Mingling with tech startup executives to plan mentorships for future students, Cornell administrators are fusing business with its technology-based initiatives in New York City.
Specializing in “technology commercialization,” the application of technological ideas into the marketplace, Cornell’s new tech campus in New York City will require its graduate students to take courses in business and entrepreneurship, according to Prof. Daniel Huttenlocher, computing and information sciences, and recently named vice provost and dean of the tech campus.
Each student will be paired with an industry mentor with a background in entrepreneurship. While no concrete program has been definitively created yet, many companies have already given advice to the University on how to design one that would best expose students to work with businesses, Huttenlocher said.
“We feel that connectivity to the business community is really an important part of this whole commercialization focus in New York City,” said Prof. Lance Collins, dean of the College of Engineering. “There’s a certain ‘learning by doing’ aspect to commercialization. It plugs people into others who are really knowledgeable about how to succeed as an entrepreneur.”
Students, who will learn business skills in the classroom while applying them outside, will be given the opportunity to receive feedback about their work immediately, rather than after they graduate, Huttenlocher said. Additionally, he said, Cornell NYCTech’s focus on application, rather than just theory, will prepare students more for jobs after they graduate.
On Dec. 19, Cornell won the right to build an applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The campus, named Cornell NYCTech, is expected to be completed over the course of 30 years.
Professors are great at coming up with projects and problems that help test your understanding of the fundamentals,” Huttenlocher said. “But problems in the real world often have very different aspects to them than the kinds of problem sets or projects or assignments that a professor would come up with.”
To implement these changes, Prof. Joseph Halpern, chair of the computer science department, said he has already polled the faculty in his department to gauge their interest in the tech campus. He said he has received several positive responses.
Prof. Ken Birman, computer science, was one faculty member who expressed interest in working at the campus in the future.
“I’m sure I’ll teach there from time to time, although nobody has any concrete plans right now,” Birman said. “We’re already starting to think about how, starting a year from now, we’re going to be offering courses down there.”
Birman added that “every department has been having these discussions” about hiring for the tech campus.
According to Birman, only Ithaca faculty members who are tenured will be able to teach at the tech campus.
“The kinds of professors that we hire really need to be full professors here,” Birman said. “To give people a proper mentoring environment, it’s very important that they not be at arm’s length. So the feeling is that we’re going to be hiring very, very strong tenure-leveled people there.”
Aside from hiring faculty, the University is also looking to lease a building in Manhattan until construction on Roosevelt Island is complete. According to Huttenlocher, current Ithaca-based graduate students and some undergraduate seniors will be able to engage in city-based programs starting next academic year. Students from outside Cornell, on the other hand, will not be accepted or enrolled until the tech campus programs have been accredited, he said.
While the two campuses will have distinct curriculums, Halpern said he is exploring the possibility of streaming lectures to connect the two campuses.
“The students here could gain by having access to someone in New York City,” he said. “I’m hoping that there could be courses that aren’t just here or just there, but that are in both places. And so we would also be gaining from the presence of the tech campus directly.”
Collins said that administrators must also consider how to preserve the unity of the campuses as they develop the tech campus.
“The most important thing is that these two campuses feel like Cornell,” Collins said. “Even though they have different missions and different sorts of activities going on, if we really build this strong bond with lots of idea flow and a lot of people flow and it feels like a single entity, then we’ll have this ideal complement.”
“If we’re successful, you’re going to think about New York City as a global center of technology and the role that Cornell has played in helping that out,” Huttenlocher said. “But, of course, that’s a 20 year goal, so we’ve still got time.”
Collins, echoing Huttenlocher, expressed his hopes for the city’s future.
“We’re opening up a new avenue for engineering to impact society,” Collins said.