April 17, 2013

Cornell Tech Campus Students: Classes Are ‘Inspirational’

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Cornell NYC Tech has evolved from a stack of proposals to a fully-operating graduate program in the 16 months since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Cornell won the rights to build the school. Students in the school’s beta class say that they have been challenged and motivated while working on industry projects and that the curriculum is inspiring and unique.

Tech campus student Greg Tobkin grad said he is very excited to be a part of the beta class. Prior to attending Cornell Tech, Tobkin was a chemistry and computer science double major at Williams College, where he said he developed an interest in working on projects to help people quickly.

Tobkins said that the tech campus’ goals of “chang[ing] the world” inspired him to apply to the school.

“It was as if Cornell Tech were written for me,” he said.

Alex Kopp grad, another tech campus student, said there are many aspects of Cornell Tech — including its innovative curriculum and the small size of the beta class — that distinguish it from a traditional university program.

Traditional classes only occur on Mondays through Thursdays at Cornell Tech, with Fridays being reserved for practicums lead by individuals or groups from the tech industry, tech campus Dean Daniel Huttenlocher previously told The Sun.

Kopp described the practicums as being “very interesting and inspirational,” adding that his favorite sessions involved Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, a venture capital firm, and Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit.

Kopp also said that the connections he has forged with leaders in the tech industry this semester have been meaningful.

“I have been exposed to a handful of venture capitalists, a dozen or so succesful entrepreneurs and six like-minded aspiring entrepreneurs,” he said.

Prior to enrolling in the tech campus’ program, Kopp was a student in Cornell’s Master of Engineering program in Ithaca. After being admitted to the tech campus, he decided that transferring across programs would be a great opportunity and subletted his apartment in Cayuga Heights to join the beta class in the Big Apple.

“What intrigued me most about the new campus was the idea of reinventing the M.Eng curriculum to incorporate both computer science and business courses,” he said.

In addition to attending workshops on Fridays, students are also working on industry projects, which will be revealed at the end of the semester in presentations, The Sun previously reported.

Erich Graham grad, who worked as an engineer with Cisco after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2008, is currently working with Bloomberg to create a news analytics application. Graham will implement algorithms from one of his classes in order to predict patterns between stock prices and news.

Kopp, on the other hand, is working with Google on what he describes as a “difficult, but interesting, task.” He is trying to build an open source model that will be able to predict the severity of a storm based off of text messages sent out by the National Weather Service.

“An accurate prediction model will allow Google to better inform the people that may be affected by the storm,” he said.

Tobkin is working with Qualcomm in creating a computer vision application for cars, which would allow for sensors to alert the driver if an unsafe situation were to arise. He said that while the technology currently exists and is promising, it is also limited.

Of course, when they are not attending practicums or working on their industry projects, the students at Cornell Tech are attending classes.

For example, in their physical class, students use microcontrollers with sensors to build hardware — such as a motor controlled by infrared sensors and an ultrasonic, wireless tape measure — and then create interfaces with software, according to Graham.

Graham believes that the campus’ small class sizes allow for the creation of a “very close-knit group” between students and faculty.

“We have seven students and four professors,” he said. “That’s less than a 2:1 student to professor ratio.”

While the program is currently located at office space provided in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan by Google, the tech campus will be moving onto Roosevelt Island in 2017 once the first buildings are completed.

Regardless, the move from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island should not affect the environment of the tech campus, which lacks permanent offices, according to Kopp.

“In an effort to create an open environment, nobody at Cornell Tech has an office — not even the Dean. Instead, there are cubicles,” he said, adding that this is likely to be kept the same when the program transitions to Roosevelt Island.

Before construction can begin on the campus — which is slated to begin in 2014 — the University must have its tech campus plans approved by the City Council, the last step in New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Most recently, the proposal was approved by the City Planning Commission on March 20 and by the Manhattan Borough President and Community Board 8 in January and December respectively.

Original Author: Tyler Alicea