Former SLAC director Persis Drell to head Stanford School of Engineering

Drell will be the school's first female dean, ninth overall

Persis Drell, former director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, will be Stanford University's first female dean of engineering, the university announced Tuesday.

Drell, 58, is currently a physics professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and of particles physics and astrophysics at SLAC. She headed the 1,600-employee U.S. Department of Energy SLAC Laboratory at Stanford from 2007 to 2012. Her new appointment is effective Sept. 1.

Drell is replacing Jim Plummer, who is stepping down after serving as dean for 15 years, the longest tenure in the school's history, the university said.

"The Stanford School of Engineering is an extraordinarily successful school with unbounded future opportunities," Drell stated in a university press release. "That the school is leading innovation in such a wide array of engineering disciplines, combined with the potential for its discoveries to solve global challenges, is incredibly exciting."

The year Drell became SLAC's director, she was also named one of the "50 Most Important Women in Science" in the November 2002 issue of Discover Magazine.

She's well-accustomed to being the sole female presence in her field, from male-dominated classes during her undergraduate years at Wellesley College and later at the University of California at Berkeley, where she received a PhD in atomic physics, to the faculty makeup at Cornell University, where she taught physics in the late 1980s. She told the Weekly in a November 2002 profile that there were only two or three women out of 44 faculty members in her department that year. She was also the first woman to become director at SLAC.

Drell is credited with overseeing SLAC's transformation from a "laboratory dedicated primarily to research in high-energy physics to one that is now seen as a leader in a number of scientific disciplines," the university release states. This range of disciplines has included energy, biology, drug development and materials engineering.

In 2010, the lab began operations on the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world's most powerful x-ray laser.

She also boosted collaboration between SLAC and Stanford, including increasing the number of joint faculty appointments between SLAC and the university's schools.

Drell resigned from her post at SLAC in November 2011, saying at the time that she wanted to get back to her "first loves of research and teaching."

Drell is also a Gunn High School graduate and the daughter of Stanford University physicist Sidney Drell, who was the deputy director at SLAC for many years.

Related content:

Persis Drell named SLAC acting director (September 2007)

SLAC takes two giant steps (December 2007)

Fundamental questions (March 2011)

Elena Kadvany

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Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 4, 2014 at 9:46 am

Great news!

(Just a point of clarification, though: Wellesley College is a women's college so Drell would have not been dominated "by male-dominated class[mates] during her undergraduate years at Wellesley College.")

Like this comment
Posted by Carol Muller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2014 at 10:14 am

Fortunately, Stanford's School of Engineering under Jim Plummer's leadership has substantially increased the number of women faculty and students over the last 15 years, so Persis Drell won't be the sole female presence. At 17%, there is still effort to be made to attract world-class women engineering faculty members to Stanford, but it's going in the right direction. Professor Drell will be one of four women leading Stanford's seven schools for the 2014-15 academic year.

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 4, 2014 at 1:03 pm

-> Katie. My experience is a few years prior. In my undergrad years, Wellesley and MIT students could pretty freely take classes at the other institution. Travel time was a barrier. If she were taking classes at MIT (say, in atomic physics), male-dominated sounds about right. Yes, Wellesley is a women's college.

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