As one of the creators of the “WhyCooper.org” website, can you explain the motivation for the website and your perspectives on the impact that tuition may bring to Cooper.
It may seem cliché, but the primary reason behind building the site was to address the question “Why Cooper”. As members of the Cooper Union community, we have the opportunity to interact with our peers and professors on a daily basis, and the results of these interactions are a big part of what makes this place so unique. The goal of the website is to attempt to share that story with the outside world: prospective students, greater academia, and even potential donors.
It would be naive to say that tuition won’t change many aspects of Cooper Union. However, the scholarship wasn’t the primary reason I chose to attend. For me and many of my peers, Cooper was not even the cheapest option. The school is focused on providing an incredible undergraduate education in a tightly-knit community, and I believe that it will continue to do so. In the last year alone, the school has done a great deal of self-reflection and external research to see how it can improve itself. At the same time that we are preparing to charge, we are also working on redefining ourselves as an institution, building up the qualities that make us strong, and getting the word out about who we are. I have faith in the ability of the student body, faculty, alumni and administration of Cooper Union to enact those improvements in the coming years, and my hope is that we will mitigate the effects of tuition when it begins in a couple years.
What did you find most challenging about attending Cooper Union?
The most challenging aspect of Cooper Union was definitely finding free time. During the busy points of the semester, everything that isn’t purely academic seems to fly out the window, and getting people together to work on something becomes a seemingly impossible task. However, Cooper students seem to have a miraculous talent for getting work done in time, even if it seems impossible. As such, over time the challenge transitioned to simply convincing yourself that you could create it out of thin air and take it on faith that the rest of your school work will fall into place.
….. and what did you find most rewarding?
For me, the most rewarding experience at Cooper Union came from serving on the Joint Activities Committee (JAC) and Engineering Student Council (ESC). Through both those groups, I had the opportunity to meet and work with many of my peers in all three schools – pretty much on a daily basis. In addition, serving on these groups allowed me to meet the president, deans, and other administrators and staff within the school that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I am thankful to have been able to work with people in just about every department at Cooper Union, and I found it incredibly rewarding to be able to help improve the school along with those individuals.
What was your academic focus while you attended Cooper Union?
I was a Mechanical Engineering major at Cooper Union with a strong interest in robotics and computers. Along those lines, my senior project was to program and build a data acquisition (DAQ) and control system, and to construct a prototype ice maker to test with it. My favorite courses were control systems and thermodynamics.
Was it difficult to make the time to volunteer in the community and at Cooper Union while you completed your studies? How did you prioritize?
For better or for worse, I’m the type of person who gets incredibly wrapped up in projects I’m involved in. I’ve always gotten enjoyment from fixing or improving things, so to me these sorts of projects are also a lot of fun. At some point in my sophomore year, volunteering at Cooper became one of such projects in my mind, and as a result, I rarely felt as if I had to make time for it. Ironically, if anything, I found myself trying to figure out how to fit in mandatory schoolwork in the midst of all my non-academic obligations. Fitting everything in wasn’t too difficult; I just tried to never bite off more than I could chew and focused on improving my efficiency over time.
Do you have any advice for incoming students at Cooper Union?
Get involved. Whether it’s a student club, a sport, student government or even working in the computer center – don’t be afraid to get involved in the community. Some of my most rewarding experiences at Cooper have been a result of my involvement in the community, and I’ve learned many things through these activities that I would’ve never learned in a classroom. Students will sometimes worry about not having enough time to commit, but in my experience, I’ve actually found myself being more efficient and not having any less free time after getting involved. Grades are obviously important in college, but they will only get you so far – and very often it’s your extracurricular experiences that can make or break a hiring decision.
What would you like the Alumni Association to know about your graduating class?
Around the beginning of May, right around the beginning of final exams, ESC hosted a series of open forum meetings to discuss issues surrounding the recent tuition decision. Despite how busy the workload at Cooper is, especially right before exams, the room was packed for every meeting. The students there spanned all four years, and although we would only be students for another two weeks, many seniors were present. We have been Cooper Union before and during the financial crisis. Many of us want to help be Cooper Union once the dust settles as well. Please keep us in the loop.
What are your next steps (professionally and personally) now that you’ve completed Cooper Union?
In August I am moving to Los Angeles to begin work at Boeing. I will be a Guidance, Navigation and Control Engineer working on satellite subsystems. Although I grew up and went to school on the east coast, I’m looking forward to moving, meeting new people, and starting a new chapter of my life.
If you had the chance, what would you say to Peter Cooper today?
First and foremost, I would thank him for allowing me the opportunity to study at Cooper Union. His generosity has fueled this institution for over 150 years and I’d be eager to share with him all the things it has been able to accomplish as a result of his philanthropy. In addition, I would be curious to speak with him about the state of higher education in this country today and to hear his opinion on how the school and the country should move forward. In his time, Peter Cooper had revolutionary ideas regarding education, and it would be interesting to hear what ideas he would have about today’s society.
Do you have any final words that you would like to add?
In the last four years I’ve had the incredible opportunity to speak with and work with peers, professors, alumni, staff and administrators about ways to improve Cooper Union. It’s clear that there is much passion and are many opinions within the community, and although different individuals will choose to express their opinions in different ways, I have no doubt in my mind that everybody, regardless of their opinions on recent events, cares immensely about the institution. We all have different ideas for ways to save Cooper Union, and even those who share common goals may not necessarily agree on the best way to go about achieving them. The announcement of tuition has shaken the entire community, and although many of us are still in a state of shock, it is my hope that once the dust begins to settle we will be able to respect our differences, build off each others’ passion, and ultimately work together for the sake of our school.
Interviewed by Anne Dudek Ronan CE ’83/’84