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

Tepper undergraduate students. Courtesy photo

Tepper undergraduate students. Courtesy photo

What is Tepper doing that’s new and unique in undergraduate business education?

I think there are a lot of things that make us a unique business school and one of the top-ranked undergraduate business programs in the country. I think it all starts with people. We have outstanding faculty who are dedicated teachers and outstanding researchers. And by the way, we are strong believers here that research and education are highly synergistic. We feel as though our students have a great competitive advantage by having access to instructors and professors who are working on the cutting edge of business, and can bring that knowledge of the cutting edge in business to the class.

We also have outstanding students who are very interesting and hard working people who come from diverse backgrounds. The 27 applications for every seat allows us to be very selective in who we admit.

The business curriculum itself is designed to prepare students for the demands of 21st Century business. This school invented what’s called management science and our curriculum really reflects that focus. It has an emphasis on developing students along the lines of strong economic fundamentals, strong quantitative methods, and strong organizational behavior. That serves as the foundation of our program.

We really want to develop analytical skills in our students that they’re going to need to solve really complex business problems and use data and make decisions based upon the facts and what the data are telling them. But at the same time, we give them the leadership skills they’re going to need to lead and transform business organizations.

I think the last thing that really differentiates the undergraduate program is the fact we live on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. There’s great strengths on this campus, as I mentioned before, in engineering, computer science, technology, even fine arts. And our students benefit from being able to collaborate across campus with students and faculty from those other areas.

Having said all of that, it really is to our advantage that the needs of business are really converging on the strengths of Carnegie Mellon and the Tepper School, when you think about it. There’s an increasing importance placed on big data and business analytics. There’s a demand for bright, energetic graduates with strong analytical skills and leadership skills. There’s this growing importance and interest in innovation and entrepreneurship—especially at the intersection of technology and business. And there’s a need in business for interdisciplinary learning and solutions to business problems that are highly interdisciplinary. And that’s exactly what our students are getting in our program.

Our students are in high demand. Companies and recruiters understand they’ve been trained to have a great business education and they’re prepared to make an immediate impact when businesses hire them. Our students have the ability to handle complex problems—70% of our students go into finance and consulting, by the way. And when they graduate, they get either the highest or second-highest starting salaries of all undergraduate business majors anywhere in the country. They’re either tied with or just slightly below Wharton graduates in terms of starting salaries.

The other unique feature to the Tepper School, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, is our small size. We’re one of the smallest top-ranked business programs. And this year we will admit about 120 freshmen into the undergraduate business program. What’s unique about that and really an advantage for us is that it gives us a really close, tight-nit community of students, faculty, and staff—with relatively low student to faculty ratios. So access to faculty is really quite good. The average class-size is 30 to 35 students. And this small size gives students an opportunity to leadership in clubs and organizations.

The only other thing I’ll say about the uniqueness and quality of the program is that I think Businessweek identifies the Tepper School as one of the lead feeder schools in the country to top MBA programs as well. So our students really do quite well in the corporate world and the business world but also many of them go on to get MBAs at top business programs.

What are some innovations you’ve spearheaded as dean?

First, we just completed a curriculum review for the undergraduate business program—this is something we do fairly regularly. Given our relatively small size, it’s easy to make changes to our curriculum quickly based upon the demands of business. And we tend to do this every three or four years.

Out of this curriculum review, there really weren’t any major changes made, but some of the things we did were we added some additional flexibility in terms of when students can take business courses. We moved some up earlier into their program to better prepare them for their interviews for internships. We made some changes to better-integrate the undergraduate business program with our undergraduate economics program—which the Tepper School is also responsible for delivering to the rest of campus.

And then we introduced into the undergraduate business program concentrations to allow students to develop in-depth knowledge in certain specializations. These are things like a specialization or concentration in accounting, business analytics, business technology, entrepreneurship, finance, leadership and organizational effectiveness, marketing, and operations management.

A concentration is composed of three elective courses beyond the core set of courses that students take. Most of the students will end up taking two of these concentrations to develop in-depth knowledge in those areas.

A second thing is, we do have plans to grow our undergraduate business program. I said this year’s entering class is going to be around 120—two years ago it was 85. And by 2018, it’s going to be 140 to 150. And we’re doing this because of the very high demand we’re seeing for undergraduate business. Our applicant pool is very strong and very deep and growing. There’s huge demand for undergraduate business education and we’re going to try to grow the size of our program. We will never be the size of Wharton—we don’t want to be—but we will be in the range of 140 to 150 within three years.

Finally, we have a new business school building that we are in the works of building. We are finishing up the design phase for the building and will start construction in October of this year and hopefully be completed by the fall of 2018. And there are a number of things unique about this new building. When you think about business schools, often times you will find business schools are very isolated from the rest of their campuses. Business schools often times sit on the edge of campus, surrounded by razor wire, and nobody’s allowed in or out. Just think about the business schools at some major universities. They’re really isolated from everyone else. This business school is going to be at the center of campus—both geographically and intellectually. It’s going to allow us to grow the size of our undergraduate and masters programs.

And it’s going to be designed not just to be a business school, but to be an environment that is going to promote strategic interaction and interdisciplinary collaboration from all across campus. So there’s going to be space in this building that is going to draw in people—faculty, students—from all across campus. A good example of that is there will be significant space in this building that will be a hub for entrepreneurship for all of CMU. It’s going to draw in from computer science, engineering, and design into the business school building to work with our students and faculty. It’s also going to be a building that’s going to allow us to accommodate the new trends in education in the use of technology and technology-enhanced learning. It’s going to be built to have classrooms that will accommodate that, so we can reach out to the world and bring them into our classrooms here in Pittsburgh and use technology in the classroom as a way of enhancing people’s learning abilities and outcomes. It’s a really exciting project and that will come online in 2018.

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