It is hard to ignore the symbolism. In 2018, the Tepper School of Business opened its $201 million dollar “Tepper Quad” smack dab in the middle of the Carnegie Mellon University campus. Standing five stories and covering 315,000 square feet, the Tepper Quadrangle has emerged as the campus hub – a place where students and faculty from various disciplines and functions can intersect and collaborate.
That’s a departure from many campuses. There, business schools are viewed as cash cows, not a primary and unifying academic enterprise. At Carnegie Mellon, the Tepper Quad represents the opposite. It is a testament to the large university’s commitment to fostering an interdisciplinary culture – one that ultimately yields all-encompassing and far-reaching solutions.
A PLACE WHERE EVERYONE CAN CONTRIBUTE
“The world of business today requires skills that go well beyond the fundamentals,” observes outgoing dean Robert Dammon in a November interview with P&Q. “It requires interdisciplinary knowledge that goes outside the business school. The most important problems being faced by business and society are not going to find their solutions in a single school or college. We are making sure our students have that experience here in the classroom before they go out into the workforce.”
Indeed, the Tepper Quad is the largest building on campus, with each spacious, naturally-lit floor covering an acre. Along with housing a 600-seat auditorium, 24 classrooms, and a fitness center, it generously devotes 40% of its space to non-business students and faculty. This space is used by Carnegie Mellon colleges like information technology, engineering, and the sciences, creating striking cross-pollinations. For example, you’ll find MBAs in the energy or tech strategy tracks being taught by faculty from engineering and computer sciences. At the same time, Tepper MBAs are constantly interacting with non-business peers, exposing them to cutting-edge developments and opportunities in areas like AI and robotics.
Sevin Yeltekin, senior associate dean of education at Tepper, cites analytics as one area where the Tepper Quad – and the interconnectedness it feeds – enhances the MBA experience. “It’s giving students the opportunity to go even deeper into data analytics than had been possible or available ten years ago,” Yeltekin explains in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “We have really leveraged our strengths and the university’s strengths. These opportunities are not just for track students but for all students. Moving to this building moved us closer to the rest of the campus. We really want to be a business school that is well integrated with the university.”
That starts with entrepreneurship. The Tepper Quad also features the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, a 15,000-square-foot space that provides another platform for students, faculty, practitioners, and alumni to test ideas, build prototypes, and grow ventures. “We now play a large role in the education of entrepreneurship for the entire campus,” notes Dammon in an August interview. “We are teaching fine arts students, engineers, and computer science students and bringing them together with our MBAs.”
Yes, there is even a place for the fine arts and social sciences at Tepper. For example, Tepper’s leadership development programming – SHIFT – draws from disciplines ranging from literary readings to design thinking to help students enhance their creative thinking skills and empathy. In fact, Carnegie Mellon itself is the alma mater of over 170 Emmy and Tony Award winners combined, with alumni including Andy Warhol, Ted Danson, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek’s Spock), and Josh Gad (Frozen’s Olaf). Bottom line: The Tepper Quad is the crossroads of campus, a magnet for talent and an amplifier and accelerator for ideas. It is open to everyone – and pulls ideas from everyone too. In a word, the Tepper Quad has been a “game-changer” for the MBA program – one that offers a distinct interdisciplinary culture that values imagination, inclusiveness, and initiative in its intrepid community.
One such student is Noreen Fischer, a J.P. Morgan analyst who was once awarded the Mendoza College Dean’s Award at Notre Dame, for outstanding leadership, academics, and service. Now a first-year MBA at Tepper, Fischer was attracted to the program by its blend of business and technology – and innovation and interrelationships.
LEARNING SUCCESS THROUGH FAILURE
“We live in a business-driven world that is often complex and repeatedly being transformed,” Fischer explains. “Tepper leverages its natural strengths as a technical university to educate the next generation of business leaders. This is evident through the recent addition of the Tepper Quad. This collaborative and innovative center of campus allows the business school students to access top talent from Carnegie Mellon’s various other disciplines (engineering, robotics, computer science, design, entertainment, and public policy). This sets the Tepper School of Business apart from other business schools. They relentlessly set their students up not only for academic success but career advantages that will transform the way business and technology shape our world.”
