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Heinz College: 2020 Year in Review

Dear Heinz College Community,

Has there ever been a year like 2020? While there have certainly been tumultuous times that have tested us all, none have presented so many complex and interconnected challenges on so many fronts. This is a year in which we have been clearly reminded again and again that we are all connected—across households, communities, and nations. No one goes it alone, and that reality makes what we do here at Heinz College so critical.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and caused widespread disruption across the globe, our faculty, alumni, students, and staff jumped into action to be part of the solution. First off, we had a very successful transition to remote learning in the spring, taking 249 courses online in a week’s time—Heinz College’s decades-long experience in delivering distance learning programs turned out to be an enormous asset. Our faculty and staff have shown extraordinary innovation and creativity in their approaches to delivering education and support to our students. The year called for a great deal of experimentation and novel approaches both in and out of the classroom. Our summer programs for undergraduates—including PPIA Junior Summer Institute, Public Service Weekend, and IT Lab—were delivered virtually. We marked CMU’s annual Spring Carnival as a virtual event, and celebrated the achievements of our graduates in a wonderful virtual commencement. Our Career Services team held virtual job fairs. Student clubs organized virtual speaker series, discussions, events, and get-togethers. The community’s commitment to staying engaged and connected has been truly inspiring.

Many Heinz College community members have been part of a team I led, providing guidance and decision-making tools for reopening Pennsylvania’s economy safely to Governor Tom Wolf and his cabinet. Special recognition goes to Professor Rayid Ghani, Professor Rick Stafford, and Scott Andes, Executive Director of the Block Center for Technology and Society. Colleagues and students across CMU have also worked on critical contact tracing and analysis tools, such as NOVID and COVIDCAST.

Our experts have been leading discussions on how to weather the crisis and navigate the “new normal.” Professor Sarah Mendelson led a fascinating series of conversations on Lessons in Leadership in Times of Crisis, tapping the expertise of leaders in policy, foreign relations, and disaster response. Professor Kathleen Carley and colleagues at the Block Center hosted a roundtable on how to combat disinformation and its corrosive impacts on public health, free elections, and more. Representative Susie Lee of Nevada (HNZ ’90) joined us for a Congressional roundtable discussing critical technologies for a post-COVID world, including measures for workforce restructuring and supply chain resiliency.

This is a year in which we’ve confronted stark inequities in the United States—here at Heinz, we have invested in making the College a more inclusive place, welcoming of more diverse students, faculty, and staff. In addition to assembling an important report on our own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts, we established a Social Justice Committee to recommend programming, curricula, and policies that reflect these values. One of the first programs from this Committee—which is co-chaired by Director of Diversity and Inclusion Ayana Ledford and professors Amelia Haviland and Daniel Nagin—was a series of gripping discussions on Reimagining Public Safety. This series convened experts including prominent national journalists, organizers, activists, scholars, and officials from government and law enforcement for conversations about challenging historical and current problems pertaining to police reform. The two events in the series have been immensely successful and engaging, and more programs like it are on the horizon.

In recent years, we’ve placed a significant emphasis on developing great partnerships, and this year we saw how vital those partnerships are. To start the year, PwC committed $14 million to the Digital Transformation and Innovation Center, bringing PwC’s total commitment to $25 million. This is the largest investment in the college’s history and one of the largest corporate investments ever at CMU. PwC has been an incredible partner and unlocked new and groundbreaking projects in analytics, cybersecurity and privacy, and safe cities research. I look forward to seeing the impact of the center’s continued work under faculty director Rayid Ghani and Executive Director Lynn Banaszak, and extend sincere thanks to Alessandro Acquisti for leading the center during its marvelously successful first term. Our connection to the Volcker Alliance, a think tank started by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, has expanded, as Heinz College and our Metro21 Smart Cities Institute were selected to head one of Volcker Alliance's two Regional Councils, which aim to expand the pipeline of talent and collaboration between government and universities. Similarly, we are charter members of the New America Foundation’s Public Interest Technology University Network, which has funded Professor Chris Goranson’s acclaimed Policy Innovation Lab, an experiential course in which students take on real-world policy challenges.

