Graduates Who Give Back

Photo: Glenn Matsumura

As president of Stanford, I experience one of the highlights of my year at Commencement when I stand before our newest graduates and remind them that they are now part of a long line of distinguished alumni. The strength of our University is—and always has been—the excellence of its people and their commitment to putting their education to good use.

The problems facing the world seem more urgent than ever, and it is clear that we need new approaches to address the challenges. At Stanford, our goal is to educate our students so they will discover needed solutions and become the kinds of leaders our planet desperately needs. So I want to tell you about a few of the many students doing extraordinary work at Stanford.

Rowza Tur Rumma, ’10, recipient of the K.F. Tung Scholarship, arrived at Stanford knowing she wanted to become a doctor. When it came time to choose her undergraduate major, Rowza decided on chemical engineering because, as she told Stanford Report, “I wanted to see the beautiful laws of physics being applied to help humanity.” During her time at Stanford, she partnered with two friends to establish REACH, Right to Education for All Children, to raise awareness about the educational needs of children in countries such as Bangladesh and Kenya. When she completes her education, she plans to return to her home country, Bangladesh. As she explained, “You have to remember the people you left behind. . . . I have a responsibility to give back to people who gave me so much.”

That commitment to improving the lives of others is shared by many of our students. Michael C. Chen, a PhD candidate in psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and recipient of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship, wants to advance our understanding of the causes of depression. Research has shown that people with a family history of depression are at increased risk. Michael’s research looks at why some family members develop depression, when others do not.

Andrew Perlstein has been deeply concerned about the environment since ninth grade when he organized Earth Day activities for his school. Before coming to Stanford, he earned his undergraduate degree in earth sciences and Asian studies and his master’s in urban and regional planning. Now a doctoral student and recipient of the R.H. Anderson Fellowship, Andrew combines his commitment to addressing environmental issues with his knowledge of Asia. In the Emmett Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources, he is examining the complex issue of sustainability in China’s rapidly growing cities.

Some of the most interesting and provocative work is being done at the intersections of disciplines. For that reason, we established the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowships. SIGFs provide portable three-year fellowships with which students can cross traditional academic boundaries and combine overlapping interests to work with faculty and researchers throughout the University.

Based at Hopkins Marine Station, SIGF recipient Katie Mach applies engineering techniques to questions in marine ecology. A fourth-year graduate student pursuing a PhD in biology, she studies how ocean habitats are affected by climate change and models the impact of global warming on seaweed, a vital part of the ecosystem both for processing carbon dioxide and as a food source for marine life.

Stanford’s future excellence depends on ensuring that we continue to attract students like Rowza, Michael, Andrew and Katie. Like many of today’s students, they benefit from the generosity of alumni and friends. With the University’s financial aid resources significantly diminished by the financial crisis, the support of alumni and friends is more important than ever to attract and support the very best students.

In his inaugural address in 1891, Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, said, “We must lay the foundations broad and firm, so as to give full support to whatever edifice the future may build.” There is no better foundation for a strong future than in giving full support to today’s students. We have only to look at how they are choosing to develop their talents, at the questions they are addressing and at what they have already accomplished to know how deeply committed they are to making a difference in the world.

When I think about our students and see the work they are doing, I feel a tremendous sense of pride, duty and optimism. With your continued help, I have no doubt they will go on to do great things.