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Melding disciplines at CMU

| Saturday, April 11, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Kiron Skinner is a Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of social and decision sciences, an author and a foreign policy scholar. She spoke to the Trib regarding CMU's new Institute for Politics and Strategy, which will open in July under her direction.

Q: What was the basis for forming the institute?

A: Throughout CMU's history, there has been a first-rate political science program. In recent years we've kind of merged the study of political science with international relations, and it became apparent there was a growing interest in bringing together those two disciplines. That really is the basis for it.

Related to that point is the fact that Carnegie Mellon is a global university. For a university that has campuses in Adelaide, Australia, Rwanda and a major Portugal initiative and other places as well, it's important to have some program on campus where there is a systematic study of globalization and the international system itself. This is part of the university's effort to make that happen.

Q: As the institute's initial director, what are your primary challenges in getting it off the ground?

A: There is such a ground-floor interest in the university — whether it's in computer science, the study of history, modern languages or engineering — to make the world a better place. I think Carnegie Mellon is well-suited to do that because it has so many researchers who focus on solving problems, not just generating theories.

So given that we have a problem-solving approach at the university, what I am seeing is that faculty and students are (asking) what they can do about the avoidance of war or cyber-security challenges. How can the new institute contribute to helping us identify and address these problems and help the United States be better at national (security) readiness, and also help our allies around the world in (improving in) cyber security, war avoidance and conflict resolution?

So I see my initial challenge as trying to bring the energy and ideas together in a way that I can support faculty, students and other researchers in realizing their intellectual potential.

Q: Do you anticipate any collaboration with other academic institutions or research organizations?

A: I do. The RAND Corp. in Pittsburgh has become of increasing value to the international relations and politics program at Carnegie Mellon through the first-rate researchers who have been teaching for us for a couple of years now. I see further integrating RAND researchers who are interested in partnering with the institute in research and teaching.

I also see (collaboration opportunities) with the Software Engineering Institute, a federally funded research and development center (based) at CMU. It has excellent connections back to the national security community in Washington, especially the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community as well. I look forward to finding ways to work with SEI colleagues on projects that meet both the research and teaching needs on campus, but also help support them in the contracting work that they do for the defense and intelligence communities.

Q: Where do you see the institute being in five years?

A: I have some specific goals. I would like to see it be, both at the undergraduate and master's level, among the top 20 international relations programs in the United States.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer (412-320-7857 or

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