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Celebrating excellence in diversity, equity, and inclusion

A school-wide celebration marked the completion of the school’s three-year DEI action plan and recognized the 2024 Excellence in DEI Award winners, individuals who go above and beyond to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

School leaders and Excellence in DEI award winners smiling together at the community celebration
School leaders Lupe Carrillo, Paula Welander, and Arun Majumdar honored Wilson and Skerker for their contributions in DEI. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

Earth system science PhD student Alexis Wilson and civil and environmental engineering PhD student Jenny Skerker have received the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s 2024 Excellence in DEI Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who demonstrate a commitment to the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion through their involvements at Stanford such as community building, outreach, and scholarship.

“The DEI Excellence Award recognizes those at the school who go above and beyond to bring about important change,” said Lupe Carrillo, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the school. “Just looking through Alexis’ and Jenny’s accomplishments, it’s clear they are deserving recipients of the award and are setting a new standard by which future recipients will be measured. Congratulations to them and to all nominees.”

The awards were created as part of a three-year DEI action plan, begun under the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) in 2021 and adapted for the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability in 2022 to establish goals and priorities for integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the new school.

“It has been so inspiring to see the DEI work that our whole community – students, staff, faculty, postdocs – engages in,” said Paula Welander, who gave remarks during the school’s annual celebration of diversity, equity, and inclusion on May 21. Welander is the school's associate dean for integrative initiatives in DEI and an associate professor of Earth system science, and she was recently named Stanford's associate vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs.

Passing along knowledge

Alexis Wilson smiling on stage holding the Excellence in DEI award with Arun Majumdar
Wilson was recognized for her mentorship and contributions to the school's DEI initiatives. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

Wilson, who is graduating with a doctorate in Earth system science this month, is a dedicated student leader who has served as a research mentor to other Stanford students and visiting undergraduate researchers while helping to expand diversity and inclusion initiatives in the school. 

Wilson knew she wanted to make inclusion and diversity work a core part of her experience when she arrived at Stanford.

“Being a Black woman in the Earth sciences field, it was really tough often being the only Black person in my classes and research groups,” said Wilson, whose research focuses on supporting communities disproportionately harmed by environmental pollution. “So I was very intentional about wanting to make that experience better for those coming after me, and also working to improve diversity in the school as much as possible.”

Wilson has served as a mentor in her department, in the fellowship programs Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) and Research, Action, and Impact through Strategic Engagement (RAISE), and in the Sustainability, Engineering, and Science - Undergraduate Research (SESUR) program.

She also mentored students in the Sustainability Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) program, which brings undergraduate students from institutions across the United States to contribute to sustainability-related research at Stanford over the summer. Having been a SURGE student herself as an undergrad, it was important for her to return to the program as a mentor. “I really wanted to give back to a student in that way because it was so pivotal to me coming here,” she said.

Wilson’s deep commitment to mentorship was emphasized by one nominator. “Thanks to Alexis, I have felt that I belong in my lab, my program, and at Stanford as a whole,” they wrote.

In addition to mentoring individual students, Wilson has been involved in broader recruitment and diversity efforts. As a member of the DEI Advisory Council during its first year, she helped identify community needs and share resources. As a DEI liaison for Earth system science, Wilson also helped voice perspectives from the department to school leadership and organized social events around diversity topics.

“It’s amazing how much has been accomplished in the last three years,” Wilson said. “There’s always more work that can be done, but we’ve seen tangible outcomes in a short amount of time.”

Strengthening connections

Skerker, a fourth-year PhD student in civil and environmental engineering, has deeply engaged with collaborators at Stanford and in local communities to advance equity and environmental justice. As co-president of the student organization Engineering Students for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ES4DEI), she organizes events and programs to bring students together around shared values.

Jenny Skerker smiling on stage holding the Excellence in DEI award with Arun Majumdar
Skerker received the Excellence in DEI award for her efforts to strengthen connections among engineering students and advance equity in the local community. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

Skerker’s nominators praised her dedication to inclusive community building. “Jenny is an exceptional student leader who works tirelessly to enhance DEI through her research, volunteer work, student leadership, and community engagement,” one person wrote.

As the co-president of ES4DEI, Skerker has led efforts to promote a welcoming culture and strengthen connections among engineering students. She helped initiate an event series called “Sharing Stories,” where participants discuss their experiences to build empathy across different backgrounds.

Skerker also helped lead development of a new partnership between ES4DEI and College Track, an organization in East Palo Alto. Through the partnership, Stanford students were matched with students from underresourced local high schools to provide tutoring and support for college applications.

“I was immediately impressed by her soft-spoken advocacy and personal commitment to DEI,” wrote another nominator, who co-led a workshop with Skerker as part of the College Track partnership. “Jenny showed the grit and commitment necessary to navigate difficulties in order to make the workshop happen.”

Skerker’s work to promote diversity and equity expands to other campus activities, whether leading community-engaged research on water affordability, mentoring undergraduates in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, or organizing student socials and events for her department.

“Jenny embodies an inclusive, respectful approach in her day-to-day interactions. She notices when someone is not feeling engaged in conversation and seeks to bring them in,” wrote one nominator. “My lab’s strong sense of community would not be what it is without her.”

Acknowledging accomplishments and looking ahead

During a town hall before the community celebration, school leaders discussed achievements of the DEI action plan, which is framed around four goals: Educate, Enhance, Engage, and Expect.

Lupe Carrillo smiling and speaking at a podium outside
Carrillo reflected on successes of the action plan and previewed opportunities for the plan's next iteration. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

Carrillo pointed to accomplishments including the expansion of a policy and workshops on respectful community, the creation of DEI Advisory and Governance Councils and a DEI liaisons program, and the Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program

Expanding the fellowship program, which supports scholars who demonstrate research excellence and inclusive leadership in STEM, will be part of the school’s next DEI action plan, Dean Arun Majumdar said at the town hall event. 

“We’re thinking about the next three years,” Welander said. “How do we create a culture that brings together diverse backgrounds, different experiences, and different ideas? How do we have conversations? How do we make this community thrive?”

Speakers at the town hall discussion also talked about the impact of the SURGE program, which was started in 2011 by geophysics Professor Emeritus Jerry Harris. Over the years, SURGE has welcomed more than 190 students, some of whom are now professors at institutions including Dartmouth College and Cornell University.

“Graduate school has a lot of techniques involved, and I wanted to show students who weren’t exposed to that technique how to apply and get into graduate school,” Harris said during an event earlier in May about the evolution of DEI efforts in the school. “There cannot be global-scale sustainability without the participation of a diverse population around the world. So the school, then, must engage and elevate this even more,” said Harris, who also created Stanford Earth’s Office of Multicultural Affairs – the foundation for the DEI office at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Later in the town hall discussion, Majumdar shared his hopes to have more conversations about what DEI means to the school community. “If we think about where we want to be 20 years from now, part of the legacy that we will leave behind is defining diversity, equity, and inclusion,” he said. “That will anchor our culture and our school.”

“One of the biggest successes of this action plan is that we’ve built a strong infrastructure of what we can do in the future,” said Carrillo. “We have everyone engaging with diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just the DEI office. We’re all part of this community, and we all want our community to be successful.”

A banner of fabric squares tied together, decorated with colorful illustrations of people, trees, and diversity
Attendees at the celebration created a banner of fabric squares where they illustrated what community means to them. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

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