Hollywood Goes to School

Kimberly White/Getty Images

When jaws drop in Martin Fischer’s 8:30 a.m. class, it’s usually because Fischer’s students are still waking up. But sleepy yawns turned to stunned gasps on October 20 when Cameron Diaz strode into Managing Sustainable Building Projects and took the podium.

The actress and environmental activist filmed a brief segment for Stand In, an MTVU series that springs celebrity instructors on unwitting college classrooms. Diaz joined architect/designer William McDonough, author of a landmark text on sustain­ability and a consulting professor in civil and environmental engineering, to discuss the course’s themes of green design and ecologically sound engineering practices.

The guest instructors tag-teamed their way through a volley of questions from 48 suddenly alert students. Discussion ranged from plans for Stanford’s Green Dorm Project to the role of engineers in sustainable design.

Fischer, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said Diaz specifically asked to address engineering students. “She understands that you have to convince the designers and producers first; you have to get them on board.” McDonough, too, urged students to foment a revolution in design. “It has to come from you,” he told them. “Because, as you go out into the world, you’re our best and brightest.”