Interview with Cornell Tech’s Dean Matthew D’Amore and Admissions Director Dr. Raymond Lutzky [Show Summary]
The Cornell Tech campus and programs on Roosevelt Island in New York City have INNOVATIVE stamped on them. Hear from Dean Matt D’Amore and Admissions Director Dr. Ray Lutzky about the inception of the program, the innovative degrees currently being offered, how to get in, and what the future holds for Cornell Tech’s lucky students and graduates.
Get to Know Cornell Tech [Show Notes]
Our guests today are Dean Matt D’Amore, Associate Dean at Cornell Tech and Professor of Practice, Cornell Tech and Cornell Law; and Dr. Ray Lutzky, Senior Director of Enrollment and Admissions at Cornell Tech. Since they both have bios and resumes longer than my arm, I’m going to do away with the details and simply welcome them.
Dean D’Amore: Can you give a little background or brief history about Cornell Tech? [2:10]
Cornell Tech grew out of a 2011 competition from Mayor Bloomberg, who wanted to incentivize a first-class technical campus in NYC, and solicited bids from major academic institutions. Seven or eight schools ultimately submitted bids, including Columbia, NYU, MIT and Stanford, and Cornell won out in a joint bid with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. We were awarded land to build a campus and started from there. The academic curriculum is a combination of seven masters programs and a small PhD program with applied sciences in technical areas.
Normally I ask for an overview of the one or two programs my podcast guest represents. However, you both work with seven masters programs and several PhD programs. We’re going to focus this episode on the master’s options: Johnson Cornell Tech MBA, MS of Engineering in Computer Science, MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Master’s In Operations Research and Info Engineering, LLM in Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, Technion-Cornell Dual Master’s Degrees in Connective Media, and the Technion-Cornell dual Master’s Degrees in Health Tech. I’m going to suggest that we not get an overview of each program and I’m going to ask what these very different programs have in common. What makes them Cornell Tech programs? [4:06]
Studio is what ties all the programs together. The Studio curriculum is 1/3 of all our one-year programs. It is a cohesive interdisciplinary program based around product development and the basics of figuring out whether to launch a company, how to launch a company, and provides students with the basic skills and insights to help them decide if they want to found a startup when they graduate as well as the tools to do so.
It sounds like Cornell Tech is very entrepreneurially-focused. Do established companies want graduates from Cornell Tech? Or is it a mix? [6:01]
We’ve been experimenting and looking at ways of working with established companies in addition to startups. With the studio program, part of our mission is to inspire and help students to spin out companies, and we have done 40-50 companies in the past five years. We also have curriculum that’s built around established companies, where practitioners come to campus and ask questions like, “How might we bring banking services to rural areas?” “How might we better educate people about retirement options?” All one-year students do Product Studio in the fall with faculty, practitioners, and sponsor companies to work on broad challenges to come up with a product. In the spring students have two studios to choose from, either Start Up Studio or “Big Co” Studio. Start Up Studio is focused on figuring out how to build a company. “Big Co” Studio students typically at least short term work at Amazon, Google, banks, other tech companies, and we want to be able to teach them about how to innovate within the big company environment.
Fall studio is a matching program based on a bidding system and area of interest so we don’t have all computer science students on one project – they are matched on interest and program. In the spring it is a bit more ad hoc. Students are encouraged to form teams, but there is a push to be interdisciplinary since that is what teams are like in the real world.
Dr. Lutzky, What are the qualities you seek in applicants? An Applicant to the LLM program and the operations research program bring very different skills, training and background. What makes for a successful Cornell Tech student? [12:16]
It is an iterative process and we look at a lot of data. A key characteristic we want people to have is a “build stuff that matters” imperative, those who want to create an impact beyond the strong technical skills of a math background or a practicing attorney in the law program, for example. We want students who can survive and thrive in the interdisciplinary format as we are challenging the paradigm of being in a graduate program.
We look for fit above all else. This school values fit more than other institutions, I think, and almost all students are interviewed and assessed on fit. We want students with a strong tech background and a strong academic transcript, but we often find we need to interrogate more. For some of our programs we offer a technical assessment, and we also assess teamwork, leadership, and whether or not applicants have learned things about themselves in the process. If a student does everything on their own or is pulling more weight than others in a team that is not a good fit.
How do you discover these qualities let’s say in the Cornell Tech MBA, whose R3 and last deadline for this cycle is Jan 3? [15:09]
This is the oldest program at Cornell Tech and one of the most exciting in my opinion. It’s a year-long program, and students spend 10 weeks in Ithaca and the rest of the time at Cornell Tech, but there are different characteristics of the application process than for our traditional MBA program offerings. We ask for a creativity statement as opposed to a personal statement. We ask applicants to pay close attention to the question being asked! For those offered interviews in person or via video we do a case, and while we are looking for excitement about the topic, more importantly we are looking at critical thinking skills and to better understand how the applicant dissects a problem and uses resources to come up with a solution. On top of that, having the right skills and work experience is important – students tend to be a bit older, with an average age of 29 – but then again we look at cultural fit. In a one year accelerated program they need to have a good sense of what they want to do so they can start their job search in earnest shortly after starting the program.
