Penn will soon launch the world’s first undergraduate engineering curriculum that studies networked technologies such as Facebook and Google.
The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering — set to launch this fall with 20 incoming freshmen — will consist of computer science, electrical and systems engineering and Wharton classes.
The program also created 5 new courses and hired two new faculty members, said Michael Kearns, Computer and Information Science professor and co-director of the program.
“We’re using the infrastructure we already have but introducing a new major that blends these existing courses to create an interdisciplinary view of markets and social systems,” Electrical and Systems Engineering professor and co-director Ali Jadbabaie said.
The program will present case studies, such as how Google or YouTube handles millions of user requests, how Facebook decides who to recommend as friends and how search engines generate results catering to individuals. Students will complete exercises such as building a friend recommender or creating a page-ranking algorithm.
The idea for creating the program stemmed from a class taught by Kearns called “The Networked Life.” The survey course — piloted in 2003 — examines how the world is socially, strategically and technologically connected.
Kearns and Jadbabaie decided to “dig deeper” into topics from the class to create a new curriculum, according to Kearns.
Although there is a lot of ongoing research in this area around the world, the Singh program is the first to teach the material to undergraduates.
“We’re designing courses that simply don’t exist, and without textbooks and materials,” Kearns said.
The program directors hope to spend the first couple of years synthesizing existing material to present to students.
They also plan to turn to alumni and experts in the field to generate feedback for the program and to create internship and research opportunities, Jadbabaie said.
Kearns added that the program is looking for elite high school students with a “strong quantitative background and entrepreneurial interest.”
Incoming Engineering freshman Susan Greenberg had first heard about the Singh program during her sophomore year of high school. She said she is excited to start in the fall.
“This is exactly what I want to do with my life,” Greenberg said. “I can’t imagine something more interesting.”
She is drawn in by the interdisciplinary nature of the program and how it is “pulling from a lot of different places [at Penn].”
The program is named after Rajendra and Neera Singh, owners of Telecom Ventures LLC, who donated $8 million to fund the program’s development.
Kearns and Jadbabaie believe that the program will grow in the future. They hope to increase marketing efforts in the coming years and recruit more high school students around the country “who really want to be doing this,” Jadbabaie said.
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