In December 2010, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg launched Applied Sciences NYC, an initiative to partner with a top institution to develop a new or expanded applied sciences and engineering campus in New York City. The city would supply land, Roosevelt Island in the East River, up to $100 million capital, and the support of their administration. The institution would supply the plan and do the work of carrying the project out.
Real world experience is the cornerstone of the program, students work closely with industry. Each semester, students are put into teams that pair with real companies on projects called Cooperative Masters Projects. These projects involve developing a technical opportunity or solving a challenge for the partner company. This spring of 2013, the program began a “beta” class, eight full-time students, paired with a mix of companies such as start-up Tapestry, the nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation, and industry giant Google.
Students take technical and business classes Monday through Thursday but Friday is reserved for an interdisciplinary practicum, Entrepreneurial Life. Practicums are led by guest practitioners, entrepreneurs, designers, artists, and lawyers to give students a broad and first-hand understanding of success in the business world.
Instructors include Cornell University professors as well as interested professionals from other universities or industry. Considerations given to practical experience and professors are also encouraged to take time off to work on commercial or nonprofit projects. Instead of traditional office hours, or even offices, professors and students have a desk with low dividers in an open air area to encourage constant interaction. Conference rooms are available if needed. In a first of its kind arrangement, the United States Commerce Department has stationed a patent officer on the program’s premises to assist with patent applications and commercial strategies.
While the development of the Roosevelt Island campus is still underway, Google donated space in its Chelsea building for the program to use until then. The donation allocates a total of 22,000 square feet on an upper floor to the school with the option to expand into an additional 36,000 square feet over three years. Cornell is responsible for the costs of operating there and must be moved out of the space in five and a half years.
The Roosevelt Island campus is an important part of the Cornell NYC Tech venture. The proposed campus was approved by Manhattan’s Community Board 8 and recently the New York City Planning Commission gave their approval as well. The campus will be built in two phases, with the first phase beginning in 2014 and an overall completion date of 2037.
Phase One includes academic and residential buildings, as well as co-location buildings, specifically designed to be leased by tech startups and other organizations working with the Cornell Tech faculty and students. When the first phase is completed in 2017, students and faculty will move from their location in in the Google building to the newly built facilities. Phase Two includes several more buildings with the goal of a campus in harmony with its surroundings.
The tech campus hopes to be a model of sustainable development and energy efficiency. The first academic building has a net-zero energy goal, producing as much energy as it consumes. Plans are being considered to utilize solar power as well as geothermal energy and collaboration with companies currently experimenting with submerging turbines in the East River to generate energy from the current.
The vision and goals of the Cornell NYC Tech are far-reaching, but the potential benefits for innovation are dramatic. Institutions throughout the world will watch with interest to see how the program fares.