Carnegie Mellon University

May 2020 Edition

May 1, 2020

Dear CMU Ambassadors,

I hope you and your families are staying safe and well during this unprecedented time.

Since we began this program two years ago, the CMU Ambassadors have become crucial advocates in telling the Carnegie Mellon story. We are so appreciative of your efforts and look forward to hearing from you when one of the shared articles resonates with you.

Today’s edition is a special update for our Ambassadors that is focused on CMU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As everyone is keenly aware, the novel coronavirus outbreak has literally changed our world, upending our normal routines in the span of only a few weeks. It remains a highly dynamic set of circumstances that continues to challenge us on every level. This has been a time of exceptional change, and I am incredibly proud of the Tartan community’s response, which is multi-faceted and grounded in our core missions of research and education and by a commitment to societal impact.

On the academic front, CMU successfully transitioned 4,923 course sections to remote instruction, a remarkable achievement that ensured our students could continue their education safely. Multiple support services were also seamlessly moved into digital spaces, including virtual health and counseling sessions, academic advising and student success efforts, library resources, and even fitness classes. This work has been supported by visionary leadership and significant teaching innovations:

  • Our transition to remote teaching and learning was led by Marsha Lovett, director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation and associate vice provost for Teaching Innovation and Learning Analytics. Marsha and her team have been conducting research and experimentation in the science of learning for many years, they have brought this scientific rigor to practice at CMU, especially in the last few weeks.
  • CMU was recently included in a New York Times piece about innovations in education for drama students learning online. The article featured Professor Tony McKay’s strategy to shift his comedy acting class to re-focus on the art of standup, and musical theater Professor Gary Kline’s success in inviting notable CFA alumni to offer feedback to students live on Zoom.

And despite operating our research enterprise remotely as of March 25, faculty, staff and students are also contributing to the local, regional, and national response to the pandemic in a number of ways:

I want to close by sharing a couple of stories not related to COVID-19, which serve to highlight the incredible people that make CMU such a special community and a world-leading institution.  

  • Four of our exceptionally talented students were selected for prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarships to advance their research careers.
  • Emma Farrell, a senior double majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering and History, bested over 18,000 applicants to earn one of the 15 competitor spots in Jeopardy’s 2020 College Championship.
  • Associate Professor of Computational Biology Jian Ma has been awarded a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, one of only 173 fellows selected from 3,000 applicants across 53 disciplines.
  • Marlene Behrmann, professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience, received two major recognitions for her legacy of accomplishments, including the Fred Kavli Distinguished Career Contributions Award and the Vision Sciences Society's 2020 Davida Teller Award.
  • The Association of Computing Machinery named Maria-Florina Balcan, CMU alumna and associate professor in the School of Computer Science, as their 2019 Grace Murray Hopper Award recipient. This prestigious award is given to one outstanding young computer professional each year.

In the coming months, we plan to reach out to share more updates from Carnegie Mellon. Our next edition, in June, also will be digital to ensure you have the most up-to-date news. In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones continued good health and I hope that we will soon be able to get together in person.


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