Suresh speaks to parents, alumni

President Subra Suresh spoke Saturday morning to alumni and parents about his plans for Carnegie Mellon.  (credit: Michelle  Wan /) President Subra Suresh spoke Saturday morning to alumni and parents about his plans for Carnegie Mellon. (credit: Michelle Wan /)

University President Subra Suresh addressed key issues facing Carnegie Mellon University and listened to the school community voice its concerns in two addresses. The first address took place last Monday in the Gates Hillman Complex’s Rashid Auditorium, and the second one occurred last Saturday in the University Center’s McConomy Auditorium.

These events marked the continuation of Suresh’s listening tour, an extended effort by Suresh to discuss and learn more about topics of interest to various groups associated with Carnegie Mellon. The tour, which has officially been going on for three months, includes multiple sessions between Suresh and campus affiliates. The address on Monday was geared toward undergraduate and graduate students, whereas Saturday’s address targeted parents and alumni in honor of Cèilidh Weekend.

“I find it extremely helpful to listen to the different perspectives and get a window into what’s on different people’s minds,” Suresh said during the first event last week.
One recurring topic in the addresses was Carnegie Mellon’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. According to Suresh, the school’s strength lies in its well-roundedness.

“I hope that your children who are here getting an education will sample the rich variety of opportunities that exist on campus and also learn from them because they are going to be future leaders,” Suresh said in his address to parents.

More specifically, Suresh discussed challenges of the 21st century and related them to the importance of a broad educational foundation. He cited a causal relationship between many of the century’s biggest advancements and biggest problems, for which he blamed on innovators’ failures to connect technological challenges with human challenges. At Carnegie Mellon, however, Suresh believes the interdisciplinary opportunities allow students to analyze problems from both scientific and humanities perspectives.

“CMU is one of the very few institutions that’s so uniquely positioned to bring the two, [humanities and sciences], together in ways that most other institutions cannot,” Suresh said.

First-year business administration major Radhika Dalal agreed with Suresh’s claims about the strength of cross-disciplinary studies, which she cites as the reason for her decision to attend the university.

“I want to be on the business side of a technological company, and Carnegie Mellon is really great at integrating the two fields together,” Dalal said.

However, some students voiced concerns about actually getting into classes outside of their primary major or department. Suresh responded by stating that one of his long-term goals is to increase communication and openness between departments, as well as make the university feel more unified as a whole.

Another major discussion point revolved around changes in higher education in general, such as online education, technology-enhanced learning, and the open access movement. Suresh addressed the complicated nuances of these developments, focusing namely on their financial challenges.

“In an ideal world, open access is what we want, but without a viable financial model, it will not work,” Suresh said.

Audience member and parent of a student Patricia Petrick appreciated Suresh’s practical mindset about educational changes.

“I think he has excellent insights into the problems of higher education, and that includes how you fund the very sophisticated education being provided,” Petrick said.
Petrick attributed her realistic perspective to her previous experience working in policy with the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Suresh spoke more in depth about his professional background during his Saturday address and connected it with his current position at Carnegie Mellon, describing both the NSF and the university as institutions whose investments yield high returns.

“CMU has produced more spin off companies per dollar of research money spent than any other university in the country without a medical school,” Suresh said.

Bill Mullins, husband of Patricia Petrick, appreciated Suresh’s ability to recognize and articulate the various strengths and values of the university. “He understands the Carnegie Mellon culture, seems very comfortable with it, seems to encourage it, like it, and he’s going to perpetuate it,” Mullins said.

Suresh will continue reaching out to the community on his listening tour during upcoming events that are in the process of being scheduled. More information about attending a discussion session with the president can be found on the Carnegie Mellon website at