A World Class Campus Nears Completion

12 Month's Out: Cornell Tech Gets Bigger and Better

Updated 3 years ago David Stone
Cornell Tech Leader Dan Huttenlocher at the Press Briefing
Cornell Tech Leader Dan Huttenlocher at the Press Briefing
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

With Cornell Tech now less than a year from swinging open its doors, Roosevelt Islanders are in for a jolt. Everything about how the world sees our community changes forever. There's no turning back. It may be the best news you're ever going to get.

Roosevelt Island at the Epicenter of Change

"This campus will be the center of New York City technology," says Cornell Tech's Senior Director of Capital Projects Andrew Winter, now a familiar figure around Roosevelt Island. "We are going to pull tech east to Roosevelt Island and Long Island City."

A listener dropping in late to the press briefing marking the countdown to the campus's formal opening next summer might catch a hint of bragging, a little over the top, but for those of us on hand from the start, Winter's remarks were the logical closing to what we'd just seen and heard.

And Winter isn't even an academic nor is he one of the entrepreneurs whose ideas will spring into new products and businesses at a rapid clip in years to come. He's just the guy who's building the perfect home for them.

Let's be clear: Cornell Tech will remake Roosevelt Island on its way to supercharging how technology affects lives throughout New York City and on out into the world.

“There is no real tech industry anymore. It’s all intertwined,” says Dan Huttenlocher, Cornell Tech's Dean.

This puts Roosevelt Island at the epicenter of an expanding digital revolution.

Saturated in a Technology Tidal Wave 

Huttenlocher's observation is bigger than its simplicity implies. The promise of technology has already percolated so deeply into our everyday lives it's no longer separable from them. Technology's not something "out there," waiting at the door to be welcomed in. It's here. And here. And here...

Consider how email and texting has forever altered how we stay in touch with each other, fast, sometimes instantly, with rapid feedback or how much information your car supplies about itself without anyone lifting the hood or touching a button.

Those are a couple of obvious examples. But others, many of which we are never aware, are serving us in ways we'd not have imagined a decade ago.

Debra Estrin, founder of Cornell's Health Tech Hub as Associate Dean, Huttenlocher's first academic hire, emphasizes assistive technology, the way computerized operations help physically handicapped or injured people toward less restricted lives, and how basic "human/computer interaction improves lives of underserved communities."

Here, Estrin demonstrated how pervasive is digital innovation, from the ease of a woman learning how to fetch learning and find job opportunities at the touch a keyboard to an amputee leaving restrictions behind.

This blends smoothly with Huttenlocher's vision for a community where barriers that inhibit growth are broken down, even extending past the campus greens to embrace the larger neighborhood as part of Cornell Tech's universe.

"The Underlying, rapid pace requires changes on how we do things," Huttenlocher said in his opening remarks. As part of the school's core, "We are very focused on the next generation of technology and leadership. We're working with 200 teachers and 3,000 students in K-12 public schools."

PS/IS 217, a mile up Main Street from Cornell Tech benefits.

In one of several instances where he emphasized bringing more women into technology, Huttenlocher says Cornell Tech is "also working with WITENY," Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York.

That thinking gets this new idea of a university into the bloodstream of the communities it calls neighbors.

Bigger Community Getting Bigger

Roosevelt Islanders have seen that Cornell Tech wasn't merely mouthing words to gain approval when it promised to materially involve itself with our community.

As you may have noticed on our homepage or on the Roosevelt Islander blog, Cornell Tech reaches out locally in searches when jobs are available. On a recent week, without any prompting, I heard two community leaders speak up about how the university was helping them.

It's often done quietly. Cornell Tech helps with computer skills at the Senior Center and contributes to support ferry service coming to Roosevelt Island next year, right around the time of campus opening.

But outreach is without boundaries. Ron Brachman, the new Director of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute talked of interacting directly with Cornell's partner Technion in Haifa, Israel, as they experiment in figuring out what works with an emphasis on "connective media or how we communicate using devices."

The world gets smaller, and it seems, thanks to Cornell Tech, the center of gravity in terms of technological innovation is gliding in the direction of Roosevelt Island.

A Year from Now

So much is new and dynamic at Cornell Tech it's not so much about not knowing where to begin anymore, it's about having so many places that you hardly know where to start.

The first building you see as you approach the campus is one you might take for granted until you learn that, on opening day, the residential tower will be the largest passive house in the world, a structure meeting rigorous standards for minimizing its ecological footprint.

And, a year from the day when movers begin filling its 300 apartments with furniture, the passive house has already inspired five new buildings in New York, "And we're very proud of that," says Andrew Winter.

Just past it on the same side of the curling campus drive is the Bridge Building. (No, it's not named after the Queensboro which arches overhead.) A deliberately open environment inside the Bridge connects academia, business and other institutions, including government, in a way that supercharges service and innovation for advancement.

Greg Pass, Chief Entrepreneurial Office, explained a process that, like a studio for artists, inspires and conditions post doctoral learners for effectiveness in the real world.

Starting in the Fall, local and international operations challenge the post docs with problems they are facing. This year, these include Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, the New York Times, JetBlue and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In Spring, tables turn, and students are tasked with coming up with their own independent ideas and business concepts.

If you don't yet, you will soon get the idea. Tendrils of technological innovation and invention are already spiraling into New York City and beyond. Roosevelt Island's fingerprint is on every one of them.

As home to the brilliant concepts that drive Cornell Tech's creativity into the future, Roosevelt Island will have an indelible stamp. The ideas giving Cornell Tech shape are such that it would succeed anywhere, but it's here and almost now.

The quaint place with that rare commuter tram will be known for much more. As our community expands, so will our reputation around the world.


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