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Qualcomm Founder Gives $133M to NYC Tech School

NEW YORK — A burgeoning graduate school aimed at reinventing higher education’s relationship with high tech is getting a $133 million gift from a professor-turned-entrepreneur who used his engineering background to help build a major telecommunications company, officials announced Monday.

The gift from Qualcomm Inc. founding chairman and former CEO Irwin Jacobs will endow an innovation institute at the core of Cornell NYC Tech, an elite graduate program that’s meant to link academia and entrepreneurship while helping make New York a high-tech hub. Students are to be linked with tech-industry mentors, and the campus will rent space to companies, in an effort to help research get into the market.

“Going forward, we look forward to seeing many successes—new faculty, new students, new companies springing up. It should be a very exciting ride,” Jacobs said at a City Hall news conference, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the donation to the partly city-financed school.

Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology won a 2011 contest to create the program, where seven master’s degree students started this winter in a computer science master’s program. For now, it’s housed within Google Inc.’s New York office building.

Plans call for the school to grow eventually to 2,000 students, pursuing a variety of advanced degrees in a campus to be built on an island off Manhattan and Queens.

The innovation institute will be named for Jacobs and his wife, Joan. It will offer an interdisciplinary master’s program focused—at least at the outset—on social media, health care and wellness, and architecture, sustainability and other aspects of the built environment, Cornell President David Skorton said.

Jacobs said the interdisciplinary reach appealed to him, as a veteran of a wireless communications industry that now ranges from cell phones to medical devices.

“I think at the university level, it’s very important to be able to have a breadth” of academic approaches working together, he said.

Bloomberg, whose own fortune comes from founding the financial information and technology company Bloomberg LP, has declared he wants New York City someday to rival California’s Silicon Valley as a driver of the digital age. Cornell NYC Tech, as well as two other science and engineering programs the city is helping to finance, are intended to help draw and educate tech innovators.

The city is chipping in free land and up to $100 million in improvements for Cornell NYC Tech, which also was launched with a $350 million gift that was eventually revealed to have come from the foundation of Charles Feeney, a co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group and a Cornell alumnus.

The Jacobses met as sophomores at Cornell, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and she in nutrition. They’ve given before to both Cornell and Technion, based in Haifa, Israel.

Irwin Jacobs earned a doctorate and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before going into business. San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. began with a discussion in Jacobs’ living room in 1985. He was CEO through 2005 and chairman through 2009.

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