Cornell Tech officially opens on Roosevelt Island in New York City
Less than seven years after a pair of aides to Mayor Mike Bloomberg dreamed up the idea to launch a competition for a new tech-based campus in New York City, Cornell University today (Sept. 13) officially opened its new Cornell Tech complex on Roosevelt Island.
Built on a two-mile-long strip of land in the East River, Cornell Tech represents New York’s attempt to compete with Silicon Valley and become a global leader in technology and innovation. The campus was built from scratch on an island that once housed a prison, a lunatic asylum and a women’s workhouse that at one time hosted Mae West.
Some 30 full-time faculty from engineering, computer science, business and law along with roughly 300 graduate students now work and study in the trio of modern buildings making up the first phase of the campus. The three buildings include The House, a 26-story residential tower with 550 rooms for students and faculty, the Bloomberg Center, and The Bridge, with its faculty research labs, a state-of-the-art computing lab, and a design lab where student can build prototypes. Ultimately the 12-acre, $2 billion campus will be home to more than 2,000 graduate students as well as hundreds of faculty and staff.
A major beneficiary of the ambitious project is Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, which has some 20,000 square feet of space in The Bridge, the building meant to connect academia and industry for startups and job creation. The business school space includes two tiered classrooms, eight breakout rooms, and work space for mor ethan 20 faculty and staff.
“It will pay off in a lot of ways, but our near focus is the MBA program,” says Mark Nelson, dean of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. “I want to bring these two campuses together in every way I can.”
Nelson envisions the day when every MBA student, whether in a program on the home campus in Ithaca, NY, or at Cornell Tech itself, will benefit from the new campus. This fall, MBA students in Ithaca, for example, will be able to take four new weekend courses at Cornell Tech: Digital Leadership in Cultural Markets, Designing Data Products, Design Thinking, and Leading Agile Innovation. There’s a shuttle bus connecting the two campuses that are roughly four hours apart.
MBA students will end up going to most classes and studios in The Bridge building
In the spring, MBAs in Ithaca have the option of coming south for seven-week intensives in Digital Marketing and FinTech. Ithaca-based MBAs can also apply to spend either half or all of the spring 2018 semester in residence at Cornell Tech. Nelson believes that some two-year MBA students may eventually elect to spend their entire second year at Cornell Tech.
The move onto Roosevelt Island also signals a new growth phase for the accelerated, one-year Cornell Tech MBA program launched in 2014. Until recently, faculty and students were housed in Google’s New York headquarters building in Chelsea. But Nelson says the business school moved its newly entered fourth Cornell Tech MBA cohort of 62 students into the Bridge’s modern classrooms and studios in late August. That’s up from the 53 graduates of the program this past July.
Within five years, he says, the Cornell Tech MBA program could enroll as many as 175 students, nearly three times its current enrollment. That compares with with the 277 entering MBA students in the two-year MBA program this year. “We’ll make sure to only scale with really high quality students and curriculum,” he says. “It’s not a race to size. It’s a race to quality.”
The program, Nelson points out, not only appeals to would-be entrepreneurs who want to meet partners with different skills in a campus setting. It also is an ideal degree for students who ultimately want product and project management jobs in tech companies and product marketing jobs in the technology sector.
The new campus is likely to be a magnet for students eager to enter the tech industry, the fastest growing industry sector recruiting MBA students in recent years. And there are additional plans to host B-school academic conferences, recruiting events, and alumni receptions (the New York City metro area is home to more than 3,000 Johnson alumni). Johnson will soon begin executive education programming on the campus, with Amazon, now one of Johnson’s largest MBA recruiters, being among the first companies to come on campus.
Already, says Nelson, the new campus is having an impact on the quality of faculty the school has recently hired from such rival institutions as Columbia, Michigan, Chicago, and INSEAD. “We are having remarkable faculty hiring success,” adds Nelson, singling out strategy professor Gautam Ahuja, who left Michigan Ross to come to Cornell. Ahuja racked up 16 separate teaching excellence awards from MBA, Executive MBA and PhD students at both Michigan Ross and UT-Texas at Austin.
