By Sarah Trefethen
Cathy Dove is building for the future.
The construction timeline for the Roosevelt Island campus of the new Cornell-Technion technology graduate school, Cornell NYC Tech, spans decades. But the first academic building is on track to open for business in 2017.
As vice president of the newly accredited institution, Dove’s responsibilities extend from human resources to communications, information technology, and overseeing the development of the 12-acre site the partnership was awarded in 2011 as winner of the city-sponsored “Applied Sciences NYC” competition.
Through a request for proposals issued by the Economic Development Corporation, higher education institutions around the world were invited to propose a program that would breath life into the technology sector in the city.
In his final State of the City address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the new Roosevelt Island campus “maybe the most exciting economic development project our city has ever undertaken.”
Dove, who was serving as associate dean in Cornell’s College of Engineering when the competition was announced, was part of the four-person team that lead the design of the winning Cornell / Technion collaboration. In February of last year, she was named NYC Tech’s first vice president.
“When we won it was the kind of thing, I said, ‘You know, I can’t let this thing go. This is just the most amazing opportunity for New York City, for Cornell, for me,’” she said. “It’s such an exciting opportunity, and something that I had already invested a year in. I certainly wanted to see it through.”
The school’s curriculum is tailored to match the city’s motivation in offering the Roosevelt Island land to and educational institution – more jobs. All students will be required to take some business classes, and there will be a dual Master of Engineering and Master of Business Administration degree.
The school started classes in January. Eight students – chosen based in part on signs of entrepreneurial spirit – are studying towards master’s degrees in computer science.
For now, classes are held in donated space in Google’s Chelsea foothold, 111 Eighth Avenue. NYC Tech will be based in the utility-building-turned-uber-tech-office until 2017, and Google has committed to expand the current 22,000 square feet to 60,000 as the student body grows, Dove said.
“Google is a wonderful company, but I think they see this playing a very important role in technology in NYC,” she said. “And to have us co-located here, with Google but also close to other tech companies – this is a sign of how important it is.”
And, as buildout on Roosevelt Island continues, NYC Tech may have an opportunity to return the favor. The first phase of construction calls for a 150,000 s/f corporate co-location building, of which an initial 100,000 square feet will be available to corporate tenants. By the time the two million s/f campus is complete, Dove said, the swath of office space set aside for the school’s corporate partners could be as large as 800,000 square feet.
This element of the campus plan is inspired by other technology-focused educational institutes, which tend to have industry nearby. In the 25-mile radius surrounding Technion’s campus in Israel, Dove said, every technology company in the world seems to have an office. “You really want to ensure that on a day-to-day basis, faculty and industry researchers and companies and organizations are working closely with the students,” she said. As part of the curriculum, all students will work in pairs on a project overseen by a corporate mentor.
Co-location tenants will pay rent to the school, Dove said, and the space will only be available to companies related to the school’s entrepreneurial, technology-focused mission.
“I think our mission is to encourage a diversity of companies,” she said, including diversity in size, diversity in where they are in their life-cycle and diversity in industry.
The first phase of construction will include four buildings: an academic building, residential facilities, the corporate co-location building and a hotel / conference center.
Beyond the first phase, the planners have laid out an outline of how the final campus will look, Dove said, trying to strike a balance between getting things up and running and laying the groundwork for a physical environment that will meet the ambitious goals Dove and her colleagues (not to mention their supporters in city government) have for the school.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about the campus plan itself and its relationship to the rest of Roosevelt Island, its relationship to the East River, the different parcels and the different functions and how they’re going to grow over time and time, and how the different buildings – even though we haven’t designed them yet – will relate,” she said.
Dove — who will be a featured speaker at Real Estate Weekly’s Women’s Forum Feb. 27 — holds a bachelor of science from Georgetown University, an MBA from Cornell and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her tenure at Cornell, she has worn a variety of hats, working in both the business and engineering schools to a number of institutional initiatives, such as construction projects and the university’s Budget Model Task Force.
She now lives in a Roosevelt Island apartment overlooking the site.
“So many of us have careers that seemingly don’t make a lot of sense when you’re looking from the outside in,” she said, “and then all of a sudden you get to a point where all of the different pieces and experiences come together in a way you never would have dreamed would happen.”
For details on the REW Women’s Forum, go to www.rewwomensforum.com