Welcome Back to School 2019

The below message was sent to the Cooper Community on Tuesday, September 3, 2019.

Dear Cooper Union:

Welcome back! It is exciting to see all of our faculty and students back on Cooper Square. It just hasn’t been the same here without you! I had the opportunity to get to know our new first-year students last week during orientation, and I am delighted that you, too, are now joining our full community.

I love the promise of new beginnings, and the beginning of a new school year represents that for me more than any other time of the year. It has to do with our hopes for the upcoming year, the way we make space for one another, the experiences we create together, and our ability to deliver on our promises. Over the last few years, we have come together to do the hard work that is shaping the future of The Cooper Union. Through our collective strategic planning, we developed a set of priorities and initiatives designed to address areas and issues that are critical to our pedagogy, practice, sustainability, and vitality. We are thinking and working differently, and we are making demonstrable progress.

As a way of level-setting at the outset of a new academic year, you can review our Institutional Goals and Strategic Priorities – all are in service of our shared mission and vision for The Cooper Union.

I’m so pleased to be able to share a few updates that demonstrate our shared progress in delivering on our promise to each other and to The Cooper Union.

Increasing Scholarships

To start, I’m pleased to announce that for the first time since tuition was instituted at Cooper in 2014, we have increased scholarship levels for the 2019-2020 academic year so that, on average, 77% of tuition is covered for all undergraduates. This was accomplished while holding fast to a 0% tuition increase for the year, and it is the incremental, positive change that we planned for as part of our 10-year plan to return to full-tuition scholarships. It is tangible evidence of our continuing turnaround; one that is positioning Cooper for long-term financial stability, continued academic excellence, and an ongoing, meaningful role in the civic life of New York City and the nation. I am proud of our collective ability to reach this first, important milestone of the plan; grateful for the generosity of donors, including so many of you, who helped us get here; and appreciative of our Trustees’ leadership. We are officially in Year 3 of our 10-year plan, and there remains much more ground to cover, but I am inspired by our strong start!

Building Cooper’s Culture

As important as building financial health is, so is being intentional about the wellbeing of our community and building opportunities for connections among us. We begin another semester surrounded by national and world news that continues to feel unsettling and divisive. As a community of people who value the pursuit of knowledge and truth, who are committed to science, who push boundaries and investigate new questions, who design solutions and new ways of looking at our world, it is imperative that we make room for each other in all of that. It’s imperative that we learn from our differing perspectives, that we debate and question with both rigor and respect, and that we are mindful of being a brave space, a place of refuge, where it’s ok to unpack all that’s happening around us in order to find the best path forward. It’s also ok to know that sometimes we all need a break, whether it’s a brisk walk, coffee with a friend, a few minutes of quiet meditation, or absorbing the creative works of a museum or a performance. It’s different for all of us, and we must pay attention to our own needs in productive ways and those of our friends, classmates, and colleagues, too.

The care and feeding of community happens informally and formally. Look for a schedule of community dinners coming soon as well as other gatherings designed to increase our connections across schools and disciplines. Also, coming this month will be newly furnished, casual student spaces throughout 41 Cooper, and later this year, we’ll introduce designated faculty lounge space, too. I look forward to catching up with many of you in those spots!

Public Service & Civic Leadership in the Great Hall

Another great way to connect with one another is by attending Great Hall programming together. A new season is shaping up, including a special “Right Makes Might” series in honor of the 160thanniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s defining “Right Makes Might” speech, which happened in our very own Great Hall, and some very important student-curated programming on the critical issue of climate change. These events bring a variety of voices to the Great Hall to share perspectives on many of the issues that are impacting and influencing the complexities of the world around us. These programs offer an avenue beyond Cooper classrooms where we can engage, learn, and shape our own views and perhaps our own activism, as has been the legacy of the Great Hall since the mid-1800s. Here’s a look at a few of our early fall events. See the complete listings.

I look forward to marking the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year with our full Cooper community on Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 12-12:30 p.m. for Convocation. Meet you in the Great Hall!

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, join renowned author Naomi Klein at the Great Hall for a free, public discussion of her latest book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. With reports spanning from the Amazon and the ghostly Great Barrier Reef, to the annual smoke-choked skies of the Pacific Northwest, to post-hurricane Puerto Rico, Klein makes the case that we will rise to the existential challenge of climate change only if we are willing to transform the systems that produced this crisis. Klein will be joined by Varshini Prakash, the executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement.

On Friday, Sept. 20, during this free, open event, hear from leading voices on Debating the Electoral College, a John Jay Iselin Memorial Lecture. Panelists will include Neal Peirce, author of The People’s President, the reigning standard for reforming the voting process, John R. Koza, who drafted the National Popular Vote bill which has been enacted into law in 15 states, Tara Ross, author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, and Trent England, a conservative legal scholar and policy expert. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell moderates this discussion on whether the Electoral College is an essential element of our democracy or an obstacle to it.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, hear Sidney Blumenthal, the acclaimed author of two previous volumes on Abraham Lincoln, recount Lincoln’s astonishing return from the political desert and ascent to the presidency, including his landmark speech at Cooper Union in February 1860. In the talk, which free and open to the public, Blumenthal discusses his latest book, All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856-1860 (Simon & Schuster), which is the third volume of a projected five-part work.

Cooper Union x Climate Week – Tuesday, Sept. 17 through Thursday, Sept. 26 This month’s examination of climate change is coming to us thanks to the leadership of our students. Since the spring, a group of students and faculty have curated a series of discussions that are free and open to the Cooper community and the public. Their work to champion investigation of such a critical issue serves as an example to us all. Following the kick-off with Naomi Klein on Sept. 17, the conversations will continue as follows:

Youth Climate Activist Discussion: A Roundtable with Leaders from the NYC Climate Movement
Thursday, Sept. 19
from 6-9 p.m. in the Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square
A roundtable with testimonials from youth climate leaders from Fridays for Future, Earth Uprising, Zero Hour, XR Youth, and Sunrise. After the roundtable, there will be a poster-making session for the strike the following day. RSVP by Sept. 16.

Meet-Up for Students Attending Global Climate Strike
Friday, Sept. 20
from 10:30-11 a.m. in front of Foundation Building
Breakfast and meet-up for students attending the Global Climate Strike that will be starting at Union Square at 12 noon. No RSVP required.

Meatless Monday
Monday, Sept. 23
, all day at Frankie’s Cafeteria
Frankie’s Café is going meatless for the Monday of Climate Week.

The Inescapable Climate Revolution: Are We Finally There
Monday, Sept. 23
from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Great Hall
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change organization, and marine biologist, policy expert, and strategist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson discuss the current climate movement. Register here.

Exhibition Opening
Tuesday, Sept. 24
from 6 to 8 p.m., 6th Floor Lobby of the Foundation Building
The Exhibition will be open through Sept. 29th to showcase student work from the Schools of Art, Architecture, and Engineering that grapples with ways of fixing and coping with the current climate crisis. No RSVP required.

Youth Activist Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 24
from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Room 712 of the Foundation Building
The final meeting of Fridays for Future NYC’s Youth Activist Training Program will be hosted and open to the public. The topic of the workshop will be how to move forward following the Sept. 20th Global Climate Strike.

Because It’s 68 Degrees in December: A Night with Fia Backström and Gabriela Salazar
Wednesday, Sept. 25
from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square
In this conversation, artists Fia Backstrom and Gabriela Salazar will address why the climate crisis, a now unavoidable topic, presides in their practice.

Teaching in a Warmer World: Faculty Meet-Up
Thursday, Sept. 26
from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Alumni Roof Terrace, 41 Cooper Square
A meet-up for post-secondary faculty to discuss pedagogy, curricular reform, and institutional change in the era of climate change. For more information, email Kit Nicholls or Amanda Simson.

I hope to see you at these and other Cooper events this month and throughout the year. These programs, along with the news shared in this message, speak to the important capacity and culture building that is happening across The Cooper Union. We are creating opportunity for new ideas and new approaches to help propel our plan, our vision, and our learning forward. I am exceedingly gratified for all that you contribute collectively and individually, and I look forward with great anticipation to the promise of our new year together.

With gratitude,


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.