Carnegie Mellon University

February 2019 Edition

February 8, 2019

As I write to you with this spring CMU Ambassadors update, Carnegie Mellon’s role as a leader — not just within higher education but across so many fields — is on my mind.

At a time when society is changing at a breakneck pace, I am struck by the many opportunities in front of us to take the lead in defining the next great phase of societal and human development. CMU is at the forefront of some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, and through our research and education, the impact of our work extends far beyond the borders of our campuses.

How can we accelerate our legacy as pioneers whose innovations improve our planet and the lives of humans who live on it? How can we provide resources and enhance our university culture to empower faculty to create breakthroughs with real-world impact? How can we help our students prepare for a future in which their ideas and talents will position them as leaders?

Our approach to innovation in this modern era is both unusual and invigorating, and places us in the company of today’s leading-edge organizations. We continue to break down traditional silos to catalyze cross-disciplinary exploration, and we rely on data-driven approaches to advance our work. These are the foundational strengths that have allowed CMU to revolutionize, and often create, diverse fields of inquiry and realms of discovery.

There is another important aspect shared by organizations that are thriving in this age — a focus on ethical contributions for the betterment of humanity. This is a core principle for our work, and what makes our leadership so special. We believe we all bear the responsibility to ensure that the future we are building works for everyone. So we bring together engineers and policy experts, artists and economists, scientists and humanists to explore and advocate for a world in which human dignity and opportunity are enhanced, not diminished, by innovation. This is how we have become a leader at the crucial intersection between technology and society. 

One example of our work in this area was showcased by The New York Times in a remarkable story from November. Our CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, whose researchers span colleges and schools across CMU, aims to “create a world in which technology can be trusted.” The story features CMU research that is transforming facial recognition in crowds through advanced biometrics, identifying bots whose activities may influence elections, and helping to enhance the overall effectiveness and usability of security and privacy tools. Quite simply, this work is making you safer, and your information more secure, every day.

As I noted earlier, our students are future leaders for change — but they aren’t waiting for the future to arrive. Graduate students in the Heinz College and Dietrich College teamed up to create a predictive model to tackle one of the greatest public health crises of our time, the opioid epidemic. By examining prescription data, they built a tool that could identify problem cases before addiction develops so that doctors can intervene. 

CMU also continues to lead in personalized and technology-enhanced learning. Ken Holstein, a doctoral student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, has harnessed the power of augmented-reality glasses to give teachers real-time information on student performance. The technology allows teachers to scan the room and know immediately who is on track and who is stuck so that they can more efficiently engage with students and enhance their learning.

And recent alumna Kaytie Nielsen is using film, social media and the web to tell stories of underrepresented people and advocate for social justice. The documentary filmmaker, producer and entrepreneur was recently selected as one of only 48 Americans to receive the highly competitive and prestigious Marshall Scholarship, which will allow her to study screenwriting in the United Kingdom. (Kaytie is only the fourth CMU graduate in our history to receive this distinction!)

In October, we were thrilled to announce two visionary educational commitments that will expand resources in two strategic areas. The first is from alumni Cindy and Tod Johnson, which will create a $50 million endowment for undergraduate scholarships and student support services. It’s the largest gift to scholarships in CMU’s history. The second is a $30 million grant from the Allegheny Foundation, which is the lead contribution toward a new and expanded Scaife Hall for the College of Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Department. We are so grateful to the Johnsons and to the Allegheny Foundation, as well as all of our supporters, for their generosity that enables our work.

And finally, maintaining CMU’s leadership position requires us to have great leaders. Last month, we welcomed James Garrett Jr. to his new role as provostHis is a fantastic CMU story, having earned three degrees from this great institution, and then becoming a faculty member in the College of Engineering, eventually rising to become its dean. Jim’s world view, commitment to CMU, dedication to equity and diversity, and legacy of fostering interdisciplinary research made him the clear choice. We are thrilled with the ways Jim’s experience will advance education at CMU.

Michael McQuade also began last month as our vice president for research, a new position that will focus on strengthening and supporting research, creativity and entrepreneurship across the university. Michael is a triple alumnus of the Mellon College of Science and has been a CMU trustee for the past six years. An industry leader who has held senior positions at multiple Fortune 500 companies, Michael served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for four years and is a founding member of the Defense Innovation Board that advises the Secretary of Defense. 

As always, I encourage you as a CMU Ambassador to continue spreading the word of the important work happening here. Thank you for all you do for Carnegie Mellon — Tris and I look forward to seeing you on campus and in our travels.


Farnam Jahanian
President and Henry L. Hillman President's Chair