CUNY Colleges Harness Technology for Economic Development

New York City could see more than 3,800 new jobs come to town with college grants in areas such as big data, health IT and 3-D printing.

by / August 6, 2014 0
Director Lev Manovich (left) and researcher Jay Chow from the Software Studies Initiative at Calit2 work on the Phototrails project, which uses visualization software to map 2.5 million Instagram photos. Manovich is also a professor at The Graduate Center, CUNY. | Photo credit: Alex Matthews/Qualcomm Institute UC San Diego | Flickr photo used with permission

In an effort to link academia with economic development, New York City colleges are collaborating on grant-funded projects that include big data, health IT and 3-D printing.

The NY CUNY 2020 program received $55 million in state budget funding to go toward capital projects at city colleges this year, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced eight winning grant proposals on July 28 that are projected to bring more than 3,800 new jobs to the city over the next six years. 

Twenty of the 24 colleges in the City University of New York claimed a spot on at least one of the winning grant proposals, with several participating in more than one grant. As these colleges put their plans into action over the next year, New York will see an increase in data analytics, 3-D printing and health IT.

Big data grant

In New York City's Silicon Alley, hundreds of tech startups and established companies are making their home. As big data becomes increasingly important for making business decisions, five colleges are building data analytics and visualization programs not only for current workers, but also the next generation of workers. Their $15 million grant is expected to create 154 construction jobs and more than $15 million in wages, not to mention trained data analytics professionals. 

Researcher Lev Manovich and others mapped 2.5 million Instagram photos from 13 cities including New York City above, and this kind of data visualization will be expanded at a new center at The Graduate Center, CUNY | Photo credit: Lev Manovich Phototrails Project

At The Graduate Center, CUNY, a new CUNY Center for Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization will be the hub for work on data sets from cultural institutions. Data visualization involves creating visual ways to understand and interact with data such as Instagram pictures, which researchers including The Graduate Center's Lev Manovich did in their Phototrails project of 2.5 million Instagram photos from 13 cities around the world. Staff at the new center will help the employees of cultural institutions, including the New York Public Library and the Museum of Modern Art, to visualize their holdings. 

"So much big data concentrates on economics data, on health sciences data, and there's this real opportunity here to think through what cultural and humanities data can mean and be visualized," said Matthew K. Gold, advisor to the provost for digital initiatives and associate professor of English and digital humanities at The Graduate Center. 

Along with the new center's work, The Graduate Center will add a data visualization track in the master of arts program in liberal studies and create a Master of Arts degree in data visualization. Other degree and certificate programs will launch at the four other colleges in the consortium, including the College of Staten Island; the CUNY School of Professional Studies; Borough of Manhattan Community College; and NYC College of Technology, City College.

Health IT grant

In the health field, medical offices are transitioning to an electronic health care record system that the Affordable Care Act calls for; if they don't transition, they will start seeing monetary penalties next year. This major transition brings with it a need for skilled workers who can not only operate in an electronic system, but also understand the privacy, ethical and legal issues that come up when medical history goes digital.

With a $10 million grant, Queensborough Community College in Bayside plans to expand its health IT classes to address these issues and provide legal health classes from CUNY Law through video learning systems at a new training center. Project leaders will spend the next year establishing a health-care clinic and training center with Urban Health Plan Inc. so that students can have one place to take classes, complete their clinical hours and work full time once they graduate. Over the next three years, the initiative is expected to generate 791 jobs, with graduates filling 678 of those positions in allied health-care education.

"The most significant thing that it will allow us to do is to expand our reach with communities that are underserved in the field of health care, both direct health-care services, as well as health-care education," said Denise Ward, interim vice president for pre-college, continuing education and workforce development at Queensborough Community College.

Through articulation agreements, students in these classes at Queensborough will be able to transfer smoothly to York College, Queens College and the School of Professional Studies. And a planned expansion and renovation of the campus' biotechnology lab will allow the college to bring more students into the biotechnology degree program, which will in turn mean that these students can conduct research at the new health-care clinic with medical staff. 

Transportation technology grant

Now that the automotive business has recovered from the 2009 economic downturn, more people are buying cars that eventually need repairs, but many automotive workers are retiring. To meet this increased demand, Bronx Community College is nearly doubling CUNY's only automotive technology program from 260 to 500 students with the help of a $9 million grant for transportation technology.

With part of the grant, Bronx Community College can bring in more equipment, add 6,000 square feet to its existing training facility and make room for more students in a new hybrid electric vehicles class. The grant to Bronx Community College, College of Staten Island, City College and CUNY School of Public Health is expected to generate more than 2,073 jobs in six years and fill more than 264 local jobs each year. 

"This will allow us to further support the automotive industry, and allow a lot of young people to become very talented and provide a good path to a good future," said Clement Drummond, director of automotive technology at Bronx Community College.

Another part of the grant will fund an analytical chemistry lab where New York City businesses, students and researchers can work on high-end equipment, test sustainable products and develop sustainable fuel, particularly renewable diesel fuel. This incubator also will allow the business community to work with the college on curriculum so that students will graduate with skills that businesses need in areas such as biotechnology, fuel production and green chemistry.

"If you can make a fuel, you can really make anything because a fuel has to be cheap and you have to make a lot of it," said Aaron Socha, director of the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, who is working on developing a new class for freshmen and high school students called "Sustainability, Energy and the Green Economy" that will introduce them to the booming clean energy field.

3-D printing grant 

While manufacturing jobs have been landing offshore, 3-D printing will help bring them back to U.S. shores, said Stuart M. Asser, professor and chairman of engineering technology at Queensborough Community College. Technically known as additive manufacturing, 3-D printing is allowing companies to make parts cheaper, faster and with a variety of materials including metal. 

"It's an exciting technology that is going to revolutionize manufacturing in the U.S. in the next few years, and I think it's a great motivational tool for our students and for high school students," Asser said.

But they need more skilled workers in this growing industry, and that's where a $1.5 million grant comes in. At a proposed Advanced Manufacturing Center, Queensborough Community College plans to provide workshops at the industry, college and high school levels with state-of-the-art printers to expose people to a type of manufacturing they don't have much experience with.

Students who build things in the center are often working on associate degrees in applied science, manufacturing technology and computer architecture, and many of them will go on to a four-year degree program in engineering. They could also go on to a four-year degree program in computer science through a partnership with the Queens College Computer Science Department. Students from both colleges will work together on more complicated manufacturing projects so they can learn from each other.

Future grants

Next year, colleges will have another shot at grant funding through CUNY 2020. For the next round, funds will come out of the governor's executive budget, and he plans to prioritize projects that involve technology, public-private partnerships and student-workforce connections.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.