Kathryn Guarini, former CIO of IBM, to Teach at Yale Engineering This Fall

Departments: Applied Physics

Kathryn Guarini (B.S. Yale '94, Ph.D. Stanford '99) is no stranger to the disruptive impact of new technologies. Now, in a new course scheduled for the Fall 2024 semester, Yale Engineering students will benefit from her expertise.

That course, ENAS 217 Disruptive Technologies and Responsible Innovation, is designed to prepare students to adapt in the rapidly evolving landscape of innovation and technology. Tapping Guarini to teach aligns with a new emphasis at Yale Engineering on bringing industry into the classroom – a strategy that aims to help students envision real-world problems, while also giving companies a chance to identify and recruit top talent. Guarini, who has held various roles in the technology industry for over two decades, most recently served as CIO of IBM and routinely tops lists of "influential leaders in tech." Guarini majored in applied physics at Yale, although her career post-graduation took her far beyond the laboratory walls. She will return to campus this fall as the first Senior Fellow at Yale Engineering. When asked to expand on the importance of bringing industry experience into the classroom in an engineering curriculum, Guarini said it's equally relevant whether students are pursuing science and engineering careers, academic roles, or have their sights set on other fields altogether.

"I believe that infusing industry perspective into the classroom is important to help students grasp and get excited by the breadth of real-world challenges and opportunities," she said. "Whether students choose to pursue a career in STEM or not, all can benefit from insights into current-day technologies and tradeoffs – as consumers, innovators, and future business leaders."

The course will examine contemporary innovations as case studies in order to dissect the transformative impact they are having on the world today. The course description mentions integrated circuits, CRISPR gene editing, 5G wireless, generative AI, and quantum computing as some of the technologies to be covered. Guarini explained that by studying these past and present disruptions, students can become better prepared for innovations to come – and their impact on society.

"Today, technology is having such a profound impact on our lives and our world," Guarini said. "By studying how innovations come to be, how they get infused across different industries, and how they transform ways of working and living, we gain insights into the innovation process and the opportunities for disruption. We learn about best practices to foster innovation, identify compelling use cases, scale technologies, and demonstrate business and societal value. We also learn that nothing stays the same for long and develop skills to continuously challenge the status quo and capitalize on opportunities for outsized impact."

By investigating current case studies, can students learn to predict where the next world-changing disruption will arise? According to Guarini, the answer is...not exactly.

"It's fundamentally hard to predict disruptions – because by their nature they are discontinuities and not logical evolutions of prior states," she explained.

That said, Guarini believes knowledge and understanding are keys to preparedness.

"Over the course of my career, there have been times when I didn't act quickly enough to capitalize on opportunities and other times when I was working right on the cutting edge as a co-creator and early adopter of novel technologies," she said. "Experience and insights can help us influence trajectories and quickly capture transformational value."

With the rapid pace of innovation transforming daily life for consumers, business owners, and industry leaders alike, the class is a particularly timely offering. Guarini said that this compelled her to return to the lecture hall after a career on the front lines of tech.

"I want to help inspire the next generation of innovators and leaders," she said.

The course has no prerequisites and is open to any Yale student who wishes to explore current technological innovations with the hope of understanding their power to reshape society and the world.