Dean’s Q&A: Robert Dammon Of Carnegie Mellon Tepper

Dean Robert Dammon of Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. Courtesy photo

Dean Robert Dammon of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. Courtesy photo

When Robert Dammon was the associate dean of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, he never imagined that one day he would end up as the ninth dean of the school.

“Most academics do not set out on their careers with the goal of becoming a dean,” Dammon says in a phone conversation with Poets&Quants. “It’s something that just happened. I woke up one day and was the associate dean and then the dean.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving and capable of the deanship at Tepper. Dammon came to the school in 1984 as an assistant professor after earning his MBA and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Besides one year as a visiting professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, he has remained at Tepper, slowly working up through the ranks and was named associate dean in 2008. When he was asked to put his name in for consideration of the deanship in 2011, he was surprised. “I had not even thought about it (deanship) as the associate dean,” he says. “It happened somewhat unexpectedly, but I was honored to have been given the opportunity to serve as dean of the school that has meant so much to me personally and professionally.”


Since taking over as dean, Dammon has balanced an emphasis on Tepper’s tradition steeped in rigorous research and fundraising. The small size of the school allows curriculum reviews and changes every three or four years that Dammon says keeps the curriculum congruent with industry needs. With average class-sizes of 30 to 35, students also have easy access to professors.

The constant upkeep of matching the curriculum with business needs combined with the selectivity of the program—this year the school enrolled 123 out of 3,256 applicants and had a 17% acceptance rate—is assuredly what keeps Tepper in the top 10 of most undergraduate business school rankings (10th by Poets&Quants and 8th by the U.S. News).

Gaining admittance into the Tepper School and then paying for it is no easy task. For this year’s incoming freshmen class, the average high school GPA was 3.84, median ACT was 34, and average SAT was 1438. The estimated annual cost for a student living on campus is more than $65,000.


Still, attending the school means access to top-notch professors and peers in and outside of the business school. And in a few years it means access to an avant-garde business school building. Set to break ground this October and open in the fall of 2018, it will serve as a hub for business education and cross-campus collaboration. According to Dammon, it will be the geographic and intellectual epicenter on campus.

In an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants, Dammon speaks more about the upcoming building, how the school will continue to increase class-size from 85 two years ago to 140 to 150 to coincide with the opening of the building, and how Tepper takes advantage of its surroundings by collaborating with different schools on Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

What trends have you seen recently in undergraduate business education and how do those trends compare to STEM-related majors?

Carnegie Mellon is a little different because we do in fact have strengths in engineering, computer science, technology, business, and even in fine arts. It’s really a unique and diverse place. There has been a significant amount of growth in the applicant pool for the undergraduate programs in computer science, engineering, and business.

The business school, itself, gets about 27 applications for every seat we have in our entering freshmen class. And that is about the highest I’ve seen it. So we have not seen a reduction in the demand for business majors, despite seeing an increase in applications for the sciences, engineering, mathematics, etcetera.

Having said that, I really think it’s important to mention—and this is another uniqueness to the culture at Carnegie Mellon—there really is a huge amount of cross-campus collaboration in the interdisciplinary learning taking place. We have engineers, computer scientists, and designers coming to the business school to take courses because they understand how important business will be to them in their future careers. An undergraduate business minor is the most popular minor on all of Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

At the same time, our business school majors are going across campus to interact with students in engineering, computer science, and fine arts—especially in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. So, there’s a huge amount of interdisciplinary learning and collaboration that’s taking place.

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