From Cornell Tech: “A Quiet Revolution”

From Cornell Tech

Cornell Tech NYC A Quiet Revolution

Far from the oft-criticized homogeneity of Silicon Valley, New York’s very identity is a reflection of its eclectic mix of races and cultures. That puts the Big Apple in a unique position to address a diversity problem that plagues the tech industry on the opposite coast. From fashion to finance, New York tech is a melting pot of startups, established companies and industries. And the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program channels the variety of backgrounds, perspectives and professions to foster multidisciplinary thinkers who can diversify an overwhelmingly white and male tech industry in the United States.

A focus on diversity attracts tech talent to the city, according to a 2018 survey by the nonprofit Tech: NYC, with 89 percent of respondents citing the diverse population as a draw and 74 percent citing the variety of industries to choose from as a lure. “Diversity is very important for innovation, as people with different perspectives, training, backgrounds and cultures come together to look at the same problem differently,” said Erik Grimmelmann, president of the nonprofit NY Tech Alliance.

Students gather outside the Tata Innovation Center.

Being Deliberate About Diversity

In New York’s tech sector, gender, ethnic and racial diversity start in the classroom. The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and Cornell Tech started the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program in 2014, taking up temporary residence in Google office space in New York and officially relocating to Cornell Tech’s 12-acre campus on Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island in fall 2017. The program has since attracted women, minorities and international students with resumes and interests from an array of backgrounds.

“The amazing thing about building an [academic program] from scratch is that you can be really deliberate about important things like diversity,” said Julie Samuels, the executive director of Tech:NYC, which supports the city’s tech sector.

Professor Mukti Khaire teaches entrepreneurship in creative industries at Cornell Tech.

The Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program was built around the concept that the best leaders and innovators have a variety of skill sets, and that they seek out unique perspectives in others. That’s evident in the way student teams in the program’s Studio curriculum mimic the most successful tech companies, said Mukti Khaire, the Girish and Jaidev Reddy Professor of Practice at Cornell Tech and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Some projects might see a computer scientist paired with, say, a market expert and a designer. “There’s nothing better than to show students that diversity is important in these teams for really creative problem solving,” Khaire said.

John Quinn, who graduated in spring 2018, said he had to up his game academically and creatively because of the mix of races, ages and backgrounds. Quinn’s career was on track, with him working in digital payments at MasterCard in Dublin, his hometown. But he realized tech expertise alone wasn’t enough to continue advancing at the company. Now, with a Johnson Cornell Tech MBA, he’s starting a new role at MasterCard’s NYC Technology Hub.

For Quinn, diversity and inclusion workshops on campus were also eye openers.

“It was amazing how honest people could be,” he said, referring to sessions in which women and minorities spoke about the challenges they face in tech. “It will make me a better co-worker and a better manager to be aware of these things.”

‘A Force to Be Reckoned With’ in NYC

New York’s large and diverse network of students, workers and entrepreneurs attracts tech professionals who might otherwise have headed to Silicon Valley. On the West Coast, “You get a lot of homogeneity in thought and how people approach problems,” said David Cheng, a 2017 Cornell Tech MBA grad.

That’s a big reason Cheng, a former software engineer and consultant in Washington, chose New York to start a mobile speech therapy app he developed with classmates. Just last year, Speech Up won Cornell Tech’s Startup Award, which included workspace at its Tata Innovation Center, where students and companies work to bring new ideas to market.

The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, across from the Manhattan skyline.

Cheng, who attended speech therapy sessions as a child, said he was drawn to New York because so many of its industries are reinventing themselves through tech. “Being part of the community that is doing that is something that really appealed to me,” he said.

Kendall Jakes, also a 2017 Cornell Tech MBA grad, said the program’s multicultural and multidisciplinary approach attracted her as well. She worked for a Chicago food company in a role that combined technology and business. But as she looked into M.B.A. programs to help with her next career, she found most wanted to put her in either a tech or a business “bucket.”

