Tara is the GOAT; Calling all Michaels; how much digital goods are worth to us

January 30, 2024

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Nothing but net.

All eyes were on women's head coach Tara VanDerveer on January 21 as she clinched her 1,203rd career win and became the winningest coach in the history of college basketball. “I’m overwhelmed,” she told the crowd after the game. “I’m not usually lost for words but it’s pretty impressive, all these people here, all the former players coming back.” The WNBA’s Chiney Ogwumike, ’14, was among those who returned to witness the event. “Showing up for Tara is the same way you show up for a sister, an aunt, a brother,” she said. “She’s family to all of us.”

Every name in the book.

They are 531 strong. They once had their own Facebook group. They are the Michaels of Stanford. This month, intrepid fact finder Jay Gupta, ’26, uncovered Michael as the most common name at Stanford after obtaining a list of all faculty and student names. The top five names made for a masculine lineup: Michael (531 people), David (508), John (385), Daniel (334), and Andrew (306). An extensive word cloud revealed Sarah, Jennifer, and Maria were some of the most common feminine names. Digging into the data revealed other trends, too. Got a first name that starts with “U”? You’re in rare company: It’s the least common first initial on campus. But the significance of a name “extends well beyond a particular string of letters,” said Gupta. “Names carry deep personal, cultural, and historical significance. . . . Every Michael is their own, unique person!” Was your name the “Michael” of your graduating class? You may someday find out—Gupta next hopes to investigate how the distribution of names at Stanford has changed over the decades.

Rock the schoolhouse.

The inside of a building being built Photo: Ryan Zhang

The Graduate School of Education revamp, scheduled to be completed by fall 2025, is in full force. It includes the preservation and restoration of the GSE’s education building and the Barnum Center (built around 1906); the construction of a new south building adjacent to Barnum Center; and a new courtyard that will connect the three structures.

Top Chef: AI.

Most robots capable of Michelin-star moves cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but for just $32,000 (and the know-how of a computer science doctoral student), you can program a robot to pan-sear chicken thighs and whip up a stir-fry. Researchers at Stanford used off-the-shelf parts and 3D-printed hardware to create such a robot, which they call ALOHA. The magic of ALOHA’s culinary competence is rooted in “co-training,” which combines new, human-operated training demonstrations with old ones learned by previous ALOHA robots. “This recipe of imitation learning is very generic. It’s very simple. It’s very scalable,” said Chelsea Finn, an assistant professor of computer science and an adviser for the project. And since we know you’re wondering: Yes, ALOHA can also clean up its mess.

At Facebook value.

Facebook is a $981 billion company, but how much is it worth in the eyes of its users? Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research, asked 40,000 Facebook users from 13 countries how much they would need to be paid to stop using the platform for a month. Less than one-fifth of participants said they’d unplug for $5, but more than three-quarters would do it for $100. Brynjolfsson and his fellow researchers checked on 10 “digital goods” in total, including Google Search, TikTok, and Amazon shopping, and ranked the relative benefit people derived from those goods based on how much money people would accept to stop using them. They found the goods collectively produced more than $2.5 trillion in value annually (with Google Search at the top of the heap). “It tells me that measuring the value of digital goods is not just a theoretical exercise,” said Brynjolfsson. “This is making a first-order difference in billions of people’s lives.” Brynjolfsson is using the data to help establish a metric called GDP-B, which will measure the value of goods not counted in traditional GDP calculations.

But wait, there’s more.

On Monday, the members of Stanford's presidential search committee provided a summary of the insights they gleaned from the Stanford community via thousands of survey responses and more than 50 listening sessions that took place in the fall. “Your feedback showed clear consensus that the next president must prioritize excellence in research, education, and clinical care,” they said. Among the themes underscored were upholding academic freedom, investing in students, and elevating Stanford’s culture.

The Art and Science of Decision Making isn’t just a course taught by Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability lecturer Burke Robinson, ’71, MS ’76, PhD ’79—it’s the root of the 49ers’ recent playoff success. Robinson helped general manager John Lynch, ’93, and coach Kyle Shanahan draft a vision statement in 2017, and it’s been the team’s North Star ever since.

“People have a tendency to form hierarchies almost instantly in all kinds of organizational settings, whether the task requires it or not,” said Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Deborah Gruenfeld. On a new GSB podcast, If/Then, she discussed ways to modify hierarchies to form the kinds of relationships and organizations that we want.

“Should we build it?” With an eye on products that have led to either controversy or court, Stanford’s is shifting its curriculum to better incorporate ethics, with four new guiding pillars: make, care, adapt, and spark.

Allan Lopez, ’23, doesn’t feel imposter syndrome when he crosses paths with Olympians on campus; he feels it when he’s with his father, who immigrated from Guatemala after raising eight younger siblings and studying engineering. In an essay for Stanford magazine, Lopez writes about how he overcame the guilt he felt in believing that his father would have appreciated Stanford more.

Sterling K. Brown, ’98, has been nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in American Fiction. On the nominee lists for best international feature film and for best makeup and hairstyling is Society of the Snow, a Netflix film about the 1972 plan that crashed with the Uruguayan rugby team on board.  Among the crash’s real-life survivors: Pedro Algorta, MBA ’82.

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