Stanford Engineering: Driven by desire to have an impact on the world

The speakers at the Faculty Senate meeting yesterday included Professor Persis Drell, dean of the School of Engineering, and Professor Andrew Fire, chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Privacy and Security.

Stanford's School of Engineering can have a significant impact on "grand challenges" facing the world in the next two decades, including the goal of ensuring that humanity flourishes in the cities of the future, Persis Drell, dean of the school, told the Faculty Senate yesterday.

Speaking at the Nov. 5 meeting, Drell, a professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, said the school has identified 10 grand challenges in answer to the question, "Where do we want to be in 20 years?" The school framed the grand challenges as questions. They include:    

  • How can we engineer effective yet affordable healthcare everywhere?
  • How do we create synergy between humans and engineered systems?
  • How do we sustain the exponential increase in IT performance?
  • How do we provide humanity with the affordable energy it needs and stabilize the climate?

Drell said Stanford Engineering won't be able to address those questions on its own, but will need to forge partnerships with other schools at Stanford to be successful.

L.A. CiceroPersis Drell talking to the Faculty Senate

Persis Drell, dean of the School of Engineering, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Drell said the "desire to have an impact on the world" is what drives the research choices of engineering faculty and the curriculum they provide to undergraduate, master's and doctoral students.

"The school has participated in technology developments that have, over the last 50 years, changed the world, and the school aspires to continue doing that for the next 50 years," said Drell, who became dean of the school in September 2014.

Drell said Stanford Engineering, which has nine departments and one institute – the Institute for Computational & Mathematical Engineering – is in "terrific shape," adding that it has a fabulous faculty and works in beautiful new facilities.

Drell said undergraduate interest in engineering is at an all-time high, which she described as a "multidimensional challenge for all of us." Last year, 36 percent of the students who graduated from Stanford did so with a degree in engineering. She predicted that the percentage will exceed 40 percent in two years, based on the increase in the number of students who have declared majors in engineering.

She said sponsored research is strong in the school, but pointed out that federal funding has been flat in recent years.

"I do have concerns about that – not so much about the flattening of the federally funded research in terms of amount, but the increasing risk aversion of federal funding and the narrowness, the prescriptiveness with which those funds are allocated," she said.

IT privacy and security

Andrew Fire, a professor of pathology and of genetics, presented an update on the work of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Privacy and Security.

The 15-member committee was established in February 2014 to advise the senate and the university on issues surrounding computing security, operability and privacy.

The full minutes of the Nov. 5 meeting, including the Q&A that followed the presentations, will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website.

The minutes of the Oct. 22 senate meeting are now available on the senate's website.