Above: David Cheng, class of 2017. Below: John Quinn, a 2018 graduate.

“That isn’t how the world works. Why should we be siloed?” said Jakes, now a technical solutions specialist at Microsoft’s New York office, adding that the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program was a place where she was totally accepted.

Jakes also said she loved that her class was 40 percent female, a contrast to the broader U.S. tech workforce, which is 76 percent male. “We were a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

A Model for Tomorrow’s Tech Sector

New York’s thriving tech industry is no Silicon Valley, and that’s just fine, said Grimmelmann, the NY Tech Alliance president.

“Out West, it’s all tech, all the time,” he said. Conversely, New York mixes tech with other disciplines and radically changes them. FinTech, EdTech and HealthTech, for example, are flourishing in the city.

Diversity in industries, cultures and backgrounds creates the best innovators and leaders, said Samuels, Tech:NYC’s executive director. “The most successful employees,” she said, “are the ones who are really good at problem solving and can navigate a fast-growing company — versus stay in your lane and do your own job.”

Kendall Jakes is a 2017 Cornell Tech MBA grad.

Jakes agrees. In New York — and in the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program — she doesn’t feel pigeonholed, she said, but rather celebrated for being a “creative techie.”

“I love the energy here,” Jakes said. “That’s something really different about New York.”


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Original announcment
Cornell Tech today celebrated the official opening of its campus on Roosevelt Island with a dedication event attended by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Cornell University President Martha Pollack, Technion President Peretz Lavie and Cornell Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher. Cornell Tech is the first campus ever built for the digital age, bringing together academia and industry to create pioneering leaders and transformational new research, products, companies and social ventures. Today marks the opening of the first phase of the Roosevelt Island campus, which features some of the most environmentally friendly and energy-efficient buildings in the world.

In 2011, Cornell Tech was named the winner of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Administration’s visionary Applied Sciences Competition, designed with the goal of diversifying the economy and creating a national hub for tech. The project, managed by the City’s Economic Development Corporation, has been carried forward by the de Blasio administration, with the campus breaking ground in 2015. The City estimated in 2011 that the new campus would generate up to 8,000 permanent jobs, hundreds of spin-off companies and more than $23 billion in economic activity over a period of 35 years. The campus is built on 12 acres of City land.

“With the opening of Cornell Tech, Cornell University, in partnership with the Technion, is defining a new model for graduate education — a model that melds cutting-edge research and education with entrepreneurship and real world application,” said Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack. “We are so grateful to the City of New York for offering us a chance to launch this venture, to the many other partners who have helped bring us to this day, and to Mayor de Blasio and his administration for their continued commitment and support. Today marks the beginning of a new era of opportunity not only for Cornell and the tech campus, but also for New York City, the state and the world.”

“Today’s Cornell Tech campus opening marks the beginning of a new chapter in the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute’s ongoing work to foster innovation in New York and beyond,” said Professor Peretz Lavie, President of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “In partnership with Cornell, we’ve developed a model of graduate-level technology education that is unlike any other – one that’s tailor-made not only for New York City but for the challenges of the digital revolution.”

“Thanks to our investments to foster key industries, create good-paying jobs, and attract top talent, New York is the center of the world for finance, advertising, media, the arts and international commerce, but we are still building our reputation as an internationally-recognized hub of cutting-edge science and technology. By harnessing the engineering expertise of Cornell and the entrepreneurial spirit of Technion, Cornell Tech’s new campus will strengthen New York’s future competitiveness and produce innovations that will change the world,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“As we work to keep New York City a leader in the 21st Century economy, we celebrate the opening of the Cornell Tech campus and the opportunities it opens up for our city and our people. I am proud to welcome our newest leading educational institution, which will become a tremendous catalyst for our tech sector. We won’t stop here. Through Computer Science for All, the Tech Talent Pipeline and the new Union Square Tech Hub, we are building on the progress Mayor Bloomberg set in motion, and helping more New Yorkers become a part of this extraordinary success story,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Cornell Tech is an investment in the future of New York City — a future that belongs to the generations to come, and the students here will help build it. Technological innovation played a central role in New York City becoming a global economic capital – and it must continue to play a central role for New York to remain a global economic capital. The companies and innovations spawned by Cornell Tech graduates will generate jobs for people across the economic spectrum and help our city compete with tech centers around the world, from Silicon Valley to Seoul,” said Mike Bloomberg.