Studio space in The Bridge building where cross-disciplinary teams work together on products and ideas
The Bloomberg Center is named after Michael Bloomberg’s two daughters, the result of a $100 million pledge
The new campus has its origins in an idea hatched in the mayor’s office in December of 2010, less than seven years ago. Bob Steel and Seth Pinsky, two senior adies in Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s office, came up with the idea as a way to jumpstart a broader diversity of economic activity in New York. Goveror Andrew Cuomo, speaking at the dedication of the campus, noted that “we were losing ground in the tech space. We weren’t competing…and we were slow to the starting gate.”
Steel and Pinsky pitched Mayor Bloomberg on an aggressive strategy to catchup, by getting a world class university to be at the center of a tech ecosystem similar to Silicon Valley. They thought the best way to jumpstart the process was to invite universities to compete against each other for a new campus in New York City. At the time, Steel was the deputy mayor for economic developlemtn, while Pinsky was president of the NYC Economic Development Corp. It was, says Bloomberg, “a wild and some said unrealistic idea.”
Several universities, including Stanford University, tossed their hat into the competitive ring. But ultimately Cornell University, in partenrship with Israel’s Technicon, gained the rights to the land. “When Bloomberg launched the competition in 2011, we knew we had to win this competition,” recalls Robert Harrison, chairman of Cornell’s Board of Trustees.
Even before the campus was planned, Cornell began taking over space in Google’s building in New York. Already, Cornell Tech has spun out 38 startups, with 94% of the jobs in those fledging firms based in New York City. “This campus helps bring New York City back to the future,” boasts Bloomberg.
One core cultural attribute of Cornell Tech is the cross-disciplinary work that defines the academic approach. Unlike most business schools that stand alone and often isolated on university campuses, Johnson’s graduate operations here are integrated with students and faculty from other disciplines. The Tech MBA, for example, includes what the school calls a product studio project in which MBA students work within a cross-functional team of classmates that includes law, engineering and computer science students charged with developing a tech-driven solution to the strategic business needs of a real client.
A primary goal of the new campus is to rethink conventional academia. There are no private offices for faculty on the new campus. Conference rooms are called “discovery rooms” to encourage the process of discovery. “We’re reinventing graduate education for the digital age,” proclaims Cornell University President Martha Pollack, citing the cross-disciplinary approach and the fact that a third of the academic time is spent in a studio rather than a classroom. “Academia and industry are linked together. Companies are a permanent part of this campus.”
A lounge on the 26th floor of The House, the residential tower on the Cornell Tech campus
The Cornell Tech campus was specifically designed and custom-built to support interdisciplinary interaction among students and faculty and collaboration with industry. “Everyone is very eager to start something on the new campus — to contribute to what is shaping into an already life-changing experience,” says Julia Hawkins, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’18. “People are organizing across disciplines to form clubs, athletic teams, game nights and startups. There are few physical barriers between students and faculty — when there are walls or doors, they are often made of glass or movable.” Moreover, she adds, “most of us live 100 feet away and can run up to our apartments in five minutes or less.”
“It’s incredibly exciting and humbling to be a part of the inaugural class on the new campus,” says Khemi Cooper, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’18. “We’re all eager to help shape what the future looks like for Cornell Tech.” Asked about how the new space feels in terms of facilitating interdisciplinary interaction among students, faculty, and industry, she adds: “The studio space at The Bridge feels particularly collaborative in design. From walls you can write on to moveable boards and work spaces, you quickly get the sense that the space was not meant for a standard curriculum. It feels more like a startup environment.”
“The campus is simply fantastic,” says Maximillain Kaye, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, citing the building designs, scenic views, and park-like atmosphere. With the addition of chocolate manufacturer Ferrero International as the newest corporate tenant on the new campus, he says, “you can begin to see the types of partners Cornell Tech attracts: those that are disrupting big industries but need the help of young innovators and developers on the ground developing solutions to their biggest business and technology needs. This is exactly how Cornell Tech adds value to the entrepreneurship community.”
At a recent state-of-the-school event on the Ithaca campus, Nelson told MBA students that the school is now at a moment that is not unlike the recent eclipse. “A lot of things have come together for a moment in time,” he says. “We’ve got $150 million, potentially taking it to $300 million,” he said, in a reference to the $150 million matching pledge from alum H. Fisk Johnson in January. “How often do you have the people, the places and the money and support from alumni to do amazing things?”
Now, it’s only a question of taking advantage of all those parts to make magic happen
The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island