Dean Trick welcomes students to the spring 2021 semester.
Dean Trick welcomes students to the spring 2021 semester.

Dean Trick on the milestone of 1000 CMU-Q graduates

Al Raya newspaper interviewed Michael Trick, dean of CMU-Q, about the accomplishments of CMU-Q, as well as the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic has brought. Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is a Qatar Foundation partner university.

Al Raya: What is new at CMU-Q?

We are very excited to share that when our Class of 2021 graduates in May, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar will have reached the milestone of more than 1000 alumni in total. Our first graduating class in 2008 was comprised of just 35 students, so this is a tremendous achievement for our campus.


How many students are currently studying at CMU-Q? What are the most important stats at CMU-Q?

There are more than 400 students currently studying at CMU-Q, 40% of whom are Qatari. I do think one of our most important stats is our 7:1 student-to-professor ratio. Our students receive individualized attention that is almost unheard of at the undergraduate level. I believe this is one reason why our graduates have gone on to do so well in Qatar and around the world.


How do you attract students, especially Qataris?

We hold a number of outreach programs throughout the academic year for high school students to test out our different programs and see what CMU-Q is like. In the summer, we hold an intensive three-week experience called Summer College Preview Program, where students do university-level classes, learn about our different programs, and meet our faculty members and current students. SCPP has been especially popular with Qatari students, and in fact we have many alumni who started out at SCPP students.


What are your most prominent research contributions and have you recently received any grants?

Research is an important part of Carnegie Mellon University, and our campus is no exception. Over the years, we have had many grants from the Qatar National Research Fund in each of our main program areas: biological sciences, business administration, computer science and information systems. We also have a large group of faculty members who teach in the arts and sciences, and many of them have received grants as well.

I would say that our biggest contribution to research is in interdisciplinary projects. Faculty members with very different fields of expertise often collaborate to create new and fascinating work. In fact, our most recent QNRF research grant is to create a digital linguistic map for the Qatari dialect. The project is led by two faculty members: Zeinab Ibrahim, teaching professor of Arabic studies, and Houda Bouamor, assistant professor of information systems. Together with collaborating institutions Doha International Family Institute, Georgetown University in Qatar, and Qatar University, the team will map the variations of Qatari dialect and create a digital tool for exploring pronunciation, usage and expressions.

We just launched a website, Research@CMU-Q, that looks back at the highlights of research during the 2019-20 academic year.


What are CMU-Q’s most prominent achievements?

I would like to go back to our 1000 graduates. Our campus is dedicated to teaching, and the proof that we are doing good work is in our graduates. Our alumni live on five continents and represent 55 different nations. They work in health care, banking, business, high tech, government, the arts, and many have started their own entrepreneurial ventures. Most importantly, most of our graduates live and work in Qatar, contributing to Qatar National Vision 2030. We have many achievements as a campus over the years, but I am most proud of the achievements of our graduates.


What are the aspects of cooperation between CMU-Q and the institutions affiliated with Qatar Foundation?

We are a proud Qatar Foundation partner university, and we cooperate and collaborate with many entities, including research institutions. Of course, we have a long-standing partnership with Qatar National Research Fund. Our faculty members have often been featured at the Research Outcome Seminar Series; most recently, Gianni Di Caro, associate teaching professor of computer science, presented his work on artificial intelligence.

Entities like Qatar Biomedical Research Institute and Qatar Computing Research Institute have been close partners, and many of our students complete summer internships and then go on to pursue research careers there. We also have strong ties to Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, especially in the area of water sustainability research.


What are the aspects of cooperation between CMU-Q and tech companies in Qatar and abroad?

We have good relationships with Qatar’s tech sector, and members of the industry are often serving as mentors or judges for student competitions. We have a dedicated Career Development Office that has built strong ties with tech companies, both in Qatar and abroad, and they host many networking events for students to meet people in the industry and ask questions. Perhaps our biggest connection to the tech industry is through our alumni. Our graduates work in tech hubs like Qatar, Silicon Valley, Ireland, Germany, and Bangalore, to name a few. They come back to campus and provide a link for our students to the industry.


How do you prepare students for the job market? How far have CMU-Q graduates gone until today?

As I mentioned, our Career Development Office organizes frequent networking sessions, both big and small, with potential employers. They also guide students through the job search process, offering workshops in resume writing, interviewing and networking. We encourage all students to do internships so they can learn on the job; typically, about three-quarters of our students have completed at least one internship by the time they have graduated.

We have found that preparing students well for the job market has paid off. Graduates from CMU-Q are highly sought-after. Many choose careers in top organizations, with most graduates working in Qatar or the region. In Doha’s budding entrepreneurial sector, CMU-Q alumni members are a driving force, creating startups and contributing to an emerging community of young innovators.


What are the most prominent opportunities CMU-Q provides to students?

I would say the most prominent opportunity we offer our students is to be part of interdisciplinary teams. In nearly every industry, our graduates will be working with experts in different fields, like technology, business, organizational behavior, science, and health care. While many universities focus on training their students to become experts in one field, we also encourage our students to learn to collaborate with experts in other fields. Our students have opportunities for interdisciplinary teamwork both in the classroom and through extracurricular activities, and this is one of the best ways to prepare them for careers in the modern world.


How does CMU-Q contribute to serving the Qatari community and facing various challenges?

Carnegie Mellon joined this partnership with Qatar Foundation to provide our unique education to the people of Qatar. We are here to help build Qatar’s knowledge economy. As such, we have partnerships with entities throughout Qatar’s government and business sectors to offer our expertise, and to learn about Qatar’s unique challenges.

One example that I am particularly proud of is CMU-Q’s contribution to Qatar’s IPv6 transition, an important transition in modernizing the computer networking that underlies everyone’s connection to the internet. This is an initiative that is led by the Communications Regulatory Authority. We are part of the IPv6 Task Force that is charged with bringing the IPv6 networking standard to Qatar. This transition will be essential for scaling up the networking infrastructure to host an event as large as World Cup 2022.


Could you please describe the nature of work at CMU-Q during the pandemic? 

When the government announced the restrictions on schools and universities in March 2020, we shifted to entirely remote instruction in two days. I must commend our faculty and staff for making this quick transition possible, and for the students for being adaptable and continuing to work hard to study and stay connected. We slowly shifted to some hybrid instruction in the fall semester, and this semester, we are almost entirely hybrid. Of course, our primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of all in our community, so we have strict protocols in place so we can keep our campus open.


How did you benefit from the experience pandemic? 

That is a very interesting question. While there of course have been many downsides to the pandemic, we have also learned a lot about teaching, learning, and keeping a community connected. One great example is our Summer Edge Program that we offer to all new first-year students. We have traditionally offered this program in person, but with the pandemic, we instead moved the 2020 program online. We had four times the number of students participate, and it was a chance for the students to meet one another and connect, regardless of where in the world they were. Knowing this, we will make changes to the format going forward.

I think the most important lesson, however, is what makes a community. We have a beautiful campus, and I know our students, faculty and staff miss being all together in that building. But our community shares something more important: we are all dedicated to the Carnegie Mellon way of tackling problems to make the world a better place. I see that connection in the way our community has come together over the past year, despite having to teach, learn and work at a physical distance.


What are the goals CMU-Q aspires to achieve, and what plans does it have for the future?

Our goals and plans for the future all center on our students. We want to find new and better ways to reach out to prospective students and inspire them to study business, science and technology. We want to find new ways for our students to learn, and new opportunities for them to prepare for their careers. And we want to find new ways to stay connected with our alumni. With more than 1000 graduates around the world, we have an extensive network of young professionals to mentor, guide and inspire our students.

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