How Stanford Went STEM: A Story About ‘Doing The Right Thing’

How Stanford GSB Went STEM: A Story About Doing The Right Thing

Stanford announced its full-time MBA and other graduate programs were classified as STEM in April 2020

In his latest book, 7 Rules of Power, Stanford authority on power Jeffrey Pfeffer speaks of the importance of persistence and resilience and being “willing to do what it takes.” A crucial part of this, Professor Pfeffer writes, is “sticking with efforts … and getting things done in the face of opposition, criticism, obstacles, setbacks and failures.”

My MacBook has nostalgically informed me that it has been four years — to the day — that I had published my opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. The day after, Stanford University Graduate School of Business classified ALL its degrees as STEM — guaranteeing three years in the United States for international students such as myself, instead of just 12 months. I started getting word from friendly sources ahead of the official announcement while I was in my STRAMGT 355: Managing Growing Enterprises Zoom class. Just when I (incorrectly) assumed that I had a few minutes to process all the texts and calls and my own adrenaline and relief about this epic development – I got cold-called. I believe I survived honorably.

It is emotional to be looking back at some notes of gratitude received from my classmates/friends that day. The advocacy took about six months and the central driving force wasn’t the university. Most certainly it wasn’t the student body. Nor was it me. It was simply the power of words. Evidence backed advocacy through multiple channels – meetings, emails, 1:1s progressing onto an opinion piece in the university newspaper (Stanford Daily) which was then picked up by the highly influential Poets&Quants — compelling the GSB to publicly announce their consideration of the matter. Despite this colossal milestone, months went by and support was fading in the midst of more pressing matters — e.g., a job search in the middle of Covid-19 and an acute-yet-understandable desire to avoid any conflict or disagreement with the university administration. This is when I decided to write another op-ed and, with cautious ambition, pitch it to the Wall Street Journal. It was the product of an obsessive all-night writing binge and was thankfully accepted by the editor.

The impact of the publication was immediate. I wish I could say there was universal support for this effort. There wasn’t. But I again take comfort in Professor Pfeffer’s words: “Not all use of power will be met with unalloyed approval, so leaders need to be willing to incur some level of social disapproval.”

The value system guiding my life is simple; most profound things in life generally are. Do the right thing. Stand up for something and someone other than yourself. While the rules of power can be (and most often are) used for self-advancement, there is an undeniable satisfaction in using one’s influence and strengths to challenge the status quo and help others to do the right thing. Sure, one can use all the tips to promote oneself and get a cool job or a promotion. But for someone hoping to exercise impact and leadership at scale, the use of power is a bit more nuanced. The scale we are talking about here was the entire international student population (those on temporary visas) at the GSB across all years of study (plus the cohort in the year above). This valuable book on the use of power wasn’t yet published when I was consumed with the Department of Homeland Security CIP codes for STEM eligible degrees and researching how other business schools had achieved STEM status when Stanford couldn’t.

But sometimes the only rules you need in life can simply be placing a higher value on courage versus inertia. On authenticity versus popularity. And on doing the right thing for others, rather than a blind pursuit of power and influence just to score personal CV points.


How Stanford GSB Went STEM: A Story About Doing The Right ThingAnupriya is a management consultant based in San Francisco, specializing in advising C-suite clients on technology, business transformation and customer strategy. Her global career and life spans India, UK, Switzerland, and now the Bay Area. She is passionate about writing and has written for the Times of India, the Wall Street Journal and the Stanford Daily. She also authored a case study at Stanford GSB on the role of Humor in Business. She loves mentoring students and those early in their careers on topics and skills such as networking, leadership and negotiation. Besides holding board positions at several prominent non-profit organizations, Anupriya is also a regular speaker at major technology conferences — including Women in Tech Global Conference 2024, where she spoke about using tips from Neuroscience for Professional Development. She is an avid fencer, photographer, and Wordle geek.

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