Business is business.
That’s how some business schools operate. Sure, they host shared incubators and clubs – even offer dual degrees. Beyond the boilerplate lip service to “cross-curricular” or “multidisciplinary” education, business is often relegated to the academic fringes, never central to the mission.
That norm is flipped at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Here, the business school is not just the center of campus, but the spoke that connects fields as disparate as engineering, humanities, computer science, and public policy. It is a place where graduate students and undergrads come together to exchange ideas and collaborate – where the creative spirit sparks an idea; scientific rigor tests its possibilities; engineering prowess brings a blueprint to life; and business savvy takes a finished work to the masses.
BRINGING INTERDISCIPLINARY COLLABORATION TO LIFE
This multidisciplinary, cross-campus model reflects an ideal that is often discussed but rarely realized in academia. Hardly a new way of thinking, the Tepper model harkens back to the enlightenment spirit, where science, art, and philosophy found a common ground – one that ushered in greater health, freedom, and industry. Now, the school is mobilizing these same holistic energies to address the most complex issues in business…and beyond.
“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,” explains Robert Dammon, Dean of the Tepper School, in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “They really require 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.”
Tepper has always been a little different, perhaps because it was always a step ahead. The program’s big picture view is naturally attractive to students like William Liu, a U.S. Marine who studied aerospace and mechanical engineering as an undergrad. Now, this Queens native has joined the Class of 2020 at Tepper, viewing interdisciplinary collaboration and Pittsburgh’s robust tech market as a means to bring people together.
“It’s awesome that Tepper aims to harness the school’s potential by bringing students of all backgrounds together under one roof,” he says. “I think that’s a novel concept that says a lot about the direction the school is heading.”
A TRADITION OF EMBRACING TECH
Technically, this has long been Tepper’s path. Based in a university regaled as a global leader in robotics, cybersecurity, machine learning and AI, Tepper has never shied away from the technical side of business – with a data-driven mindset that has strongly woven economics, and behavioral sciences into the curriculum from the beginning. The business school was among the first to house an IBM mainframe, which faculty used to build complex business models – ones that laid the groundwork for artificial intelligence and earned one faculty member a Nobel Prize.
Among faculty, this openness to new disciplines explains why the department isn’t broken into concentrations – or ‘siloed’ if you will. Instead, faculty are often recruited based on their “broader view of how all of this might fit together,” in the words of Michael Trick, senior associate dean of faculty and research, in a 2017 interview with P&Q. This ability, coupled with actionable research and teaching excellence, is what sets the Tepper experience apart for many.
“The approach that underlies our program is a really deep and thorough understanding of analytics and the role that data places in decision-making; the role that modern data issues are having in every field together with some really creative approaches to leadership like how you take what you know from the data to change organizations,” Trick adds. “The faculty buys into the importance of both halves of this. It gets reflected in the classroom. There is a unity happening. Our faculty is very interdisciplinary. All of us know what other people are doing and have a respect for that”
LEVERAGING THE LARGER UNIVERSITY
Not surprisingly, business students are encouraged to take classes across campus, so they can engage with like-minded faculty and classmates. In the process, many are exposed to cutting edge research and ventures – the kind they can leverage to gain experience and earn jobs. In researching business schools, Seoweon Yoo sought out programs that could deliver hard analytical skills – the kind that she didn’t have the time to absorb on the job. For her, Tepper offered her the chance to gain these skills – all while pursuing her passion for computer science.
“I am also interested in programming and building automation tools for operations,” she explains. “The option to attend courses from different departments other than the business school was a big attraction point for Carnegie Mellon, since their computer science school is one of the best.”
While “cross-disciplinary” is the first word many attach to the Tepper MBA program, “diverse” may be the best description for the Class of 2020. Take Pierce B. Frauenheim, a Carnegie Mellon alum who became a military fighter pilot…and then some.
“Outside of operational requirements, I was qualified as an airshow demonstration pilot showcasing the unique capabilities of one of the most technologically advanced aircraft ever built” he explains. “I was also hand selected by my Commanding Officer to lead a contingent of four aircraft that directly supported President Obama during a scheduled visit to Los Angeles.”
“IS THIS PERSON BETTER OFF FOR HAVING KNOWN ME?”
Traditionally, Carnegie Mellon University has been associated with hard science and computer science. However, it has one of the world’s premier arts and theater programs, with alums ranging from Andy Warhol to Zachary Quinto (aka Spock) – artists who found their voice after being alienated by the norms. Add Brian Porter to that list. Unable to fit in as a middle schooler – and inspired by Ozzy Osbourne – Porter picked up the guitar to express himself. This talent also enabled him to better connect with people like himself.
“Over the years, music allowed me to open up and give others a portion of what it had given to me,” he notes. “My freshman dorm peers would regularly schedule free lessons to learn songs to play at parties or to impress a special someone in their PSYC 101 class. One friend communicated that an original song of mine, “Still Turning,” had helped him cope with his brother’s cancer diagnosis. These instances ingrained in me the importance of making a positive impact and guide my decisions to this day.”
The class also brings a spirit of service to the Pittsburgh campus. Look no further than military veterans like William Henderson, a West Point grad whose baptism of fire came in Afghanistan when he replaced a platoon leader who died in combat. “I had to figure out how to lead 25 young men who had just lost their leader,” he shares. “This had an immense impact on my perspective and taught me a lot about leadership and teambuilding. To this day, I carry those lessons with me and appreciate the importance of teamwork, loyalty, and camaraderie more than ever.”
William Liu adopted those same lessons from his posts as a U.S. Marines officer, with his most recent role being Company Commander for a Wounded Warrior Battalion. For Liu, leadership involved asking himself some harrowing questions – and living up to the responsibilities that came with the answers.
“I have vivid memories of the day I reported for duty and stood in front of my Marines for the first time,” he recalls. “I looked out at my division and came to realize that I had a solemn responsibility to each one of the men and women that stood before me. For every Marine in my charge, I began asking myself: Is this person better off for having known me? If not, then what could I do to further his or her professional development? How can I help him or her grow personally? What resources are at my disposal that might benefit individual in question?”
15 MINUTES OF FAME…THANKS TO THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
It is also a class of entrepreneurs. Case in point: Paul W. Shumate II. In middle school, he was already managing two side hustles: walking dogs and mowing lawns. Sure enough, they had morphed into a pet care company and a landscaping business – with an employee payroll, no less – by the time he’d graduated from high school. By the same token, David Baars is a one man interdisciplinary force, majoring in economics before moving to Teach For America. His next stop? He worked as a product marketer for a fledgling startup – where he nearly doubled average revenue per account in one year…and had quadrupled the size of the business before he left for business school.
Then there’s Ever Isaac Hernandez. The son of once-undocumented immigrants from El Salvador, Hernandez has spent the past dozen years at Chevron, where he was most recently responsible for installing 3-megawatt subsea pump stations in the Gulf of Mexico – stations that reached a depth of 7,000 feet to the ocean floor. Not bad for a man whose career started out in a soul-sucking job as a Target cashier!
Outside their career track, the Class of 2020 is equally remarkable. Brian Porter once appeared in a Red Hot Chili Peppers music video and endured the trappings of fame soon enough. “For a brief moment in time I was constantly stopped by strangers who recognized my face from the video,” he jokes.
Check out page 3 for 12 in-depth profiles of Class of 2020 members