Columbia, NYC Launch New Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering

Jul 31 2012 | By Melanie A. Farmer | Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso

Columbia University, in a partnership with New York City, has launched the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering to fill the explosive need for the acquisition and analysis of “big data.”

At a press conference July 30 held at Columbia’s Northwest Corner Building, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg detailed the new partnership alongside Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia Engineering Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb, Engineering Professor and Institute Director Kathleen R. McKeown, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and other prominent city and elected officials.

This is the latest step in the City’s Applied Sciences NYC Initiative, announced in 2010, which aims to increase New York’s capacity for applied sciences and spur commercialization and economic growth. The Columbia partnership, said Mayor Bloomberg, is expected to generate nearly $4 billion in overall economic impact and create more than 4,500 jobs over the next three decades. Engineering Professors Kathleen R. McKeown and Patricia J. Culligan will serve as the Institute’s inaugural director and associate director, respectively.

As part of the deal, the City will provide Columbia with $15 million in financial assistance to help develop the Institute, and the University will contribute $80 million in private investments. The agreement also includes the creation of 44,000 square feet of new space on Columbia’s campus by 2016 and the addition of 75 new faculty—engineering and other disciplines—over the next decade and a half.

“This is probably the most exciting moment that I can think of in the school’s 150-year history and the future has never looked brighter,” said Dean Goldfarb. “Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement and the City’s support for the Data Sciences Institute means that the only constraint that prevents Columbia Engineering from being in the very, very top echelon of engineering schools in overall rankings—that is our small size relative to our peers—will essentially be overcome.”

President Bollinger also stressed this point in his remarks at the press conference and credited the Engineering faculty for its pioneering research, which shaped the core of the University’s proposal for the new Institute.

“Their acknowledged excellence have lifted the school to near the top tier over the past decade—an ascent that has been limited only by the amount of space available to do their work and a much smaller scale than our leading peers,” said Bollinger. “Today the mayor and his EDC team are making it possible for us to take rapid new steps beyond the past in terms of new and improved research space and expanding the number of our faculty and students.”

Columbia’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering will focus on five key sectors: smart cities, new media, health analytics, financial analytics, and cybersecurity. The proposal for the Institute called for a rich, interdisciplinary approach with Engineering faculty working closely—as many already do—with departments in the Arts and Sciences, Columbia University Medical Center, and the University’s professional schools.

“There’s every reason to believe that the Institute will produce a flood of innovations in these areas, and we expect the return on the City’s investment on the Institute to be substantial,” said Mayor Bloomberg who called the agreement an “historic partnership” and said it is “by far, the largest and most far-reaching economic development effort City government has undertaken in modern memory.”

Columbia will begin the development of the first of two phases of the Institute immediately, first creating 44,000 square feet of new applied sciences and engineering facilities in existing buildings by August 2016 for the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. In addition, Columbia will hire 30 new faculty members as a part of the first phase, and ultimately expects to expand the Institute faculty to 75 by 2030. As part of phase 2, Columbia may expand the Institute’s use of the Audubon building at the University’s Medical Center in Washington Heights and at the same time create a 10,000 square foot bio-research incubator in the building.

Columbia joins other prominent universities that have recently reached an agreement with the City as part of its comprehensive Applied Sciences Initiative. In April, the City announced its partnership with an NYU-led consortium to build the Center for Urban Science and Progress in Downtown Brooklyn, and last December, the City created its first partnership with Cornell and the Technion to develop a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

These agreements will provide a major boost to the City’s economy over the next several decades. According to an economic impact analysis conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Columbia’s Institute, in particular, is expected to generate $3.9 billion in overall economic activity over the next three decades, including 4,223 permanent jobs and 285 construction jobs.

Columbia Engineering Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb, Institute Director Kathleen R. McKeown, Engineering Professor Patricia J. Culligan and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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