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Keoni Rodriguez, Bianca Patel receive Excellence in DEI Awards

The awards recognize individuals who go above and beyond their role to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. The awardees were honored at a school-wide celebration of accomplishments in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) over the past year.

Keoni Rodriguez, left, accepted the Excellence in DEI Award from Lupe Carrillo and Paula Welander during a community celebration on May 18. Bianca Patel also received the award in 2023. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Reddy)

Bianca Patel, an assistant director at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Keoni Rodriguez, a coterminal master’s student in Earth systems, have received the 2023 Excellence in DEI Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who regularly go above and beyond what is expected to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Bianca Patel
Bianca Patel

Patel develops and leads Explore Energy, the student engagement and energy education program of the Precourt Institute for Energy. She led the creation and implementation of an Explore Energy DEI Action Plan aligned with the school’s DEI goals, and continuously works to incorporate diverse voices and perspectives in programming, along with methods for tracking and accountability.

Rodriguez, who will be graduating with a coterminal master’s degree in the Earth Systems Program at the June Commencement, is a student leader who builds authentic connections among underrepresented communities on campus. They are a member of the Stanford Environmental Justice Working Group’s leadership team, in addition to being a student leader in Hui o Nā Moku (the Pacific Islander Coalition of Stanford University) and a former employee with the Stanford Conservation Program.

"We created this award because we know that there are many leaders in our community, such as Keoni and Bianca, who are going above and beyond in being part of change,” said Lupe Carrillo, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. "As a newly established school we want to send a message that this type of leadership is valued and appreciated by our community."

Recipients of the Excellence in DEI Awards serve as role models in building a supportive educational and professional community that fosters success and belonging for everyone, and enhances support and resources, especially for underrepresented and underserved groups. Nominees must be full-time staff, students, postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, or faculty members; the awardees were chosen by a committee based on nominations from the school community. Last year, Earth system sciences Professor Paula Welander received the award for her work as a faculty member.

Prior to the presentation of the awards and DEI celebration on May 18, school community members participated in a virtual DEI Town Hall to discuss progress and hurdles over the past year and brainstorm future ideas. The discussion was led by Lupe Carrillo, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Welander, associate dean for Integrative Initiatives in DEI; and Dean Arun Majumdar.

“When I was asked to be the dean, I went around meeting with each of the faculty members to understand what their work is, what their values are, what are the things that they would like to emphasize, and the issue of DEI came out really strongly,” Majumdar said at the DEI Town Hall. “I felt starting the school, given the interests of the faculty and the students, this should be one of the basic principles.”

Setting expectations

The Excellence in DEI Awards are part of the Doerr School of Sustainability’s DEI Action Plan, whose foundation was adopted from the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). The plan sets specific goals that align with Stanford’s IDEAL Initiative and outlines four major priorities: Educate, Enhance, Engage, and Expect. The Excellence in DEI Award falls under the category of Expect, in which we “build accountability for institutional change by expecting local DEI efforts.”

The two 2023 recipients of the award exemplify that belief, having gone well beyond their roles as student and staff member to ensure all members of the Stanford community can find belonging in a diversity of backgrounds and identities. 

“I have not encountered in any other individual on campus Keoni’s strong vision for  community building through building mutually beneficial and authentic connections among underrepresented communities on campus,” said one nominator.

“I have found Keoni to be someone who is constantly learning and teaching on DEIJ  issues around campus. They are [an] incredibly wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend to many of us who care about DEIJ.”

Rodriguez has participated in most of the core classes that center diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice at Staford – often as a student co-instructor – including Shades of Green: Exploring and Expanding Environmental Justice in Practice, Introduction to Environmental Justice, Emergent Thinking: Abolition and Climate Change, Catching up with Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii. The impact of their teaching is reflected in the feedback from students and observation of colleagues: “Their contributions deeply affected our students, especially when Keoni spoke from their lived experience as a Native Hawaiian and Filipino advancing EJ issues.”

