Carnegie Mellon University

Dear Members of the CMU Community,

Last spring I wrote to you about the importance and urgency of taking concrete steps to enhance the CMU experience, actions that help our students, faculty and staff to thrive. This is one of the university’s top priorities emanating from our strategic plan. With focused attention and hard work from many across the university, our community has made great strides over the last 10 months. I write today to share key achievements of that outstanding work, and to outline plans and actions underway to transform the CMU experience in months and years to come.

DEFINING THE CMU EXPERIENCE

I wish to begin by reflecting on what we mean by the CMU experience. While that experience is different for each one of us, it has two clear dimensions. Each of us has a personal CMU experience, and the university must foster an environment in which each of us can live a healthy, fulfilling life — supported both in our immediate needs, and in our personal and career trajectories.

The second dimension is how we work together as the Carnegie Mellon University community, with a united sense of spirit and purpose, in supporting one another — essentially how we become “One CMU.”  Our success will be complete only if we take care of both the personal and the community dimensions of the CMU experience.

MAJOR INITIATIVES

  • Last week, the Board of Trustees approved the creation of a new health and wellness center. This state-of-the-art center will not only double the size of CMU’s current health and wellness facilities, it also will allow us to reconceive wellness more broadly, with programming that supports physical, mental and emotional health; student success; counseling and mentoring; and community engagement in a way that is comprehensive, holistic and forward thinking. This is a major investment that will put CMU at the forefront of student support in the next few years. 
  • We have significantly increased the staff and facilities in our Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) office, and now offer expanded appointment hours during evenings and weekends. Care continues to be available around the clock.
  • We have created a new host family program for international students this year.  Within the first few months of its inception, we have matched 73 students with 40 families who serve as hosts, and we expect these numbers to increase significantly. 
  • We have boosted CMU’s child care capacity to provide additional support to our faculty, staff and graduate students. This May, a second Cyert Center location will open on Penn Avenue with 57 new slots, raising the total enrollment to 180.
  • We continue to foster a more diverse and inclusive campus through a wide variety of efforts. Examples of these include: open forums across campus to discuss topics related to diversity; anti-bias training sessions based on best practices from across the country; and the formation of the most diverse senior leadership team in our university’s history. We also are recommitting ourselves to creating pipeline programs that prepare students from underserved and underrepresented communities for a rigorous higher education. This year we will double the size of CMU’s Summer Academy for Math and Science program.
  • Even seemingly simple measures can have a powerful effect on our CMU experience. This academic year, for the first time, CMU closed regular operations for three days creating an extended winter break, allowing staff and other members of the campus community to enjoy an uninterrupted period of compensated time to relax with loved ones. The exact shape of that opportunity will depend on the calendar in any given year, but we hope to make it a CMU tradition.
  • The quality of the places where we work, learn and discover has a profound impact on the quality of the CMU experience. With that in mind, the university is pursuing a historic expansion of its infrastructure and upgrade of its classroom spaces, including the renovation of at least 10 classrooms in 2018-19 in Posner Hall/GSIA, and the addition of 23 classrooms in the new building at the Tepper Quadrangle and Hamburg Hall. These developments, along with the opening of the TCS Building, ANSYS Hall and Scott Hall also add new “maker spaces” and collaborative spaces for the campus community. 
  • Our goal to bolster the “One CMU” community has been supported by the creation of common living spaces, including the new fitness center and dining facility in the Cohon University Center, and the renovation of the recently reopened Sorrells Library. Next year’s opening of the Tepper Quad also will create the university’s largest auditorium and flexible space, as well as an additional fitness center and a major new dining facility.
  • Finally, we recognize the stress that finances can place on students, and have put a high priority on increasing financial support. I am pleased to report that the total value of permanent endowments supporting scholarships and fellowships is now about $500 million. This includes the Presidential Fellowships & Scholarships program, which was established in May 2014, and to which we have added $211 million in new gifts and institutional funds, including the new gift of $10 million for presidential scholarships from CMU Trustee Frank Brunckhorst, which was announced yesterday.

A COMMITMENT TO CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT

This year we convened two important bodies to help us in our mission of enriching the CMU experience. The President’s Advisory Board for the CMU Experience had its inaugural meeting in October, bringing together national experts in residential living, mental health, diversity and more.  After two days of meetings with campus stakeholders, this standing committee has presented me with broad recommendations on such topics as: changing the “stress culture” on campus; defining and delivering the CMU experience; emphasizing a culture of “One CMU”; and enhancing student safety and support. Their ideas provide important direction and context for our work, seen through fresh eyes and independent external perspectives, and measured against best practices across the nation.

These broad goals were supported by a series of specific suggestions including: (a) aligning scheduling, policies and incentives to give undergraduate and graduate students greater access to cross-disciplinary opportunities; (b) increasing the number of university-wide events and cross-school course offerings; (c) providing faculty, staff and hiring managers with strategies, techniques and tactics to increase diversity among faculty and staff; and (d) establishing strategies and mechanisms to identify and intervene for at-risk or isolated students.

At the same time, the Task Force on the CMU Experience, which has benefited from the lively participation of more than 80 faculty, staff, students, and alumni as well as the Faculty Senate and student bodies, complements the recommendations of the Advisory Board, putting external and internal ideas into action. A small sampling of the work underway includes: (a) engaging in campus-wide discussion of academic policies, such as Add/Drop/Withdraw and overloading; (b) training faculty and staff in mental health first aid techniques; and (c) increasing opportunities for campus conversations, including school- and department-level Town Halls.

Our efforts to enhance the CMU experience cannot just be in the short-term. We have a great deal more to do, throughout the university. As I reflect on this past year, I am grateful to all of you who have engaged in this work, and supported its progress, and I am encouraged by how much we have accomplished.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at my annual update to the CMU community.

Sincerely,

Subra Suresh
President
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair
Carnegie Mellon University