Carnegie Mellon University
December 17, 2021

Year in Review 2021

Shilpa Bakre
  • University Communications & Marketing
  • 512-705-1228
Ryan Scarpino
  • University Communications & Marketing
  • 412-627-3786

From renewed commitments to the Carnegie Mellon University community to out-of-this world experiences, Tartans used their resilience and their humanity to trek toward a new normal in 2021. Faculty, staff, students and alumni enhanced CMU's academic and institutional excellence through creative, intellectual and entrepreneurial endeavors. Here’s a quick look at some of this year's top stories, in no particular order.

rkm-grant-2000x1000-min.jpgCommunity Action

The R.K. Mellon Foundation approved a $150 million grant to CMU — the largest single grant in the Foundation's 74-year history. The first $75 million is the lead gift for a new cutting-edge science building on the CMU campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The second $75 million will seed a new robotics innovation center and an institute focused on advanced materials and manufacturing at Hazelwood Green.

Robot Recon

In DARPA's latest challenge, roboticists sent a fleet of machines to explore subterranean spaces that could be potentially unsafe for humans. CMU continues to advance the field of robotics, like teaching robots to learn how to walk. Roboticists are also taking inspiration from nature. A Ph.D. student's design of PATRICK, an untethered soft robot was influenced by a brittle star, and a snake-like robot is taking to water. The National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) recently celebrated 25 years of advancing the field of robotic technology and contributing to Pittsburgh's economy.


Nearly 100% of the CMU community has met COVID-19 vaccination requirements. CMU's own Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program, or Tartan Testingenhanced the way CMU detects and prevents the spread of COVID-19 within its community., and contract tracers have been diligently working behind the scenes since August 2020. During the pandemic, researchers found that text messages are an effective method to encourage people to sign up and show up for vaccinations, music streaming consumption fell during lockdowns and small changes can have drastic impacts in health care. 

Academic Advancements

U.S. News & World Report ranked CMU No. 1 in six specialty areas such as artificial intelligence, management information systems, cybersecurity and software engineering. CMU and Emerald Cloud Lab are building the world's first academic cloud lab. The automated laboratory will provide researchers with state-of-the-art facilities for life sciences and chemistry research. And, a $20 million gift will establish the Hoskinson Center for Formal Mathematics to spur mathematical research.

center-for-shared-prosperity-900x600-min.jpgPartnerships in Action

A $30 million grant for the Center for Shared Prosperity will support collaboration between community members and CMU. And, scholars from CMU and the University of Pittsburgh are partnering through the Collaboratory Against Hate - Research and Action Center to develop tools that inhibit hate's creation, growth and destructive consequences. 

Big Skies, Big Data

CMU and the University of Washington have announced a multi-year collaboration to create software platforms to analyze large astronomical datasets generated by the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time. New research from the Dark Energy Survey used the largest ever sample of galaxies to produce the most precise measurements of the universe's composition and growth to date. Not to mention, physics researchers can simulate universes quicker than ever.

jp-morgan-ai-maker-space-2000x1000-01-min.jpgAI Exploration

The new JPMorgan Chase & Co. AI Maker Space underlines the benefit of creativity and collaboration for students looking to access technology — like AI — that will change the world. CMU leads the world in doing AI work that matters. The university will contribute to four new National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes, focusing on technology in fields ranging from agriculture to wireless networks.

Policy Makers

CMU is helping to shape national policy in research and innovation. President Farnam Jahanian testified before a U.S. House committee and provided support for the Endless Frontier Act. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo attended the US-EU Trade and Technology Council Meeting at CMU's Mill 19 facility and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz presented the Roosevelt Project case study at CMU. In California, a privacy law was updated, which reflected work by CMU.

Mission To Mars

The Mars Perseverance Rover had CMU connections all along its journey. A CMU team assisted NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab with testing and designing the wheels of the Mars Perseverance Rover. As it successfully descended to Mars, a student noticed a peculiar orange and white pattern on its parachute that NASA later said was a coded message. He went to work, and his solution went viral. With Perseverance now on the red planet, alumna Vandi Verma is serving as chief engineer for robotic operations for the rover and is one of its drivers.

Entrepreneurship News

CMU spinoff Duolingo, created by Severin Hacker (left) and Luis von Ahn (right) went public and was named one of Time's most 100 influential companies. Another spinoff, Marinus Analytics, won third place in the AI XPRIZE for its revolutionary use of AI to address the problem of human trafficking. Kites, a company founded by Language Technology Institute faculty helped enhance Zoom's translation capabilities, and, when Waymo opens its Pittsburgh office, it will do so in part with CMU spinoff RobotWits. Sudoc, a company co-founded by CMU chemists to develop environmentally safe cleaning methods, has been named a company to watch. The Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship is equipping undergraduates to be the next wave of entrepreneurs through the Innovation Scholars program.

