TWO OF MAYOR BLOOMBERG’S SENIOR AIDES CAME UP WITH THE IDEA
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 aides 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 partnership 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.
‘THIS CAMPUS HELPS BRING NEW YORK CITY BACK TO THE FUTURE’
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.”
‘FEW PHYSICAL BARRIERS BETWEEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY’
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.”
THE DEAN SAYS THE SCHOOL’S CURRENT MOMENT IS NOT UNLIKE THE RECENT ECLIPSE
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.