“I’m thrilled that the Cornell Tech campus is finally opening on Roosevelt Island,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney.“With its proximity to Manhattan and to industrial space in Western Queens, Roosevelt Island is the perfect setting for an educational institution, which is which is why I worked hard to ensure that it was selected when the City was considering locations for the new applied science campus. Cornell Tech will help us diversify our economic base and bring jobs through new startups. A New York school generates New York businesses and employs New Yorkers. As students are welcomed to the new campus, we know this is just the beginning – and that the future for this institution will be bright.”

“Cornell Tech will create the leaders of tomorrow, bringing the brightest minds in the field of technology to Roosevelt Island. The digital age has not only improved the efficiency and productivity at the workplace, but created competitive high-paying salaries and stable jobs that keep overall unemployment rates lower. Cornell Tech is ahead of the curve by providing academic programs and training that will make this a world-renowned institution,” said Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright.

“The new Cornell Tech campus is a wonderful addition to Roosevelt Island and will continue to propel New York City as a leader in technology and innovation. Not only will this state of the art campus generate thousands of permanent jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity over the next 30 years, but is also environmentally friendly and energy efficient. Many thanks to Cornell Tech and all of my colleagues in government and on Roosevelt Island that helped to complete this special project,” said New York State Senator José M. Serrano.

“This milestone is a game-changer – and this campus is a New York City gem. As it prepares students for jobs of the future today, Cornell Tech will keep our city competitive in emerging industries tomorrow. This transformative project truly cements New York City as a global tech hub, and it illustrates what happens when government, academia, and industry all work together. Every stakeholder in this project should be exceptionally proud,” said Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

“As our world becomes more tech-centered, the Cornell Tech campus will allow New York City to be at the heart of the innovation, leadership — and most importantly, jobs — in this space. This campus will bring academics, research and business together and educate the bright minds of our future. I look forward to seeing all that Cornell Tech has to offer our City, and to working with Cornell Tech to ensure that New Yorkers from every corner of our City benefit from this world-class institution,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.

“Cornell Tech is a tremendous boost to New York’s growing tech community and a welcome addition to our city’s pantheon of world-class academic institutions,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “It’s been thrilling to watch the campus’ buildings rise on Roosevelt Island and to see the community partnerships this institution has already made possible.”

“The dedication of the Cornell Tech campus is an incredible achievement for New York City that has been almost seven years in the making,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Not only does the addition of this institution enhance an already impressive slate of educational offerings, but its presence brings New York City’s drive for innovation to the cutting edge. I look forward to the thousands of students and faculty who will bring their research and insights to the five boroughs, and I am proud of the partnership between Cornell, the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and the New York City Council that saw about $300,000 allocated toward making this dream a reality.”

“The opening of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island is a victory for Western Queens and New York City that will create jobs and reassert the region as a global leader in tech and innovation,” said City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer. “Just one stop on the F train to Western Queens, the proximity of the new campus and tech incubator to Western Queens will be beneficial for the people of my district and for the students of Cornell Tech looking to start new businesses. With unmatched resources for small businesses, including a diverse and talented workforce, Long Island City will be a natural place for new tech businesses to call home, develop breakthroughs, and create jobs. I thank all involved in this historic project for their good work and look forward to working closely with our new neighbor, Cornell Tech.”