New Hires

Wanda Heading-Grant, (left) who has been widely recognized for her dedication to social justice issues, her sponsorship of women leaders in higher education and her strong leadership that promotes well-being in the workplace and in the classroom, is CMU's inaugural vice provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and chief diversity officer. Mary Ellen Poole (right) has been named the Stanley and Marcia Gumberg Dean of the College of Fine Arts. As CFA's 13th dean, she also holds a faculty appointment as a professor of music. Three associate deans for DEI were named: Michael Young for the Mellon College of Science,  Alaine Allen for the College of Engineering and Ayana Ledford for the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and CFA and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy appointed Valeria J. Martinez as the inaugural assistant dean for DEI and Dareen Basma the assistant dean of diversity, inclusion climate and equity. And, Allen Robinson has been named the next director of Carnegie Mellon University in Africa, effective Jan. 1, 2022. 

Foundation Support

The Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh will provide $16 million to endow the Tartan Scholars program and University Libraries deanship, help build new Health, Wellness and Athletics Center.

The Future of Science

A $10 million gift from alumnus and Trustee Frank Brunckhorst will support CMU's Neuroscience Institute and a new science building. New research out of the institute includes a look at how at the therapeutic benefits of deep brain stimulation shows promising results for Parkinson's disease treatment.

Science on Earth

Experts suggest that to combat misinformation, climate change communicators need to focus messaging on key conspiracy theories. And, CMU experts are helping integrate thousands of museum datasets to understand global biodiversity. Up close, a new gene editing toolkit includes a new technique from CMU and Yale, and researchers are refuiting a 70-year old approach to predicting material microstructures.

Groundbreaking Facility

The new Highmark Center for Health, Wellness and Athletics, a $105-million transformational facility that will open in fall 2024 will convert the southeast corner of campus into a hub for students' well-being.

Illustration of Birds and Beansprouts and a group photo
Student Musicals — 50 Years Apart

During the pandemic, Joe Young developed his uplifting show, "Birds and Beansprouts." In 1971, John-Michael Tebelak was earning his master's degree at CMU when he decided to create "Godspell," a musical to help people cope with stressful times.

Student Success

Apart and together, the Class of 2021 attended commencement in person and around the world to celebrate like no other class before them including the DeYoung brothers. Eight recent graduates were awarded Fulbrights this year, and four juniors were named Goldwater Scholars. CMU was recognized for its commitment to first-generation students. In the fall, students and faculty applauded a return to in-person education and orientation. Family Weekend and Scotty Saturday welcomed visitors back to the first fully in-person, on campus event since before the pandemic.

Mural Messages

Graduating seniors Elise Delgado (left) and Alanoud Al-Ghamdi (right) created murals to inspire the communities around them. For her senior thesis, Delgado amplified underrepresented voices, and Al-Ghamdi used kufic script to create a striking mural at Qatar National Library's metro station in Education City.

Arts and Entertainment

Two alumni, including Peter Hylenski (above) won Tony Awards,  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions), four took home Emmys, and Ann Roth won an Academy Award. Life imitated art when faculty practiced what they teach in a new Netflix series, "The Chair."

Treatment Options

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and computational biology researchers have leading roles in an ambitious $125 million initiative by the National Institutes of Health to locate and study senescent cells in the human body. While that is hapening, a team developed a machine learning platform to mine nature for new drugs, and understanding how to build new cardiac tissue is offering an unprecedented view of how genetics and mechanical forces contribute to heart muscle function.

Biomedical Technology

Researchers are part of an international team working on wearable biomedical technology that will enhance freediver safety, as well as provide fresh treatment insights for cardiac patients. On land, DARPA selected CMU to develop AI that will help field medics better use portable ultrasound devices to diagnose and treat injuries on the battlefield while another team is using AI to create a dura smart port to help unlock the mysteries of brain health. 

Model Train

Students and alumni helped Henry Posner III, the chairman of Railroad Development Corporation, demonstrate the first battery train in the United States. The concept for the modular train that could be used on existing infrastructure evolved in parallel with Posner's history course on the American railroad.

World-class Coaches

Gary Aldrich (left), the first from CMU ever to coach in the Olympics, guided the U.S. men's team in the shot put, discus, hammer and javelin. The team brought home the gold and silver in shot put. A little closer to home, alumnus Rich Lackner, CMU's winningest head football coach, former player and Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, retired after 36 years at the helm.