Carnegie Mellon University

“This program will help bring talented students to Pittsburgh and help CMU maintain its position as a leading hub of innovation in the region. When it comes to Pennsylvania’s students and preparing them for the jobs of the 21st century, we need to open up the doors of opportunity for everyone.”
— Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro

Dear CMU Ambassadors,

Each day, the talented people of Carnegie Mellon bring a relentless energy to our mission to solve the challenges of the modern world. A significant part of this mission is preparing the next generation of leaders who will guide the future of our society. Last month, joined by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, National Academy of Engineering President John Anderson and other national and local dignitaries, I was thrilled to announce a transformational new initiative that will help us achieve that goal.

The CMU Rales Fellows Program will increase access to STEM graduate education and cultivate industry leaders by eliminating cost as a barrier to master’s degree and Ph.D. programs in these fields. Its intended beneficiaries are students from under-resourced and underrepresented backgrounds, including first-generation students — groups that statistics show are much less likely to have earned an advanced degree or to be working in STEM fields. The Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation has committed to endowing the program with a $110 million grant, and CMU will further provide $30 million to the endowment. The two organizations also are jointly establishing a $10 million fund to support the program's developmental years. Ultimately, the program will support nearly 90 students annually with tuition, a generous stipend and a holistic suite of professional development and networking opportunities.

The CMU Rales Fellows Program joins a larger, interconnected vision to provide greater access and support to students from all backgrounds. As early as middle school, students are benefiting from the free curricula of our Computer Science Academy. While in high school, they can participate in our pre-college preparatory programs, such as Leadership, Excellence, Access and Persistence (LEAP) focused on the arts and humanities, and the Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS). And, as I shared in a previous update, our Tartan Scholars program has had a remarkable impact providing support for limited-resource undergraduate students. Together, these programs are creating a cohesive pathway for STEM education from K-12 classrooms through graduate school.

The future students whose careers will be accelerated by the CMU Rales Fellows Program will, without a doubt, contribute the kinds of groundbreaking discoveries covered in this edition of the CMU Ambassadors. For example, researchers from our College of Engineering and Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation recently used a robotic system and machine learning to conduct and refine dozens of experiments to develop an electrolyte that could enable lithium-ion batteries to charge more quickly — a key issue hindering greater adoption of electric vehicles and other green technologies. Coincidentally, while unrelated to this particular project, the automation of experiments and use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning in scientific research are some of the driving forces behind our investments in the world’s first academic cloud laboratory as well as our future of science initiative.

Machine learning is also being used to develop new methods to measure intracranial pressure (ICP), an important assessment of brain health. The traditional method, in use since the 1960s, involves drilling a hole into a patient’s skull, which carries significant risks and is therefore used in only the most critical of cases. Now, our researchers are working to create a noninvasive, portable and less expensive tool that can continuously monitor pressure using optical sensors to measure changes in blood volume or flow; that data is processed through an algorithm to accurately determine ICP.

An innovative algorithm is also behind a potentially game-changing system that allows a small robot to travel complicated terrain and learn everyday tasks. CMU and UC Berkeley researchers created the system that routes vision inputs to the robot’s controls, then used a simulator to teach it six years of walking and climbing experience in a single day. The result is a robot that’s 25 times cheaper and has the ability to adapt to unknown environments in the real world in real time.

Real-world experience is the goal of Professor Ari Lightman’s course, Measuring Social. In the class, students work with clients ranging from HBO to Thomson Reuters on projects that analyze data to provide brands with insight to guide their social strategy. The companies benefit from the graduate students’ varying backgrounds and majors, and also their perspectives as members of Gen Z. The students benefit from the experiential learning, which has sometimes led to job offers from the project sponsors.

And finally, faculty and students from our College of Fine Arts are partnering with Weill Music Institute and Allegheny Health Network on the Lullaby Project, an international organization that works with new parents to write personal songs that help them foster an increased maternal bond. As part of a course last fall, the program paired students with parents who have experienced challenging circumstances such as birth trauma or postpartum depression for songwriting sessions to allow them to express their love and hopes for the future. The project is continuing this spring.

I would also like to share the news that I recently received an appointment from President Biden to the President’s Export Council, which serves as the principal national advisory committee on international trade. This honor is a recognition of Carnegie Mellon’s expertise and experience in researching, developing and commercializing critical technologies that impact global marketplaces, and another acknowledgement from our country’s highest public office that CMU is an essential voice in shaping federal policies and legislation that are critical to our national economic prosperity and competitiveness.

As always, I am grateful for all of the ways that you contribute to Carnegie Mellon’s mission and important work. I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming event, either on campus or around the world!


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