Positioning for the Future

by President John Hennessy

This year marks the end of the first decade of the century, and just as Stanford’s first 15 years were spent in what David Starr Jordan famously characterized as the university’s “second stone age,” this year saw the construction of a number of new buildings. This construction boom led to the opening of six new academic buildings in the past year with a number of additional ones scheduled for the next few years.

These new facilities will replace outmoded buildings dating back to the 1950s and 1960s in engineering, medicine and the sciences and will help Stanford realign its design to the original plan developed by renowned architect Frederick Law Olmsted at the founding of the university. More important, these buildings carry Stanford forward to a bold new future.

One of the most important roles of the research university, especially Stanford, is to serve as the incubator for innovation, and at the new Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center, the faculty selected inspirational quotes to feature throughout the building. Among them, John Gardner’s advice seems particularly apt as we go forward: “We may learn something about the renewal of societies if we look at the kind of individuals who contribute most to the outcome — the innovators.”

Among the most important new directions at Stanford over the past few years has been a set of multidisciplinary initiatives — in human health, environmental sustainability and international peace and security — all areas that present significant problems in this century. To support these efforts, we launched The Stanford Challenge. Now in its fifth and final year, The Stanford Challenge is an investment in the ingenuity of the Stanford faculty and students for the long-term benefit of society.

Our multidisciplinary initiatives were designed as experiments to cultivate the imaginations of our faculty, researchers and students. These early initiatives offered a framework to guide their work, and seed money facilitated the process. As the initiatives evolved, some deviated from initial guidelines, but all served their purpose: They gave people the freedom to think differently about problems and to consider new ways of collaboration in research and teaching.

As we began the process of rejuvenating older portions of the Engineering and Medicine buildings and grounds, we determined that our new facilities should be designed to embrace and enhance these new multidisciplinary efforts. And, naturally, revolutionary advances require cutting-edge facilities. For example, the new Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Building brings together faculty from many departments in the School of Medicine focused on both the fundamental biology of stem cells and the critical area of regenerative biology. It is also the largest laboratory for stem cell research at any U.S. university.

The new Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge (LKSC) serves as the home for the School of Medicine as well as providing desperately needed teaching and student facilities. One of the highlights of the building is the new surgical simulation suite, providing a method to train surgeons using highly realistic mannequins and simulation systems. Together, the LKSC, the Lokey Stem Cell Building and the Clark Center, which houses several interdisciplinary activities including Bio-X and Bioengineering, enable the School of Medicine to present a new front on Campus Drive, one designed to encourage collaboration with Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Engineering all directly across Campus Drive.

Although I have focused on some exciting new facilities in this introduction, the core of the university and its excellence still depends on people, primarily the faculty and students. As detailed in the accompanying sections, our faculty, researchers and students have taken the initiatives in new directions, demonstrating proof of concept by advancing technologies, pioneering new fields and developing new approaches to teaching and learning. We must ensure that we maintain the best faculty and have the resources to fully support student financial aid during the five to ten years it will take to rebuild our endowment in the aftermath of the 2008-09 market crash.

One hundred and fifteen years ago, Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, exhorted the Pioneer Class:

“The best-spent money of the present is that which is used for the future. … The university stands for the future.”

This is the foundation upon which we stand. We are positioning the university for a future of possibility: equipping it to do groundbreaking research and teaching and extending Stanford’s legacy of excellence well into the decades to come. 



We may learn something about the renewal of societies if we look at the kind of individuals who contribute most to the outcome — the innovators.

In 1876, former California Governor Leland Stanford purchased 650 acres of Rancho San Francisquito for a country home and began the development of his famous Palo Alto Stock Farm. He later bought adjoining properties totaling more than 8,000 acres. The little town that was beginning to emerge near the land took the name Palo Alto (tall tree) after a giant California redwood on the bank of San Francisquito Creek. The tree itself is still there and would later become the university's symbol and centerpiece of its official seal.

The Stanford Family

Leland Stanford, who grew up and studied law in New York, moved West after the gold rush and, like many of his wealthy contemporaries, made his fortune in the railroads. He was a leader of the Republican Party, governor of California and later a U.S. senator. He and Jane had one son, who died of typhoid fever in 1884 when the family was traveling in Italy. Leland Jr. was just 15. Within weeks of his death, the Stanfords decided that, because they no longer could do anything for their own child, "the children of California shall be our children." They quickly set about to find a lasting way to memorialize their beloved son.

The Stanfords considered several possibilities – a university, a technical school, a museum. While on the East Coast, they visited Harvard, MIT, Cornell and Johns Hopkins to seek advice on starting a new university in California. (See note regarding accounts of the Stanfords visit with Harvard President Charles W. Eliot.) Ultimately, they decided to establish two institutions in Leland Junior's name - the University and a museum. From the outset they made some untraditional choices: the university would be coeducational, in a time when most were all-male; non-denominational, when most were associated with a religious organization; and avowedly practical, producing "cultured and useful citizens."

On October 1, 1891, Stanford University opened its doors after six years of planning and building. The prediction of a New York newspaper that Stanford professors would "lecture in marble halls to empty benches" was quickly disproved. The first student body consisted of 555 men and women, and the original faculty of 15 was expanded to 49 for the second year. The university’s first president was David Starr Jordan, a graduate of Cornell, who left his post as president of Indiana University to join the adventure out West.

The Stanfords engaged Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect who created New York’s Central Park, to design the physical plan for the university. The collaboration was contentious, but finally resulted in an organization of quadrangles on an east-west axis. Today, as Stanford continues to expand, the university’s architects attempt to respect those original university plans.





President John Hennessy

Thank you for your interest in Stanford University. As its 10th president and a faculty member since 1977, I think Stanford is a very special place.

Stanford is recognized as one of the world’s leading universities. Established more than a century ago by founders Jane and Leland Stanford, the university was designed, as clearly stated in the Founding Grant, to prepare students “for personal success and direct usefulness in life” and “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Today Stanford University remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students to become the next generation of leaders.

Our students have opportunities to participate in a remarkable range of activities: from academic courses taught by renowned professors and opportunities for research, independent study and public service to an extraordinary breadth of extracurricular activities.

Multidisciplinary research and teaching are at the heart of recent university-wide initiatives on human health, the environment and sustainability, international affairs and the arts. These initiatives offer our faculty and students opportunities for collaboration across disciplines that will be key to future advances.

Our undergraduate students are an important part of these efforts. Stanford undergraduates have opportunities to study with faculty in small classes from their first days on campus, participate in study abroad or spend a quarter in Washington, D.C. Many students become involved in faculty research or develop their own projects and discover the excitement of being at the edge of a field and advancing the frontier of knowledge.

The pioneering spirit that inspired Jane and Leland Stanford to establish this university more than a century ago encourages boldness in everything we do — whether those efforts occur in the library, in the classroom, in a laboratory, in a theater or on an athletic field.

We hope that you, too, find your place at Stanford.




Located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University is recognized as one of the world's leading research and teaching institutions.

Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to "promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization." Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today's complex world.