Op-Ed | SPARCing health careers for CUNY and all New Yorkers


Davea Smith-Hill came to New York from Jamaica in 2016 and began working as a home health aide. It’s a job she’s always found rewarding, but a couple of years ago she began thinking she wanted to reach higher professionally. She heard that Borough of Manhattan Community College has an excellent nursing program, looked into it and was struck by BMCC’s motto: “Start here. Go anywhere.” 

Davea took the prerequisite courses, balancing school with the demands of her full-time job. Now, she’s in her first semester in BMCC’s Applied Health Sciences in Nursing program, one of the most competitive in the city. Davea has the grit and tenacity I see in so many CUNY students, and she’s on her way to a career in one of the city’s fastest growing and most critical workforce sectors. We need to create more opportunities for students like Davea — and we are.

Earlier this month, Governor Hochul, Mayor Adams and I announced plans to transform Hunter College’s Brookdale Campus into a $1.6-billion public health and education hub that will create good jobs for thousands of New Yorkers, including many CUNY students and grads. Expanding opportunities in health-related careers is a key focus of CUNY’s drive to connect more of its students to fulfilling and well-paying careers that will also help ensure an equitable economy for the city.

With historic investment from the state and the city, we are creating a state-of-the-art teaching and commercial campus, at E. 25th Street and First Avenue, to be called the Science Park and Research Campus Kips Bay — SPARC for short. As the anchor for the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s Kips Bay Life Sciences Innovation District, SPARC Kips Bay will cultivate the next generation of New York’s scientific research and health care workforce and generate an estimated $25 billion in economic impact for the city over the next 30 years. 

New Jobs Pipeline

SPARC Kips Bay will house Hunter’s School of Nursing, School of Health Professions and Hunter science research labs, the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College health programs. These schools and programs total 4,500 CUNY students. The center will also include a new city high school, creating a talent pipeline that will take students from high school to college to career. It will also house a forensic pathology training center and city Health and Hospitals centers for ambulatory care and simulation training, and will attract new companies and startups that will create additional jobs in the health care and life sciences fields. 

Construction is expected to begin in 2025-26 and take several years to complete, but when it’s finished SPARC Kips Bay will put CUNY at the center of the city and state’s mission to advance life sciences and health care as critical elements of the regional economy. In a city of great institutions of health and medicine, it is fitting that the first innovation hub of its kind in the state will be part of the city’s public university, a system that enrolls some 40,000 students in health and human services programs each year. 

Of course, a project as ambitious as this one brings its share of logistical challenges. The Brookdale campus includes dorms for Hunter students, and some have raised concerns about how the plan will affect current and future residents. Given the project’s timetable, we don’t envision closing the Brookdale dorms before the end of the 2023-24 academic year at the earliest. CUNY will assist students to identify dorm options, if needed, once construction begins, in addition to working with the University Student Senate in exploring housing alternatives for students CUNY-wide.

SPARC Kips Bay is a model for the kind of innovation, partnership and public investment that is pivotal to building an inclusive and equitable economy — and to ensuring a strong force of well-trained health professionals like Davea Smith-Hill to respond to the public health challenges that confront our city in the coming years.  

Davea summarized it nicely on the day we announced the plans: “It is about CUNY providing high-value educational opportunities to New Yorkers like myself.” 

Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.