Earlier this week, classes commenced for the inaugural batch of Cornell Tech masters students, of which there are eight. To get a sense of how the first week is going, we checked in late yesterday afternoon with vice president Cathy Dove, who sounded like a satisfied high school principal ready to prop her pumps on her desk: “I have to say, by far, this is the most rewarding and exciting milestone that we’ve hit,” she said.
For now, the school is operating out of the Google-owned building at 111 Eighth Avenue. However, this “beta class” of masters students isn’t exactly mingling freely with the upperclassmen in the Google cafeteria, contrary to our fondest Freaks and Geeks-inspired hopes. “For Google people to come to our space and for us to go to Google, we invite each other,” Ms. Dove clarified. “These truly are different offices.”
There will likely be no grand partnerships (romantic or business) born from serendipitous meetings in the library, in other words.
But the temporary home Cornell Tech has created for itself does probably have more in common with a startup than the average university English department. “Right now all of us sit in a very open floor plan,” Ms. Dove said, though there are private rooms for meetings and phone calls (can’t have those loud talkers driving everyone barmy). “It truly has an impact, this kind of layout, on collaboration,” she added.
“It is, I agree with you, different from many traditional academic buildings that you would see on our main campus and on other campuses,” Ms. Dove said. But hey, isn’t abandoning Victorian design detritus the beauty of building a campus from scratch? And the plan is to replicate this sort of setup on Roosevelt Island as much as possible.
But the learning itself isn’t too radically different from a traditional grad school. Monday through Thursday, students will attend classes, three of them technical and one taught by business school faculty. On Fridays they switch over to a practicum dubbed “entrepreneurial life,” with visits from industry folk. This first semester, they’ll also be assigned to projects dreamed up by groups like Artsy, Google and the Robin Hood Foundation.
“When you’re used to working at an institution that’s been around 150 years, sometimes things just happen and nobody really thinks about the fact that there’s somebody somewhere thinking about making sure that this particular procedure is working well,” she said.
“I’m sure we’ll find some of those, but so far so good.”