Welcome Back Message from Laura Sparks

Welcome back to The Cooper Union! 

Last week, I had the pleasure and honor of welcoming to Cooper our newest students. There are few words that can describe the excitement I felt as I talked with them. They are talented. They are excited. They have so much to contribute. They are eager to learn, to grow, and to help us do both. Our future is bright.

The start of a new school year comes quickly, and I hope that your summer was filled with things that inspire and recharge you.  For me, that included time in June to take a step back with our Board of Trustees and then with our academic and administrative leadership team to reflect on the many things that you all – students, faculty, and staff – have shared with us about your aspirations for The Cooper Union.  It also included work in July to generate ideas and build plans that are fueled by your thinking, and space in August to spend coveted time away with my family. I made time to lace up my sneakers and run alongside the breathtaking waterways of Cape Cod, and as my mind raced and wandered on those long runs, I reminded myself of the importance of feeding body and soul with family, friends, fresh air, physical activity, and work that I love.

By almost all measures, last year was intense and productive. Together, we:

  • successfully completed our decennial reaccreditation process with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education;
  • exceeded our financial goals for the year;
  • hired two deans to lead our schools of art and engineering, placed an acting dean to lead HSS, and strategically restructured many aspects of our organization to be more effective and efficient;
  • welcomed four new full-time faculty members, two each in the schools of architecture and engineering, and our wonderful adjunct faculty;
  • laid the groundwork for new opportunities in multi-disciplinary learning and making;
  • re-energized our historic Great Hall and attracted the attention of new audiences and new friends of The Cooper Union; and
  • shared thoughts and hopes that will inform our future as we work together this year to articulate a set of institutional goals and strategic priorities to achieve the aspirations set forth in our new vision and mission statements.

And, importantly, the Board of Trustees delivered a landmark vote to affirm moving The Cooper Union forward toward full-tuition scholarships for all students, supported by a 10-year financial plan to achieve that goal, as we build our financial health and re-invest in our academic program and facilities. If we meet our financial goals again this year, we will take an important step in that plan to begin increasing scholarship amounts as soon as next year.

This, my friends, is great progress. While we have much work ahead of us, this progress has shown us what is possible when we work together collaboratively. Our collective achievements have created a tangible new energy that has afforded us the opportunity to do great things with great purpose, engage supporters old and new, and rightly refocus our work on the exceptional depth of inquiry and practice that defines the Cooper Union experience and generates the outsized impact that Cooper has on the world. 

We know from research that some of the most creative and effective solutions to challenging problems are developed when people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives feel safe and connected enough to share new ideas, to take risks in putting forth early thoughts, to trust others to build on those thoughts and ideas with us, and to craft a future together. We know that individual skills are important but that it is the interaction among individuals that makes the difference. It is often easier to work alone – less time consuming, fewer differing views to reconcile, less vulnerability – but, in doing so, we also miss opportunities to build new thinking and new paths forward that can be nurtured and sustained by many. It is in this vein that I ask us to commit this year to reaching out in new ways, to building bridges with those who may think differently, and to exploring partnerships with those we might have previously thought to be unlikely collaborators.

We will soon be absorbed in hectic schedules, immersed in intensive coursework, swept up in studios and labs. Let’s take time now to commit to our common purpose, to taking care of one another, and to regularly renewing body, mind, and soul. Consider finding ways to build into your day a breath of fresh air (check out the community space we are piloting in September and October on the Alumni Terrace in 41 Cooper Square), some physical activity (what better place to take a walk than the streets of the East Village), a chance to quiet your mind (one of many reasons to visit the library), an opportunity to learn about something new from someone new in a classroom, in our Great Hall, and across the incredible city of New York. As you are mapping out your plans for the semester, please look out for the many ways in which we can stay connected and round out our time at The Cooper Union.

Here are a few highlights for your immediate consideration:

Convocation – Today!

ConvocationLet’s start the school year together.  I encourage each and every one of you to carve out just 30 minutes today from 12 noon to 12:30 for a Cooper Union Convocation in the Great Hall. It will be a great way to reconnect and, as advertised, a few surprises just may be revealed about some of your Cooper favorites.  I hope to see you all there. Lunch will be served!



Debate – Thursday, September 6

AGThe nation lost an American patriot last week with the passing of Senator John McCain.  In the words of so many who eulogized him, the Senator’s own words were often restated, particularly in the context of the current divisiveness of American politics:  “We’re better than this.  America is better than this.”  I believe that is true, and we all have a responsibility to make it so.  We begin the academic year amidst a mid-term election season that – like all election seasons – represents significant opportunity and demands our engagement.  The Cooper Union, as it has been since Peter Cooper opened the Great Hall, is a home for that civic engagement, for productive public discourse, for generating new ideas, and for contributing to a better path forward.

It is in that spirit that The Cooper Union has teamed up with WNYC to host a debate this Thursday, September 6 at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall for the Democratic candidates for New York State Attorney General.  New York’s next Attorney General is likely to play an increasingly pivotal role in state and national affairs. In what is likely to be the final debate for these candidates before the September 13 primaries, Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York, and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, NYU School of Law, will join WNYC's Brian Lehrer to co-moderate the debate, which will also feature panelists from New York-based nonprofits that belong to New Yorkers for Responsible Lending (NYRL) coalition. The debate will be broadcast live on WNYC 93.9FM and AM820 and will be livestreamed on www.Facebook.com/cooperunion, www.youtube.com/cooperunion, and www.CAFE.com.  We’re expecting a full house, but we’ve held 75 seats for Cooper students, faculty, and staff.  Reserve yours by emailing Crystal Ortiz by the end of today.  (If demand exceeds the 75 tickets, we’ll hold a lottery for seats.)

Film Screening – September 12

DawsonNext week in the Great Hall, you can meet and help to welcome home an alumnus while adding another layer of depth to what we are learning here at Cooper. On September 12 at 6:30 p.m., the School of Art will present a screening of Dawson City: Frozen Time. Directed by Bill Morrison A'89, the film – a meditation on cinema’s past – pieces together the bizarre true history of a long-lost collection of 533 nitrate film prints from the early 1900s.  A Q&A with Bill Morrison and Dean Mike Essl will immediately follow the screening. Reserve your seat here.  


Exhibition  – October 3 – December 2

we dissentCooper was a forum for women’s rights in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Suffragist leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke and organized in the Great Hall, and the first feminist mass meeting was held here in 1914.  This fall, WE DISSENT… will operate a timely reconsideration of the margins and theoretical frameworks of the women’s movement. The exhibition will present a large diversity of printed matters and artifacts created by women artists and designers, from the 1860s to today, at the intersection of feminism and social movements.  Stéphanie Jeanjean, adjunct assistant professor of art history in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Alexander Tochilovsky, curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, co-curated the exhibition.

There are already dozens of events and exhibitions scheduled for the fall semester; most are free and open to the public and all serve as examples of the kind of role Cooper can and will continue to play in the artistic and civic life of New York City and the nation. Check the Cooper website often and take advantage of this programming.

There is much to be excited about at The Cooper Union. The beginning of a school year is always a time of new beginnings and new possibilities. This year, I feel like we’re jumping in from a renewed position of strength and momentum, thanks in large part to all of you. I thank you for that and look forward to a wonderful year ahead with all of you.

With gratitude,


  • 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.