Construction and Connections Ongoing as Grad School Celebrates Second Commencement

June 27, 2019

A few weeks ago, Cornell Tech held its second recognition ceremony – the actual commencement takes place in Ithaca. The ceremony marked the graduate school’s second full year on Roosevelt Island, a year that also encompassed continued campus construction, and additional connections between the residential community further north and the campus.


The University launched its popular Community Conversations program earlier this year, building on the 3D-printing workshop, the teacher-in-resident program at PS/IS 217, and a computer training course in the Roosevelt Island Senior Center taught by a Cornell Tech student, that have already established partnerships between the University and Island residents. 




The Graduate Hotel, scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, will ultimately rise 18 stories high, have 220 rooms and be 150,000 square feet. It broke ground in March 2018. It will boast panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and will serve conference attendees, families of students, and other guests. The concrete structure will boast a large entryway. It will also include a full-service restaurant, rooftop bar with expansive views of Manhattan. An all-glass courtyard will be located between the hotel and the Verizon Education Center. 

From a presentation to the Cornell Tech Construction Task Force, Courtesy of Cornell Tech


The Verizon Education Center will be four stories high and 40,000 square feet. It will be complete in winter 2020. 


Jane Swanson, Assistant Director of Community and Government Relations for the school, said, “In our second year on Roosevelt Island, Cornell Tech deepened its ties with the Roosevelt Island community, offering a wide variety of programs and events that included a computer training course in the Roosevelt Island Senior Center taught by a Cornell Tech student, Community Conversations on fascinating topics led by our faculty, and a 3D-printing workshop where students and Roosevelt Island community members worked side by side to develop products inspired by and developed with local seniors and people with disabilities.


We also continued our Teacher in Residence Program in Roosevelt Island’s PS/IS 217, which coaches teachers on how to incorporate computer science into the school day. We’re proud to call Roosevelt Island home and want to thank all of the residents, businesses, and local groups who collaborate with us every year!”


A Broken Record


According to Islanders, there is one area in which Cornell could be a better neighbor - a trash issue they’d like to see resolved. Community members have been concerned with day-to-day waste on Cornell Tech’s campus since the ULURP (The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is a public review process process.) Mark Lyon, a former task member spearheaded those concerns. 


According to Task Force member Christina Delfico, The Cafe promised the community it would have a dehydration system to condense food waste but it has never been plugged in. 


Task Force members have also connected administrators to free sustainability resources and have been suggesting composting for years. This slowness to respond is disappointing and frustrating to them, especially given that Cornell Tech is a land-grant institution with a great record of building energy-efficient structures.  


“Universities should be cutting-edge at reducing negative impacts on our neighborhoods, says Delfico, “it should not fall to the community to beg for best practices and we hope the new facilities head, Dan Cooke, and the new Dean will speed up sustainable systems before the hotel and Executive Center open.”


Where the hotel and the executive education center are concerned, Cooke confirmed that the trash for both buildings will be housed within the hotel. Garbage trucks will be able to pull into the loading dock. They’ll have two garbage rooms – one will be refrigerated for food waste. 


Their sustainability committee met for the first time at the end of May. It is comprised of staff, faculty, and students. They are planning an organics collection for off-site composting this summer. 


Another open issue is that of space for public use. At first, Cornell Tech only had community space available on Thursdays. Now they have expanded that to most weekday evenings. The only problem that remains is that of insurance, users of the space have to provide their own, and it is prohibitively expensive for the Island community’s non-profits.


Making Connections


But there are other ways Cornell Tech has opened its doors to the Island residential community. Niti Parikh, who is in charge of the Cornell Tech MakerLAB, ran a program with Weill Cornell Medicine called 3D Printing Life Hacks. She worked with members of the Senior Center and Coler Hospital residents to find solutions for problems as varied as exploring the needs of stroke patients, finding more comfortable and affordable solutions for the hearing-impaired, and finding a way for someone with limited mobility to use a piano keyboard. 


Niti Parikh, center with students, seniors and Coler Hospital patients as part of 3D Printing Life Hacks. Courtesy of Cornell Tech


Cornell Tech launched its conversation series this academic year, a forum where Cornell Tech professors discuss what they’re working on and Islanders can ask them questions. Cornell Tech Professor Serge Belongie was the first. He is one of the people behind a bird recognition app, Merlin Bird ID, a program that asks you to upload your bird pictures and then uses special computer-vision technology, also by Belongie, to tell you what species they are.


The Cornell Tech Community Conversations series was offered by the university in response to popular demand by Islanders seeking an insider peek at the work happening on campus, and the innovative research the faculty members are working on. 


The remaining three Community Conversations that took place were with Nicola Dell, who specializes in technology that benefits under-served populations and low-income regions; Mor Naaman, who works at the intersection of technology and media; and James Grimmelmann, who helps lawyers and technologists understand each other.


When Mayor Bill de Blasio made it a goal to ensure every New York City public school has access to computer science courses through an $80 million initiative called Computer Science for All, Cornell Tech developed a residency model, incubated on Roosevelt Island. As part of Cornell Tech’s community commitments, the graduate school worked with PS/IS 217 to build a computer science curriculum with the teachers. 

As Cornell Tech’s laboratory, PS/IS 217 offers computer science (CS) throughout the entire school at a rate and in a way that far exceeds the New York City Department of Education mandated Computer Science for all, says Diane Levitt, senior director of K-12 education at Cornell Tech last year. Computer science at PS/IS 217 school is embedded in every subject, instead of offered as a stand-alone course only offered once during the three years of middle school.


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