A busload of New York City high school students hit pause on city life to visit Cornell's Ithaca campus earlier this summer, as part of a program that's equipping the next generation of technical entrepreneurs.
The students, many from low-income families, are enrolled in programs of New York City's Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which organized the visit. Most of the students are in a program called NYC Generation Tech (or GenTech), which recently forged a connection with Cornell Tech, Cornell's graduate applied sciences school in New York City.
Founded by NFTE and the New York City Economic Development Corp., GenTech is an intensive tech-entrepreneurship course that gives students hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities.
GenTech students spent two weeks in July at a startup boot camp housed at the Cornell Tech campus and hosted by Cornell Tech and Google. While learning coding and business skills, students were responsible for pitching a mobile app idea. They formed teams, fleshed out their ideas and met with industry mentors and Cornell Tech graduate students for networking and advice. Following their boot camp experience, they'll continue to meet twice a week with industry mentors and once a week as a group for class. They'll pitch their ideas during a competition in September.
Christopher Martinez, a rising junior at Bayside High School in Queens, described the boot camp as intense but rewarding, with inspiring guest speakers and useful exercises in things like target-market research and venture capital.
Getting to visit Cornell in Ithaca was equally rewarding, he said. “We got to see what the campus is like, and what an education there would be like, and to open our eyes to the kind of things we'd need to go through” to attend a place like Cornell, Martinez said. He described meeting “amazing people,” talking to students and faculty, and networking. “I saw the campus from the hills as we were driving by, and I really fell in love with it,” he said.
Diane Levitt, Cornell Tech's senior director of K-12 Education, who established the Cornell Tech - NFTE connection, said GenTech is not just a program to build content knowledge in tech and entrepreneurship. “It's really the soft skills - presentation, organization, public speaking, collaboration, planning, time management, etc. - that GenTech builds in these remarkable kids,” Levitt said.
The students were joined on the Cornell bus trip by NFTE board member Holly Wallace and her husband, Edwin Baum '81. Their daughter, Claire Wallace Baum '16, is a senior in the ILR School, where her father also received his degree. The family has established the Baum-Wallace Family Scholarship, available first to a NFTE alumna or alumnus who enrolls at ILR. If no ILR student is eligible, the scholarship can go to a graduate of NFTE who enrolls at any college at Cornell.
“It's a marriage of our passions: my husband's and daughter's for Cornell, and mine for the NFTE students and program,” Wallace said of the scholarship. “We are investing in helping these kids have successful lives inspired and nurtured by entrepreneurship and a top university learning environment.”
Partnering with Cornell Tech, Wallace continued, introduces the students to the opportunities afforded by higher education. And the Ithaca field trip (which Wallace's family supported) allows the students to visit a school with top students, faculty and real-life entrepreneurs.
During their July 24 visit, the students were treated to a full slate of activities including a campus tour, a mock classroom, admissions information sessions, an introduction to entrepreneuship@cornell, and networking with entrepreneurs, students, and staff in the ILR School and the College of Engineering.
“Most, if not all, of these kids would be first-generation college students, so Cornell's sponsorship of this program may be a first college experience for them. And the bus trip to Cornell may be their first experience on a college campus outside of New York City,” Wallace said.