At J.P. Morgan, Fischer ranked as the firm’s top analyst in Chicago and placed among the top five percent in the world. With those credentials, she’ll fit in well with the high-octane, high-achievement Class of 2021. Her classmates include the likes of Seoul’s Cue Kim, a product manager of Galaxy Note Smartphones. His claim to fame? He helped to develop features like underwater writing capabilities and S Pen remote control – which enhanced user capabilities for everything from selfie pictures to presentation clickers. That said, these successes were rooted in previous shortfalls. Starting as a Samsung engineer, Kim learned that the pursuit of perfection is senseless when the original concept is flawed. This experience led him to pursue a role in developing strategy over simply delivering execution.
“This challenging experience changed my overall career path and motivated me to move on from engineering while teaching me the importance of innovation for organizational success and sustainability. I realized that even perfect engineering cannot help a business if the original concept is not driven by innovative ideas.”
SERVING EVERYONE FROM POLITICIANS TO GAMERS
Kim wasn’t the only one in the class who took a risk. After two years at Deloitte Consulting, Rohit Dayal signed on as the third employee of the Ignyte Group – a boutique firm with roughly 312,000 fewer consultants and support personnel. Intimidating? Probably, but Dayal hit the group running, growing his first account – the U.S. House of Representatives, no less – into a department with five employees that account for seven percent of annual revenue. In the process, Dayal learned how to adopt various roles, become a leader, and (occasionally) fail.
“There was one particular project where I led a team of six consultants, and we had failed to deliver,” he remembers. “It made me realize that being a leader meant owning every aspect of a project – not just the success but also the failures. As a leader, you’re not only accountable to yourself, but also senior management and your team. From that moment on, I took nothing for granted and understood the true value and responsibilities of what it meant to be a leader.”
That leadership often comes from unexpected places. Ellen Noh, for one, majored in classical piano. Fast forward seven years and she became a product marketing manager at Jam City, a regaled video game developer that’s home to over 100 million users. In true Tepper style – as in a love for crunching data – Noh’s big achievement revolved around identifying game areas that lost users.
“When I started at Jam City, the procedure to analyze the user acquisition creative performances were limited. I developed a more methodical approach to analyze performances by aligning key metrics to the user journey and comparing each metric to determine the biggest user drop off and pinpoint what to improve. This method provided a much more nuanced analysis than “Good vs. Bad” creatives and empowered the team to build sophisticated creative strategies and iterations.”
SHARING A WORLD RECORD…WITH 8,238 PEOPLE
Impressed? Check out Rebecca Blei. At A.T. Kearney, she worked on “two of the biggest mergers in history.” However, the biggest achievements don’t always make headlines. Instead, they carve out paths for others to eventually make their impact. That was the case for Cynthia Mills. An architect-turned-digital-strategist, Mills decided to pay forward her good career fortune, hiring Melanie as her intern…despite her lack of IT experience. It was a risk that continues to pay dividends, Mills says.
“I needed someone to train our IBM Watson chatbot by entering thousands of real user questions. Melanie didn’t have experience as a system administrator, but neither did I when I started at Arise. I mentored Melanie, providing feedback and guidance on her project as this was her first corporate job. She successfully completed her project. She enjoyed her experience and pursued a career in Tech. She’s now a project manager with 15 people reporting to her.”
What does the Class of 2021 do for fun? Just about everything. Corey Fowler, an industrial engineer and analyst from Pittsburgh, calls himself a “serial hobbyist.” “I’ve been a competitive swimmer, played the trombone, acted and danced in musicals, sang in a choir, attempted to brew beer, and learned to cook paella and other delicious diverse foods,” he says.
Dance, you say? Well, Ellen Noh actually co-holds a Guinness World Record – with 8,238 other people –for the largest number to ever dance to the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s ‘Time Warp’ dance at the Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. Growing up in Italy, Rebecca Blei was a competitive figure skater. Marlo Abramowitz, a transportation engineer and outdoors-woman, has hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back five times…not to mention rafting on the Colorado River for 16 days. At the same time, Benjamin O’Bright’s life came nearly full-circle a decade ago.
A CHAMPION DEBATER
“I ran the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon in 2009. This marathon is conducted in honor of the service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, most notably from the 31st Infantry Regiment. In 2011, I became a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment.”
* For 13 in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021, go to page 3.
* To read an exclusive Q&A with Tepper MBA Director Kathryn Barraclough, go to page 3.