Carnegie Mellon University

Dear CMU Ambassadors,

It’s not every day that I am able to begin a CMU Ambassador letter with a history-making sports update! In May, our men’s golf team became Carnegie Mellon’s first-ever NCAA Division III Champions. With an exceptional 9-under-par final round, they finished first among 43 teams during their fourth straight championship appearance. In addition, our women’s golf team placed fourth at their championship. These are just two of many successes within our Tartan Athletics program this year. Congratulations to Director of Athletics Josh Centor, Coach Dan Rodgers and both teams!

Before turning to the stories included in this edition, I want to share more recent news from our bustling campuses. Under a glorious sunny sky at this year’s Commencement, we awarded 6,933 degrees to the Class of 2023. This incredible group of students has persevered through so much the past four years, and I am confident they are prepared to change the world for the better. As part of Commencement, we also awarded honorary degrees to five exceptional individuals, including our keynote speaker and Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger; alumni Fred Eversley, Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso and Judith Light; and Emeritus Trustee David Shapira.

Carnegie Mellon is attracting new federal investments that affirm our long-established leadership and influence of the national research and education agenda. The National Science Foundation has chosen CMU to lead the AI Institute for Societal Decision Making, a new $20 million center that brings together computer scientists and behavioral scientists from our School of Computer Science, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and institutions across the country to create human-centric AI tools to assist with critical decisions and improve responses to societal challenges. We have been selected to lead a new $15 million NASA Space Technology Research Institute that seeks to shorten the time needed to design, manufacture and test parts for space travel. CMU will also head the development of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safety21, a research center that will study the safe and equitable deployment of autonomous transit technologies. Each of these awards reinforces CMU’s pioneering expertise in AI, additive manufacturing and transportation.

Now, on to the stories included in this update. This year marks the fifth anniversary of CMU’s cross-disciplinary Neuroscience Institute, so I’m pleased to share three stories from researchers affiliated with it that illustrate the expansive, real-world impact this dynamic, innovative group is creating. First, a joint research project between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh may provide new hope to people managing paralysis caused by a stroke. Using spinal cord stimulation, they sent signals to arm and hand muscles weakened by a stroke. The assistive stimulation allowed patients to gain a new range of movement and strength without pain. It’s a technology that has potential for a range of affected patients.

Second, a research team has developed a new fluorescence-based method to detect subtle structural changes in synaptic connections in the brain that occur during learning. The findings include a surprising discovery that synapses were altered deeper in the brain than expected, and that the changes are temporary, suggesting that the learned information is transferred and stored elsewhere in the brain. Researchers are now applying their technique to other neural pathways with the potential to investigate those affected by disease.

And third, CMU researchers have measured how reduced sleep among college students impacts their grades. The Washington Post reported on these findings, which showed a drop in GPA for every nightly hour of lost sleep, with larger effects for those sleeping less than six hours per night. While the study did not identify why less sleep would cause lower GPAs, it’s possible this sleep debt makes it more difficult for students to concentrate. Regardless of the why, the study has practical implications for both individuals and institutions that aim to create an environment for better student success.

In other news, ChatGPT has been omnipresent recently as a leading example of how artificial intelligence is entering a new era with wide-ranging, real-world uses and impacts. CMU faculty member Maarten Sap of our Language Technologies Institute was part of a so-called “red team exercise” that was engaged by OpenAI to test the platform ahead of its launch to find flaws and look for issues ranging from national security to toxicity and linguistic bias.

CMU was thrilled to return as the exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards again this year. Through our partnership, we present the annual Excellence in Theatre Education Award, which recognizes an exemplary K-12 theater teacher selected from a national search. Jason Zembuch Young, a Florida teacher with a passion for ensuring inclusion for those in the deaf and hard of hearing communities, was honored at the June 11 ceremony. In addition, four alumni were nominated for seven Tony Awards — the 14th consecutive year our alumni have earned nominations. Alumna Jamie deRoy won two awards for her role as a producer of the Best Play and Best Revival of a Musical.

Across the U.S., in cities navigating major economic transitions, the reuse of former manufacturing facilities is key to revitalization of neighborhoods. In Pittsburgh, this transformation may come through the arts, aided by Heinz College students. In three different projects, our graduate students are working with communities to help formulate plans for success, ranging from data analysis to feasibility studies to business plans. Ultimately, the projects aim to empower artists with new creative spaces and spur economic investments, job training and expanded employment opportunities. 

And finally, classroom learning serves an important role at CMU — but our ingenious faculty venture outside those walls to help students find greater understanding. For students in a Dietrich College Grand Challenge Seminar, that means learning about Palestinian and Israeli history and culture through food. In this hands-on and co-taught class, students cook and eat together while finding deeper insight into a complex relationship.

As I end this update, I want to once again share the news you should have received earlier this spring that CMU has surpassed the initial $2 billion goal of our Make Possible campaign 18 months ahead of schedule. While this is a stunning accomplishment, there is more we want to achieve to empower the work of our students, faculty and staff, so the campaign will continue until 2025, when we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Carnegie Technical Schools’ founding. Your support and advocacy of CMU and the campaign are critical to the success of both, and I am incredibly grateful for all that you do and will do on behalf of our Carnegie Mellon community. Thank you, and I hope to see you very soon!


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