Dear CMU Ambassadors,
I write to you today with great optimism for the future. I could not be prouder of our Carnegie Mellon community and all we’ve accomplished over the last year. Despite the challenges presented by the continuing pandemic, the resiliency and determination of the entire Tartan family has allowed us to advance our educational and research mission with power and purpose. From mask-wearing to weekly Tartan Testing, from Zoom advising sessions to creative pivots in lab instruction, the dedicated actions by every member of our community played an important role in our successes.
Students pursued their goals with passion, embarking on special projects, both within and beyond the classroom, while overcoming the many challenges of this time. Faculty supported an engaging educational experience for our students, while pursuing research with tremendous impact and global reach. Alumni and friends also fueled breakthroughs that improved the human condition around the world.
These outstanding achievements brought special meaning to our commencement exercises a few weeks ago. It was fitting that this was our first large in-person event in more than a year, and it was also live-streamed for graduates and their families who could not be present because of COVID-19 restrictions. We awarded 4,965 degrees to the Class of 2021, our newest CMU alumni. As part of the ceremonies, we presented honorary degrees to France A. Córdova, former director of the National Science Foundation and a leader in science, engineering and education; Martha C. Nussbaum, esteemed philosopher, author and academic; Jewell Parker Rhodes (DC 1975, 1976, 1979), an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author and educator for youth and adults; and Robert Summer (PM 1955), a music industry legend. Their words inspired attendees to tap into their passions to advance science, economic empowerment, social justice and creative expression.
This issue of CMU Ambassadors showcases the tremendous accomplishments of our community and our work toward building a bold future for Carnegie Mellon. That work is being supported by the extraordinary philanthropy of nearly 53,000 members of our community, who have contributed more than $1.67 billion to date as part of Make Possible: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University. Recently, we announced two exceptional commitments that will create positive change for decades to come:
- CMU is accelerating its leadership in science and innovation with the support of a record $150 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for a cutting-edge science building on campus as well as a new robotics center and advanced manufacturing institute at Hazelwood Green. This transformational investment will advance research and education in key multidisciplinary areas of science and technology and play a critical role in Pittsburgh's ongoing economic renaissance and growth as a leading technology hub in the United States.
- In April, we launched the Center for Shared Prosperity, thanks to a $30 million grant from The Heinz Endowments. The center will leverage CMU’s research to help address structural barriers to equity and opportunity and promote economic empowerment. While it will focus on the Pittsburgh region, the initiative is a sustainable and replicable model for other community-university collaborations across the country.
I am particularly proud that our commitment to research and societal impact has not slowed down during the pandemic, and that CMU experts continue to contribute thought leadership and advance important discoveries that will reverberate in our post-pandemic world.
- In April, I was invited to testify during a U.S. Congress hearing on strengthening the nation’s innovation ecosystem. In conjunction with that testimony, I wrote an opinion piece for The Hill advocating for the United States government to double its investment in research to help address major societal challenges, to win the global race for talent, and to reignite our economy by expanding the geography of U.S. innovation.
- A new study further revealed how inequities can have a direct impact on vulnerable populations’ health. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University found that smartphone location data often left out important demographic groups who are highly at risk for COVID-19, affecting locations for testing and vaccines.
- While video calls may have advanced our ability to interact with others and keep projects on track during remote times, CMU researchers found that visuals override audio cues in virtual video meetings — reducing collective intelligence in groups.
With creativity, tenacity and innovative thinking, our community continues to boldly go where few have gone before. This spring, Tartans shone brightly amid the stars, both in space and Hollywood.
- When NASA launched the Mars rover Perseverance, the world witnessed a new frontier for planetary exploration. More than a dozen CMU alumni and faculty are behind its success, whether driving the rover 130 million miles away, testing custom wheels for an otherworldly landscape, and helping ensure a safe red planet landing.
- Alumna Ann Roth was honored with an Academy Award for her costuming work on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” her second Oscar after winning for her costume design in “The English Patient.” She is one of eight Tartan community members who have won a total of 11 Academy Awards.
Finally, I’m pleased to announce that Mary Ellen Poole will be joining Carnegie Mellon as the Stanley and Marcia Gumberg Dean of the College of Fine Arts beginning August 1. A musicologist, Dr. Poole most recently served as the director of the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin, and previously was the dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I wish to thank Dan Martin for his tremendous leadership as dean for the past 11 years, which has elevated CFA’s exceptional arts environment as well as its international reputation; Dan will continue his service to the college as a faculty member.
I am very grateful to you for being a champion for the entire Carnegie Mellon community, especially over this last year. I look forward to the future when I hope to see you in person. In the meantime, Tris and I wish you a safe and healthy summer.
President and Henry L. Hillman President's Chair