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Sustainability Student Advisory Council gives students voice in sustainability matters

Nearly two dozen students from across campus meet quarterly to discuss topics and questions raised by Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability faculty and staff and then share their recommendations with the Dean’s Office.

Students interested in weighing in on Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability initiatives have a new forum for sharing their perspective with school leaders. Since autumn 2023, PhD student Anela Arifi, a member of the school’s Advisory Council, has been organizing a group to provide feedback on topics of importance to the school.

On the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability Advisory Council, Arifi serves alongside the likes of Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice, John Hennessy, and Ann and John Doerr, among other leaders in industry, government, and academia who work with faculty, students, and staff to help shape new initiatives and maximize the school’s impact.

Cognizant of the responsibility she bears as the sole student voice in the group, Arifi began to look for ways to bring more of her peers into the conversation. The result is the new Sustainability Student Advisory Council, a group of 23 students who meet quarterly to consider topics including how students can get involved in sustainability efforts and an internship program in sustainability. 

Anela Arifi
PhD student Anela Arifi

“The students on the Student Advisory Council are passionate about sustainability issues and want to have a voice in programs that affect them, the school, and Stanford,” said Arifi, who is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and a student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER). “I needed their help to create a system for getting critical feedback to the dean and to the higher-level Advisory Council.”

Students from sustainability groups across campus

The Student Advisory Council is composed of undergraduate and graduate students from four of Stanford’s seven schools in disciplines including business, international policy, computer science, Earth systems, and more. In forming the group, Arifi reached out to a broad set of student groups working in sustainability who share a deep interest in studying, advancing, and promoting sustainability on campus and globally. 

“It has been powerful to have the input from such a broad group of students on campus on key initiatives in the school,” said Jennifer Calvert, chief of staff to the dean.

Independent of the school’s Advisory Council, the student group discusses issues suggested to Arifi by Calvert, who collects ideas from people across the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. Arifi then reports the students’ perspectives and conclusions to the dean and staff in subsequent meetings.

Informing internship program design

Two recent topics of discussion provide insight on the inner workings of the Student Advisory Council. The first centered on plans to create a global sustainability internship program and database for Stanford students. The second meeting focused on cataloging opportunities for students to get involved with sustainability and developing ideas for how to help students learn what opportunities exist.

The council’s perspectives informed the design of a pilot program that guided students to apply for sustainability-focused internships at four companies around the world and one environmental nonprofit. “We hope to expand that in coming quarters,” Arifi said.

Beth Gillbrand, strategic corporate alliances officer in the Dean’s Office, participated in a focus group with the Student Advisory Council that helped shape the internship program. “The group’s input was incredibly helpful as we brainstormed the possibilities of a robust summer internship program. We used their input to tailor the types of organizations and the timing of the recruiting process,” Gillbrand says. “The council’s perspective and advice was insightful and really helped set the internship program off in the right direction.”

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