As network giants like Google and Facebook look for qualified graduates to join their ranks, a new program at the Engineering school is hoping to bridge the skills gap.

This fall, the Engineering school launched a brand-new major — The Singh Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering. With only ten freshmen and a handful of transfer students in its first class, MKSE is hitting the ground running.

“I wanted to be part of something new and promising. It just seemed like a good fit,” Engineering freshman Manosai Eerabathini said.

The vision for the program began several years ago, when Founding Faculty Director Michael Kearns, Co-Director Ali Jadbabaie and Undergraduate Curriculum Chairman Zachary Ives determined that Penn could benefit from a major that studied the science behind communication, social and economic networks.

It started with a small, networking course taught by Michael Kearns eight years ago. The class that inspired the program is now known as MKSE 112: “Networked Life,” an introductory course for MKSE majors.

“Networked Life” aims to create a unique interdisciplinary environment for students to examine networks through the lens of science, economics and sociology, Kearns said.

“At some point, a group of us started wondering whether it might make sense to take the topics that are briefly touched on in the class and turn it into a full-blown major,” he said.

When the current MKSE students applied to Penn last fall, their supplement to the Penn application included an essay on how the internet is changing the world.

“We were looking for an individual passionate about the intersection of technology and its ability to influence people in a positive way. Many of them had already rolled up their sleeves and had gotten engaged in what the program is already about,” Ives said. Kearns added that they selected students with “an entrepreneurial flair.”

Engineering freshman Mark Davis was among those students. Davis had developed a website for his high school’s literary arts magazine.

He also worked with his high school faculty to develop another website that gave his fellow classmates the ability to ask their teachers questions online after school or over the weekend.

Since the program is in its first year, students like Davis are in a unique position, Kearns said, since they can voice their opinions about how they are being taught and shape the way the program will be presented in future years.

Many of the reading materials students use in class were published this year and there is still no official textbook, Kearns added.

There may be some small changes in the major’s curriculum within the next four to five years, but most of the core classes will stay largely the same.

“The program needs to be rapidly evolving in response to how technologies are going to change,” Ives said.

Students, in turn, are excited about their professor’s openness to change.

“Kearns seems like a really nice professor,” Engineering freshman Abhishek Gadiraju said.

“The professors have extensive knowledge. They make the content very relevant and not too abstract. It’s very hands-on,” Eerabathini added.

Professors, meanwhile, have high hopes for MKSE students.

“I can see how Google would want our students,” Kearns said.

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