Cornell Tech has several “brand pillars” that drive the school’s content, curriculum, and strategic direction. One of these core pillars is “Tech for Impact.” Johnson Cornell Tech students embody this concept through their backgrounds, experience, and passions.
Anna McGovern, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, holds an undergraduate degree in computer science. A New York City native, she spent three years working as a product manager and running an innovation lab for Citigroup, before electing to pursue her MBA at Johnson Cornell Tech.
Utilizing technology to effect social change resonates particularly strongly with McGovern, and the fall Company Challenge project allowed her to explore her interests this area.
“I was placed on a project with the New York City Mayor's Office to combat domestic violence,” McGovern says. “I am very interested in going into this social entrepreneurship space, and when I was put on the team, I realized how excited I was. Being from New York, I was thrilled to be put onto a project for the city and have that opportunity.”
The challenge is to use mobile technology to proactively deliver information and tools to survivors of domestic violence. These tools, which offer safety and privacy protections, may mean the difference between life and death for some victims. The Mayor’s Office allowed McGovern’s team to visit Family Justice Centers located throughout the city and conduct interviews with both victims and staff.
“It's a really compelling challenge,” McGovern says. “We've been able to go onsite, conduct interviews, and really get inside this world. I'm really not sure what we're going to end up building, but I'm getting more comfortable with that and just figuring it out as we go.”
Social entrepreneurship is just one area where current students are using technology for impact. Nikhil Swaminathan, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, is trained as a software engineer and was involved in an educational technology startup in India before coming to Cornell. His team’s Company Challenge was to help x.ai, a virtual personal assistant company, to improve engagement with young users.
“x.ai offers a virtual personal assistant called Amy, that helps you schedule your meetings over email,” Swaminathan says. “The problem the company had was that young people struggle with the idea of having a personal assistant and don’t use it.”
Swaminathan’s team is composed of two Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students and two Cornell Tech Connected Media students. Team members began using “Amy” and sought feedback from other students and startup founders. Based on their research, the team decided to develop a prototype version “with a personality,” where the virtual assistant interacts differently with individuals based on specific defining attributes.
“For example,” says Swaminathan, “if you are interacting with someone senior, you want Amy to be more respectful of the other person’s time and work your schedule around theirs. We worked around the clock for the first sprint and had a successful presentation which was well liked by the mentors.”
The range of ways that technology can influence business and society is vast. This year’s Johnson Cornell Tech class is taking this brand pillar to heart and finding new ways to positively impact our world.