NYC, Stanford’s Newest Frontier

In a few years, Stanford may have a second campus in the heart of New York City.

The city is seeking to expand and diversify its economic and intellectual base through the creation of a Stanford-inspired, East Coast Silicon Valley.

Stanford’s affiliation with Silicon Valley began in the mid 20th-century when the Dean of Engineering, Frederick Terman, encouraged students and faculty to start their own businesses in the area. Soon thereafter emerged Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, and more recently Yahoo and Google. New York City is looking to replicate this love affair between academia, research, and economic development in the high-tech, social media, and bioscience sectors.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCED) solicited “proposals that strengthen links between academic research and industry, in research activity that has high potential for local commercialization, and in other local economic spillovers.” In particular, the NYCED is seeking to create an engineering and applied science research center in the middle of the city.

Proposals are due to the NYCED by March 16, and Stanford is certain to bid. Possible sites for the research center include Harlem, downtown Brooklyn, Queens, lower Manhattan, and the South Bronx.

Concerns include the impact the facility will have on the architecture and identity of these historic neighborhoods.However, since the site has not been chosen, communities have yet to contest Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal.

Howard Zebker, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Geophysics at Stanford, supports the University’s bid. He views the urban setting as particularly beneficial to Stanford, which has always enjoyed a relatively insular existence.

“It’s a way to use Stanford engineers and engineering to solve a lot of really important problems that we haven’t traditionally addressed,” he said. “It is a way to get into Stanford a different kind of student than we traditionally have attracted.” He noted that the East Coast is foreign to Stanford students both geographically and culturally. The “flip-flop” mentality of the West Coast does not seem to fit into the East.

President Hennessy described his vision of the New York campus to the Faculty Senate on February 17.

“You can imagine a center in New York that perhaps has an arts theme one quarter, and a theme focused on urban cities the next quarter, which is a major challenge and something that’s hard to study on the West Coast, because we don’t have a city like New York and Chicago here,” he said.

This unlikely partnership between New York City and Stanford will benefit both parties, according to Hennessy.

“The advantages are several,” he said. “We are a university that serves this nation, and— taking a page out of the President’s State of the Union address—the challenge for the U.S. is to create more centers of innovation that have the kind of vibrancy and opportunities for economic and job growth that existed in the Silicon Valley area. I think the challenge of creating such a center is one that Stanford is highly qualified, perhaps uniquely qualified, to undertake.”

He imagines sending an initial group of 25 faculty from the School of Engineering and Graduate School of Business (GSB), 125 Ph.D. Candidates, and 250 Masters students. Stanford in New York would focus on ethics and banking, the arts, and entrepreneurship—all fields particularly relevant to the City.

Professor Brian Cantwell in Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics and Astronautics commented that the three international airports—JFK, EWR and LGA—serve as a prime setting for the implementation of Stanford’s research in GPS navigation.

“Stanford is uniquely positioned to provide the most advanced air traffic control technology,” he said. “We have a large group in this department that works on GPS navigation.”

The campus, according to Hennessy’s description, will also feature faculty from the GSB. MBA candidate Trevor Martin said that “both the engineering and business schools stand a lot to gain by being more involved from each other.”

Martin acknowledged that Stanford in New York****“would be profoundly different…. It would take on a much different character than the campus here.” He noted that “the Stanford community here is impossible to replicate.”

Apart from the name, Stanford in New York will likely seem foreign to students back on the Farm. However, if the opportunity means contributing to the future of research and higher education, Hennessy wants Stanford to be involved.

The engineering department is particularly excited about the idea of a New York campus. When asked about the possible ramifications of a second Stanford in NYC, Zebker said, “I have no idea what the new generation of startups in that kind of environment will be, but ten years ago I would have never have pictured Facebook. We’re going to be surprised, and there will probably be good things that come out of it.”

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