Cornell Tech and Islanders Focus on Future at Town Hall

November 30, 2017

Good Shepherd Community Center was overflowing at Monday night’s Town Hall. The event was billed as a presentation on the past, present, and future of Island life and Cornell Tech’s impact on it. 


Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, New York State Senator Jose Serrano, and City Council Member Ben Kallos were all in attendance, as well as representatives from Cornell Tech. 


The evening’s discussion focused on initiatives by Cornell Tech to engage with Island organizations, including the local public school, and the next stages of the campus’ construction, which includes a hotel.  




 Diane Levitt, Cornell Tech’s senior director of K-12 education, spoke of Cornell’s contributions to the Island school, PS/IS 217. “We believe that in order for students to be computationally literate, teachers have to be also,” she said. Cornell Tech has a teacher-in-residence in PS/IS 217, getting the teachers up to speed. As a result, the school teaches computer science in every classroom throughout the year. 


An audience member asked Levitt when PS/IS 217 will begin to see support in other areas, including 3D printers, solar roofs, and test prep. Levitt said they are working toward creating a “maker lab” with a 3D printer, but that “you can’t flood the system with too much change at once.” She said that some teachers are participating in a Department of Education maker program, but that PS/IS 217 principal Mandana Beckman has asked them to wait one more year until they add the lab. Additionally, Levitt said Cornell Tech has committed to working with The Child Center of NY, the Island’s new afterschool provider, to train teachers and provide enrichment programming.


Chief Administrative Officer Juliet Weissman said Cornell Tech sees its involvement in public education as a way to bring more diversity to the tech industry. “We would like our campus to look like our city,” said Weissman. “Diane’s work in the public schools is going up the pipeline to solve this problem.”


Remaking the Island


Information science associate professor, Tapan Parikh, said he and his students have been working with many Island groups, attempting to build a deeper connection between Island organizations and Cornell Tech. 


Parikh teaches a class called Remaking the City, which uses technology to reimagine community services and infrastructure in urban contexts. “The most important goal of the course is to start building a community that connects students with all of the people who live here.” The course teaches students to understand the unique tech challenges of small civic organizations. In this case, Island people, places, and organizations are used to assist the students in rethinking urban community services and technology. 


Some examples Parikh shared of the class’ work thus far are a renovation of the Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance’s website, a green map created in partnership with the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, and a web literacy course with the Carter Burden Senior Center.


Parikh’s students are also working with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). RIOC President Susan Rosenthal said, “I am thrilled that we have volunteers who want to improve the efficiency of RIOC.” She said that Parikh and his students have three different projects in the works with RIOC, including a public survey, which closed November 14, regarding use of the second floor of Sportspark. 


The Hotel


Cornell Tech’s new director for design and construction, Diana Allegretti, said that the hotel planned for Cornell Tech is set to be complete by late winter 2020, and the Verizon Executive Education Center by fall 2019. She assured attendees that the loop roads would remain open throughout the construction. Part of the north Loop Road will be used as a staging area for trucks, but a passing area will be kept open. Allegretti confirmed that the hotel is intended to offer a resident-friendly rate, but said they hadn’t figured out the specifics yet.


Weissman also disagreed with suggestions that the school’s population was clogging the F train or Tram during rush hour. She said that 70 percent of students live on campus. Where parking is concerned, she said, “When we moved, we made a real push to our community to use public transit. But our population lives on campus. Those that don’t, don’t travel during rush hour.”


In response to a resident question, Floyd Young, Cornell Tech’s senior director of facilities operations, affirmed that even though food service at The Cafe ends at a certain hour, the space itself is open all the time, and residents can go there to work at night. 


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