Break Through Tech will be a part of Pivotal Ventures’ $50M investment in the new Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities Initiative, to Unlock Opportunities for Women to Pursue Degrees and Careers in Tech Nationally

Founding Investments from Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon Invest to Support National Expansion, Starting with the First City — Chicago

New York, NY (January 28, 2020) — Cornell Tech today announced the expansion of its successful WiTNY (Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship in New York) program to attract and retain women and other under-represented groups pursuing tech education and careers nationally. With its national expansion, the program will now be called Break Through Tech and take part in the new Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative, designed to accelerate the representation of women in tech and supported by a $50 million investment from Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda Gates company, as well as Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon.

In 2016, Cornell Tech launched the program in a strategic public-private partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) and corporate partners to increase the number of women pursuing degrees and careers in tech, and diversify the tech talent pipeline. Since the launch of the program, the number of women graduating from CUNY with bachelor’s degrees in computer science has increased by 94%. With new funding from Pivotal Ventures, Cognizant U.S. Foundation, and Verizon, the national initiative Break Through Tech will expand to three new cities across the United States, starting with Chicago.

“Break Through Tech and Pivotal Ventures share a common goal to accelerate women’s power and influence in the U.S., especially in tech,” said Renee Wittemyer, Senior Lead of Tech Innovation at Pivotal Ventures. “Boosting representation of women in tech requires the work, investment, and collaboration of many players in the tech ecosystem and we are thrilled to have Break Through Tech’s innovative model to foster the coordination between companies, universities, and nonprofits to scale change.”

“Break Through Tech has developed a collaborative, systems-change approach to increasing the number of women in computer science, and the outcomes speak for themselves,” said Kristen Titus, Executive Director of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation. “The Foundation is committed to advancing gender equity in the workforce, and we’ve seen the impact of Break Through Tech’s work firsthand. We look forward to helping fuel its expansion alongside Pivotal Ventures, industry partners, and local institutions.”

“As a founding partner of WiTNY, we’ve seen their progress and community impact firsthand,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Verizon. “Now as Break Through Tech, this national expansion serves to lead and empower women to succeed in today’s digital economy. Driving innovation forward begins with having a diverse and inclusive workforce and we’re proud to support Break Through Tech’s efforts to enact social change.”

“Year after year, WiTNY, now Break Through Tech, has made progress getting women at CUNY, the largest and most diverse urban, public college system in the country, to pursue degrees and careers in tech. So many of the students we work with never thought the tech industry had a place for them, and the program has been transformational in their lives,” said Judith Spitz, Executive Director of Cornell Tech’s Break Through Tech Initiative. “Thanks to the new funding from Pivotal Ventures and the Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon, we can scale the model nationally to continue to shift the tech workforce towards inclusivity and diversity.”

“It’s critical that students from all backgrounds are equipped with the technological skills needed to tackle the world’s problems, and Cornell is committed to fostering diversity and gender equity,” said Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech. “The Break Through Tech initiative is an incredible model that has already made a huge impact in New York and will do so around the country. We are so grateful for this recognition from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, Cognizant U.S. Foundation, and Verizon to help us achieve our goals on a national scale.”

Pivotal Ventures, the investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, is partnering with Break Through Tech and SecondMuse to launch Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities, an initiative designed to accelerate the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of inclusive tech hubs across the United States. A key goal for GET Cities is to propel more women into tech education, and ultimately tech careers, through Break Through Tech’s model of curriculum innovation, career access and community development in higher education. GET Cities will launch in Chicago, and be called GET Chicago.

The city of Chicago presents a tremendous opportunity for Break Through Tech to make a significant impact on the local tech community. The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is Chicago’s public research university and Break Through Tech’s public institution partner. UIC has a reputation for providing access to education for many underrepresented groups and is a hub of innovation and cutting-edge research. Break Through Tech will partner with UIC and the local tech industry to deliver critical programmatic initiatives aimed at closing the gender gap in tech. UIC’s computer science department, which will spearhead efforts with Break Through Tech, is ranked 9th by CSRankings for artificial intelligence and machine learning research among the nation’s public universities. The department also ranks in the top 25 among all U.S. universities in four other major computer science disciplines. Enrollment in the computer science program, which is part of the university’s College of Engineering, has increased from 187 undergraduate students in 2005 to more than 1,400 students today.

“Chicago ranks second in the U.S. in number of computer science graduates and sixth in STEM workers. UIC is a big part of this, we have seen record enrollments at the university largely driven by our strength in engineering, especially computer science,” said TJ Augustine, UIC Vice Chancellor for Innovation. “Working with Break Through Tech and GET Cities to create a more inclusive tech environment in Chicago aligns with our commitments to diversity, to our students, and to positively impact our communities and civic and industry partners.”

