Summer 2021 Message from President Sparks
Dear Cooper Union:
Happy summer, everyone! I hope this message finds you enjoying all that you love best about this time of year. It is especially important, after all the challenges and complexities we have experienced since early 2020, to use these summer months intentionally – to take time off, do what you love, recharge, reconnect, and recalibrate the balance we all need for ourselves. I, too, am heeding that advice, enjoying time with my family, while also reflecting on all that transpired this past year and looking forward to all that’s ahead. And with a careful eye on all of the emerging information on the impact of the COVID variants, we prepare to welcome our full community back to Cooper in the fall (more on that below).
Our 2020/21 Academic Year
To say that I am impressed and inspired by the ingenuity and collaborative spirit of the Cooper community is an understatement. In a year-plus that required us to rethink nearly everything about our academic, professional, and personal lives, we found new ways to support one another, maintain the integrity and rigor of a Cooper Union education, and persevere to keep our community whole. As I look back, here are some of those highlights:
- Over the course of the pandemic, Cooper has distributed $1 million in emergency relief funding to our students. That included federal relief funding via the CARES Act and more than $300,000 from donors for students who may not have qualified for federal aid. Nearly 70% of students received funding.
- In a year that was extraordinarily challenging for colleges and universities, many of our peers announced personnel reductions and salary cuts. I know those were very difficult decisions for those institutions, and I am grateful that Cooper was not in a position to have to make them. Instead, because of the discipline and sacrifices that we all worked through together, we were able to protect salaries, benefits, and jobs.
- We continued to invest in our academic programs with important, new offerings like the HSS minor, Bioengineering minor, and Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) course structure. With the expertise and collaboration of the engineering faculty, we also developed plans for a Computer Science major from the ground up and are now in the process of seeking funding to launch it.
- We continued to deliver on our financial goals as defined by our 10-Year Plan to return to full-tuition scholarships by 2029. Despite the hardship of the pandemic, we met Plan in both of the last two fiscal years, the most recent one ending on June 30, 2021. As a result, we have held tuition flat for three consecutive years and continue to increase scholarship levels consistent with the Plan. Every single undergraduate receives a scholarship that covers a minimum of 50% of tuition – and, on average, 78% of all undergraduate tuition is covered.
- In closing out the spring semester, it was so rewarding to celebrate not one, but two graduating classes in a hybrid Commencement Day on May 26, 2021. Gathering in person were 197 members of the Class of 2021 and 130 graduates from the Class of 2020. Each walked across the storied Great Hall stage in separate ceremonies for each school over the course of eight hours to accommodate testing, social distancing, and cleaning protocols between groups. Many were joined by up to two guests and, following their ceremonies, met up with classmates and colleagues at school-specific gatherings at The Bowery Hotel. In all, nearly 1,000 members of our community celebrated at Cooper, and the events were viewed online that day and in the days that followed by hundreds of others, including graduates, family, and friends who were unable to be in New York City. It was an absolute thrill to officially recognize the achievements of these accomplished graduates in a way that felt like a return to a treasured tradition, reimagined with creativity, care, and a commitment to celebrating our community. My thanks to the staff and faculty who were part of the commencement planning committee that managed every detail to create a beautiful experience. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to view this video and photo gallery on cooper.edu for highlights. Congratulations again to all!
- The 2021 End of Year Shows also showcased the innovation and creativity of Cooper students. All three schools went virtual again this year – you can access the shows here – and while we look forward to the possibility of reinstituting in-person shows in 2022, the reality is we’ve learned so much about the reach and impact of virtual programming that a mix of in-person and online will remain as a part of our new normal so that we can share our work with as many people as possible.
- In fact, an online/in-person event last month marked the return of a live audience for Great Hall public programming. On Monday, June 21, we welcomed Emmy Award winner and Tony and Golden Globe nominee John Leguizamo to The Cooper Union for a talk he called “Ghetto Nerd Power.” Nearly 400 people attended in person with nearly 200 more viewing the livestream to hear Mr. Leguizamo’s perspective on equity, inclusion, and Latinx representation in the entertainment industry and education, too. Not only was it the Great Hall’s first in-person public program in 16 months, it also marked Mr. Leguizamo’s return to performance in front of a live audience since the onset of the pandemic.
With great care and discipline, we managed through the pandemic with the kind of focus and aspiration that advanced our academic programs, community experiences, and overall progress toward long-term goals. I am proud of and grateful for all that we have accomplished together during a truly extraordinary time. Now, we look ahead to fall.
Return to Cooper This Fall
Return to an In-Person Experience
As you all know from our prior announcements, we look forward to welcoming everyone back to Cooper in person for the fall semester. It is so gratifying to see plans taking shape to reactivate our buildings and Cooper Square. From new student orientation, a campus open house, and welcome-back picnic all happening in late August to new spaces being readied and public programs and lectures being scheduled, we are busy getting ready for your return.
