Carnegie Mellon University

October 2019 Edition

“Make life better for your family, your city, your country and yourself. You are here to make an impact for good on the world around you.”

Our founder, Andrew Carnegie, offered those words to students during his final visit to campus in 1914. It’s a quote we included in a message the university contributed earlier this year to a special Carnegie Corporation book commemorating the 100th anniversary of his passing. The letter, which you can read on the Ambassadors website, reflects on the ways our institution has evolved since its beginning — and how it remains very much a product of his original vision.

As the current academic year began, I shared that message with our community. We had just welcomed nearly 1,600 members of the Class of 2023 from 43 states and 30 countries. As always, their arrival alongside our returning students and faculty has enlivened our campuses. It’s a time of promise and anticipation — a time when all of us bring renewed energy to our endeavors.

Today, our founder’s vision of making an impact for good is at the heart of our community’s work. Across the spectrum of research at CMU, our people are driven both to generate cutting-edge ideas and create the concrete applications that have real-world impacts. One example of that is the research of faculty member Katie Whitehead, whose team is exploring a novel concept to deliver drugs, vaccines and other treatments to infants. Her idea to engineer human breast milk could transform how babies receive such therapies — potentially overcoming the obstacles of pain and consistency in treating them.

In the Mellon College of Science, biologist Yongxin Zhao is partnering with the Benaroya Research Institute on a project that uses virtual reality technology to allow researchers to literally step inside their data. The process starts with physically multiplying biological samples to 100 times their original size, then uses VR to manipulate 2-D microscopy images into three dimensions. Scientists then can actually view and review complex data from every angle. The immersive experience is a remarkable tool that will bring new understanding to diseases and may help uncover new treatments.

As the world leader in artificial intelligence, we continue to push the boundaries in both AI research and education. This past year, we welcomed students to our new undergraduate degree program in AI — the first in the nation. And on the research side, CMU computer scientists have achieved success that until recently seemed a distant horizon: beating five professional poker players at the same time, a tremendously complex task. The team developed a next-generation computer that can adapt to uncertainty and use higher order skills like real-time reasoning, deciphering human interactions and bluffing. The breakthrough has extraordinary potential beyond games, including applications in financial services and health care.

Unleashing the potential of AI to make our roads safer is a significant focus of our autonomous vehicles research. CMU-affiliated startup Argo AI has committed to investing $15 million to expand its existing partnership with us and ensure Pittsburgh remains the center of self-driving car development. In addition, our team in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, which aims to develop robots that can autonomously map and search underground environments unsafe for humans, placed first out of 10 teams in the multi-year competition’s initial event in August.

CMU’s artists and creators are increasingly exploring the potential of advanced technology to inform and enhance their work. Our Master of Arts Management program, a collaboration between the College of Fine Arts and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, is exploring the issues brought about by artificial intelligence in the creative sector, from intellectual property to job security. And while technology is an integral part of the live theatrical experience, people are always at its core. That’s why in the days leading up to this year’s Tony Awards, we celebrated a number of our alumnae who are raising the bar on Broadway.

Finally, I want to take the opportunity to share several leadership updates. A pair of critical deanship searches have recently been completed successfully. First, longtime CMU faculty member Martial Hebert has been named the new dean of our top-ranked School of Computer Science. Martial joined the CMU Robotics Institute in 1984 and has led the organization for the past five years. A highly regarded scholar in the field of computer vision, Martial aims to continue to expand the collaborative culture that has built partnerships among SCS and colleagues across the university.

I am also pleased that the provost has recently appointed William H. Sanders as the new dean for the College of Engineering, starting January 1. An outstanding scholar and educator, Bill comes to us from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he is the Herman M. Dieckamp Endowed Chair in Engineering. He also serves as interim director of the Discovery Partners Institute in the University of Illinois System. I am confident that Bill will build on our extraordinary legacy of excellence in engineering and elevate the college to new heights. 

Tepper School of Business Dean Bob Dammon has decided to step down from the deanship and return to the faculty. Bob led the school through an extraordinary period that has included the construction of the first building on the Tepper Quad, now in its second year as the model facility for the CMU education of the future. Bob will continue in his role until we find a successor, as we soon will begin a national search. I am grateful for his service, which has positioned the Tepper School for continued growth.

Philanthropic support is an essential tool in recruiting and providing resources for the leaders who guide our colleges to make even greater impacts on society. This summer, Trustee and alumnus Lane Bess and his wife, Letty, endowed the dean’s chair for the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences with a $10 million gift. Their exceptional generosity allows Dean Richard Scheines, who was recently reappointed to a second five-year term, and his successors to invest in innovation and emerging priorities in the college. I am truly grateful for Lane and Letty’s support, as well as the support of so many of our Ambassadors, who empower CMU to educate the next generation and tackle humanity’s most pressing challenges.

As always, thank you for all you do to advance Carnegie Mellon. Tris and I hope to see you during the next year on campus and in our travels.


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