Divided loyalties: Stanford professors who went to Cal

Nov. 17, 2021, 10:20 p.m.

Tensions between Stanford and a certain university across the Bay are heightened every November, with some people completely indifferent and others die-hard rivals. Even the most indifferent tend to don Cardinal Red as the Big Game approaches, but for some University faculty, it is much harder to choose a side. The Daily interviewed professors that are Berkeley alumni to establish where exactly their loyalties lie ahead of this year’s Big Game.  

Numerous engineering professors have studied at Berkeley, including Allison Okamura M.S. ’96 Ph.D. ’00 and Debbie Senesky.

After receiving an undergraduate degree at Berkeley, Okamura pursued a masters and Ph.D. in Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering department. Now, she serves as the director of Stanford’s CHARM Lab and a professor of mechanical engineering. While Okamura refrained from picking a side, she expressed her excitement about the academic opportunities at both universities. 

“No matter who I root for, I am excited that I will get to go on the field at the Big Game when they announce this year’s Bass University Fellows in Undergraduate Education,” she said.

Although Senesky chose Berkeley over Stanford for her graduate studies, she wrote that she pursued a career at Stanford because she “really loved meeting the faculty and students in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department.” She added that Stanford “felt like home” during her interview  — despite the Stanford student that gave her a lab tour “wearing a ‘Beat Cal’ t-shirt.” 

Like Okamura, Senesky declined to choose a side, writing that her “colleagues and students might become upset!” We will give her the benefit of the doubt that she is not referring to current students, as she taught students at Berkeley as well while receiving a masters and Ph.D. degree before joining Stanford’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department.

When asked to compare the two schools’ respective cultures, Senesky contended that both universities may have more in common than students are willing to admit during Big Game week — “Both campuses are filled with very talented and creative people that want to change the world,” she wrote. 

Reflecting on physical mementos from the two universities, Senesky expressed particular fondness for both her “very worn out” Cal sweatshirt and a 3D-printed Stanford logo that a student gave her at the end of her freshman seminar on 3D-printed Aerospace Structures, which she wrote is currently hanging in her car.

Robert I. Sutton, a professor of Management Science and Engineering and a professor of Organizational Behavior by courtesy, also received an undergraduate degree from Berkeley.

While Okamura and Senesky refrained from picking a side, Sutton wrote that he “tepidly” roots for Cal in the Big Game. He recalled one year during which he ran into John Hennessy, then-President of Stanford University, in a parking lot at Big Game. Sutton joked that it was “kind of fun” to be “insulted by him” for wearing a Cal hat and bringing his daughters dressed in Cal gear. 

Sutton, who has taught at both Stanford and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, wrote that between the two universities, he would rather work at Stanford, where “it is easier to get things done.” Regardless, Sutton also toed the line between both universities, calling himself a loyal Berkeley alum.

Although Sutton admitted that he does not feel strongly about football, he wrote that admires his students — both current and former — on the football team, referring to them as great students and people.

Anne Li '24 is a news desk editor, staff writer and former beat reporter. Contact her at anneli ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.Contact Sarayu at smpai918 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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