Widom named dean of School of Engineering

Feb. 28, 2017, 12:45 a.m.

Provost Persis Drell announced on Monday that Jennifer Widom, the Fletcher Jones Professor in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, will be dean of the School of Engineering starting Mar. 13. Widom will succeed Interim Dean Thomas Kenny, who took on the role after Drell was named Provost.

Jennifer Widom (Courtesy of John Todd).

In her 24-year career at Stanford, Widom has served as Computer Science Department chair from 2009 to 2014 and senior associate dean from 2014 to 2016. This academic year, she was on sabbatical during the fall and winter, teaching courses on big data and design thinking in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Peru, Chile and Mexico.

“Jennifer understands the bottom-up nature of Stanford and how that drives innovation here,” Drell said. “Jennifer can bring out the best in the people she works with. She embraces a bold vision of the future and a strong desire to support our faculty, staff and students.”

As dean, Widom told Stanford News that she hopes to fully integrate the School of Engineering with the rest of the university to the benefit of the School and Stanford at large.

“I’ve set a long-term end goal,” said Widom. “I’d like every faculty member in the university, regardless of field, to feel fortunate that they are in a university with a top engineering school, just as engineering faculty benefit tremendously from Stanford’s strengths across the whole range of disciplines.”

To that end, one major project Widom aims to pursue is modernizing the curriculum to ensure that engineering students are able to take classes outside their major. In addition, she hopes to ensure that non-engineering students are able to take courses in the School of Engineering with relative ease.

“I’ve had a pretty non-linear career path and therefore, I want to encourage students to explore,” Widom said.

As an undergraduate, Widom studied music at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music before changing her academic trajectory and obtaining a PhD in computer science from Cornell University. Her experiences have informed her belief in the value of academic exploration for undergraduates.

In her work as dean, Widom also seeks to build on the foundations laid by her predecessors, such as Drell, in bridging gender and ethnic gaps among students and faculty. Although Stanford is doing better than the national average in terms of minority representation, Widom told The Daily that a lot of work remains to be done.

Widom’s connections to Stanford extend beyond her professional life. Her son is a senior at Stanford and her husband, Professor Alex Aiken, is currently the chair of the computer science department, having succeeded her as chair in 2014. Their other child, a daughter, is an undergraduate at Harvard University.

 

Contact Vibhav Mariwala at vibhavm ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Vibhav is a senior staff writer from Mumbai, India. He is a history major writing an honor’s thesis on the Indian Constitution and Indian economic policy from 1947-60. When he’s not reading history books, Vibhav enjoys sailing, kayaking and hiking.

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