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Paula Welander receives Excellence in DEI Award

The award recognizes individuals who go above and beyond their role to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at the school.

Paula Welander holding award next to Steve Graham
Paula Welander and Steve Graham

The award recognizes individuals who go above and beyond their role to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Associate Professor of Earth System Science Paula Welander is the recipient of the inaugural Stanford Earth Excellence in DEI Award, which recognizes individuals who regularly go above and beyond what is expected to create a more inclusive, just, and welcoming community at Stanford Earth.

Welander is a microbiologist and principal investigator of the Welander Lab, which studies lipid biomarkers to understand the evolution of life on ancient Earth. Since joining the Stanford faculty in 2013, she has made innumerable contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at Stanford Earth, the Earth System Science Department, and the broader Stanford community.

Welander is the Associate Chair for Diversity and Inclusion (ACDI) for her department, a three-year role appointed by the dean that provides faculty a platform to bring DEI best practices to graduate admissions, faculty searches, and postdoctoral fellowships. The ACDI role was created in 2016 under former Dean Pam Matson.

Dean Stephan Graham said that Stanford Earth has made DEI a major priority in recent years with the expansion of the DEI office and creation of the DEI Action Plan. Additionally, several members of the school, including Welander, have expanded upon their roles to further those efforts.

“Professor Welander has served as a model for what faculty can do and is richly deserving of recognition through this award,” Graham said.

Welander’s work has helped Stanford Earth garner recognition from elsewhere on campus for its DEI Action Plan, which sets specific goals that align with Stanford’s IDEAL Initiative. Stanford Earth’s work in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion also provides the foundation for DEI efforts in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Lupe Carrillo is director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Earth and part of the DEI governance council that created the award. She said institutional recognition of DEI work is key to driving change at the school.

“This work, which often falls on those most impacted by inequities, has historically been invisible and unrecognized,” said Carrillo. “We created this award to recognize that this work is not only integral to fostering an inclusive and equitable work and academic environment, but also a valuable part of any school that strives for educational excellence.”

Welander’s commitment to DEI is reflected in the diversity of her research group, which consists of eight postdocs and graduate students, six of whom are people of color, first-generation college students, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. One lab member said that Welander has made a lasting impact on Stanford’s scientific communities through her work as a researcher, teacher, and mentor.

“Her compassion, support, and advocacy for others have helped create an environment that promotes and recognizes the success and contributions of those from all different backgrounds,” the researcher said. “Paula is a great example that success comes not only from what you accomplish individually but also how you help cultivate the potential of others.”

Welander has also made DEI a priority outside of her lab. In the fall of 2019, she joined others in the Department of Earth System Science (ESS) in an effort to reconsider its graduate application process, notably re-evaluating the use of Graduate Record Exam scores, which ultimately convinced the department faculty to make these scores optional.

In her role as ACDI, Welander helped the ESS graduate admissions committee implement DEI best practices by bringing a more holistic evaluation to applicants. She also chaired a school-wide faculty search where she expanded hiring and outreach best practices to increase the diversity of the applicant pool and to limit unconscious biases in the process, and that has been taken up by current faculty searches in the school.

From left, DEI Director Lupe Carrillo, Associate Professor Paula Welander, Senior Associate Dean of Educational Affairs Tiziana Vanorio, and Stanford Earth Dean Stephan Graham. (Photo credit: Jerry Wang)

Passionate about inclusion as well, Welander ran the interdisciplinary seminar “Diverse Scientific Voices,” which brought diverse speakers to ESS, as well as to the Chemistry and Microbiology and Immunology departments. She also supported students in creating the graduate-level seminar course Earth 203: Diversity and Inclusion in the Geosciences, which explores best practices for promoting DEI in that field.

A fellow ESS faculty member who nominated Welander said that she serves as a model for others to follow.

“I personally have benefited from her efforts by enjoying the culture of inclusion she has fostered in our department and by learning from her what I can do to increase equity [and] inclusion in my teaching and research,” they said. “I find her efforts utterly inspiring and deeply deserving of this award.”

Welander’s commitment to DEI goes beyond Stanford Earth. She has served as a mentor for programs across the university that prepare students from underrepresented backgrounds for graduate school or research careers, including the Stanford Summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering Program(SURGE); the Solidarity, Leadership, Inclusion, Diversity Mentorship Program(SoLID); and the Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence (DARE) Doctoral Fellowship Program.

While serving on the Blueprint Advisory Committee for Stanford’s new Doerr School of Sustainability, Welander advanced environmental justice and DEI as foundational pillars for the school’s design.

Much of Welander’s work in advancing DEI efforts at Stanford is informed by her own experiences. During Latinx Heritage Month in 2020, she gave a talk to the Stanford Earth community titled, “Navigating the academic path as a first-gen Latina scientist,” in which she reflected on being an underrepresented minority in academia.

Carrillo praised Welander for her contributions to the school and the broader university community.

“Paula is a respected researcher and faculty member who has opened doors for others through her own path as a microbiologist,” said Carrillo. “After listening to her talk on her path as a first-gen Latina scientist, it was evident to me that Paula has been able to shape her career here at Stanford by staying true to her values and dedication to educational opportunity – to me that is inspiring.”

Welander said she finds the DEI work she has undertaken “very fulfilling and extremely important.”

“I feel like I am making a positive impact in people’s lives, and that in and of itself is rewarding,” Welander said. “I hope it demonstrates to others in our community the commitment we have made to creating a more inclusive and diverse environment as we transition to our new school.”

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