Cornell Tech celebrates Tata Innovation Center’s launch
By Joe Wilensky
Cornellians celebrated at Cornell Tech Dec. 4 with alumnus and trustee Ratan Tata ’59, B.Arch. ’62, leaders from Tata Consultancy Services, and New York City elected officials to mark the announcement of a $50 million investment from TCS, including a large capital gift and endowment support, for Cornell Tech.
In recognition of the commitment, the building known as The Bridge was named the Tata Innovation Center on the Roosevelt Island campus. More than 100 people attended the event, which included the unveiling of the center’s name over the main entrance to the building, which was designed by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, M.Arch. ’80.
“With TCS’ investment in Cornell Tech, we take a major step forward in realizing the founding vision for this campus,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack, “which is to bring together faculty, business leaders, tech entrepreneurs and students to reinvent the way we live in the digital age.”
Pollack said the Tata Innovation Center will be “at the core of the catalytic environment that makes Cornell Tech unique. It will help us attract the very best entrepreneurial-minded faculty, students and industry partners to Roosevelt Island and inspire them to develop transformational technologies.”
Robert S. Harrison ’76, chair of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, said, “Situated here – along with its breathtaking views – the Tata Innovation Center will foster collaborations … to create new technologies, new products and new companies that matter.”
Harrison said the “incredibly generous” investment includes an endowment that will support collaborative research through an innovation fund in areas that are relevant to TCS and Cornell Tech – such as digital privacy, cloud-computing security and the impacts of human-computer interactions. And TCS will maintain an active presence on the Cornell Tech campus by co-locating their researchers with Cornell Tech faculty and students in the center.
“It’s been three months since we dedicated this wonderful campus and since we started operations here, having spent three years in the Google building before that,” said Dan Huttenlocher, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean of Cornell Tech.
“All this has been delivering on a commitment that we made to the city of New York … which was to create a new graduate-level institution for the digital age in the heart of New York City. And today, we’re fulfilling a really critical part of that vision, thanks to this extraordinary partnership with TCS and the entire Tata family of companies.”
Huttenlocher noted that “built into the DNA of Cornell Tech is the understanding that academia and industry need to work together to maximize the positive impact that digital technology can have on our society.”
That idea is particularly evident in this building, where Cornell Tech’s unique studio curriculum is taught and where the center of collaborations between Cornell Tech and the world at large is found, he said. “This is really the mixing bowl of the Cornell Tech campus.”
Harrison, who called fellow trustee Tata “an extraordinary Cornellian” and one of his personal heroes, thanked Tata for his persistence over several years in the discussions and development that led to the partnership and “to be able to connect the Tata name forever with this transformative New York City undertaking.”
“What we’re here today to recognize is not just the naming of a building, not just a new campus, but a very bold statement,” said Tata, who is chairman emeritus of the Tata Group and chairman of the Tata Trusts, the largest private-sector philanthropic organization in India. “[It’s] taking traditional education, locating it in a metropolis like New York City, and looking at innovating how engineering is taught – widening the scope, doing away with silos, and making a great and significant statement.”
Tata noted that his parents “made the most significant investment” in him by making it possible for him to attend Cornell. “And this is our little effort to give back to Cornell, and to give back to society, what they have done for us,” he said.
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of the Tata Group, said the future that Cornell Tech and TCS are working toward “is going to be a phenomenal place to be,” with businesses increasingly focusing on data over process, and startups changing the way people learn and work.
Rajesh Gopinathan, CEO and managing director of TCS, said the areas in which the partnership will focus are well positioned for the future, and the partnership’s commitment to K-12 digital literacy programs in all five New York City boroughs will continue to grow.
“We see this space acting as a catalyst for the things that TCS believes in, and the principles and values that Cornell and the Tata Group stand for,” he said.
Pollack agreed: “TCS’ combination of research innovation and social responsibility is a perfect fit for Cornell with our mandate, as New York state’s land-grant university, to put knowledge to use of the betterment of society.”
“$50 million is an extraordinary investment in the future of our young people,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, whose district includes both Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine.
“It’s a terrific down payment on a bright future, and a glimpse of the innovative enterprise to come,” she said, noting that the K-12 initiatives will encourage more students to go into the STEM fields.