Blockchain Course Challenges Students to Create Apps for the Launch of CMU Cryptocurrency

CMU faculty members are launching a course in which student groups address issues that can be brokered by blockchain technology, including the design of the university's own cryptocurrency.

Faculty from the Tepper School of Business, School of Computer Science, and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy are launching a course in which student groups address issues that can be brokered by blockchain technology, including the design of the university's own cryptocurrency.

Developing Blockchain Use Cases — co-taught by Vipul Goyal, associate professor of computer science; Michael McCarthy, associate teaching professor of information systems at Heinz; and Ariel Zetlin-Jones, associate professor of economics at Tepper — is a half-semester course taking place during Mini 4, beginning March 18.

"Faculty from three different schools will teach this course, and we expect our student body will be similarly diverse," Goyal said. "This promises to be a one-of-a-kind course where great ideas from finance, technology and policy will come together and lead to new frontiers in blockchains."

The end goal of the new course is for students to propose applications that could function on CMU Coin — an initiative driven by the PNC Center for Financial Services Innovation — and create value for the digital token.

"For this to be a success, we need the coin to be used among students on campus," Zetlin-Jones said. "We really want students to directly innovate in how CMU Coin can be useful to resolve problems that they face on campus.

CMU students have already been engaged in several pursuits in the development of CMU Coin over the last year, from a capstone course at the Tepper School to a university-wide case challenge proposing potential use cases for a university-specific proprietary blockchain.

The curriculum highlights the economics underlying the growth in blockchain solutions as well as practical knowledge in how to implement blockchain solutions.

"Something like this could only happen at Carnegie Mellon," McCarthy said. "The interdisciplinary nature of the university coupled with the expertise of our faculty will provide students with this exceptional opportunity to be at the forefront of creating a new cryptocurrency."

The course will include opportunities for students to engage with blockchain technologies, such as the decentralized application development platform Ethereum. To attract a wide range of students' perspectives, the course has no formal prerequisites, but the syllabus notes, "We expect students to have a background in economics, cryptography or computer science, and all students should have some basic comfortability with programming."

Applications that the students propose would be coded into CMU Coin as the initiative develops. The faculty are seeking creative solutions to real concerns from students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that implement blockchain in ways only a CMU student could develop.

The course joins a number of recent activities at Carnegie Mellon surrounding blockchain's potential. The first INTERSECT@CMU conference, concerning "The Future of Business, Technology, and Society," featured a panel on "Decentralizing Trust: Blockchain's Radical Potential," which featured Zetlin-Jones as a panelist. In addition, the Tepper School launched a Blockchain Initiative, which consolidates research and educational pursuits surrounding blockchain and cryptocurrency to foster collaborative partnerships.

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu