History of Stanford

The Twenty-first Century

The 21st century has placed growing demands on research institutions like Stanford, which was founded on the idea that teaching and research can—and should—benefit society.

Stanford has recognized that the challenges of an increasingly complex and interconnected world open opportunities to do things differently. With its breadth and depth of scholarship, entrepreneurial heritage and pioneering faculty, the university has committed to a research and teaching renaissance by embracing interdisciplinary approaches.

Those efforts were aided by The Stanford Challenge, which, when completed in 2012, raised $6.2 billion. The campaign’s premise was that many of society’s most formidable problems do not present themselves in conventional academic categories. Rather, issues like climate change, sustainable energy, disease and global security require the collective expertise of many scholars.

Support from generous alumni and friends helped the university achieve its interdisciplinary aspirations through an abundance of new and renamed centers, including the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies in 2005; the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research in 2006; the Precourt Institute for Energy and the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy in 2009; and the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance in 2010.

New facilities

Many of Stanford's teaching and research facilities have been transformed to emphasize interconnectedness and sustainability. For instance, the four-building Science and Engineering Quad places basic scientists side by side with medical researchers and engineers. New homes for the business and law schools promote collaboration and support revised curricula.

A new Arts District and Arts Institute also emerged, reflecting a growing appreciation for the importance of artistic and creative experiences to a liberal arts education. The district, centered on the Cantor Arts Center, includes the Bing Concert Hall, completed in 2013; the Anderson Collection (2014); and the McMurtry Building for Art and Art History (2015.)

The world’s largest research building committed to stem cell research—the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building— opened in 2010, adjacent to the medical school. Ground was broken for an extension to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in 2012 and for a new Stanford Hospital in 2013.

To address the urgent, worldwide challenge of climate change, Stanford applied its own research expertise to campus operations. The university became one of the most energy-efficient research universities in the world with the Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI). The largest construction project in Stanford’s history, SESI leverages a range of energy options to cut the university’s carbon emissions by 68 percent and reduce water consumption by 18 percent. SESI caps a series of sustainability efforts that have included a transportation management program to reduce drive-alone rates among commuters, campus-wide energy retrofits and creation of a habitat conservation area to preserve endangered species.

Undergraduate education

Under the leadership of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam, Stanford instituted new requirements to improve undergraduate education. The “Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing” requirement, approved in 2012, focuses on content as well as capacities. Students take 11 courses in eight subject areas, ranging from aesthetic and interpretive inquiry to applied quantitative reasoning.

To leverage new approaches to education, the university also created the Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning—later renamed the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.

As concern about the cost of higher education reached new heights, Stanford expanded its already generous financial aid program. In 2008, Stanford announced a new plans under which parents with incomes less than $125,000 no longer pay tuition. Parents with incomes less than $65,000 are not expected to pay tuition or contribute to the costs of room, board and other expenses.

The 21st century has also brought people from diverse backgrounds together in new ways, and Stanford has augmented its recruitment and support of diverse faculty, graduate student and undergraduate student communities. Today, about half of Stanford’s undergraduate students are members of minority groups. Eight percent are from other countries. Programs such as DARE—Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence—encourage minority graduate students to pursue higher education as a career.

Future research agenda

Stanford research programs continue to evolve as a result of the expertise, creativity and initiative of the faculty who set the research agenda. A new Stanford Neurosciences Institute, including experts in neuroscience, medicine, education, law and business, is focusing on understanding how the brain gives rise to mental life and behavior.

The work builds on enhancements made in Stanford’s biomedical research since the early 2000s, thanks to the construction of the James H. Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences in 2003. The Clark Center is home to Bio-X, which created Stanford’s model for bringing scholars from different disciplines together to pursue research. Bio-X researchers represent the biosciences, physical sciences, medicine and engineering.

Another promising area of future research is the chemistry-human biology interface. Stanford ChEM-H has been established to bring together chemists, engineers, biologists and clinicians to study life at a chemical level and apply that knowledge to improving human health.

Also important in the new century is the Stanford Cyber Initiative, which addresses the complex opportunities and challenges raised by cyber technology. The initiative is support by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The 21st century also ushered in a new relationship between Stanford and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In 2010, representatives from Stanford and DOE signed an agreement that would allow the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to continue to operate on university-owned lands for decades to come. The new lease was signed at a time when SLAC’s research agenda has been enhanced by the construction of the Linac Coherent Light Source. It produces ultrafast pulses of X-rays millions of times brighter than even the most powerful synchrotron sources to enable scientists to better understand atoms and molecules in motion.