Penn Launches Undergraduate Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering, Nation’s First


PHILADELPHIA -- The University of Pennsylvania has launched a first-of-its-kind program that will prepare undergraduate students to shape the technologies that underpin Web search, keyword auctions, electronic commerce, social and financial networks and the novel and unanticipated markets and social systems of the years ahead.

Made possible by an $8 million gift from the entrepreneurs for whom the program is named, the Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering, MKSE, will be the first course of study to fully integrate the disciplines needed in this emerging science. The intellectual core of the program will encompass network science, algorithmic game theory and other disciplines relevant to engineers and scientists as they consider human incentives and behavior in developing modern technological systems.

Based within Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, the program will enroll students in the fall of 2011.

The announcement was made today by Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price.

“Raj and Neera Singh are visionaries who understand that new technologies fundamentally change our society and that Penn stands at the forefront of integrating knowledge to determine how best to use these technologies to advance society,” Gutmann said. “Developing groundbreaking technology itself requires creative interdisciplinary thinking that is not confined to the intellectual silos of the past. Penn has positioned itself on the cutting edge of innovation, and we are enormously grateful to the Singhs for choosing Penn as the right place to develop this important new program.”

The Singh Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering will seek the best students from a worldwide pool of applicants. Penn Engineering will hire new faculty for the program, in addition to calling on the strengths of Penn’s current faculty across Penn Engineering, the School of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School. The program will also engage advisors from industry in its design and evolution.

“Penn has greatness in the core disciplines essential to this program,” said Rajendra Singh, principal owner of Telcom Ventures L.L.C., a private investment firm specializing in telecommunications and information technologies and a member of Penn Engineering’s Board of Overseers. “It also attracts the most brilliant students in the world from all walks of life. These are the young people who can best take this new form of education—one that combines analytical skills with intuitive thinking—and make a big difference in society.”

Singh is a member of the board of directors of LCC International Inc., a publicly traded subsidiary of Telcom Ventures and one of the largest wireless telecommunications engineering consulting firms in the world. He and his wife co-founded LCC International in 1983.

“Traditional programs don’t prepare students to design systems that take into account the goals and incentives of the people who use them,” said Michael Kearns, professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the program’s founding faculty director. “We haven’t asked engineering students to take a course in game theory to understand how incentives work or in sociology to understand human behavior. There is now enough science out there on the intersection of these topics to design undergraduate courses.”

In 2003, Kearns developed a Penn course, Networked Life, which engages students in hands-on explorations of the networks in which they participate every day. Now one of the most popular courses at the University, Networked Life also served as a proving ground for the larger MKSE program of which it will become a part.

Kearns is the National Center Professor of Computer and Information Science in Penn Engineering, with secondary appointments in Statistics and Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School.

“The world is hungry for young people with the academic grounding to realize the potential—and foresee the pitfalls—in a networked world,” said Ali Jadbabaie, who will serve as the program’s faculty co-director. “Technical skills alone are wholly inadequate in this new field.”

Jadbabaie is the Skirkanich Associate Professor of Innovation in Electrical and Systems Engineering.