An aerial view from Manhattan of the new campus on Roosevelt Island. An aerial view from Manhattan of the new campus on Roosevelt Island. An aerial view from Manhattan of the new campus on Roosevelt Island. (Photo: Courtesy Kilograph, Weiss Manfredi, Handel)

Groundbreaking graduates: Students earn one-of-a-kind degree

Cornell, Technion students are first to receive a degree from an international university on U.S. soil.

It's May, which means it is commencement season and time for inspiring speeches. In New York, a unique group of students will become the first graduating class of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a joint collaboration of America's Cornell University and the Technion Institute in Israel. It marks the first time an international university has ever granted an accredited degree for studies on U.S. soil.

The diverse group of a dozen students from all over the world spent the past couple years doing graduate work on everything from urban design to robotics to healthcare technology. In addition to their studies in the Big Apple, the students also traveled to Israel to visit their counterparts there.

“Quite literally, this has been the greatest two years of my life. And I can say that with absolute certainty,” said Shawn Bramson, one of the graduating students. “It’s been so much fun, and worth every single moment.”

The joint university is specifically geared toward turning research into new businesses, as Technion is known to do successfully.

“From Cornell's perspective, with Israel’s reputation as the ‘Startup Nation’ and the Technion’s history of producing the country’s leading tech entrepreneurs, there was a common vision for Cornell Tech," the school's director, Adam Shwartz, told From The Grapevine.

At the joint institution, students take classes from faculty members from both schools.

In the institution's short history, they've been keeping very busy. The school hosted a special seminar from behavioral scientist and best-selling author Dan Ariely, an Israeli-American professor at Duke University. Ariely led a weekend-long intensive workshop called Startuponomics, which taught Cornell Tech students and postdocs how human behavior will impact various different aspects of their startups — and why that consideration is so crucial to their success.

AOL also got involved, endowing the Connected Experiences Laboratory (ConnX) project at the school. ConnX is a four-year partnership with AOL to bring graduate students in contact with the company's programmers and executives to develop prototypes and stage experiments together.

In addition, the students built new tech products for Verizon and Weight Watchers and studied the future challenges of Bitcoin. The school also partnered with Stanford University on new research related to social media habits.

For now, the classes have been housed in Google office space while the state-of-the-art new campus is built. The two million-square-foot site on Roosevelt Island in New York City is scheduled to open in the summer of 2017.

The campus is expected to generate $23 billion in economic activity over the next three decades, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when the initiative was first announced. Building it will create 20,000 construction jobs and 8,000 permanent jobs to operate it. These jobs, Bloomberg added, run the gamut from building staff to office workers -- not just "people with Ph.D.s."

"Thank goodness, because maybe I could get one of them," he joked at the time.


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