Professional Internship Program Reinstated

March 01, 2014

Briefly suspended due to budget concerns, the Professional Internship Program at The Cooper Union was recently reinstated. Stamatina Gregory, Associate Dean of the School of Art talks to Robert Thill, Director, Center for Career Development about the present and future impact of this program within the School of Art. Note that the deadline to express interest in the program is Monday, November 3, 2014, at 11:59pm. Contact Robert Thill at career@cooper.edu

SG: For those who are unfamiliar with it, what is the Professional Internship Program?

RT: It’s a high-impact program that supports student learning and development experiences in professional environments outside the academic setting. Student interns learn from both emerging professionals and established luminaries in the art and design community of New York City. The Program is critical to students in the School of Art because it serves to level the economic playing field by providing an hourly stipend and enabling students to benefit from career opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable to them. In fact, a review of a sample of participants showed that a majority are recipients of financial aid, indicating that the Program is reaching a high-need student population.

Tell me about the reinstatement of the Program.

Through the leadership of Saskia Bos, Dean of the School of Art, the Program has been reinstated. Dean Bos is a champion of the Program, and, like many faculty and staff both inside and outside of the School of Art, we share a vision of how the Program relates to Cooper’s pedagogy and to the larger culture industry’s esoteric mechanisms of professionalism. While students have interned at long-established institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian–New York, they have also interned with smaller organizations in the East Village, such as Yara Arts Group, La MaMa La Galleria, and ABC No Rio. They have even interned with governmental agencies, most recently at the New York City Fire Department Photo Unit). This engagement teaches students about the larger diverse community of workplaces, builds meaningful respect, and helps strengthen social bonds. 

What led to this point?

With support from important organizations like the Surdna Foundation, the Loeb Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Program appears to have run uninterrupted since its inception in 1981. Clearly, Cooper  was an early proponent of experiential learning. But over the course of the last three years, the Program’s funding began to be scrutinized as part of a larger examination of funds and financial practices at The Cooper Union. And in the summer of 2013, The Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees passed endowment spending policies at the most conservative levels possible: this lowered the amount of available funds and dramatically reduced the number of participants in the Program to a handful of student interns. The situation was dire. While the new effort is technically more “resuscitation” than “reinstatement,” it is cause for celebration.

Why is the program important for students in the School of Art?

In terms of students, it complements the School of Art’s integrated curriculum and provides funded access to opportunities that students can utilize to give free rein to their intellectual curiosity and support their career research, while putting some cash in their pockets and adding to their résumés. Internships encourage the creation of professional relationships and create opportunities for collaboration. They also develop practical competencies, such as effective communication, technical proficiency, and contextual professional behavior, and help students  clarify career goals. Simply put, students in the Program are learning by doing, gaining practical experience by working on exciting projects with well-known artists and interesting arts organizations.

What kinds of internships have students pursued?

Students have interned with an impressive roster of artists who are committed to teaching Cooper students about their professional practices. They include Diana Al Hadid, Ofri Cnaani, Lucky DeBellevue, Pablo Helguera, Julian LaVerdiere, Ryan McGinley, Wangechi Mutu, Shelly Silver, Robert Polidori, Martha Rosler, Katrin Sigurdardottir, and William Villalongo, among many others. Organizational internship sites include: Anthology Film Archives, ArtforumArt Palestine International, Artists Space, Bruce High Quality Foundation, Cabinet Magazine, Creative Time, the Center for Book Arts, the CUE Art Foundation, Democracy Now!, Eye Beam: Art + Technology Center, The Kitchen, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan ArtNational Coalition Against Censorship, The New Yorker, Pentagram, Percent for Art, Phaidon Press, Printed Matter Inc., Random House, Inc., the Sculpture Center, Studio Museum in Harlem, and Vibe.

Alumni of the Professional Internship Program include Awol ErizkuSagi HavivSascha Braunig, Jenna Dublin, Ryan and Trevor OakesKiel ScottZak SmithCaroline Woolard, and Sofy Yuditskaya, among many other successful alumni.

How does the Program relate to all the controversies surrounding unpaid internships? For instance, why should The Cooper Union pay its interns instead of the internship site paying the students?

Yes, the increased regulation of unpaid internships is an important consideration. The Program views learning and teaching as the primary exchange value in the relationship, but perhaps paradoxically to some observers, The Cooper Union does not offer academic credit for internship experiences and regards interns as off-site employees of The Cooper Union. This allows interns to not only be compensated by Cooper, but also covered by The Cooper Union’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance, protecting students, internship sites, and the institution from liability. We also have many internship sites that post paid internships with the Career Center, and we diligently track and promote opportunities in relevant organizations of all kinds that offer paid learning experiences. Many organizations are doing great work in this area, and we want to connect more closely with them.

How can students apply now and how does it work?

Interested juniors and seniors in the School of Art are asked to contact me directly and in person to discuss eligibility. For those seeking support for internships this academic year, including in the spring semester, the deadline to express interest is Monday, November 3, 2014, at 11:59pm. I can be contacted at career@cooper.edu or 212/353-4384. I can often be found on the third floor of the Student Residence.

  • 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.