The seal. Click through for image source.This 12th installment in my series of articles about great American colleges and universities returns to my home State to highlight one of the most esteemed educational institutions in the United States and indeed the world, Leland Stanford Junior University, better known simply as Stanford University.

Located in Palo Alto, California, the school was founded by railroad tycoon, California Governor, and U.S. Senator Leland Stanford, Sr. and his wife Jane in honor of their son Leland, Jr., who had died of typhoid fever at age 15. The Stanfords approached Charles Eliot, then president of Harvard University, to ask what it would take to create a similar school in California. The answer was US $15 million, a huge amount for the time. Funds were promptly secured, construction began, and the first students were admitted in 1891.

Today, 122 years later, Stanford consistently rivals Harvard for the top slot in rankings of the “best” or “most prestigious” universities on Earth. Yes, the academics at Stanford are first-rate, but there is much more to the story. The frontier self-sufficiency and enterprise of the American West catalyzed a unique entrepreneurial ethos at Stanford, which in turned seeded and nurtured around the University the miracle that is known as Silicon Valley.

For those of you who like numbers, Stanford has produced more billionaires than any school other than Harvard. If aggregated, the annual revenue of the companies founded by Stanford graduates would constitute the 10th largest economy on Earth, ahead of Russia and Australia. That’s quite an accomplishment for a young school with small student enrollments, relatively speaking.

Click through for image source. The main campus of Stanford, although there are now campuses all over the world.

At the heart of the main campus.

Sometimes referred to as The Farm, the University was built on the site of the Stanfords’ country home, the Palo Alto Stock Farm. Architects and landscape specialists incorporated elements of traditional Spanish and Colonial architecture in a Mission Revival style, imbuing the campus with a classic, rustic atmosphere spread across an astounding 8,180 acres (3,310 hectares). As it expanded, Stanford held true to its original design aesthetic, giving the campus a warm, integrated look.

The look of the school may hearken to a pre-American era, but Stanford’s students certainly live at the cutting edge of the future. Located literally at the heart of America’s high-tech industries, the University offers expansive opportunities to connect with innovative companies through internships, research grants, fellowships, and post-graduation employment. Stanford so strongly fosters entrepreneurial endeavors that it counts no less than 30 living billionaires as alumni.

Click through for image source. The Hoover Tower is an iconic structure on campus as well as the site of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.

The iconic Hoover Tower is a campus landmark.

The University excels at very nearly everything it attempts. Many rankings place all of Stanford’s 7 academic schools (and most of its individual degree programs) in the top 5 in America. The institution has more individual NCAA sports championships than any other, with 467, and the second most team titles, with 103. The school even broke the record for the largest fundraising campaign in history when it raised US $6.2 billion last year for its endowment.

In 2011, Times Higher Education ranked Stanford as the best university on Earth for both humanities and social sciences, and as the #2 research university in the world. It is thus no surprise that the faculty is highly decorated and esteemed, including in its number 19 Nobel Prize laureates, 4 Pulitzer Prize winners, 24 MacArthur (the “Genius Grant”) Fellows, and 19 Turing Awardees, the so-called Nobel Prize of computer science. These professors and researchers, leaders in their fields, are a principal reason that Stanford draws so many of the best students from around the world.

The James H. Clark Center is the headquarters for Stanford Bio-X, a new approach to biology that attempts to cross many disciplines to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. Click through for image source.

The James H. Clark Center is the headquarters of Stanford Bio-X, a new interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach to biology.

It should be no surprise that the Computer Science degrees at Stanford are particularly highly rated and valued. Now the most popular major at the school, it was ranked #2 in the world in the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities, #1 by U.S. News and World Report, and #2 in the QS World University Ranking.

Quite simply, the school’s placement in Silicon Valley, in addition to its research funding and state-of-the-art facilities, positions students in the best possible situation to perform at high levels. Over 90% of students at Stanford will avail themselves of the opportunity and take at least one Computer Science class before they graduate, a tribute both to the schools continuing dedication to the field as well as students’ awareness of the importance of CS experience in the current working environment.

A picture of the detector array inside the SLAC. This equipment reveals the building blocks of the universe to those trained to see it.Click through for image source.

