Alumnus Conrad Tucker Expanding Global, Technological Horizons

Thursday, January 25, 2024
Conrad Tucker

Alumnus Conrad Tucker, PhD, is making a global impact as the new director of Carnegie Mellon University Africa’s campus. He reconnected with former academic adviser Rick Stamper, PhD, as RHIT and CMU Africa explore global educational opportunities.

With a personal and professional passport filled with stamps from across the world, it’s not surprising that 2004 mechanical engineering alumnus Conrad Tucker, PhD, has become a strong advocate for engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to make a global impact.

That mission has taken him to become director of Carnegie Mellon University Africa’s campus in Rwanda and associate dean for international programs in Africa for CMU’s College of Engineering. At the same time, he is continuing to lead students from throughout the world in making scholarly achievements in machine learning, neuroscience-inspired artificial intelligence, robotics, and biomedical engineering – technical domains that can help enhance human capabilities.

Started in 2011 under a partnership with the Rwandan government, CMU-Africa offers graduate degrees, as part of CMU’s College of Engineering, in information technology, electrical and computer engineering, and engineering artificial intelligence. Its student body of more than 300 graduate students from 19 nationalities are addressing a critical shortage of creative and technically strong engineering talent for the African workforce—one of the fast-growing workforces in the world. Last year, Carnegie Mellon announced a transformational $275.7 million partnership with the Mastercard Foundation to expand the engineering, technology, research, and entrepreneurship. 

In announcing’s Tucker’s CMU-Africa director appointment, Strecker Dean of the College of Engineering Bill Sanders stated, “Conrad’s passion and drive will no doubt continue the excellent upward trajectory of CMU-Africa.”

Tucker said, “I have always loved challenges and the idea of giving back on a global scale. I see my work at CMU-Africa as a service to the continent. This provides a new dimension of impact. Over the past decade, I have been focused on impact from a research perspective (writing scholarly publications and mentoring master’s and PhD students). This has been very rewarding. However, now I can have an impact on a continental scale by educating the next generation of African leaders and innovators to make a transformative impact in their communities and the world.”

That’s what Tucker has done throughout his own educational journey as the son of a college professor/researcher (father) and elementary school principal (mother). The family escaped internal strife within Sierra Leone along Africa’s western coastline to find refuge in nearby Guinea before eventually moving to America. As a high-achieving high school student in Maryland, Tucker became interested in Rose-Hulman and engineering after enjoying a summer at the college’s Operation Catapult program

“I immediately fell in love with college’s focus on the undergraduate experience through immersive, hands-on education, the caring faculty and staff, and the vibrant sense of community on campus. It just called for me to go there,” he remarked in reflection.

Those qualities continued to be fostered as a Rose-Hulman student, learning about elements of mechanical systems and robotics, along with earning a minor in economics. He also became involved in a variety of student activities, enjoyed playing ultimate Frisbee games with classmates on the campus’ front lawn, and gave back to Terre Haute through community service projects.

“Rose taught me to strive for academic and professional excellence by pushing your limits while providing the important building blocks for the future. There was a sense of community support and encouragement that every student needed, and has helped us succeed as graduates,” he said.

Tucker reconnected with his former Rose-Hulman academic adviser Rick Stamper, PhD, (now the institute’s provost and vice president for academic affairs) during a visit to CMU-Africa last fall as the two institutions explore possible future educational partnerships.

Employing artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques in engineering system design, health care, and education has been the focus of Tucker’s role as a researcher while earning a master’s degree and PhD in industrial engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with teaching for eight years at Penn State University, and four in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

Along with his director role at CMU-Africa, Tucker teaches and conducts research on machine learning and directs the Artificial Intelligence in Products Engineered for X Laboratory (AiPEX Lab) at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus. Recent Rose-Hulman mechanical engineering graduates Jiatong Zhang (2021) and Songwei Fan (2022) were enrolled in Tucker’s Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for Engineers course last spring. His research and education goals are tightly integrated and focus on advancing personalization, both from a design and learning perspective.

“We’re experiencing a monumental paradigm shift in technology, not only in the innovations of these technologies but the speed of which they are progressing,” he stated. “Where we’re going is up to us as researchers and decision-makers–to decide how these technologies are going to be used or integrated to impact people’s lives ... The path of a researcher and educator is not just to give back knowledge to students, but to engage in research that you’re hoping will transform the world and have a global impact.”