Stanford has been ranked number one on digital currency news site CoinDesk’s first list of the top 10 “blockchain universities and colleges” in the United States.
According to CoinDesk, universities were ranked according to the number of blockchain-related courses and organizations on campus as well as each school’s access to the blockchain industry.
Stanford’s combination of faculty and student-led blockchain initiatives, interdisciplinary courses and the Stanford Center for Blockchain Research (CBR) were among the reasons cited for why Stanford secured the top position.
Stanford’s blockchain-related courses vary in level of technical complexity and span a wide range of departments, including finance, law, management and economics.
CS 251: “Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies” is one of the more popular courses on blockchain at Stanford. It is taught by co-director of the CBR and computer science professor Dan Boneh and currently has 197 students enrolled.
According to Boneh, the rapidly evolving nature of blockchain technology makes teaching CS 251 both difficult and exciting.
“[This quarter is] the third time we’re teaching [CS 251], and every year the material changes completely,” he said. “The field moves so quickly that the class has to basically be revamped every year. It’s quite interesting. It’s a fun class to teach.”
Another class mentioned in the CoinDesk article is MGTECON 515: “Cryptocurrency,” which was co-taught last spring by management lecturer in the Graduate School of Business (GSB) Kathryn Haun J.D. ’00 — a General Partner at cryptocurrency fund Andreessen Horowitz — and Susan Athey Ph.D. ’95, the Economics of Technology professor at the GSB.
According to Haun, the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies has the potential to disrupt fields including law, policy and business.
“The technology unlocks new ways of doing things with boundless practical applications.” she wrote in an email to The Daily. “I hope my students understand that we’re just in the ‘dial-up days’ of crypto, and I’d like to see this next generation really unlock its potential.”
Co-organizer of the Stanford Blockchain Collective and GSB student Jorge Cueto MBA ’20 said that there is still a need for classes that cover a broader range of blockchain applications in order to meet growing demand by students. For instance, he said that social impact applications of blockchain technology are not fully explored in existing courses. According to Cueto, it is likely that this gap has to do with the fact that the discipline is relatively new.
“I actually spoke to a few [computer science] professors about this, and the general [answer] is that there is a lag between a new industry and increased student focus in a specific area,” he said. “Then there is the process that it takes to onboard faculty that are experts in the field. People are just getting acquainted with the new technology.”
The CBR was established in June 2018 to study different aspects of blockchain technology and to provide support for a burgeoning blockchain community. According to Boneh, part of what led to the CBR’s creation was an influx of requests for solutions to technical problems within the blockchain space, such as designing better digital signatures for blockchains (which are used to control and authorize how assets move from one owner to another).
“[For] many of the papers that we write, there are projects which adopt [our] techniques and use them in their systems, which for us is fantastic; that’s exactly what we love,” he said. “I have to say I can’t remember in the last decade [a time when] so many new research questions were being asked, and the solutions to those questions were being deployed so quickly.”
Boneh said that another factor that led to the CBR being established was the need for an organization that included faculty from different departments across campus, as blockchain technology spans between diverse fields such as cryptography, economics and law.
According to Boneh, both graduate and undergraduate students are part of the research at the CBR, helping to host events and seminars and to provide support for other campus organizations that operate in the blockchain space.
Student-run clubs and organizations that focus on blockchain and related technologies include the Stanford Bitcoin Club and the Stanford Blockchain Collective.
According to Cueto, the Stanford Blockchain Collective is primarily focused on providing a platform for students to learn about applications of blockchain technology. Cueto said that the Stanford Blockchain Collective holds events for both beginners and those experienced in working with blockchain.
“The way we structure different events and activities is kind of in a tiered system,” he said. “We go all the way from general discussions to actually coming together and building things.”
The Stanford Blockchain Collective is looking to merge with the Stanford Bitcoin Club in the near future in order to combine their resources so that they can better serve the needs of students interested in the new technology. The two organizations recently collaborated with the Stanford Bridging Education Ambition & Meaningful work (BEAM) to host a blockchain career fair featuring over 20 companies, including Andreessen Horowitz and Facebook.
Cueto also emphasized the need for students from underrepresented groups to get involved in the blockchain space, saying that one group within the Stanford Blockchain Collective hopes to get more women involved.
“What we’ve seen in the advent of a lot of other technologies is that usually, regardless of how disruptive they are, it’s always usually people [who] have been traditionally the majority in that space leading the charge in that technology,” Cueto said. “I think that limits the range of ideas and the range of applications that can leverage that technology.”
Boneh said that it is also important for faculty from different departments to get involved in the Center and for students to attend blockchain-related events and take courses related to the technology.
“There is a lot of hype in the area, which is in some sense hurting the area because it turns off some people” he said. “But if you ignore the hype, you realize that there is actually some beautiful science being created here.”
This article has been edited to reflect the correct spelling of Jorge Cueto’s name. The Daily regrets this error.
Contact Ruth-Ann Armstrong at ruthanna ‘at’ stanford.edu.