In 23 Annie Rogers didn’t think she was interested in: learning another programming language; Discover how the brain works. Or become an entrepreneur.
But after spending eight weeks this summer living and studying in New York City as a student in the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanities, “it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.”
Rogers is one of 20 students who participated in the summer program at Cornell Tech, the first summer that Milstein students were able to study in person in the city. The Milstein Program combines a liberal arts education in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences with cutting-edge coursework at Cornell Tech. The summer program includes guided workshops, guest seminars, group projects, “civic innovation” challenges and real-world interactions in New York City.
“I was moved by the conversations we had about whether computers can be creative, what it means to be creative and whether we can build intelligent machines,” said Rogers, an information science specialist whose latest project was an interactive circulating brain sculpt. Areas that light up when a person studies the humanities, when they explore science and technology, or when different disciplines intersect.
“Conversations about technology and humanity are the future of the world, in my opinion,” Rogers said. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to being human, and if we don’t understand that through the lens of technology, we won’t be successful.”
Kushagra Jain ’23, a specialist in information sciences and economics, said the summer structure gives students free time to delve into topics or technologies that interest them. He said, “Our entire class learned the basics of Blender (a 3D design program), and then after that, everyone who wanted to learn more had hours of work for us where we were able to take that basic knowledge and move on with it.”
The summer program was organized by the Cornell Tech team led by Deborah Estrin, Associate Dean for Impact. Among the primary trainers was Moore Naaman, professor of information sciences at the Jacobs Technion Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech. Michael Byrne, Research Fellow at Cornell Tech’s Digital Life Initiative; Bill Lyon, MBA ’20, Digital Industry Instructor; And Nettie Barrick, a physical making teacher. Students also worked with David Bering-Porter of the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School; Irwin Chin of Parsons School of Design; and Oscar Romero, from the New York City Mayor’s Office of Chief Technology Officer.
The Memorial was the theme of the summer, which began with the students’ exploration of the Roosevelt Island statue showing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms speech, and continued with discussions and projects focusing on notions of impact and freedom in civic spaces.
“It changed the way we look at things a lot over the summer,” said Elizabeth Uminsky 23. “Everyone has a different idea of what freedom looks like.”
For the Civic Innovation Challenge, designed by Romero, the students partnered with Heat Seek, an organization that has a product to help tenants determine if landlords have turned off their heat. Students helped the organization design its products, create educational materials for users, and find funding for their work.
“We were doing hands-on work, meeting clients and understanding their needs,” said Uminsky, who specializes in art history and information science. “It felt very helpful and moving.”
Friday’s trips — including trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, and Michael Milstein’s technology startup Grand Central Tech — were highlights for Jane.
“We also toured Governors Island and walked through historic buildings and streets in midtown Manhattan with Cornell urban planner Bob Balder (executive director of the School of Architecture, Art, and Planning in New York City),” he said. “That was incredible.”
Aviva Muñoz ’23, an economics student, said another benefit of this summer was getting to know her fellow Milstein students better — because of COVID-19, many of them haven’t spent much time together in person. Classes and discussions confirmed why she chose to apply to the program.
“My personal interest is the business side of technology. I understand the hard skills I need to know and apply them to other things I learn in school — like how people make decisions.” It’s good to know that I don’t have to be stuck in a box just to be a programmer or programmer. I can also branch out and find my own interests in technology.”
Sophomores at Milstein will return to campus this fall and embark on original Junior projects, which began with their summer experience at Cornell Tech.
“This was an unprecedented experience, as Cornell’s first undergraduate students got to experience the incredible resources, talent, and vision of Tech,” said Austin Boone, associate professor of theater and media arts and director of the Milstein Program at Ithaca. I called them “astronauts”. I am so impressed with what they have achieved and excited to see how this summer changes their thinking, their ambitions and their sense of what is possible.”
The Milstein Show was created in 2017 with a $20 million gift from Howard P. Milstein ’73, Abby Milstein, and Michael Milstein ’11.
Kathy Hovis is a staff writer in the College of Arts and Sciences.