This Alumni Profile first appeared in the December 2009 CUAA Newsletter
Mary Lynch, CHE’82
December 18, 2009
Why did you choose The Cooper Union?
In 1977, Lehigh University first opened its engineering school to women. Bradley University had done so only a few years before and those schools needed female students, so they recruited me heavily, sending me mail, and calling me, on a regular basis. My mother wanted me to study art and my high school teachers wanted me to study engineering. I chose Cooper Union in part, because it offered both Art and Engineering courses. I certainly appreciated the full scholarship, and I figured that I would feel more comfortable at The Cooper Union because it was a small school — even though it was located in a huge city.
I adapted very quickly to the culture of the school. I grew up in a small rural town where most people have multiple roles and that helped me. I thought it was normal and wonderful to see professors multiple times during the same day, teaching different courses; and it was nice to know the school staff as both a student and an employee. I worked for the engineering office, the physics department, the chemistry department and the library where I made many friends. I thrived because I had so many classes with the same students. I was shy and I might never have made friends in a bigger school. I am also indebted to the students who worked for Bob Hopkins in the Computer Center. I had never even seen a computer before coming to Cooper Union in 1978! My student-work assignments were invaluable for teaching me leadership skills and helping me step out of my shyness.
How did you get into painting?
My mother taught courses in landscape and still life painting. When I was a teenager, I took her courses which included landscape courses that met each week at a different scenic location, and we always painted what we saw in front of us. I learned the value of “painting live” which allows more emotion and more depth to be captured in the painting, and avoids the distortions that are created by a camera. I taught myself how to paint portraits drawing and painting portraits of my brothers and sisters, and I probably enjoy painting people more than any other subject. As an engineering student, I had to receive permission of the art instructor and the dean of the School of Art to take art courses. The art instructor rarely called me by my name, instead calling me “The Engineer,” but he did so playfully and eventually respectfully. The art students in the class treated me as an equal. A few years later, I took a course in figure painting at The Cooper Union’s School of Continuing Education.
Do you stay connected to other Cooper Alumni?
I helped organize my class reunion in 2007 and remain close to several members of my class. I work for Con Edison and Con Edison has a significant number of Cooper Union alumni on staff.
There are approximately fifty Cooper Union alumni working at Con Edison. They represent all of the engineering disciplines and they work in a wide variety of departments. A number of those hired since 2000 began working at Con Edison either as a co-op student or a summer intern while they were still studying at Cooper Union. The co-op students mainly worked in my department, Steam Distribution Engineering, and that is how I got to know them. They all impressed me! Through them I have become reacquainted with the curriculum and the professors in the engineering school. I have been invited to several student senior project and master’s thesis presentations. I sincerely believe that the students graduating today are every bit as bright as they were a generation ago, and I believe they are better prepared for their careers than I was. I am very proud of all the Cooper alumni that work at Con Edison and I am very proud of The Cooper Union.
As a member of the Council, how do you see your role?
I joined the Alumni Council because I wanted to have some influence on alumni events and publications. I also wanted to be more in the loop on school activities. I work in a company with many young alumni, and realized that I want them to feel welcome in the alumni association. In this age, when networking is so important, we need activities that make everyone feel welcome and give the alumni chances to network. I have joined the editorial committee and some event subcommittees, and I am making a difference. My suggestions are being heard and I have made new alumni friends. I encourage other alumni to participate. While you need to be elected to the Alumni Council, you can join many of the alumni committees and subcommittees simply by expressing interest.