Stanford’s  SLAC Accelerator reveals the building blocks of the Universe.

Stanford’s natural sciences rank just as highly as the Computer Sciences, with consistent top 4 or better rankings across different rating platforms. Stanford is the leader in particle physics and nano-technology research, and recently created the first doctoral program in stem cell science. Students also have access to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Founded in 1962, it is the longest particle accelerator in the world at 2 miles in length. If the characters from Big Bang Theory were living today, Leonard would be jockeying for position to use the SLAC Accelerator.

We could continue in similar vein with many of Stanford’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, including the very highly regarded law school. To avoid taxing your patience, though, I’ll note just one final degree program, in psychology. Psychologists at Stanford have contributed hugely to the  expansion of research and scholarship around the field. The school gained international prominence via experiments such as the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, led by Philip Zimbardo, and breakthroughs like Lewis Terman’s Stanford-Binet IQ Test.

The Stanford Mood and Anxiety Disorders Laboratory, where researches are studying the broad effects of depression and anxiety.Click through for image source.

The Stanford Mood and Anxiety Disorders Laboratory, where researchers study the broad effects of depression and anxiety.

The University enrolls approximately 7,000 undergrads and 8,800 graduate and professional students, which will contribute to an impressive alumni corps including former heads of state of Japan, Guatemala, Peru, Israel, the Maldives, Honduras, Belgium, Tibet, and Ghana … domestic political figures such as U.S. President Herbert Hoover and current UN Ambassador Susan Rice … entertainment stars such as Sigourney Weaver and David Chase (creator and writer of the Sopranos) … and literary geniuses John Steinbech, Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass.

Perhaps more interesting than any list of graduates, though, is the list of companies and other organizations founded by Stanford alumni. That list includes Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Nvidia, Logitech, Yahoo!, Nike, Gap, Instagram, Netflix, LinkedIn, Firefox, Victoria’s Secret, Pandora Radio, Dolby Laboratories, PayPalthe Special Olympics, and many more.

The Stanford Memorial Church, a work of architectural beauty on the campus which often serves as a wedding venue for Stanford alumni. Click through for image source.

The Stanford Memorial Church is a beautiful campus venue often used for student and alumni weddings.

As one might expect of such an esteemed university, Stanford holds sacred certain traditions including, paradoxically, the grand tradition of not being bound by tradition. When the school opened its doors in 1891, first Stanford President Jordan famously stated, “Stanford is hallowed by no traditions;  it is hampered by none. Its finger posts all point forward.” Generations of Stanford alumni have risen to the challenge of creating and maintaining such an identity.

Stanford’s unofficial mascot is the Stanford Tree. The school’s last official mascot (Prince Lightfoot) and prior sports team name (the Indians) were abolished decades ago, replaced by the new team name “the Cardinal,” which is also Stanford’s school color. The Stanford Marching Band, in an attempt to poke fun at the school’s administration, suggested during feisty half-time shows several options to replace Prince Lightfoot. The most popular among students was the Pine Tree, and the Tree has become a feisty symbol of Stanford’s idiosyncratic student culture.

A new Tree costume is created each year, showing the creativity and identity of the Stanford student wearing it. Click through for image source.

Stanford Trees en route to support the Cardinal.

Among other popular traditions is ”Full Moon on the Quad,” which occurs during the middle of the Fall Quarter. The celebration involves amorous demonstrations including the presentation of kisses and roses by seniors to freshmen.

The Mausoleum Party, which also occurs in the Fall Quarter, is a highly anticipated Halloween tradition funded by the student association and alumni. Located at a somewhat venue, the macabre Stanford Mausoleum where the bodies of the Stanford family are interred, the party draws thousands of students and friends to dress up, mix, mingle, and have fun.

The Mausoleum Party brings thousands of students out to the burial grounds of the universities founders. Perhaps the Stanfords join in spirit. Click through for image source.

At the Mausoleum Party.

Stanford athletics have been terrifically successful ever since their inception. Stanford athletes have won more than 200 medals in the Olympic Games, more than many nations. Competing in the NCAA’s Pac-12 Conference, the University fields 36 varsity sports and has won for 18 consecutive years the NACDA Directors’ Cup, an award presented to the school with the most successful collegiate athletics program.

