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James Robinson, News Service (650) 723-5675; e-mail:

Stanford Graduate Fellowships program meets $200 million goal

Stanford Graduate Fellowships, a first-of-its-kind program that allows students to engage in research based on intellectual curiosity alone, has met its target endowment by raising $200 million, President Gerhard Casper announced Tuesday.

Thanks to the contributions of alumni, non-alumni, foundations and corporations, the endowment has reached $200,427,275, which will provide ongoing support to at least 300 of the university's most promising doctoral students per year. The program currently provides about $13,000 in tuition support and an $18,500 stipend annually to each student for three years.

Stanford Graduate Fellows -- who are nominated by their departments and selected by a senior faculty committee -- are able to work in the lab or research group of their choice, rather than being constrained to conducting research in a particular project or with a particular adviser based on available funding. Since the program was established in 1997, several other universities have emulated it.

"What makes this university continue to grow, what makes the Silicon Valley thrive, is not the agenda of any institution, but the freedom of individuals to pursue those questions that interest them. Stanford Graduate Fellowships represent this freedom," Casper said.

"The fellows come to Stanford from all over the world, often bringing bold and unproven ideas, some of which, no doubt, are destined to drive research in fields that do not yet exist."

The idea to create the program has its kernel in a 1994 conversation between Casper and former Secretary of State George Shultz. Casper worried about the uncertainties of federal research support; Shultz suggested Casper raise a $1 billion research endowment. Casper took up the idea, but decided a $200 million goal was sufficiently bold.

Provost John Hennessy said the fellowships "have brought some of the best and brightest young scholars to Stanford in the last three years. Their research not only has enriched their particular areas of study, it has enriched the work of the faculty and other students with whom they work, not to mention the vitality of the intellectual enterprise at the university. We are very fortunate to benefit from the generosity and vision of so many donors who have given the fellows the opportunity to freely pursue their scholarly interests."

The fellowships are available in the natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, engineering, the basic sciences in the School of Medicine, and those social sciences, including education, that are now dependent on federal assistantship support for their doctoral students.

To launch the program in 1997, Casper committed $10 million in discretionary funds to cover the first two years of operations. Over the following 11 months, a small number of founding donors committed the first $100 million, stipulating that their gifts be used as matching funds to help attract other donors.

The founding donors included John and Tashia Morgridge. Taking a lead in fundraising, John Morgridge, the chair of Cisco Systems, chaired the National Volunteer Leadership Council. Other members included Burt McMurtry, vice chair, and Bill Bowes, Winston Chen, Franklin P. "Pitch" Johnson, Thomas V. Jones, Pierre Lamond and William Landreth. The Morgridges made the first gift to the program and also the final gift that put the total above its $200 million goal.

John Morgridge was surprised at the degree of corporate support the endowment has attracted. "Money has come in from Europe and from Asia, in addition to the United States. That's very positive, and I think it's a combination of Stanford's reputation and the success of Silicon Valley and the desire to be part of it," he said.

In addition, he noted that a number of venture capitalists, including many who are not Stanford alumni, made generous contributions.

Morgridge, an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin, said he successfully encouraged his alma mater to create a similar program there.

The other founding donors were Anne T. and Robert M. Bass, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and two anonymous donors. The individual fellowships are named after the donors who followed their lead.

The new resources are helping drive the research of students like Ned Hammond, the d'Arbeloff Stanford Graduate Fellow, who performs numerical simulations of plasmas (ionized gases) used for materials processing. The most common application of his research is chip manufacturing, where charged gases are used to deposit fine materials and etch features into chips.

Hammond spends his unrestricted money on tuition and living expenses. His adviser is Parviz Moin, the Franklin P. and Caroline M. Johnson Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Center for Turbulence Research. Even though Moin has a number of research contracts, Hammond, a third-year graduate student, says that "having the money gave me a huge amount of flexibility to find a topic I really wanted to pursue."

Without the money he would have had to support himself as a research assistant on a pre-established project. "The SGF makes it easier for my adviser to diversify," he added.

The new program "has enabled us to bring in the very best graduate students from all over the country and all over the world," said Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research. While he said it is difficult to quantify, in a scientific sense, the precise effect the program has had on the university's ability to recruit the best graduate students, "compared to more conventional offers made to similar students in the past, the yield rate is significantly better for Stanford Graduate Fellows."

Kruger noted that federal funding for research assistantships "tends to be limited in time, and federal programs tend to have a shorter timespan than the Ph.D. career of a particular student. So this gives the faculty, the students and the university a greater sense of stability. Shifts in funding emphasis occur from time to time, and you never can tell what's going to happen, for example, in an election year."

Deedee and Burt McMurtry are among those who donated to the program. Burt McMurtry, a member of Stanford's Board of Trustees and a retiring venture capitalist, said it was "really exciting for people who bought into the vision of the program to meet the fellows. As is always the case, there's nothing quite as exciting as talking to students in the midst of their work, so it's been very rewarding."

Casper added, "By supporting these young scholars for three years, we allow them to pursue curiosity-driven research unlimited by traditional fields. Such a vote of confidence in the fellows, regardless of what they decide to study, is a great honor for them and a wise investment in the future -- in the most parochial sense for Stanford, and in the broadest sense for the principle of scientific inquiry unfettered by anything but the passionate desire to know."  


By James Robinson

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