. Director Drell’s father is a Stanford professor (now emeritus) and she grew up on the Stanford campus. She grew up in what is now called the Griffin Drell house located behind Sigma Nu. Director Drell’s parents moved out of the house four years ago when construction for the new Munger Graduate Residence (MGR) began. The house was originally located on the MGR site (at the corner of Campus Drive and Alvarado Row) and therefore was moved to its current location behind Sigma Nu to make room for the MGR. It now houses the Stanford Law Review.

Director Drell attended Wellesley College as an undergraduate and majored in math and physics. She then went to Berkeley and earned a PhD in physics focusing on atomic physics. She later switched her focus to particle physics. She was a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories and was an assistant professor for fourteen years at Cornell. Seven years ago Director Drell came to SLAC as an associate director and managed the particle facility and particle astrophysics research program. She then was promoted to deputy director and became director approximately two years ago. Director Drell misses teaching and doing research which she unfortunately does not have time for in her current position. This is different from the position of associate director, which was fun and close to the science. In addition, at Cornell she did significant teaching, which she enjoyed immensely.

SLAC is a Department of Energy funded and Stanford operated lab that does basic research exploring the structure and dynamics of matter and topics such as how matter is put together and what it is doing. SLAC works on scales from universe sized down to single atoms moving around in chemical processes and single particles. SLAC is currently undergoing a significant change in its scientific mission and the way the facility operates which has not been an easy process. It is switching from a focus on using the accelerators to do particle physics to now making x-rays. SLAC used to identify with particle physics but now is identifying with photon science.

SLAC recently turned on the world’s first x-ray free electron laser. This laser features ultra bright and short pulses that produce stop action pictures of atoms and chemical processes in real-time. Up until now, the strobe and flash speed was not fast enough so only blurry pictures were produced. The pulses with the new x-ray laser are a few femto seconds long, which is the time scale on which these particles move and reactions take place. The project cost $420M. It was turned on, on April 10, 2009 and it just worked and has continued to work without any problems. It uses 1KM of the old linear accelerator and 1KM of a new beam line. Teams from around the world of 10-20 people visit SLAC to use the laser for 4-5 days at a time. Each year a couple hundred scientists are able to use the laser.

Another project SLAC was recently involved with is the Fermi-Gamma Ray Space Telescope. Fermi has two parts, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor. The LAT was integrated and assembled at SLAC and the Primary Investigator was Professor Peter Michelson. Fermi was launched on June 11, 2008 and now sits in low earth orbit producing spectacular data that is processed back at the SLAC Instrument Science Operation Center (ISOC).

In terms of the University, SLAC is sort of like one of the seven schools. SLAC has approximately 1,400 employees and fifty tenure track faculty. Director Drell is analogous to a school Dean. Many of the SLAC faculty hold joint appointments with one of the other seven schools. SLAC also has approximately 100 to 120 graduate students.

Meeting with Director of Athletics Robert Bowlsby

On November 4, 2009 I met with Director of Athletics Robert Bowlsby. Director Bowlsby oversees approximately 850 student athletes. He is removed from the day to day activities of the Athletics Department and is a generalist. He reports to the Provost and is responsible for raising money and for a budget of $75M of which $20M comes from endowments and the rest is generated. Director Bowlsby solicits gifts, works with friends and alumni, and has nine direct reports including external affairs, website, ticket office, service elements, and sports reporting.

There is no typical day for Director Bowlsby. His days vary from working on finances, student disciplinary issues, speaking off-campus, to meeting with the University President and trustees. Director Bowlsby travels a lot and spends on average 100 nights a year off campus. He also sits on the Alumni Association Board of Director.

In the past each sports program would raise their own money and they heavily competed with each other. They also overspent their budget which resulted in a large deficit. Today the fundraising is centralized in the Buck/Cardinal Club which was created five years ago and is analogous to The Stanford Fund.