As we look toward the fall semester, there will be a few leadership changes ahead. The 2021/22 academic year will mark School of Architecture Dean Nader Tehrani’s last year as dean. Dean Tehrani began his time here in 2015, and I am incredibly grateful for all he has brought to the program and our students. His focus has been on developing students as globally informed thinkers and designers who can contribute to the evolution of the practice of architecture. That commitment has been borne out through a restructuring of the first- and second-year required curriculum, which now includes photography, animation, computation and other digital tools as ways to analyze architecture; history and theory courses that have broadened beyond Western canons through a combination of new full-time, adjunct, and visiting faculty; and new, required “Environments” courses introduced in the 2018-2019 academic year that are exploring the urgent and critical issue of whether architecture will exacerbate or mitigate climate change.
In addition, Anne Griffin, our Acting Dean for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has retired from Cooper to pursue the completion of her current book. Anne stepped in as acting dean at a critical juncture for us a few years ago following her work as a member of the HSS faculty since 1978. Under Dean Griffin’s leadership, HSS has continued to evolve as a foundation of Cooper’s interdisciplinary learning and toward a decolonized curriculum that engages with issues of social justice and prepares students for engaged citizenship, attentive to the social and humanistic implications of professional practice. Notable advancements included the hiring of a full-time economist in response to changing programmatic needs and requests for more in-depth economics offerings for students. With this expansion, students can minor in Economics and Public Policy, a specific subset of the new HSS minor. There has also been significant work to expand and establish a more globalized perspective for the curriculum, including new courses that will be offered on a rotating basis such as Art as Social Practice, African American Art, 20th Century Asian American Art, Screening Politics in Latin America, and a social sciences course on Immigrants in Place. My thanks to HSS faculty and staff, including our visiting and adjunct professors, for contributing to this progress. Additionally, in the fall, a Visiting Committee of external scholars will engage with faculty and review the curriculum to offer us their thoughts on the program. They will assess and, where needed, offer their thoughts on how we might reimagine the structure, curriculum, and pedagogical approaches of the Humanities and Social Sciences at The Cooper Union.
We are incredibly grateful to both Nader and Anne for all they have given to The Cooper Union and pleased that both will remain connected to Cooper in teaching capacities. Over the course of the coming academic year, we will engage in searches for both positions and integrate opportunities for community discourse throughout the process.
A silver lining of learning and working remotely for most of the last year-and-a-half is that we were able to really think about our physical space and how to best use it to maximize student and faculty engagement and connections within and across disciplines. Several projects are underway this summer, as a result, including:
- New, Interdepartmental Spaces of Making – I know many of you are excited to finally experiment with all of the equipment and technology in our new AACE Lab, which was completed and fully opened in December 2020 and supported many of you remotely last semester. In addition, a new studio and presentation space – the Civic Projects Lab – will open this fall on the first floor of 41 Cooper Square. Students and faculty provided critical input in the design process for this space last spring.
- New Welcome Center – A much-needed destination for students and visitors will open next door to the Civic Projects Lab in 41 Cooper Square, also this fall. The Welcome Center will be a new central location and resource for information and questions about enrollment, financial aid and scholarships, student accounts, and more.
- Redesigned School Spaces – You might recall that in early 2020, the School of Architecture’s studio was redesigned. Underway now, after a pause from the pandemic, is a redesigned photo lab for the School of Art, and a reconfigured dean’s suite for the School of Engineering to provide space for the entire team in one area along with new meeting space.
- Library Redesign – For many years there has been much discussion on how to better utilize and energize the library. During the downtime of the pandemic, there was an opportunity to evaluate the space guided by a panel of faculty and staff from all three schools, HSS, the library, and Center for Writing. In the fall, we will host a series of community engagement sessions to gather input for a redesign that we anticipate will begin in June of 2022.
- More Welcoming Student Spaces – In both the Foundation Building and 41 Cooper, we are also integrating more casual places for students, staff, and faculty to connect with more informal lounge space, more comfortable lobby seating, and a sought-after prayer and quiet meditation space.
Across the board, Cooper’s facilities team and health and safety committee completely restructured our cleaning, testing, and maintenance protocols to meet all of the public health guidelines to help keep spaces sanitized and mitigate virus transmission. With misters, upgraded air filters and monthly air quality and water testing, the team is prepared to respond quickly to any changing requirements from city and state officials. From a virus mitigation standpoint, we also announced earlier this month that vaccinations would be required for students, faculty, and staff to be on campus this fall. You can find that announcement here; please note the Aug. 19, 2021 deadline for uploading proof of vaccination. You will soon see information from IT about how to upload your vaccine information. As we have all seen, the pandemic is not yet over as variants continue to impact people, particularly those who are unvaccinated, in cities and states across the country. We are keeping a close watch on public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as from state and city officials and have a plan in place to adjust and evolve as necessary.
There will be so much more to share with all of you in the coming weeks, particularly as we prepare to welcome our first-year students and get ready to introduce our second-year students to Cooper Square for the first time, too.
It’s been a long time since we were all together. I am exceedingly proud of and grateful for how we persevered while apart. And I am excited for all we will accomplish again as we move forward. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer!