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Annual Report 2013

2013 — Looking Ahead, Thinking Strategically

by President John Hennessy

John Hennessy, President, Stanford University
President John Hennessy

Among Stanford University’s greatest strengths is its ability to anticipate and embrace change, and that entrepreneurial spirit — the willingness to break new ground and to transform established fields — was much in evidence this year.

The 21st century is being shaped by remarkable advances in knowledge, and there are tremendous opportunities for Stanford to lead the way. At the turn of this century, we recognized that society’s most complex challenges required a multidisciplinary approach, and we leveraged the physical proximity of our schools to encourage greater collaboration across disciplines. Our early multidisciplinary focus stimulated tremendous experimentation and innovation over the past decade and has resulted in leadership in many fields.

The excellence both of students and of faculty has fueled the university’s development. Two Stanford students, senior Mailyn Fidler and doctoral student David Wei Jia, were selected to be 2014 Marshall Scholars and will continue their studies at Oxford. Alumnus Ty McCormick will continue his studies at Queen’s University in Belfast as a Mitchell Scholar. Stanford senior Meredith Wheeler and two recent Stanford alumni, Emma Pierson and Miles Unterreiner, were named U.S. Rhodes Scholars this year, bringing the total number of Stanford Rhodes Scholars to 112.

Outstanding students want to work with the best teachers and mentors, and the Stanford faculty continue to excel. The number of major awards per faculty member has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and 2013 was particularly stellar. Adam Johnson, associate professor of English, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, and two faculty members — C. Kevin Boyce, associate professor of geological and environmental sciences, and David Lobell, associate professor of environmental Earth system science — were named MacArthur Foundation Fellows.

Photo: Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

For the second year in a row, two Stanford professors were awarded Nobel Prizes: Thomas Südhof, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, received the 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, and a few days later, Michael Levitt, professor of structural biology, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Südhof, the Avram Goldstein Professor in the School of Medicine, was recognized for fundamental research in how nerve cells in the brain communicate — contributions that have proven to be tremendously important to medicine. Professor Südhof shares the Nobel with two other scientists with Stanford connections: James Rothman, currently at Yale University, is a former Stanford professor of biochemistry, and Randy Schekman, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, is a Stanford alumnus who earned his doctorate working with the late Arthur Kornberg, 1959 Nobel laureate.

Levitt, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor in Cancer Research in the School of Medicine, a member of the Department of Structural Biology since 1987 and a member of Bio-X with a courtesy appointment in computer science, is a pioneer in computational structural biology. His interdisciplinary research draws upon computer science, physics and biology to help us understand how complex proteins are structured and operate. He shares the Nobel with Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California, with whom Levitt worked in the 1970s, and Martin Karplus of the University of Strasbourg in France and Harvard University.

These awards, along with many others received by our faculty and students, reflect the strength of the research being done at Stanford and are further proof of the success and impact of collaboration across disciplines.

Photo: Clark Center
The James H. Clark Center, home to Stanford's innovative Bio-X, turned 10 in 2013.

This year also marked significant anniversaries for several programs that have pioneered new areas of research or challenged us to think differently. In October, we marked the fifth anniversary of the Center for Ocean Solutions, a unique collaboration among Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, focused on understanding and improving the health of our planet’s greatest natural resource. Also, in October, the James H. Clark Center, home to Bio-X, celebrated its 10th anniversary. In its first decade, the Clark Center has become a catalyst for wide-ranging research, engaging more than 600 faculty throughout the university and nurturing transformative work in fields such as optogenetics, bioengineering, microfluidics, neuroscience and computational biology. Also marking its 10th anniversary was the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society. The center, with its nationally recognized ethics program, provides leadership in the examination of ethical issues, especially critical given the complexity of today’s challenges.

There were also significant advances in the development of our arts district. The inaugural season of the Bing Concert Hall was a stunning success by any measure. Construction continued on the building that will house the Anderson Collection at Stanford, and we look forward to its grand opening in 2014. In June, we broke ground on the McMurtry Building, new home of the Department of Art and Art History; with its 2015 opening, the initial development of the arts district will be complete.

Photo: Bing Concert Hall
The Bing Concert Hall celebrated its inaugural season in 2013.

Continued success requires us to think strategically as we look ahead, and new initiatives were also launched in 2013. In May, we broke ground on the new Stanford Hospital. Stanford Medicine is pioneering discoveries and patient therapies, educating the next generation of clinicians and researchers, and serving the public by providing excellent health care, but it is limited by seriously outmoded facilities. The new hospital will give us the capacity to deliver solutions and define the future of health care in this century.

In September, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital & Clinics announced a three-year partnership with StartX, a nonprofit, student-created incubator for startups. The new Stanford StartX Fund will support an entrepreneurial education program helping students understand the entrepreneurial process and pilot their innovations.

We also moved forward on our enhancements to undergraduate education. Based on recommendations from the 2012 Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES), we implemented Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing courses, a new approach to developing both breadth and depth of knowledge that our students will need in this century. This year, faculty from 69 departments and programs submitted hundreds of different Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing courses to give undergraduates a wide range of intriguing options that meet the new requirement.

We understand that learning occurs in many environments, and this year we opened a new recreation facility on the west side of campus. In addition to offering a wide range of recreation activities such as rock climbing, basketball and swimming, the facility will include an Outdoor Center with equipment rental and trip planning resources. The rec center will also be the new home of Stanford Cycling, which includes our road and track racing team and mountain bike racing team, as well as support for community cycling.

Our online learning team continued to explore online and blended strategies for courses by working with the faculty to enhance students’ experiences. In April, we collaborated with edX, the nonprofit platform developed by Harvard and MIT, to develop a new open-source platform. OpenEdX was launched this summer, with Stanford offering nine courses, including the Three Books program for incoming freshmen, and numerous other projects are in development.

Stanford’s leadership in these and other fields attracts students from around the world. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of highly qualified undergraduate applicants, with more than twice as many applicants as we had in 2000. At the same time our yield — the percentage of students offered admission that choose to come to Stanford — reached a new high of almost 77 percent. As a result, fewer than 6 percent of the 38,828 applicants could be admitted to the Class of 2017.

In addition to turning away many exceptional students, we have seen a shift in campus composition. Thirty years ago, Stanford’s student body was about equally divided between undergraduate and graduate students. But over the decades, that balance has shifted, and today fewer than 45 percent of our students are undergraduates. If postdoctoral students are included, undergraduates drop to 40 percent of the total student population.

Both undergraduate and graduate education fuel the university’s culture of innovation, and this year, we began discussing the possibility of expanding the number of undergraduates to achieve a more historic balance. If we do so, it will be a very gradual adjustment over the next 15-plus years. We believe we have a responsibility and the ability to educate more students and that it is in keeping with the founders’ vision.

A significant contributor to Stanford’s excellence in this and past years has been the tremendous generosity of our friends, alumni, parents and students. Last year, more than 82,000 donors — more than at any other time in the university’s history — invested $931.6 million in the university. Those gifts reflect their deep confidence in our faculty and students and the critical work they are doing to address the challenges of our time.

When Jane and Leland Stanford established the university 128 years ago, they sought “to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Each generation has advanced that mission, and in the coming decades, by thinking strategically and leveraging our strengths, we will discover new opportunities. With the support of alumni and friends, Stanford will continue to flourish and live up to the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders.