March 26, 2013

Top Cornell Tech Campus Officials Discuss Development of School

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The Sun met with Cornell NYC Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher and Vice President Cathy Dove during their visit to the Ithaca campus in March. The administrators discussed the future of the tech campus and its sustainability.

The Sun: Has there been any progress made toward the creation of any of the next degree programs at the tech campus?

Daniel Huttenlocher: In terms of programs, there is one overriding guiding principle for us, both with faculty hiring and with launching with programs — and frankly with student recruiting also — which is to prioritize quality over everything else. … Rather than committing to particular time schedules, we’re focused on committing to excellence. That said, we want to move as quickly as we can without compromising quality … So in addition to the current program that we launched in January, we do plan to launch one or two additional degree programs in the Fall of 2014. It’s a little too soon to say exactly what yet because it’s really going to depend to a large degree on faculty hiring. For the Fall of [2013] we’re continuing the computer science M.Eng. that we started with the beta class in January.

Sun: Is that still going to be around eight students?

D.H.: Oh, no. So for the fall, we hope to have a more regular cohort, which again is going to be driven by quality. So it’s hard to say exactly how big it is, but ideally it would be somewhere around the 20-student range. Given the number of faculty we have, we don’t want to scale it too quickly, but again, that will be driven by applicant pool more than anything.

Sun: Another question we had was about environmentalism and sustainability. Obviously that is a big focus going in for the tech campus in itself, but I think our question is more about Google’s headquarters. Is there a focus on sustainability in those classrooms? Are you focusing on reducing emissions there?

Cathy Dove: The space we’re in is in a building Google owns in Chelsea. … We’re short term tenants there … so we’ve done the little things we can in our space … things like making sure the lights go off at a certain time and [trying to] minimize utilization of energy in that space. What we’re really focused on is Roosevelt Island, of course.

Sun: Regarding the environmental aspect of the physical campus on Roosevelt Island, what exactly is in the works?

C.D.: We have had and continue to have really significant aspirations for the first academic building to be [a] net-zero [energy building]. What net-zero means is that we generate more energy over the course of the year than we actually consume. That still is our goal. We called it aspirational at the time and I still call it aspirational because it is extremely challenging to get there. We believe we would be the largest net-zero building on the east coast, if not in the entire country. We’re looking at multiple different technologies that will get us there. … Some of the technologies that we’re currently looking at and have built into our plan [include] solar arrays. … In addition, we plan to have a number of geothermal wells on campus.

Sun: They’re very expensive, as I understand, to implement.

C.D.: Yes, but it is something we think is important to do. A third technology which is actually still in the evaluatory stage is tidal power. There are tests going on in the east river right next to our campus, so we think this would be a fabulous thing to do. Day one, we may or may not be at net-zero, but over time, the goal is to be at net-zero.

Sun: You mentioned the admissions process is a shorter process. What exactly is involved in applying to the tech campus?

D.H.: It’s only for the beta class that [the admissions process] was shorter. For this next fall, we’re running a regular admissions cycle.

Sun: So did the beta class have a different application?

D.H.: Nope. It’s exactly the same. The way we’re doing admissions right now is that Cornell now offers two M.Eng. degrees in computer science. If you go to the Cornell grad school application site, … it says computer science M.Eng. Ithaca, [and] computer science M.Eng. New York City. It’s the exact same application that anyone applying to graduate school at Cornell fills out. For the New York City program, we are doing something a little different in our admissions process which is that once we have evaluated people’s applications in terms of the academic quality, we’re actually scheduling interviews with those who meet our academic qualifications. In addition to having outstanding academic credentials, we want students who are passionate about using technology to do something in the world to make a difference. We need to talk to them about what their passion is. You can sort of see it in a written application, but it’s better to have a conversation.

Sun: When you’re fundraising for the campus, how challenging is it to compete with the sesquicentennial fundraising and to attract alumni?

D.H.: I wouldn’t use the “compete” word. I think that the excitement around the tech campus and around Cornell and Cornell’s visibility is exactly the kind of thing that can and should and will make the pie bigger for Cornell when it comes to development. So I really view these as complementary in a lot of ways. A big piece of what we’re doing at the tech campus is of and for New York. That may excite a Cornell alum who maybe hasn’t been as excited to contribute to Ithaca, but may also excite people who aren’t a part of the Cornell family, but are really committed to New York. … My view is that to be most successful here, we should be making the Ithaca fundraising easier and raising more money for the tech campus. So far, the data is supporting that.

Original Author: Sun Staff