In addition to always prioritizing personal connections, Rodriguez participated in the 2019 student organizing efforts that first called on Stanford for an environmental justice cluster hire, and also participated in efforts to establish a theme house for environmental justice that has yet to be accepted by university officials. 

“In our rush to ‘get things done’ on DEIJ, it is so easy to lose the depth of relationships  and connections with each other and also connections with the natural world that need to be there before we can start doing anything long lasting. Keoni is one of the wisest individuals I know on this topic, and I believe in their vision for DEIJ.”

Leading with inclusivity

Patel has approached system change by bringing her personal passion for inclusivity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion through her position as a leader. In addition to building a comprehensive and detailed DEI Action Plan for the Explore Energy/Understand Energy team at Precourt, Patel built a detailed Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning plan for Explore Energy; incorporated more diverse voices and perspectives into various programs she led at Precourt, including Energy@Stanford & SLAC – a week-long course for incoming graduate students; and broadened the student groups that Precourt connects with, specifically reaching out to diverse student clubs to invite them to join the Explore Energy student community.

“In the three years Bianca has been with Precourt, she has been a huge bridge between the institute and the rest of the university. She has built relationships across campus – including student groups, campus partners, the EJ working group, and even industry and government partners,” one nominator wrote.

Group of people standing in front of Explore Energy House on Stanford's campus
In May 2023, Bianca Patel, third from right, joined students and staff in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Explore Energy House. (Photo credit: Alexa Pollock)

Patel prioritized completing the IDEAL journey training, including attending manager workshops, and made it a goal for all of her direct reports to also complete the IDEAL journey, ensuring they felt supported in taking the time to do the training.

“During the job interview I had with Bianca, she emphasized her commitment to building a team with inclusive perspectives, and expressed a strong belief that diversity creates a healthy and dynamic work environment. … It was her focus on inclusivity and diversity that persuaded me to join the Precourt family. Her commitment assured me that I would be valued and respected for who I am under her leadership,” said another nominator.

Patel also joined the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s DEI Advisory Council, whose members identify inclusion needs, share resources with the broader community, suggest programming, and serve as local advocates.

“She leans into the uncomfortable conversations that are needed in order to drive change, and she listens in an open way that makes people feel safe in expressing their views and perspectives,” wrote one nominator.

A plan for the future

In their discussion during the DEI Town Hall, Carrillo and Welander emphasized many achievements that credit the investment of the school’s community members.

With the DEI liaisons program, Carrillo works with student and postdoc liaisons across each department and unit at the Doerr School of Sustainability who present ideas for how to enhance the community.

“It’s been wonderful to have ideas come from the students and not just from the DEI office, because our community members know where the needs are,” Carrillo said. “In the fall, for instance, we had a collaboration between the Doerr School and the Bechtel Center to further engage international students and further show that they are part of the conversation when it comes to DEI.”

Welander discussed the implementation of the Respectful Community Workshops, which included 10 sessions in the past year attended by 150 school members, two-thirds of whom were staff. She and Carrillo hope to expand the program into an online module, she added. 

Majumdar chimed in to express his excitement about the Dean’s Graduate Scholars Award, which supports outstanding incoming graduate students who have demonstrated leadership and commitment in DEI and show the potential to continue their engagement in DEI service at the Doerr School of Sustainability. The Dean’s Graduate Scholars receive tuition, salary, and research support, and participate in annual lunches with the dean. 

“They gave me some insights as to what kind of considerations to look at, and how they’re doing, and how we could use that experience to create an onboarding program for all graduate students coming in,” Majumdar said. “I think the long-term effects of this are not just for Stanford, but for the broader community when these students go out in the world.”

After the initial presentation, participants were split into breakout groups of 3-4 people to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in their different units. 

“We’ve talked about our successes and progress, but to truly grow and to truly evolve as a community, we have to look at our opportunities for growth as well as our challenges,” Carrillo said. 

“We are now in a historic moment when what we do with our diversity and equity inclusion initiatives really matters. And, with every annual town hall, we are committed to providing a space and a time for us to think about what DEI will be in the future.”

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