Dean D’Amore, Cornell Tech has an LLM program in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. I can see how that fits with Cornell Tech’s mission, but wouldn’t an LLM in Intellectual Property be enough? What is distinctive about this LLM program? [17:26]
A number of schools offer an LLM in IP, but IP is really just one part of what lawyers for tech companies and emerging growth tech companies need to know. Focusing narrowly on IP wouldn’t get our students where we want them to be. We have a great IP professor who teaches IP and an Internet Law class, we have classes on high growth corporate transactions, which don’t involve IP at all except to figure out how much IP is worth, how to value a company, set it up right from the beginning, and get to a point of steady state. Helping students understand corporate lifecycle is really important to what we are trying to do. It’s a very focused, applied kind of program where we are giving students the toolkit to know what agreements look like, how to draft them, and have the opportunity to look at other types of law they might be interested in. We’ve also worked on courses for general applicability. Digital Health Law, for example, is really important.
We are looking for students who want to do a deep dive in technology, business, and innovation that is specialized but where we will get the full set of tools to succeed in that career path, and not everyone wants that, but students who do I think will be really happy here.
What advice would you give to applicants? [23:50]
Dr. Lutzky: I would say it’s very clear when an applicant is very passionate about what we do. When applying, doing the research is very important. Don’t contact the admissions office just to ingratiate yourself. If you want to engage do so in a meaningful way that adds value to your understanding of the program. With the exception of the Master of Law and MBA programs, a strong background in tech is expected. No one is coming in to switch careers and the level of instruction is so high it is to reinforce what they want in their careers and move along in that direction. While we request several traditional things like the GRE, transcript, and recommendation letters, fit truly is the most important thing. Applicants self-select between engineering degrees here and those in Ithaca because they are in fact quite different.
Dean D’Amore: I will add a little gloss for the LLM programs. We want folks who deepen their area of expertise in the field of tech law and want to serve the vibrant community in NYC. Not everyone who applies is strong in all those areas. We have very strong lawyers who don’t have that much experience in tech. Those students apply because they want to deepen their experience in technology. We have people who are deep in tech knowledge but need to brush up on law. You need to come in with demonstrated interest in technology, great legal skills, and be able to demonstrate to us you can achieve what you want in that time. I will say there are a few more degrees of freedom in LLM.
Roughly, what percentage of students founded startups at graduation and what percentage go to more established companies? [29:24]
One of the things we are most proud of is our outcomes. We’ve had a nearly 100% placement rate every year, which results from a combination of the startup piece, dedicated career management team, and faculty in LLM that are helpful with placements. About one out of every six students spins out. We also offer four awards of $100K to spin out, which is somewhat like an incubation model. Most of our students are looking for fulltime employment, and starting in the fall we are curating that experience for them. We call them “Anti Career Fairs” because students have schedules curated for them based on vetting by the career management team. We also infiltrate global tech hubs, and there are tenant companies – Citigroup has a hedge fund, and Ferrero Roche, for example. Bottom line we are driven by our placement rate because we are determined to have economic impact and build stuff that matters. You will continue to see strong placements and improvements like Accenture, Google, and one startup was recently acquired by Adobe. Stay tuned for more! We also have a wonderful partnership with Mastercard – they send people here for the exact purpose to bring them back to the organization and innovate within the context of a large company.
Any plans to add additional masters or PhD programs to your menu? Perhaps a data analytics masters? [33:46]
Dr. Lutzky: We do have many things on the drawing board, and have no shortage of good ideas, but we are looking into some things around “built environments,” as well as technology and infrastructure in cities. A lot of faculty are interested to go in this direction because it connects what we are already doing in engineering, big data, analytics and social impact.
Dean D’Amore: You may also see additional joint programs in the future. All of our programs have a home department in Ithaca. We are looking at things like a JD/MBA or two year MBA with one year here and one year in Ithaca.
We also have a great relationship with Technion in Haifa, Israel, and we deliver two dual degrees already. The partnership is solidified through the Jacobs Technion Cornell Institute, which focuses on research, entrepreneurship, and faculty collaboration between our two great institutions.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [36:52]
Dean D’Amore: We didn’t touch on our alumni piece. If you graduate from law school you have a great network of lawyers. If you graduate from a particular undergrad program you have a great network of people in your discipline. Here your alumni group is your cohort of lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, business folks, entrepreneurs, future investors, innovators, information science folks, so you have a depth of network from the day you graduate that can advance your career in hopefully productive ways. The ability to network across disciplines gets magnified when you look at the alumni community.
Dr. Lutzky: It is not often the city of New York gives you 12 acres to build something cool. I am biased, of course, but I think it is one of the coolest campuses in the world. Our students and faculty live here, and we have only built on 5 of the 12 acres so far. Anybody coming to New York needs to come to Roosevelt Island to see what we have created. It is an incredible environment for our graduate students.