June 5, 2012

Panel: CornellNYC Tech will be 'transformative' for Cornell, New York City

Town Hall meeting
Lindsay France/University Photography
Cathy Dove and Dan Huttenlocher, vice president and founding dean, respectively, of the CornellNYC Tech campus, speak at a town hall for alumni May 30.

On May 30, nearly 200 alumni and friends packed a sold-out town hall meeting in Manhattan to hear about the CornellNYC Tech campus.

The event, held at 404 on 10th Avenue, was a panel discussion on the planning and aspirations for the tech campus with Dan Huttenlocher, founding dean and vice provost of CornellNYC Tech; Cathy Dove, vice president of CornellNYC Tech; Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC); and facilitator Erick Schonfeld '93, former editor of TechCrunch. Jan Rock Zubrow '77, chair of the Executive Committee of the Cornell Board of Trustees, served as the event's emcee.

Kicking off the discussion, Schonfeld asked the panel what set Cornell's bid for the New York City tech campus apart in the competition.

"I would say that the thing that really distinguished our bid was that it was of and for New York City," Huttenlocher said. "What we really brought was a real technological powerhouse school … that deeply understands New York and wrote a proposal that will make a difference to New York."

Pinsky, who helped evaluate bids for the NYCEDC, said: "It was by far the most ambitious proposal we had received in terms of the number of students, the size, the investment. It was also the fact that Cornell and [Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology], but really Cornell in this case, came to the table with a significant seed investment already in hand."

In addition to the construction of a new applied sciences campus, Cornell demonstrated broad support for the New York City community, including making the commitment to create sustained training programs for hundreds of public school teachers each year that would affect 10,000 public school students by proxy as well as through direct programming. It would also invest $150 million in local startup businesses.

"That, to us, was a sign that this was a pair of universities that was thinking very carefully about growing an ecosystem in the city, and not just giving lip service to it," Pinsky said.

To many, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, positioning New York as a global leader in technological innovation is essential to creating jobs and growing the city's economy which, in recent history, has been heavily dependent on finance. As the spring issue of City Journalreports, 44 percent of earned income came from the finance and insurance industries in 2008.

Today, that dominance is starting to shift. If you had asked people a few years ago what they thought about New York and technology, Pinsky said, "The answer would have been a blank stare. We weren't even in the conversation. We are now in the conversation."

CornellNYC Tech will provide a hub for these conversations to take place. "The university," said Huttenlocher, "can be a place where we bring people together."

According to Dove, it already has. "As soon as the word was out that Cornell was designated by Mayor Bloomberg to build the tech campus, we began hearing from numerous Cornellians who expressed great pride in being alumni of one of the world's great institutions, and asking how they could help make this campus successful," she said.

An hour after the presentation, alumni continued to discuss, mingle and swap stories and business cards.

"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that [winning the tech campus bid] is a transformative event for both Cornell and New York City," Zubrow said.

Claire Lambrecht '06 is a freelance writer in New York City.