So everybody wants to know why Stanford is
now the most sought after University in America, arguably the world. You guys have all seen
the record low acceptance rate for this year’s class of 2018. But nobody is really asking
the students themselves whether they find what they are actually looking for. Yes we
find the perfect weather, the beautiful campus, amazing football team– all those things.
But in reality, we don’t necessarily find a perfect education waiting for us at the
farm. Maybe that’s a little provocative to say in this audience, and honestly, I was
a little bit disappointed until that magical moment when I think each of us realized, in
our own way, that the point was not to receive a great education but to create our own. And
to shape it for the unique challenges that await our generation in a world that’s more
complex, uncertain, and connected than ever before.
So now when I think about why Stanford is the most sought after higher education, I
think it’s because Stanford students have thought out, with the guidance and support
of the University, to redefine higher education for the 21st century, to make it more interdisciplinary,
hands on in the real world and the real world is noticing those results. So there are all
kinds of examples all around campus but I am just going to show three examples of project-based
learning from my own experience studying civil engineering and architectural design.
So my magical moment came in sophomore year, when I took the class AEC Global Teamwork
Project, in which students from all around the world formed interdisciplinary teams to
tackle hypothetical but comprehensive building designs. This is my team from 2011 representing
two continents and four time zones, what did we learn? None of us could do it alone. But
most importantly, not even in our professions could we do it alone, and yet the industry
is full of silos, islands of knowledge, fragmented processes from architect to engineer to contractor.
The new paradigm is integrated project delivery, in which all disciplines are represented at
the very beginning of the conceptual design phase, so that together, we can work out the
kinks way before they become a cost to the client or the environment.
So this is exactly the kind of learning experience that we were immersed in, which will also
be the work experience in industry. Which lead to the real reason I think we were so
successful as a team is because we didn’t see it as a classroom assignment, we saw it
as training for our futures. Then that also meant that we could shape what that future
was, and will be, through experimentation and innovations such as building information
modeling, cloud-based computational tools, and even, virtual reality environments in
which we can collaborate in real time from thousands of miles apart, and even experience
our building design as it’s being conceived. There was a magical moment for me because
I realized for the first time that I was no longer a student, I was my own teacher. And
it meant that I could also not have to get into industry to begin to change it. So I
had the interdisciplinary experience but I was craving the hands-on which led to my next
project: Stanford’s first ever entry into the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
competition. It was a student initiated project, and over the span of two years, about a team
of over 100 students, many of whom have never held a hammer in their lives, to design, engineer
and build a 1,000 square foot, net zero solar paneled solar powered home—right on campus
by where the old Terman building used to be. After which point, we took it apart, put it
on trucks, shipped it down to Southern California in five 50 foot trailer beds. At which point
we put it back together over 8 days and competed against 19 other teams on contests ranging
from architecture to affordability. We ended up actually winning first place in affordability
and fifth place overall. (audience applause) Thank you.
But I don’t even really care about that… because we didn’t stop there. The real world
impact is that we brought the house back to Stanford campus, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve,
where right now (this picture was taken about a week ago) the park ranger and his family
are happily living inside and where the house will remain a visiting research and scholar
residence for decades to come—can’t get any more hands-on than that.
So next, inevitably for me, was the real world, because I was burnt out at this point. So
I actually took a gap year, for the past 8 months, I’ve been traveling 23 countries
in Europe and actually reconnecting with a lot of these European colleagues of mine from
the AEC Global Teamwork Project. Ironically, in what was supposed to be a vacation, I started
a company… It was a design practice in which many of us are applying our global interdisciplinary
approach to real client projects from London to Los Angeles.
But before I go, to deep dive into my career, I’m back at Stanford, getting my master’s
and in a full circle; my practice is now organizing our own project-based learning experience
it is called GUDP. And it is a lot like the class we have taken together except we’re
focusing on the political aspects, economic and social factors that affect urban developments,
long before the shovel hits the dirt. Most importantly, we wanted our students to have
a real client and a real challenge. For that, I enlisted the help of my good friend and
colleague, Michael Tubbs, class of 2012, youngest council member at the city of Stockton, California.
And he wanted our students to have strategic solutions to fix his district 6– which is
a neighborhood of long standing urban blight, drugs, violence, crime, you name it. It’s
a problem there and it’s a kind of place that even professionals don’t like to get
involved with. But knowing Stanford students and our peers around the world, seeing the
way that we think outside the bubble– the way to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes:
“We don’t let the classroom get in the way of our education.” I wouldn’t be surprised
if some of the best ideas from this project, end up becoming real world solutions, like
those of many GUDP projects to come, because like I said, to each her or his own education
and mine has only just begun.