September 19, 2012

Cornell Says Other NYC Tech Schools Will Improve, Not Hurt, CornellNYC Tech

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As other universities and institutions — namely, New York University and Columbia University — develop plans to launch New York City tech campuses of their own, CornellNYC Tech officials have already began looking forward to opportunities for cross-tech campus collaboration.

CornellNYC Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher and Provost Kent Fuchs said they saw the creation of the NYU Center of Urban Science and Progress and the Columbia University Institute for Data Science and Engineering as an opportunity to transform the city into a center of technology preeminence. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the creation of the NYU and Columbia tech schools in the spring and summer of this year, respectively.

Huttenlocher and Fuchs emphasized that the various programs would complement CornellNYC Tech, rather than serve as competition.

“[These programs] are all really good for all of us. They’re not in any way undercutting what Cornell wants to achieve,” Fuchs said. “It will attract more companies to the city [and] those students that want to start companies will benefit because there will be more of an environment — as a result of these other programs — that will support it. It’s all really, really good news.”

Fuchs added that although all of the tech campuses will launch in NYC, each will focus on different applications of technology innovation. While NYU’s program will primarily teach urban science, Columbia’s emphasis will be on data science, he said.

The academic structure of CornellNYC Tech, meanwhile, is organized into three hubs — connective media, healthier life and the built environment — that are broad in scope, but will evolve over time, Fuchs said.

“The other two programs are more focused than ours is. Ours is broader, intentionally, it’s just bigger — it’s a whole new campus,” Fuchs said. “The second difference is ours has a larger focus on students. All three campuses have a research focus … but [at] ours, the big focus is on the masters students … We believe that the real secret to making a difference and helping the future economy in New York City is the alumni.”

Huttenlocher added that, based on his understanding of the other projects, CornellNYC Tech’s mission seems to be the most focused on Internet technology.

“Our view is that almost every industry is being transformed by this new information age,” Huttenlocher said. “This campus is focused on all of those broad uses of information technology to transform industries. In some sense, the 20th Century was the industrial age and the 21st century is the information age.”

Huttenlocher said that having multiple tech schools could contribute to New York City’s economic growth, making the city a hub of entrepreneurial activity.

“The big thing is providing an environment where great tech companies are located here in New York — either because they’re homegrown companies that get started by graduates of these programs, or because they’re big companies, like Google and Facebook, and want to build up their operations here,” Huttenlocher said. “It’s really about broadening the economy of New York City to have a much bigger tech component in terms of job opportunities for New Yorkers.”

Higher education expert and computer scientist Richard DeMillo, who served as the Hewlett-Packard Company’s first chief technology officer and was an executive at the National Science Foundation, said that if NYC is going to create a burgeoning “tech ecosystem,” the presence of multiple tech schools is crucial.

“I’ve been happy to see Cornell, but also the other New York schools, move in and start to talk about other initiatives, too,” DeMillo said. “Clearly, campuses are competing for resources, but the whole idea of these ventures in New York, as I understand it, is to build up the entire base … Let’s hope that the end result is a larger investment … in building a tech base in [NYC].”

DeMillo pointed to previous attempts to build up a tech base in the city, citing tech ventures in the mid-1990s that he said had largely failed due to a lack of “openness.”

The ability for people to move freely within the tech community and to engage in mentorship “simply didn’t exist in New York City in the mid-90s,” DeMillo said. “So you hope with these new ventures you can somehow recreate the entrepreneurial spirit that’s going to make all of this stuff succeed.”

In addition to coordinating with the other two tech schools, CornellNYC Tech is committed to collaborating with tech companies, Fuchs said.

“We’re not there yet, because we’re focusing on launching our new programs this year and designing buildings and the new campus,” Fuchs said. “But we’re really committed to collaboration … in writing proposals to agencies … and to companies to sponsor new programs. We do that already with other universities around the world.”

Fuchs predicted that this collaborative spirit could extend as far as allowing students to take classes at the peer campuses.

“There might be students from those other programs that want to take programs on our campus, and possibly the other way around, too,” Fuchs said. “I do predict students will be doing this and getting transfer credit, because we want to offer truly different courses from the ones that are being offered. And the nice thing about New York City is there’s a lot of connectivity, transportation-wise.”

Original Author: Emma Court