“Tech now has a new home in New York City on Roosevelt Island at Cornell Tech. We are growing jobs and educating the next leaders of the tech economy right here on Roosevelt Island so the next big thing in tech will be ‘Made in New York,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, a tech entrepreneur. “Welcome to Cornell Tech, Dean Dan Huttenlocher and thank you to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the vision, Mayor de Blasio and RIOC President Susan Rosenthal for making it happen, and the Roosevelt Island community for being a part of this every step of the way. I look forward to working with Cornell Tech on bringing millions in investment to growing companies on Roosevelt Island and in New York City.”

Academic Program & Research

Cornell Tech started up in a temporary space generously provided by Google and has already graduated more than 300 masters and doctoral students, with most entering the New York City tech sector after graduation by joining local companies or starting their own. Masters students across all programs — computer science, law, business, electrical engineering, operations research, connective media and health tech — spend time learning and working collaboratively together in a Studio curriculum with extensive engagement with the tech industry. The projects students pursue in the Studio encourage them to practice entrepreneurship, product design, tech and public policy, management and other skills, helping them graduate with tangible, marketable experience and a portfolio of completed work that will help launch their career.

Cornell Tech’s 30-member faculty has launched cutting-edge research groups in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction and Social Computing, Security and Privacy, Artificial Intelligence, Data and Modeling, and Business, Law and Policy. All of the faculty have a focus on applied research and having a real world impact.

“We are entering a new era for tech in New York, and the Cornell Tech campus is at the heart of it. Cornell Tech was given the rare opportunity to create a campus and academic program from scratch. The opening of our new campus brings together academic disciplines critical to the digital transformation of society and the economy, together with companies, early stage investors, and government to spark innovation and help improve the lives of people throughout the City, country and world,” said Cornell Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher.

“Cornell Tech is a natural 21st-century expression of Cornell University’s founding principles,” said Robert S. Harrison, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. “The new campus is both completely transformative – and completely consistent with our values and our mission to pursue knowledge with a public purpose. While Ithaca remains the heart of the university, we serve New Yorkers through outreach and engagement in all 62 counties of New York state and have been deeply integrated in New York City for more than a century. The innovative programs at Cornell Tech affirm our institution’s vision, enhance our land-grant mission, and reflect the spirit of all Cornellians.”

The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech is a unique academic partnership of two leading global universities, the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell. The Institute houses the Health Tech and Connective Media programs, where students receive dual degrees from Cornell and the Technion, and the Jacobs Runway Startup Postdoc program for recent tech PhDs.The Runway program has been responsible for about half of the more than 30 companies that have spun out of the Cornell Tech campus with more than $20 million in funds raised and employing more than 100 people.

“The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a cornerstone of Cornell Tech, combining Cornell’s commitment to discovery with Technion’s global leadership in applied research and entrepreneurship. From our dual masters degree programs, to our groundbreaking faculty research, to the innovative companies spinning out of the Jacobs Runway Startup Postdoc program, our partnership and impact will grow on our new campus. Through the Jacobs Institute, Cornell Tech and New York City as a whole will always be on the leading edge, experimenting with novel ways to educate, discover, and innovate,” said Ron Brachman, Director of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute.

“By steering students through Cornell Tech, and its soon-to-come Verizon Executive Education Center, we can build students and business people into lifelong learners and inspire them to be more innovative and impactful leaders. Our investment in Cornell Tech, is a testament of our belief that technology can be a transforming force in our society. This unique institution will be a model for the future and a shining example of how to solve big challenges and make people’s lives better,” said Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO of Verizon.

“Even without a permanent campus, Cornell Tech has already established a proven track record of developing innovative companies and top tier talent here in New York City. Now in its beautiful new home on Roosevelt Island, Cornell Tech immediately establishes itself as one of New York’s premier tech institutions—helping us attract and retain the technical talent and companies our industry needs to grow and thrive,” said Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC.