CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy: Affecting Positive Change in Society with Innovative and Cutting-Edge Data Science Education

Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy effectively blends a technology school with a school of public policy to, as its founding dean phrased it, “educate men and women for intelligent action.” For over 50 years, the school has been at the forefront of public interest technology and data analytics. To Heinz College, that means using the latest and most effective technological and analytical tools available to combat the world’s most pressing issues, such as the future of work, the ethics of AI and algorithms, the declining of privacy, systemic changes in health care, the evolution of connected “smart” communities, and the myriad impacts of technological disruption on everything from manufacturing to the fine arts.


Modeling Excellence Through Curriculum

Heinz College is a winner of the George D. Smith Prize from UPS and INFORMS, awarded to the top academic program for Analytics Education. All its programs emphasize the use of evidence-based decision making in high stakes contexts, including public policy, business technology, health care, and cybersecurity. The college’s economists, statisticians, operations researchers, computer scientists, and management experts sit side-by-side, collaborating constantly and not sitting in traditional departmental silos. For this reason, Heinz College is able to approach complex societal problems in altogether different ways.


The Ardent Leader

Jacqueline Speedy serves as the Associate Dean for the School of Public Policy and Management at Heinz College. She has witnessed firsthand the growing need to bridge the gaps between academia, government, and industry. The college has invested in partnerships to that end, such as the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), the Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University Initiative, and the MetroLab Network to name a few. In the past, innovation has often been driven by the private sector, and it’s taken much longer for those advances to work their way into the public and non-profit worlds and return real value. Heinz College not only wants to shorten the amount of time it takes for advanced analytics and emerging tech to be adopted by public interest agencies, but also wants to be proactive about developing more robust talent pipelines for those organizations. Heinz College is committed to analytics and technology having broad social impact that improves peoples’ lives, and its graduates carry that ‘data for good’ mentality forward into their careers.


For Heinz College, Technological Originality Provides an Edge

A major edge is that Heinz College is part of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), a world leader in technological innovation. When learning about how advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and autonomous vehicles are impacting society, being at CMU gives Heinz College students an advantage, because many of these technologies were invented on CMU’s campus. Faculty teach students not only how to respond to and navigate technological disruption, but also how to drive innovation that serves the public good. Another differentiator for Heinz College is that it heavily emphasizes experiential learning, such as internships, immersive classes with an applied component, and capstone projects which pair student teams with an actual industry client in a dynamic that mirrors consulting. These kinds of experiences ground the Heinz College education in real-world practice.


Practical Exposure to Business Problems

Many of Heinz College’s courses involve project work for a real client, which may be anything from a government office that wants to pilot a new program to a public broadcaster that wants to better understand its social media engagement. A recent immersive course involved students crafting new autonomous vehicle policy for the City of Pittsburgh in which they spent two full days meeting with transportation and community leaders and ultimately presented their recommendations to the Mayor’s office; another course involved students investigating solutions to combat food insecurity in a section of rural Pennsylvania, working with a local university and elected leaders to understand the depth of the issue and how to combat it ethically.

These face-to-face interactions help the students grapple with the real implications a policy or program might have in a community, allowing them to bring principles of human-centered design to their solutions. Heinz College’s students also get involved in a great deal of hands-on projects and experiences beyond the classroom. The college partners with the U.S. Army War College to conduct a crisis negotiation simulation every year—which is an extremely popular and valuable event. The college takes its students on a leadership retreat to Gettysburg, PA as well. Through clubs and courses, students can focus on tackling the problems that they are most passionate about solving. There are also many opportunities for Heinz College students to work directly with CMU’s leading research centers and get involved in the university’s renowned startup culture.

As mentioned earlier, internships and capstone projects are key aspects of the Heinz College experience. Owing to the analytical and technological expertise that Heinz College offers, its students often find that they are entrusted with much higher-level responsibilities than a typical intern, particularly as it concerns data science and analysis. Capstone projects offer another valuable opportunity to apply knowledge. The faculty match up cross-disciplinary student teams with partners from industry, government, and the non-profit sector to combat a real business or operational problem over the course of a semester.

Heinz College students are data-obsessed, and when its partners can give them access to rich datasets, some very exciting outcomes can be seen, from the development of predictive models and text analytics platforms to data mining tools and evidence-based policy recommendations. It’s a win-win situation, as the college’s partners get a custom solution, and its students get to have a real impact on an organization before they graduate.


University-Imparted Knowledge Drives Transformation

Heinz College represents the vanguard in Analytics, Data Science, and Technology. The college sees these things as inter-related and becoming more and more connected all the time. Policy and technology are placing greater and more complicated demands on each other, and Heinz College has been leaning into that transformation for decades.

As the technologies fueling the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to mature and data becomes more prominent in all aspects of society, the institute isn’t playing catch up. Because it has deep expertise in analytics and data science and had a role in the creation of these disciplines, Heinz College can be more deliberate and creative about how they are applied in its programs. The college’s research centers, including the Block Center for Technology and Society, Metro21 Smart Cities Institute, Living Analytics Research Center, and CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, are laser-focused on investigating the unique problems that emerge as its world’s relationship to data evolves.


Scholarly Faculty and Significant Achievements

At the university level, Carnegie Mellon University hosts the world’s best computer science program and the highest concentration of machine learning experts anywhere in academia. CMU has the first (and still the only) stand-alone Machine Learning Department in higher education. For students interested in data science and analytics, that’s hugely significant; it opens them up to knowledge and opportunities for research and collaboration that can’t be found anywhere else. CMU also has the world’s first undergraduate degree program in Artificial Intelligence—the university’s commitment to leading the charge for these next generation technologies is clear. Heinz College is positioned to ensure that education around these technologies makes its way into the public sphere so that the gains from these innovations can be broadly shared and more inclusive.

In addition to the UPS-INFORMS George D. Smith Prize for Analytics Education, Heinz College has faculty members who have won many prestigious awards in their respective fields and have been elected to the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering. Heinz College is the only academic institution with two Stockholm Prize-winning criminologists on its faculty. The college has been the #1 ranked graduate school in Information and Technology Management by U.S. News and World Report for over 20 years straight. CMU was recently named a charter member of the PIT-UN, which is a national initiative—Heinz College’s Dean Ramayya Krishnan was designated CMU’s representative to the network.


Remarkable Trends in the Data-Driven AI Industry

Commenting on the key trends of AI and Big Data, Speedy said, “No matter the context, it no longer suffices to make decisions solely based on gut feeling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a low-stakes convenience like movie recommendations or a high-stakes situation like child welfare and intervention. The ubiquity of data and improved methods for collecting data have made evidence-based decision making necessary—in many cases it’s inappropriate, even irresponsible to make decisions without data. At the same time, that reality has led to a growing need for systems that are transparent, fair, and accountable.” Heinz College sees those as some of the key trends in the field: the instruments that collect data are becoming more sophisticated and omnipresent, so it needs to ensure that aspects of security, privacy, ethics, and justice are designed into these systems rather than an afterthought, she added.

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