Stanford has claimed national titles since 2007 in (women’s) water polo (twice), tennis, soccer, synchronized swimming (twice), rowing, cross country, (men’s) golf, gymnastics (twice), and volleyball. There has recently been a surge in the football program, with the Cardinal appearing in 3 BCS bowl games in the last three years, winning two of them.

Stanford values and recruits top scholar athletes, and offers a total of 300 athletic scholarships each year through its various sports.

Stanford fans who rushed the field after a victory in the Big Game, standing next to their heroes for a photograph. Click through for image source.. AP Photo.

Stanford fans and players celebrate a big victory over Berkeley.

Each year the Cardinal plays NorCal rivals the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears, for the Stanford Axe in the “Big Game.” The relic first appeared in 1899 when Stanford students at a rally used it to decapitate a straw man dressed in Cal colors. Stolen two days later by a Cal student during a Cal-Stanford baseball game, the Axe was spirited through the city in a dramatic chase and smuggled onto the Cal campus despite a police cordon.

For 31 years Cal kept the Axe in a bank vault, bringing it out only for a pep rally once per year via armored car. In 1930, however, a group of 21 Stanford students, now remembered as the “Immortal 21,” successfully mounted a daring assault on the pep rally to return the Axe to Stanford. Three years thereafter, to avoid further high-speed chases and explosive cloak-and-dagger tactics, the two schools decided to use the Axe as a trophy. It has been passed to the victor (largely without incident) ever since. Most recently, Stanford regained control of the trophy at the Big Game.

San Mateo County, while a tech superpower, also sports a ravishing natural side. Click through for image source.

Located near the boundary of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, Stanford is surrounded by glorious natural beauty.

As with most American universities, one of Stanford’s strengths is its location. Palo Alto is a charming, bustling college town of approximately 64,000 residents (about the size of Rotorua). It boasts two downtown commercial and entertainment districts, excellent public transportation, a strong tech economy, and historical sites including Professorville (a residential area where the houses of many of Stanford’s original professors are preserved) and the Hewlett-Packard Garage (the shed where HP was founded).

For those inclined toward the outdoors there are many parks and preserves to enjoy including the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, and the Stanford Dish, a fantastic area in the foothills near Stanford.

Click through for image source. Big Sur’s stunning Pfeiffer Beach at high tide.

Big Sur’s stunning Pfeiffer Beach at high tide.

And of course, there is the rest of the neighborhood to enjoy. San Jose, the 10th largest city in America is less than 30 minutes away. The iconic world city of San Francisco is only a 40-minute drive or short train ride to the north. The beaches of the Pacific are less than an hour’s drive to the west. The legendary California wine country, breathtaking Big Sur, golf mecca of Pebble Beach, ski resorts of Lake Tahoe, and excitement of Las Vegas are not that much farther away, easily accessible for weekend enjoyment.

Whatever your interests, tastes, or passions the region has something for you, readily and inexpensively at hand. Simply put, Stanford sits in one of the most beautiful, most interesting, and most dynamic regions on Earth, filled with stunning vistas, pristine wilderness, unlimited recreational opportunities, grand human diversity, tremendous intellectual ferment, and culturally rich, vibrant cities. There’s a world-class education ever at hand, even when you put down the books.

The iconic Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco. Click through for image source.

The iconic Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge, leading into San Francisco. Click through for image source.

The city at sunset.

If you thought the hills in Dunedin were intense, wait until you head down Lombard Street. Click through for image source.

My favorite San Fran thoroughfare, Lombard Street.

To learn more about living, studying, and recreating in Palo Alto and its immediate environs, check out the city’s website as well as the websites of San Jose and San Francisco.

For more information about Stanford University, including fields of study, graduate programs, financial aid, opportunities for international students, and how to apply, visit the school’s main website. And of course, feel free to email our Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, with any questions that you may have at DumasAG@state.gov .

Next up in our series of individual profiles will be the Berklee School of Music, one of the premier music institutes in the United States, located near Boston, Massachusetts. The rich fabric of American education options contains many such esteemed schools focused on specific fields or special interests. If there are others that you’d like to hear about, please let me know.