Cornell Tech Looks Ahead

Written by Briana Warsing. Posted in Volume 36, Issue 18 - June 25, 2016

Island safety and educational outreach topped the list of community concerns discussed at last week’s Cornell Tech Town Hall Community Update held in the Manhattan Park Theater Club.


The recent death of an Island resident, possibly because the ambulance did not arrive in time, caused many residents to speak out. Former Roosevelt Island Residents Association president, Matt Katz, said, “They are as likely to send an ambulance to Roosevelt Avenue [in Queens] as to Roosevelt Island. This problem delays the response. Ambulances, EMTs, fire trucks, police. We’ve been trying to deal with this through RIOC [Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation] and Public Safety. As of next year, it will affect your community as well.”

Roosevelt Island Community Coalition [RICC] co-chair, Ellen Polivy, said, “Every day we don’t have that issue solved is another day our community is still at risk.” She asked Cornell representatives, “Could you take on that initiative along with our elected officials, and find out what the problem is?”

“Cornell has a lot to gain by making Roosevelt Island safer,” said Rivercross resident Mary Cavanaugh. “It occurs to me that your name is Cornell Tech; we have a tech problem with 911. Can Cornell send someone to 911 to say, Hey, guys, we know the tech you need, or You don’t have the tech you need, we’ll help you develop it?” That got Cornell’s new Chief Administrative Officer Juliet Weissman out of her seat to say, “It could be a company challenge for some of our students [to solve this]. We would need to partner with the City.”

The Island’s 911 problem will be a subject at a town meeting Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at Good Shepherd.

Trucking Update

Cornell Tech’s Senior Director of Capital Projects, Andrew Winters gave an update on the progress of construction and provisions for community access to the campus. From the beginning, trucking has been a primary concern of Islanders.

“We are past peak build, several months past,” explained Winters. He said that the “biggest impact was due to the concrete trucks” where size and noise are concerned, but that “90-95% of concrete trucking is done. We still need to do the sidewalks but that’s a small amount.”


The south and west roadways are paved and they are in the process of rebuilding the east roadway.

Cornell Tech has replaced all utilities, including gas, sewer and water, under the roads. The west roadway is now being used as a controlled access roadway to take people to Southpoint Park and Four Freedoms Park.

Currently, Cornell Tech is working on the lights, including all new light fixtures, on the west roadway, and landscaping on the Cornell Tech side of the street.

The Campus

Winters explained that the overall design of the campus could be boiled down to three principles. “They are: innovation; that it is open and inviting and attractive to the public; that it is sustainable and energy efficient.”

Winters said, “This campus succeeds when it’s open to the community. Not just the Cornell Tech community but the wider Roosevelt Island community and the wider New York City community. We want this to be a place that attracts people.”

Part of the openness is set by zoning regulations; 20% of the campus has to be treated as a public open space. But according to Winters, “We are providing much more than that.” That includes the 180-seat cafe located in the Bloomberg Center, which Winters explained is open to the public. Visitors would not need to go through security to use the cafeteria and there will be public bathrooms. Additionally, Winters said, “there are many entrances into the campus that we want to encourage people to use.”

“The whole design [of the campus] is to attract people,” Winters said. Part of that is expressed through its architecture. “We are providing a face to all of the buildings so you can get a feel for what’s happening inside; all of the ground floors are glass so you can see inside.”

Cornell and 217

Cornell Tech’s K-12 Director Diane Levitt characterized the past year of their relationship with PS/IS 217 as a “deepened partnership.” She says that the partnership has given her and the PS/IS 217 administration “the chance to learn how to build the next generation of digital pioneers together.” Together, the two schools have established a steering committee which meets regularly to develop a roadmap enabling “regular contact [that] allowed us to build trust and a great working relationship.”

Levitt said that over the past two years, over half of Cornell Tech’s graduate students have volunteered at PS/IS 217, including hosting a Halloween Hack event at the school, where 70 graduate students explained how to use Scratch, the block-coding language from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

This year Cornell Tech brought in consultant Kelly Brandon to lead six training sessions for all of PS/IS 217’s teachers, pre-K through eighth grade. The sessions gave an introduction to computer science and offered hands-on experience with coding.

Brandon also did a residency this spring with the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers to help integrate coding concepts into the current math and science curriculum. An example Levitt gave were flowcharts for disaster response worked on by PS/IS 217’s science classes.

Cornell Tech also took the entire fourth grade to Google for a tour. They were “the only class [from any school] to take a tour of Google this year, and they got to work in Google’s pilot middle school lab,” Levitt said. The students also toured Cornell Tech’s Chelsea campus.

In May, PS/IS 217 was selected as one of 15 schools to participate in the Department of Education’s (DOE) brand-new Computer Science program, Sep Jr. Levitt said it is the DOE’s first computer science curriculum and said, “I can’t overstate what a big achievement this is.”

There were 115 applicants and PS/IS 217 was, according to Levitt, “chosen purely on the merits of their application.” Levitt says this will enable PS/IS 217 to “get all of its students ready for the digital age.”

Thanks to the Siegel Family Endowment, Cornell Tech is hiring a Teacher in Residence (TIR) to work on integrating computer science into the curriculum by demonstrating model lessons and developing and providing feedback to the City’s computer science committee. The TIR will spend one day per week throughout the upcoming school year at PS/IS 217. The teacher will spend one day per month at Cornell Tech’s other partner schools.

“You can see that we had a really great year,” Levitt said, introducing PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman and Assistant Principal Jennifer Allen during her presentation. “Super grateful they’re here, you don’t know what it means for a principal and an assistant principal to attend an evening event during the last two weeks of school.”

In response to a question, Levitt tried to reassure families seeking additional Gifted & Talented seats in the school by saying, “The quality of PS/IS 217 education is very high in every classroom. I experience what goes on in general education. It is at an extremely high level.” She added that, “Cornell Tech is quadrupling our involvement next year. We are building this relationship in response to the needs in the school. You can’t come in and land on two feet; my job is to support the very excellent leadership at the school.”

When asked whether Cornell Tech would help advocate to keep kids at the middle school, which is currently under-enrolled, Levitt said, “We are building a pipeline so students can see there are really cool things going on in the middle school,” but did acknowledge that not only was she aware of the problem, but that it came up at her first meeting with the school. Levitt affirmed that Cornell Tech is investing in the middle school but said that the enrollment challenges in the middle school are DOE structural issues. She emphasized that there is not an education issue at the middle school.

Who Was There?

In opening remarks, Cornell Tech’s Jane Swanson commented that it was a “fuSell house.” Staff Members from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, Rebecca Seawright’s office, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office, State Senator rrano’s office, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office attended the Town Hall. Sally Minard from the Four Freedoms Conservancy, Mandana Beckman, Principal of PS/IS 217, and Assistant Principal Jennifer Allen, were there as well.

Tags: Cornell Briana Warsing Island Life

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