Carnegie Mellon University

June 2019 Edition

June 20, 2019

I write to you just a few weeks since CMU’s May commencement, during which we awarded more than 5,600 degrees to the Class of 2019, sending them on their way to futures with no limitations. Commencement always inspires me, and reminds us of our responsibility to educate the next generation of leaders.

Our keynote speaker, Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom, Jr. (A 2003), challenged our graduates to live intentionally with actions guided by purpose. In addition to Leslie, we presented honorary degrees to renowned historian Darlene Clark Hine; David Kelley (E 1973), founder of IDEO, Inc.; and legendary Hollywood designers John Shaffner (A 1976) and Joe Stewart (A 1977). And during our annual Alumni Awards ceremony, we presented CMU trustee Tod Johnson (TPR 1966, 1967) with the second Founders Medal, in recognition of his professional achievements and decades of service to CMU.

During the past academic year, I’ve been delighted to meet with alumni, parents and supporters at events in more than a dozen cities around the world. At one gathering, an alumnus asked what excites me the most about CMU. My answer was simple: our people. This community is innovative, dynamic, creative, brilliant and dedicated — and its energy and achievements are such a reward to experience every day.

The collective work of our community — faculty, staff, students and alumni — shapes the inspiring vision for Carnegie Mellon’s future that I have shared at these events. In this latest CMU Ambassadors update, I want to tell you about some of these community members and the amazing work they are pursuing.

A driving theme at Carnegie Mellon is our leading role at the intersection of technology and society. Our institution invented or transformed fields including artificial intelligence, machine learning, transition design and public interest technology. It is no surprise that the collaborative and inquisitive culture we have so keenly nurtured has created the most advanced place in the world to imagine the possibilities of technology, bring those ideas to fruition — and ensure they benefit all in society.

The New York Times recently published a story that cuts to the heart of this work, highlighting how CMU researchers are working on robotic technologies that may allow small farmers to help feed a planet strained by climate change and growing populations. This spring, we also announced a new initiative with the U.S. Army to focus on how artificial intelligence can improve logistics, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Partnerships such as these, as well as our entrepreneurial mindset, have attracted companies at the forefront of their industries — and have garnered the attention of media outlets like Fast Company, which wrote about our role in Pittsburgh’s acceleration in the new economy.

Our strengths in technology are matched by the CMU community’s extraordinary contributions to the arts. Our incredible legacy at the Tony Awards continued at the June 9 ceremony when Jamie deRoy (A 1967) earned the award for Best Play for "The Ferryman," the 50th Tony for CMU alumni. Her award was one of an astounding 11 nominations received by our alumni this year — in what is the 11th straight year of Tony nominations for our graduates. Perhaps equally compelling, alumni Judith Light (A 1970) and Michael McElroy (A 1990) were honored with special awards for their humanitarian efforts and service to the arts. Their success is truly remarkable.

The arts at CMU are based in a collaborative environment that spans multiple disciplines. Nowhere is that typified more than our annual Lunar Gala, during which more than 100 students work together to put on a dazzling fashion show. Zain Islam-Hashmi, this year’s head designer, just earned his architecture degree with minors in intelligent environments and digital fabrication. His story is amazing — mirrored by our many students who apply their talents in inventive ways to enrich our society.

One of those ways is through service. Our student chapter of Engineers Without Borders is leading projects to improve the quality of life for communities around the world. In addition to projects in Ecuador, Rwanda and here in Pittsburgh, the group has raised funds and traveled to Zimbabwe for the installation of solar street lights, which has brightened the community’s prospects in surprising ways. Incredibly, local students gather under the new lights at night to complete their homework.

Research is another important facet of our students’ professional and personal development. At CMU, it’s critically important that the benefits of research experience are available to students at the undergraduate level. These hands-on experiences prepare our students for their futures — and they are contributing to significant advances. At our Qatar campus, recent graduate Ettaib El Marabti is working with Professor Ihab Younis on a promising project that could lead to more effective cancer treatments with fewer side effects.

At one of our events with alumni and supporters this year, I was thrilled to be asked by an alumna how she and others can contribute to our mission and vision. If you were in the room, you might have thought the question was planned — but I can assure you it was genuine. My response: Your advocacy and support are among the most critical assets we have at Carnegie Mellon, and your continued involvement and investment are our lifeblood.

I’m pleased to share one last story about such an investment. A significant contribution from alumnus David Coulter (TPR 1971, 1971) and his wife, Susan, will endow the headship of and help build a new home for Mechanical Engineering. The department is leading manufacturing innovations for our modern world, including using atomic transfer radical polymerization to create new stretchable materials with enhanced electrical and thermal properties; preventing harmful growths in lithium ion batteries to extend their lifecycles; and improving cryogenic preservation of biological tissues to increase the shelf life of donated organs and better meet transplant demand. In fact, the generosity of our supporters has boosted so much of what we’ve shared in this Ambassadors edition, including undergraduate research, Lunar Gala and the Engineers Without Borders initiatives. Thank you for including Carnegie Mellon in your philanthropy.

I am extraordinarily optimistic about the direction of the university. This is our moment, which is the result of a long-term strategy of targeted investments to position the university for an extraordinarily bright future. As you may have heard me say, I am guided by a tenet: If we are very intentional, if we are unapologetically bold and if we commit to taking risks, Carnegie Mellon will take the lead in writing the story of this century.

Thank you for all you do for Carnegie Mellon. I hope your summer is filled with relaxation and joy. Tris and I look forward to seeing you in the coming months on campus and in our travels.


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman Chair