February 22, 2012

Cornell Tech Campus: Learning Hub

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Call it Silicon Isle. Cornell’s new  high-tech learning center on New York City’s Roosevelt Island that combine science and technology with innovation and education at the graduate student level.

Unlike traditional institutions of higher education, which are comprised of century-old academic departments like physics or mathematics, Cornell’s proposal for the NYC Tech Campus features a new academic approach to learning called hubs.

“The hubs, unlike academic disciplines, are intended to be very fluid and have very short lifetimes measured in years,” Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of the tech campus said. The three hub areas, Connective Media, Healthy Living, and the Built Environment are intended to solve multidisciplinary problems by combining technological with non-technological fields with the goal of promoting innovation.

The Connective Media hub combines a technical core of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and information science with disciplines like communication, sociology and psychology, which explore human behavior, according to Prof. Jeff Hancock, chairperson of the department of information sciences.

“The hubs are more closely tied to industry than traditional academic departments,” Hancock said. “In addition to being able to have a psychologist, a computer scientist and an engineer working on a problem, you also have this idea of co-located entrepreneurs and industry.”

The Healthier Life hub, for instance, will promote healthy living and focus on improving healthcare quality through the use of technology and medical sciences. Faculty members in this will hub explore a range of health topics, from creating sensors in iPhones that provide feedback on a person’s health to using social media to understand mental health concerns.

The Built Environment hub will look at combining emerging technologies and applied sciences with sustainability and architecture. The sustainable features of the Roosevelt Island campus itself are an example of the goal of the hub according to Bert Bland, senior director of the Energy and Sustainability Department.

“The campus is all about innovation and technology, that’s the academic mission, but we want the campus to enhance that academic mission,” Bland said. “It’s almost like a living laboratory for the students and the teachers.”

According to Hancock, the nature of the hubs will create an almost instantaneous feedback loop. “When you look at the building plan, not only will there be a hub where the academics and students are working, but right there with them are the people in industry, the people who care about the problem in terms of solving it, creating some technology to address it and bring it out into the world” Hancock said.

Every student enrolled at the tech campus will be required to have an industry mentor giving students guidance from both academics and practitioners.  This benefits the students by providing the students with industry experiences, provides the companies with potential employees, and it provides the city with the retention of technological innovators Huttenlocher said.

“In addition to the direct benefits of attracting great students, giving them a great education, and tying them to the city, there are these benefits of using the campus to make New York City a global platform for the visibility of science and technology,” Huttenlocher said.  The tech campus plans to provide graduates with both an advanced technical degree as well as the domain in which to apply it.

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Original Author: Nicholas St. Fleur