‘SOLUTIONS TO THE MOST PRESSING PROBLEMS ARE NOT GOING TO BE FOUND WITHIN THE SILO OF A SINGLE DISCIPLINE’
The change is a reflection of how global and complicated today’s challenges have become. “The solutions to the most important and pressing problems of business and society are not going to be found within the silo of a single discipline,” insists Dammon. “They really requires interdisciplinary collaboration and thinking beyond just one discipline. That means outside the walls of the business school as well, bringing in engineering and computer science, and even the arts and humanities, to help solve these major societal challenges. That’s what this building is all about, to bring people in to really work on interdisciplinary problems that are important to both business and society.”
Befitting Dammon’s vision, Tepper is celebrating its grand opening on Friday, Sept. 14th, by inviting faculty, students and alumni from the entire university to a major event called Intersect@CMU. It will bring to campus leading business executives from Amazon, Facebook and IBM, along with faculty who teach everything from public policy and computer science to robotics and electrical engineering. They will explore a bevy of topics from artificial intelligence and machine learning to blockchain technology (you can register for the lifestream of the event here).
The new Tepper Quad is ten years in the making. At least two years before Damon took over the deanship nearly eight years ago, there were discussions about the need for a new building. “When I came on board as the dean in 2011, we put together a strategic plan that really followed a parallel path to the discussion on our building,” recalls Dammon, who had been a professor of financial economics at the school since 1984. “The two of those really came together, as the strategic plan emphasized the need for a new model of business education of the future, involving greater interdisciplinary collaboration across all of Carnegie Mellon’s campus. That set the stage for a new facility, one that would allow us to achieve this new vision.”
HEDGE FUND BILLIONAIRE DAVID TEPPER WROTE A CHECK FOR A THIRD OF THE BUILDING’S $201 MILLION COST
The groundbreaking for the Tepper Quad was nearly three years ago on Oct. 30, 2015. Just to prepare the site for the structure, crews removed 216,000 cubic yards of rock and earth during the mass excavation. As is often the case in major building projects, there is no shortage of bewildering statistics, from the 82,000 square feet of exterior glass, including skylights and canopies, to the 230,000 bricks on the facade of the building.
One big obvious hurdle, of course, was the cost of a new business campus. The university agreed to pony up a third of the $201 million, but Dammon had to find the rest. David Tepper, the hedge fund billionaire and MBA alum who had already provided in 2004 the $55 million naming gift for what had been the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, agreed to pay for a third of the new building. Dammon then had to gather up the final $67 million from hundreds of other alumni donors.
The vision to reach work more collaboratively across campus is not especially new at Carnegie Mellon. Founded in 1949, Carnegie Mellon’s business school was different from the beginning. The school brought together economics, mathematics and behavioral sciences to study business from a more scientific perspective. The business school was among the first to be given an IBM mainframe that took up the entire basement of the old facility. In the 1960s, two prominent faculty members, Herbert Simon and Allen Newell, leveraged that IBM machine to create complex mathematical models of business problems. Simon, an economist and political scientist, who would win a Nobel Prize in economics, and Newell, a researcher in computer science and cognitive psychology, began modeling the cognitive processes of individuals. Their early work eventually led to the field of artificial intelligence.
‘WE THINK OF OURSELVES AS THE PEOPLE WHO PUT THE SCIENCE INTO MANAGEMENT’
Two of the founding fathers of AI then were not merely at Carnegie Mellon; they were at the business school. It was one of the earliest examples of the major benefit of interdisciplinary research. Quips Dammon, “I often times tease the dean of the school of computer science that they’re nothing more than a spin-off from the business school,” quips Dammon. “But it’s true. We’ve had a dramatic impact over the years, not only in the creation of management science as a new way of teaching and researching business but also in areas like artificial intelligence, which has carried on now with the school of computer science. This is why we’ve always been very comfortable with technology. That’s why this school really sits at the intersection of business technology and analytics.”
Adds Yeltekin, who by training is an economist, “We think of ourselves as the people who put the science into management. We’ve always had a very analytical approach to thinking. Sometimes people call us a quantitative school. But I think the message there is a little bit lost in the sense that it’s not about number crunching. It’s not about who can add up a lot of data or produce a lot of tables. It’s about the scientific way of thinking. We want to be able to draw conclusions from that analysis and then use those conclusions for thinking about what are the prescriptive policies, whether you are a decision maker in a business, whether you go into a think tank or you go into the policy arena.”
Unlike other schools that organize faculty by discipline, Tepper has long had an interdisciplinary tradition even inside the business school. “Our faculty are not organized or siloed by different concentration areas,” explains Yeltekin. “It’s a mixture and that has already started to sprout some interdisciplinary research ideas which we think are very, very important.”