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About the Provost

Drell is the James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering, a professor of materials science and engineering, and a professor of physics. She is the former dean of the Stanford School of Engineering and the former director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford.

Drell became provost on February 1, 2017. Soon after, she and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne launched a university-wide planning process to develop a path for Stanford’s future. Launched in May 2018, the vision includes initiatives to support the campus community and to advance teaching and research over the next decade and beyond.

Numerous initiatives associated with the long-range vision have been implemented or are moving forward. They include the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, the university’s first new school in 70 years; the new COLLEGE program for undergraduates; and a series of accelerators to speed up the application of university-generated knowledge in a range of academic fields.

As provost, Drell has focused on a range of key campus issues, including advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives; promoting the open exchange of diverse ideas; and enhancing support for student communities. In addition, she led the university’s operational response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Among her activities as provost, Drell spearheaded the IDEAL initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment). Academic initiatives under IDEAL include new faculty hiring efforts, including a Race in America faculty cluster hire and the IDEAL Provostial Fellows program. She also convened a task force to recommend a new infrastructure for the study of race and the effects of race on society, which has recommended the creation of an academic department for African and African American Studies as well as a new Institute on Race.

Academic and administrative background

Drell received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College in 1977, followed by a PhD in atomic physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983. She then switched to high-energy experimental physics and worked as a postdoctoral scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She joined the physics faculty at Cornell University in 1988.

In 2002, Drell joined the Stanford faculty as a professor and director of research at SLAC. In her early years there, she worked on the construction of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. In 2005, she became SLAC’s deputy director and was named director two years later. She led the 1,600-employee laboratory until 2012. Drell is credited with helping broaden the focus of the lab, increasing collaborations between SLAC and the main Stanford campus, and overseeing transformational projects, including overseeing the successful construction and commissioning of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

After serving as the director of SLAC, Drell returned to the Stanford faculty, focusing her research on technology development for free electron lasers and particle astrophysics.

Drell was named the dean of the Stanford School of Engineering in 2014. As dean, she catalyzed a collaborative school-wide process to explore the realms of possibility for the future of the School of Engineering and engineering education and research. Drell placed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion at the school, focusing on increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering and ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds.

In addition to her administrative responsibilities as provost, Drell teaches a companion course to introductory physics each year for undergraduate students who had limited exposure to the subject in high school. In fall 2022, she co-taught in the COLLEGE program for undergraduates.

Drell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Drell is married to SLAC accelerator physicist Jim Welch. They have three children. Drell’s father, the late Sidney Drell, was a celebrated physicist and Stanford professor.

Drell will step down as provost in fall 2023; she will continue to serve on the Stanford faculty.