Dear CMU Ambassadors,
When I last wrote to you two months ago, we were nearing the end of a spring semester unlike any other in Carnegie Mellon’s history. Our faculty and staff had transitioned 4,923 course sections to remote instruction while continuing to support student success, and a broad array of researchers were launching projects to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few days later, we celebrated our Class of 2020 with a groundbreaking virtual conferral of degrees ceremony, featuring bagpipers, words of wisdom from our deans and a number of surprise appearances by famous alumni. This special celebration was a profound reminder of our most important mission — to develop talented leaders who go on to make the world a better place.
Throughout this summer, we are actively engaged in preparing for the next academic year. We are committed to ensuring that our students are able to continue their education in a way that meets Carnegie Mellon’s rigorous standards. For the fall, we are pursuing a hybrid model of instruction, which will provide in-person classes where possible, but will also offer all classes online for students who are unable to travel to Pittsburgh or who choose to continue to socially distance. Health and safety are top of mind, so a comprehensive review of every facet of campus life is underway. We will continue to keep our community updated on our plans as they continue to develop.
Even as we manage the pandemic, CMU is taking bold steps to ensure that we are on the right side of history as our nation confronts its legacy of systemic racism and injustice. Like many institutions across the United States, our community has been examining our role in the fight to end racism and promote true equity and opportunity for all. Earlier this month, we released a new action plan that is expansive and ambitious in scope, including 34 concrete actions we will pursue to make CMU more inclusive while also enhancing access, opportunity and economic empowerment in the broader communities we serve. These are deeply complex issues and while we don’t have all of the answers, we know that the only way to find meaningful solutions is to dig into this work together and in a way that is authentic to CMU. We will share more in the weeks ahead.
During this time, there have been many incredible stories of Tartans in action. First, I’d like to share some COVID-19-related news:
- Research from Professor Kathleen Carley’s group has uncovered that as many as half of Twitter accounts discussing the reopening of the United States during the pandemic are bots, potentially engaging in organized disinformation campaigns to sow discord. This polarization can result in real-world consequences, including extreme behavior and less rational thinking.
- Zoom video teleconferencing has become an omnipresent part of our lives thanks to COVID-19, and we are excited that Zoom will soon open a new research and development office in Pittsburgh and near our campus, largely to be close to our talented pool of technologists.
- The School of Drama is embracing our new normal by bringing alumni and entertainment industry veterans to our students through — you guessed it — Zoom sessions. They’ve learned about voiceovers and even performed sketch comedy remotely.
The pandemic is impacting every corner of CMU, but research and learning continues to gain momentum, with results that will shape our future in remarkable ways. Here are just a few recent examples:
- A student-designed lunar rover has passed its NASA design review, and is on track to land on the moon in a little more than a year. America’s first robotic rover to explore the moon will be carried by Astrobotic, which was founded by our own Red Whittaker and includes a number of other CMU-affiliated staff. It will be joined by MoonArk, our collaborative space-bound museum with arts, humanities and sciences artifacts.
- Professor Joel Greenhouse’s team is working with Novartis to apply new statistical techniques that could help develop personalized treatments for disease, including cancer. The collaboration will bring together data scientists and disease specialists to uncover the next generation of life-saving therapies.
- The Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship has named its 2022 Innovation Scholars, a two-year program that helps students to advance their ideas for startup companies. Included in this year’s cohort are three founding members of Zodaj, a startup that aims to improve the standard of living in Africa.
- The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has extended the contract under which our Software Engineering Institute (SEI) operates for an additional five years and with a maximum authorized spending limit of $2.7 billion. This most recent extension is a testament to the SEI’s — and all of CMU’s — continued excellence in software engineering, cybersecurity and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Finally, I’m pleased to announce that a new dean has been named to head the Tepper School of Business. Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, higher education leader and the current dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, was selected following an international search. Isabelle has produced an extensive body of highly regarded research in asset pricing, portfolio management and credit risk. Given her proven record as an educator and leader, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, we look forward to the impact she will have on the Tepper School and on CMU. Dean Robert Dammon will be returning to the Tepper School faculty, where he will continue to inspire the next generation of business leaders. On behalf of the CMU community, I wish to thank Bob for his service as dean!
As you can see, more than ever, the CMU community is engaged in the work that matters. We’ll plan to continue our more frequent Ambassadors emails with the next edition in September. In the meantime, thank you for all that you do in support of Carnegie Mellon. I hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.
President and Henry L. Hillman President's Chair