Breaking Barriers for New York City High School Students

POSTED ON: January 28, 2016

Marina Gutierrez and George Delagrammatikas talk about the Saturday programs for high schoolers in this first installment of a new series entitled Cooper to Cooper: Conversations Across Disciplines. Video by Gabriel Rodriguez-Fuller A'17.

As its very name suggests, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was conceived as an institute where disciplines not only co-exist but are in dialogue. In Peter Cooper’s plan for his school, according to biographer Edward Mack, “the combining of art and science was a basic concept.” In that spirit, we present Cooper to Cooper: Conversations Across Disciplines, a series of discussions between members of the Cooper community—professors, alumni, students, faculty, staff—approaching similar subjects from different vantage points.

First up are Marina Gutierrez, director of the Saturday Program, and George Delagrammatikas, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the director of STEM outreach programs at The Cooper Union. Ms. Gutierrez, a 1981 graduate of the School of Art, explains that during the late 1960s, students across the country were looking for ways to share their knowledge with younger people who had little access to good education. At The Cooper Union, that effort took the form of The Saturday Program, a project founded by students in 1968 to provide free art and architecture classes and portfolio reviews to New York City high school students. Since its inception, it has served approximately 8,000 students, more than 85% of whom have gone on to college. The Saturday Program, which offers courses taught by Cooper undergraduates that let high school students gain experience in many media, is now acting as a model for STEM Saturdays, a new program started by Prof. Delagrammatikis.  For ten consecutive Saturdays, high school students will be immersed in a hands-on learning environment geared toward exposing them to the wide range of careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Taught by Cooper Union undergraduates and graduate students, STEM Saturdays allows high school students to design, analyze, build, test and present their solution to an engineering problem of their choice. And like the Saturday Program, STEM Saturdays is free of charge.

In the video above, the two discuss the philosophies of their programs as well as the obstacles—economic, cultural and psychological—faced by high school students who for various reasons have had little support for studying architecture, art or engineering.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.