Although education is a serious matter at Carnegie Mellon, the decades of university and business school traditions stand in stark contrast to a legacy that boasts a record-number of Nobel laureates. Students from undergrads to Ph.D.s have been carrying on the institution’s many off-beat rituals since the 1920s.
To many, the granddaddy of the university's traditions is the "Buggy Sweepstakes," which coincides with the annual Spring Carnival. A hi-tech soapbox derby that combines sprinters and rocket-shaped cylinders (the buggies), the annual race is powered through the hilly course by undergraduate student “pushers.” Trent Sisson, dubbed “King of the Hill” as last year's fastest pusher, recalls one harrowing race moment. “On the last leg, my teammate pushed our buggy so hard it got away from him. He dove at the finish line as a last ditch effort to catch it, but to no avail. Our team was disqualified.”
Another long-standing tradition occurs on the campus’s main greenway where The Fence, the source of competition among clubs, Greek organizations and even alumni, jockey to display their graffiti on the 57-foot structure. History dictates that The Fence must be painted between dawn and dusk. If students do not guard The Fence during their allotted painting schedule, it can be “stolen” and painted over by a competing fraternity or sorority. The result: a bonding experience for students who often camp out overnight to protect their handiwork. Thanks to hundreds of Picasso-wannabes, today The Fence is covered with more than four inches of paint.
Carnegie Mellon is occasionally referred to as a "research conservatory," and nowhere is that juxtaposition more apparent than when the Kiltie Bag Pipe Band is practicing Free Bird in the middle of the grassy cut. As the only university offering graduate degrees in bagpipe music, Carnegie Mellon's Pipe Band is a favorite, sometimes rare, campus sighting. With a sound too overwhelming for a music room, the bagpipers are spotted (and heard) at various campus locales, including Schenley Park, The Cut, the Peace Garden and street-side serenading rush-hour traffic along Forbes Avenue.
Each spring, MBA students participate in International Festival to celebrate the Tepper School’s cultural diversity. Nationality booths, created and manned by students, showcase their artifacts, traditional dress and regional cuisine. According to the 2007 event organizer Evan Keyser, vice president of the Graduate Business Association, “International Festival exemplifies the camaraderie—and commonality—that all Tepper students share regardless of race, heritage or choice of major. We’re very proud of this tradition. Since its inception at Tepper, the model for International Festival has been used by many top MBA programs.”
More than two decades ago, MBA students began a beloved tradition called “B**rs,” a Friday afternoon mixer involving faculty, staff, students, families—and even pets. Liz Urish, MBA 2008, holds the title of Beermeister, the student responsible for ensuring that the weekly happy hour features an impressive showing of high-end labels and brew types. The ringing of a three-foot cast-iron bell, donated by the Class of 2000, signals the official start of B**rs (and thus the weekend has begun).
The annual Spring Follies is the ultimate display of left-brain, right-brain talents. This end-of-the -year roast showcases performances by master’s students that tease, mock, celebrate and imitate Tepper School faculty, staff and the overall academic experience.
“One thing about the university is that things are always changing,” says Wendy Herman, director of student services at the Tepper School of Business. “There’s a lot of innovation here, so sometimes traditions evolve or students start new ones to suit their interests. Like the MBA wine club, started by a French student a few years ago or the 1st-year versus 2nd-year soccer match, which is only about five years old.”
The Ph.D. program also provides an outdoor tradition that is not for the faint of heart. Braving negative wind chills, doctoral candidates attend the annual Ice Skating Party at the nearby Schenley Park Ice Rink. Perhaps it’s one [more] way to test the stamina of students studying in this world-renown program. According to Stephen Spear, professor of economics at Tepper and party brainchild, “It’s great fun, especially for the foreign students from tropical areas where they’ve never seen snow or ice.”