In the new cities, Cornell Tech will utilize the founding WiTNY model that has led to success in New York City: partnering with a local public university system and working with corporations for innovative paid internship opportunities, industry mentorship, and support. Break Through Tech’s core programs will include:

  • Curriculum Innovation: To expand access to computer science and broaden the participation of women and other under-represented groups, Cornell Tech partners with a public institution and their faculty to offer new introductory computer science courses and workshops that teach students how to code and emphasize real-world applications of technology using an inclusive, team-based learning strategy with an eye towards recruitment and retention.
  • Career Development: To help program participants be more competitive when applying for summer internships (and ultimately jobs), Break Through Tech runs an innovative, three-week, paid internship program each winter break for freshman and sophomore college women and other eligible students. Held during the academic recess, Break Through Tech’s “Winternship” program gives students a resume credential and a real-world experience that increases their chances of landing a summer tech internship in a way that has a low barrier to entry for industry partners. It addresses the hurdles that many women and other under-represented groups in tech face when they try to get their foot in the door for summer internships: access and experience.
  • Community: Break Through Tech builds a community of women and other program participants with peer-to-peer networks and student-to-professional networks to support, engage, and motivate people. These networks are key for creating a sense of belonging, encouraging one another and having a network of contacts that can be sponsors and advocates, both during the Break Through Tech program and after entering the workforce.


“We are pleased to be part of the growing national network of institutions working to accomplish the important task of diversifying the tech talent pipeline,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Along with Cornell Tech and our partners in the private sector, we are working to introduce a curriculum and expand opportunities for our students as we look to increase the number of women pursuing tech-related degrees and careers here at CUNY.”

Cornell Tech is focused on the rapid emergence of technologies and its societal impact in the digital age. Break Through Tech is a major initiative as part of Cornell Tech’s mission to drive societal impact beyond its campus. Cornell Tech’s new Associate Dean for Impact, Deborah Estrin, will similarly be focused on fostering strategic external relationships to further Break Through Tech’s vision across New York City.

To learn more about Break Through Tech, please visit: To learn more about GET Cities, please visit:


About Break Through Tech

Launched at Cornell Tech, with support from Pivotal Ventures and Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon, the initiative supports curriculum innovation in higher education, career opportunities, and community support for women and other underrepresented groups in tech. It originated in 2016 as a program called Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship New York (WiTNY), created at Cornell Tech in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) and a broad set of industry partners. Now Break Through Tech is replicating the highly innovative and effective ecosystem model it piloted in New York City to increase women’s representation in computing grads in more cities across the United States.

About Cornell Tech

Cornell Tech’s degree programs and research initiatives provide responsive approaches to the rapid emergence of technologies and their societal impact in the digital age. Cornell Tech offers seven doctoral programs and seven master’s programs, including two dual-degree programs with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology through the Jacobs Cornell-Technion Institute. Cornell Tech’s world-class faculty, graduate students, researchers, and postdoctoral entrepreneurs are focused on building better tuned, highly valuable and more accessible technology for commercial and community use. Key to Cornell Tech is its commitment to growing the tech sector within New York City. Cornell Tech students and postdocs have founded more than 70+ startups in New York City, creating more than 370 new jobs and attracting more than $75 million in investments. The campus also has a dedicated K-12 initiative to bring tech education into local schools, and the WiTNY program (now Break Through Tech) , a partnership with City University of New York that is increasing the number of young New York City women who pursue degrees and careers in tech.

About Cognizant U.S. Foundation

The Cognizant U.S. Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation supporting STEM education and skills training. Launched in 2018 with an initial $100 million investment from Cognizant, the Foundation has since awarded $21 million to organizations working to educate and train the next generation of workers in communities throughout the U.S.

About Verizon

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ) was formed on June 30, 2000 and is celebrating its 20th year as one of the world’s leading providers of communications, information and entertainment products and services. Headquartered in New York City and with a presence around the world, Verizon generated revenues of $130.9 billion in 2018.  The company offers voice, data and video services and solutions on its award winning networks and platforms, delivering on customers’ demand for mobility, reliable network connectivity, security and control.

About UIC

Located in the heart of one of the world’s great cities, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the Chicago’s largest university and only public research institution. Its 16 academic colleges serve more than 33,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UIC is recognized as one of the most ethnically rich and culturally diverse campuses in the nation, a leader in providing access to underrepresented students. UIC students become professionals in fields ranging from business and engineering to education, liberal arts and sciences, urban planning, and social work, as well as architecture, design and the arts. With one of the largest colleges of medicine in the nation, and colleges of dentistry, pharmacy, public health, nursing, social work, and applied health sciences, UIC is the state’s principal educator of health professionals and a major healthcare provider to underserved communities. UIC is an integral part of the educational, technological, and cultural fabric of Chicago.

About CUNY

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields.  The University comprises 25 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.  The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.


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