This year, the U.S. Army chose Heinz College to upskill its young officers and civilian leaders. Our reputation of having the top master’s program for analytics and practical problem-solving made us the clear choice. We also welcomed senior Army personnel into a customized executive education program. We are proud to provide education and expertise in technology and analytics—along with Heinz College’s ethos of “intelligent action”—that supports these individuals’ professional development and contributes to the national security of the United States. This partnership has been promising thus far, and we expect that it will grow in the coming years.

In May, our community came through for students when they needed it most. Even in an economy rendered dormant by the pandemic, 405 students were able to secure internships, research positions, or school-provided project experiences with partners. Alumni and corporate contributions to our Internship Opportunity Fund ensured that each and every one of these students were paid. It was an extraordinary effort by so many members of our community, and I thank each one of you who played a part.

We continue to deepen our partnerships here at CMU as well: the undergraduate Information Systems program, newly a joint program between Heinz College and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, exceeded enrollment expectations this year. We launched two new Executive Education programs, the Chief Data Officer and Chief Digital Officer certificates, the latter of which is a collaboration with the Tepper School of Business. We also created a new version of our MSIT degree program with our partners at the CERT Division of the Software Engineering Institute, to prepare new cybersecurity leaders in Washington, D.C. with the skills to combat modern threats. And the annual INTERSECT@CMU Conference—which centers on emerging problems in a rapidly changing world—focused on the pandemic’s long-term impacts on areas near and dear to us at Heinz: health, sustainability, the economy, and education. Associate Dean Jackie Speedy was a co-chair of this year’s conference, which featured many perspectives and expert voices from the Heinz College community.

Our faculty outdid themselves once again this year and made tremendous contributions to their fields. As a testament to our continued emphasis on making direct policy impact, several of our faculty testified to Congress:

And many faculty members received high honors this year: Professor Denise Rousseau received the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology—a lifetime achievement award. Denise was also named in a recent Stanford University study as one of the world’s top 2% most-cited scientists across various disciplines. Professor Marty Gaynor was selected for Governor Tom Wolf’s Health Care Cost Containment Council. Professors Beibei Li and Ananya Sen notched best paper awards in their respective fields.

Professor Felix Koenig received the Early Career Research Award from the Upjohn Institute, and was named Young Labor Economist of the Year by the European Labor Economics Association. Professor Rema Padman was elected to be a Fellow of the American Medical Informatics Association. Professors Kristen Kurland and alumna Anne Lewis (HNZ ’90) were named Carlow Women of Spirit for their leadership contributions in Pittsburgh. Professors Alessandro Acquisti, Rema Padman, and Rahul Telang were all named Trustees Chairs by CMU, and Professor Alexandra Chouldechova was awarded the Estella Loomis McCandless Career Development Chair—remarkable honors that underline the impact these faculty members are having on their academic communities and the university.

This year, we bid farewell to retiring faculty members Kathy Smith and Tim Zak, who have been such an important part of the Heinz College family and had such a positive impact on so many of our students. Thank you, Kathy and Tim! We also welcomed new faculty members into the fold: professors Gabriela Gongora-Svartzman, Corey Harper, and Felix Koenig, as well as post-doc teaching fellows Xiaoying Tu and Oscar Veliz. We are all very excited by these wonderful additions to the Heinz College community.

This was also a year in which we lost friends. Heinz College collectively mourned the passing of former Treasury Secretary and Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill—Paul was my trusted mentor and a leader of the highest order, who spent many years on my Dean’s Advisory Council. He was a dear friend whom I will miss dearly.

On a personal note, I was recently offered a third term as the dean of Heinz College, which I humbly accepted. I won’t belabor the point, but I want to express that now more than ever before, I am deeply proud of the work we do here, the values we uphold, the education we deliver, and the impact our people have across society. I am extremely thankful to all of my colleagues at CMU, and to all of you across our Heinz College community. I truly believe that future generations will benefit from the innovation and strength you’ve shown during this difficult time.

As we head into the new year, I hope to hear from you. I’d enjoy hearing about what you’ve learned and how you’ve responded to the challenges of this past year, the impact you’ve had, and what you’re looking forward to in 2021. We, at Heinz College, wish you a year full of good cheer, good work, and good health.


Ramayya Krishnan
Dean, Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy