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Oceans Department created, energy department renamed to expand mission

The new Oceans Department will provide unique oceans education and create global impact. The Energy Science and Engineering Department will increase in size and add expertise.

In the final meeting of the 2021-22 academic year, Stanford’s Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Oceans Department in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability that launches on Sept. 1. Trustees also heard a report on the department name change of the Energy Resources Engineering Department – currently within the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) – to the Energy Science and Engineering Department in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. That renaming reflects new members joining the department and an expanded scope and mission.

The approvals mark the first named new department within the school, which has undergone extensive structural planning since it was announced in 2020. The new and expanded departments come at critical time for both fields in terms of their role in supporting a sustainable planet and its inhabitants. Both departments will work closely with the Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and their associated centers and programs, to ensure deep engagement across campus.

“The problems are too complex, they’re happening too fast to make progress in the traditional disciplinary way – you have to co-create solutions from the start to address issues in sustainability and climate,” said biology Professor Fiorenza Micheli, co-director of Hopkins Marine Station and the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions[HMB1] .

Filling a niche

Micheli has served as a Leader of Areas of Scholarship, Engagement, and Research (LASER) for the past two years, working with other transition team members to build community and foster scholarship in the development of Stanford’s first new school in more than 70 years. The vision for the new department involves bringing together faculty from the natural sciences, Earth sciences, engineering, and the humanities, with faculty based both on Stanford’s main campus and at Hopkins Marine Station to create an academic unit focused on ocean discovery and sustainability.

Oceans are an essential component of a thriving environment, driving the global systems that make the planet habitable. The new department will coalesce researchers who have historically been siloed at the university, spanning social sciences, engineering, biology, physics, genomics, oceanography, and more.

“This new department fills a niche that is mostly unoccupied in academia,” Micheli said.There is an expectation that this will be different, and I’m already getting a lot of calls from colleagues from other institutions who are excited about the new school. It has sent a signal outside of the university that Stanford is really serious about oceans and sustainability.”

The new Oceans Department will begin developing comprehensive undergraduate and graduate degree programs that students can apply to in future years. Until they are finalized, undergraduate students in the department will follow a revised version of the Oceans, Atmosphere, and Climate track in the interdisciplinary Earth Systems Program. The new degree program will incorporate additional introductory oceans courses, as well as others in biology and ocean sustainability, and immersive, hands-on experiences on land and at sea. Students currently in Earth Systems will earn degrees from the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

New name, expanded focus

Energy resources engineering Professor Hamdi Tchelepi, the LASER for energy science and engineering on the transition team, echoed Micheli’s goal to create viable, scalable solutions for global sustainability. Like the Oceans Department, the Energy Science and Engineering Department will also continue Stanford’s deep tradition of incorporating fundamental research about the planet. Adding faculty focused on materials science and chemical engineering will transform the scope of the current department. As a next step, Tchelepi hopes to hold a series of retreats to define the department’s mission and intellectual areas, then engage with students, postdocs, and alumni for input on the vision.

“You cannot get to sustainability without a sustainable energy system – this is really about changing how we approach science and engineering for sustainability,” Tchelepi said. “That’s what drives me, and I think that’s what drives the other faculty. I have a feeling it is what will attract brilliant people to Stanford for the next few generations.”

Current undergraduate and graduate students in Energy Resources Engineering degree programs within Stanford Earth will continue in those programs within the new school, graduating with degrees in either Energy Science and Engineering or Energy Resources Engineering.

“We’re going to have to iterate, discover together, and change course as needed,” Tchelepi said. “We want the smartest, brightest people across the country and around the world to think of us first when they talk about sustainability and cutting-edge research and education.”


Micheli is the David and Lucile Packard Professor in Marine Science, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and co-director of the Center for Ocean Solutions and Hopkins Marine Station. Tchelepi is an affiliate with the Precourt Institute for Energy and a member of the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering (ICME).