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Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability dean tells graduates: ‘I could not be more optimistic’

Dean Arun Majumdar encouraged the inaugural class of graduates to use their knowledge, leadership, and commitment to make a positive impact on the world at the school’s commencement celebration.

Dean Arun Majumdar addressing graduates on Mitchell Patio
Dean Arun Majumdar addresses graduates at the school's commencement celebration on the Mitchell Patio June 18. (Photo credit: Paul Sakuma)

The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability celebrated its inaugural class of graduates at the school’s commencement celebration on June 18 on the Mitchell Patio. The occasion launched with a bagpipe procession and speech by Dean Arun Majumdar, who has led the school through its first academic year.

“It was this exact location, nine months ago, that we formally launched the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability – Stanford’s first new school in over 70 years,” Majumdar said to graduates and their guests. “On that day, I made a promise on behalf of the school and all those engaged with its efforts that we would use all the powers at our disposal – the education, the talent, the innovation, the resources, the solutions, and our influence – to restore Mother Earth for our children and grandchildren.”

Majumdar encouraged graduates to use their knowledge, leadership, and commitment to make a positive impact on the world.

“The diploma you receive today is a great honor. But more than anything, your degree is a responsibility,” he added. “The responsibility is a heavy one, but looking at you now, I could not be more optimistic.”

In the 2022-23 academic year, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability awarded 424 degrees: 45 Bachelor of Science, 304 Master of Science or Master of Arts, 2 Engineer, and 73 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, from the departments of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Energy Science & Engineering, Geophysics, Earth System Science, and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE, joint with the School of Engineering), and from three interdisciplinary programs: the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER), the Earth Systems Program, and the Change Leadership for Sustainability Program. CEE held a separate diploma ceremony on Sunday at Memorial Auditorium.

Nicole Travis holds the school flag at Stanford Stadium. (Photo credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“It goes without saying that today represents not just a landmark for your educational journey but for your entire life,” Majumdar said. “I invite you to see this moment as a launching pad for the great and tremendous things that you will achieve.”

Majumdar also recognized faculty as the foundation of the school’s education mission, thanking them for sharing knowledge that now amplifies through all those who received their diplomas on Sunday. Keoni Rodriguez, Earth Systems ’23,  presented a land acknowledgment.

Nicole Travis, Earth System Science ’23, served as the flag bearer during the university commencement ceremony at Stanford Stadium June 18. Incorporating symbols based on drawings and suggestions submitted by faculty, students, and staff, the new flag design represents the school’s history and future. 

Excellence in Teaching Award

Erik Sperling, Julia Novy, and Dean Majumdar at commencement celebration stage
From left, Erik Sperling, Julia Novy, and Dean Arun Majumdar. (Photo credit: Paul Sakuma)

During the ceremony, Professor of the Practice Julia Novy and Earth & Planetary Sciences Assistant Professor Erik Sperling were presented with the school’s 2023 Excellence in Teaching Awards. They were selected based on nominations from students, faculty, and staff.

“Erik is an engaging lecturer who can truly inspire his students,” one nominator wrote.

Sperling was recognized for “carrying the Earth Sciences teaching torch into the future,” and bringing his passion for geology to a large number of Stanford undergraduate students.

Novy, co-director of the Sustainability Science and Practice (SUST) master’s program and executive director of Change Leadership for Sustainability at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, was nominated for inspiring her students, fostering personal connections, and “mindful instruction.”

“I looked forward to our brief guided mindfulness exercise every day, which I began to practice outside of class,” a nominator wrote.

At the CEE ceremony, Assistant Professor Rishee Jain was presented with the Eugene L. Grant award, which recognizes dedication and excellence in teaching by a professor in the department. The awardee is selected based on voting by the undergraduate students in CEE. 

Student awards

The Centennial TA Awards were presented to 12 graduate students who demonstrated outstanding contributions to teaching: Jaewoo An (Energy Science & Engineering), Laura Blackstone (Geophysics), Jasmin Dalsgaard (Sustainability Science and Practice), Daniel Diaz Salgado (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Yiwen Dong (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Anissa Foster (Earth Systems), Noah Gluschankoff (Earth System Science), Randall Holmes (E-IPER), Joshua King (Earth Systems), Olivia Lancaster (Sustainability Science and Practice, received the award from Mechanical Engineering), Isabelle Pilson (Sustainability Science and Practice), Lucy Webb (Earth and Planetary Sciences). 

Thirty-nine students received the Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Academic Achievement: Kanoe Aiu, Lizzie Avila, Tierra Baird, Nomunzul Battulga, McKenna Beck, Kate Bradley, Hugo Budd, Trevor Cambron, Phillip Chacon, Alan Cuevas, Alison Day, Linh Do, Molly Glickman, Xavier Gomez, Marshall Hartung, Evan Kanji, Brandon Kenery, Megan King, Mehdi Lacombe, Henry Lai, Lily Laugharn, Justina Lee, Emily Liu, Max Manson, Luke Molbak, Christopher Noll, Maya Passmore, Ethan Petersen, Drive Rojrachsombat, Mikaela Salvador, Dylan Schuler, Sydney Schmitter, Ximena Sosa, Kavya Varkey, Abigail Varney, Patrick Vaughan, Anthony Villalobos, Katherine Zhang, and Mitchell Zimmerman.

Earth & Planetary Sciences

  • Outstanding Graduate Student Award: Lijing Wang
  • Harriet Benson Fellowship Award: Minkyung Han

Energy Science & Engineering

  • Frank G. Miller Fellowship Award: Zainab Alali, Marshall Hartung, Niklaus Leuenberger, Wenting Ma, Yashee Mathur, Patrick Vaughan
  • Henry J. Ramey Fellowship Award: Weiyu Li
  • Robert G. Lindblom Memorial Award: Phillip Chacon
  • William H. Brigham Memorial Award: Annette Herminghaus


  • Undergraduate Best Thesis Award: Paco Poler
  • Outstanding Thesis Award: Aakash Ahamed
  • Department Citizenship Award: Matt Lees

Sustainability Science and Practice Coterminal Master’s Program

Pamela A. Matson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sustainability Leadership: Annie Minondo, Isabelle Pilson

Earth Systems Program

  • William W. Whitley Citizen Scholar Award: Jonathan Borja
  • Miller-Marsden Prize for Innovative Research on the Environment: Sydney Schmitter
  • Earth Systems Award for Outstanding Research: Trevor Cambron, Mikaela Salvador
  • Earth Systems, Senior Capstone Excellence Award: Tierra Baird, Kelly Dunn, Sonja Hansen, Megan King, and Katherine Zhang
  • Earth Systems Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Award: Xavier Gomez, Tanvi Dutta Gupta
  • Outstanding Service to the Earth Systems Program: Zunarah Ahmad, Emily Liu, Alexander Nelson, George Rojano, Sydney Schmitter, Kavya Varkey

Civil and Environmental Engineering

CEE students have been recognized with awards from the School of Engineering, the Stanford Alumni Association, and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, in addition to various external organizations. Awardees recognized at their ceremony on Sunday included the following:

  • SoE Dean's Graduate Student Advisory Council JEDI Graduation Award: Alison Fritz
  • Phi Beta Kappa 2023: Tule Horton, Brandon Kenery

Graduates may access photos from the school's commencement celebration by visiting the Commencement 2023 website.

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