Jacobs Institute a 'sandbox' for innovation

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John Carberry
Anne Ju/Cornell Chronicle
Panelists at a May 6 Tech Talk at Cornell Tech discussed how the Jacobs Institute is breaking the mold of traditional academia. From left: Adam Shwartz, director of the Jacobs Institute; Mor Naaman, associate professor and leader of the Connective Media program; Funda Kivran-Swaine, a Ph.D. researcher at Cornell Tech; John Basbagill, a Runway Program postdoctoral researcher; and Diana Liskovich, an incoming Connective Media student.

NEW YORK — High-tech innovation is anything but clean – it’s more like a sandbox, where it’s OK to think big, get dirty and ruffle a few feathers.

That’s the image that inspires Adam Shwartz, director of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, the flagship center of innovation and experimentation at Cornell Tech. Shwartz moderated a “Tech Talk” panel at Cornell Tech May 6 in which he outlined his vision for the institute and invited others to expound on breaking the mold of traditional academia.

The Jacobs Institute’s function is “to be a sandbox for new things, to try out new things,” Shwartz said. “We want to break the standards of a university.”

The institute is a joint undertaking by Cornell and its academic partner, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, where output of high-tech startups is rivaled only by Silicon Valley, according to Shwartz.

This fall, the first cohort of Jacobs Institute master’s students will start working toward a joint M.S. degree in information systems, conferred by both schools. Rather than departments, the institute offers concentrations in core technical fields, called “hubs,” which may change based on industry trends.

The inaugural class will start in the Connective Media program, the first of the core technical hubs being offered. Led by Jacobs Institute Associate Professor Mor Naaman, Connective Media will cover communications, mobile applications and social media, with crossover in broader areas like operations research, computer science and business.

Connective Media, with its strong emphasis on the human and social aspects of technology, is at its core a technical degree, Naaman said. Courses will cover developing a startup, data analytics, machine learning and human-computer interaction.

An incoming Connective Media student, panelist Diana Liskovich, said she was drawn to the degree’s interdisciplinary feel coupled with its strong technical emphasis.

Other planned hub offerings are Healthier Life – health care information systems, medical device and mobile health apps – and Built Environment – relating to architecture, civil engineering and design.  Students in these programs will also be working toward the M.S. degree in information systems.

In keeping with the Jacobs Institute theme of breaking the academic mold, panelist John Basbagill put a face to the new Runway Postdoctoral Program, launched by the Jacobs Institute in February.

One of six Runway postdocs, Basbagill is developing an application to assist architects and real estate developers with sustainable building design. Through academic mentors from Cornell Tech and the Technion, as well as frequent input from industry professionals, the Runway Program supports tech entrepreneurs like Basbagill as they launch new ventures using an innovative intellectual property model that allows for expedited commercialization.

The panel also included Funda Kivran-Swaine, a Ph.D. student researcher from Rutgers University affiliated with Cornell Tech through Naaman, her adviser. Her research is on the concept of loneliness and how it is expressed through social media channels such as Twitter.

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