Reflecting on the Semester and Looking Ahead

Dear Cooper Union:

As we bring this semester to a close, I want to express my deep gratitude for the way this community has come together in the face of an extraordinary set of challenges. Each day, I have been impressed and inspired by the creativity, ingenuity, and care that our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and Board of Trustees have shown as we banded together, while being apart, to keep the essence and authenticity of The Cooper Union alive and well. From staff volunteers who designed and fabricated 1,500 face shields for frontline workers; to senior art students exhibiting their senior shows online and architecture’s online thesis reviews; to engineering faculty engaging and consulting with colleagues around the world to develop best practices for lab experiences online; to all who support our students and faculty - the librarians, IT staff, writing center instructors, and counselors. You all have proven what is possible and how new thinking and approaches can yield unexpected discoveries and meaningful outcomes through collaboration and commitment to one another.  

Perhaps nobody exhibits this resilience more than our graduating class.  I look forward to formally celebrating the commencement of their next chapter when we can return to the Great Hall together, but first we will mark their graduation with a special online event in their honor.  Please join us for a Tribute to the Class of 2020 on Wednesday, May 27 at 10:30 a.m. EST.

As we look ahead to our 2020/2021 academic year and as conversations across the country turn to the considerations of reopening cities and states, we are intensely focused on planning for The Cooper Union so that we can be prepared for whatever conditions we may be operating under in the months ahead. In doing this, we are guided by our commitments to:

  • uphold The Cooper Union’s educational mission; 
  • protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff;
  • engage students in an experience that is compelling, rich and inventive; and
  • sustain the long-term viability of the institution.  

At the same time, we know that so many individuals and families have been and will continue to be impacted personally by this pandemic.  The sense of loss and worry has been palpable, and yet the collective response we have seen to this adversity – the countless stories of classmates, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and strangers caring for one another – reminds us of our shared resilience and that our interconnectedness reaches far deeper than our physical connections. As the situation continues to evolve, change remains on our horizon, and particularly given what I have seen this semester, I have great confidence in our community as we navigate this time together to find the best way forward for The Cooper Union.

Looking Forward

Our teams have worked hard to prepare for our online summer due to extended stay-at-home orders and the uncertainty about when those orders might be lifted in New York City and other parts of the country, and we are ready. On Tuesday, May 26, we will open our summer session with a number of additional course sections added to accommodate students, both incoming and returning, who have asked for and will be taking advantage of these expanded offerings. 

For the fall, as we have shared previously, we are looking at the range of contexts in which we may find ourselves come August so that we will be ready for whatever our local, state, and national experts recommend or direct. It remains impossible to know for sure what we will face in the fall and beyond, and so we are particularly focused on developing plans for both in-person and online experiences that can be responsive to changing conditions and that truly reflect the ethos of a Cooper Union education.

Mindful that credible epidemiological studies project varying lengths and waves for the pandemic, we are developing options for Cooper that are flexible and can be extended or retracted, as necessary. Our aim is to make a decision for how we will operate this fall by mid-June. I know many of you are eager for this information, and I am, too.  I also know that, with the rapidly changing circumstances and uncertainty of how the virus will respond once stay-at-home orders are relaxed, we have a greater chance of getting this right if we can see how these next few weeks unfold in New York City and other areas and can learn from the insights and impact that develop as these places reopen.   

As we await this information, our planning continues in full force. While these efforts are coordinated in a centralized way, each academic dean has been engaging faculty, staff, and students to participate and help inform and shape our approach. This feedback has been, and will continue to be, collected through school-wide and small group meetings, seminars, and surveys. The feedback is essential for how we further evolve for the fall. Thank you for your engagement in this process. Together, we have learned so much this spring, and we will use these learnings to inform how to best move forward. 

No matter the format, our educational experience will continue to be distinctly Cooper Union – rigorous, creative, meaningful, and geared toward addressing the critical issues our society is facing. At a time when so much of what we have come to expect has been upended, we have an incredible opportunity to be in conversation with each other, through our education, about how we engage in the world; how individuals come together as part of a collective society; how we live, work, play, and otherwise engage in the physical realm when our prior understandings of space and time have been so significantly altered. While, in some ways, this is an incredibly challenging time to be in school, it will likely also prove to be one of the most fulfilling. Our community is one that presses for answers to complex questions; that interrogates whether what is must be; that searches for and creates new paths forward. This is a moment to delve deeply together into questions of humanity, ecology, and interdependency. This is the exact moment to be in education together, no matter the form it takes. While I am heartbroken that a global pandemic has brought us here and by all of the consequences it brings, I also welcome the questions it poses for us as a society, the ways in which it will force us to forge new paths. I look forward to our shared discourse as, together, we search for new ways to share this world with one another and to celebrate our ongoing rediscovery of the importance of our shared connection.

With gratitude, as always,

Laura Sparks

  • 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.