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Since its founding, Stanford has emphasized scholarship and education to study the Earth and its processes, with departments,  schools, and institutes that have evolved to address the changing needs of the times. In the current era, as the planet and societies worldwide increasingly face sustainability challenges that threaten health and well being, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability reshapes Stanford’s historic commitment to focus on impact.

Departments form a school

Stanford’s emphasis on understanding the Earth began when geologist John Casper Branner was hired as Stanford’s first professor and chair of the Department of Geology in 1891. In 1913, Branner became the university’s second president. 

The Department of Geology changed its name to the Department of Geology and Mining by 1898, reflecting the demand for research on the search for and extraction of natural resources during that period of Western development. In 1947, the department re-formed as the School of Mineral Sciences and has since changed its name twice, most recently in 2015 to the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) to better reflect the breadth of its research and teaching, which focus on understanding the Earth’s dynamic processes and helping to address resource and environmental challenges facing the world. 

An interdisciplinary approach

In recent years, as Stanford Earth engaged more on exploring land, ocean, water and climate systems and the environmental changes within them, Stanford became a leader in interdisciplinary education. The school launched the undergraduate Earth Systems Program in 1992 and the graduate Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) a decade later. Those interdisciplinary educational programs reflect the need to bring ideas from multiple disciplines to bear on complex problems such as those facing the planet. More recently, the school opened an educational farm and a program dedicated to preparing students to lead sustainability efforts.

That same need for interdisciplinary collaboration to generate solutions inspired the creation of Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy. Both formed as independent institutes under the Vice Provost and Dean of Research as a way of bridging scholarship on issues that require multiple viewpoints. For more than 15 years, the institutes have fostered research collaborations to protect our natural environment and to generate new solutions that produce sustainable, affordable, and secure energy for all. 

Amplifying impact

The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability represents the most recent evolution of how Stanford approaches research and teaching related to the Earth – this time in response to sustainability challenges that aren’t new but continue to grow more urgent. It merges the scholarship and educational programs of Stanford Earth with the institutes’ excellence in sparking interdisciplinary collaboration. It also adds a new Institute for Sustainable Societies that builds on the successes of the model demonstrated by Woods and Precourt, while adding critical new attention to issues of social justice, institutional and economic infrastructure, and the politics of transitioning to more sustainable ways of life. In addition, the school includes a Sustainability Accelerator that ensures policy and technology solutions developed at Stanford benefit the world.