Welcome to Cooper: Fall 2021

Dear Cooper Union: 

It is with a tremendous sense of pleasure and gratitude that I welcome all of you to The Cooper Union!  Whether you arrived on Cooper Square for the first time last week or have returned to familiar spaces like classrooms and offices for the first time in quite a while, I hope you feel the wonder and possibility of this place and the incredible gift it is to be experiencing it all together.   

I first want to thank our faculty and staff for all the of the planning and preparation that have gotten us to this, our first day of the fall semester, in person, here in New York City.  Every department has mobilized for our return to campus.  In particular, our Facilities team and members of the Health and Safety Committee have, since March 2020, responded to every change and anticipated important challenges brought on by the pandemic, developing meticulous protocols informed by science and public health guidelines for managing and cleaning our physical spaces and establishing masking, testing, and vaccine policies that are allowing us to be together now. 

Thank you to our deans and faculty for reimagining curriculum and pedagogy yet again, this time integrating the best of all we learned from more than a year of online teaching into the resumption of in-person engagement in classrooms, studios, and labs.  

Thanks to the Student Affairs team for hosting a welcoming Orientation experience last week for first-year students, their families, and many second-year students and families who are getting their initial in-person look at Cooper, as well. It was such a joy to talk with students at Saturday’s picnic who were meeting in person after a year of learning together on a screen. 

And, most importantly, thank you to all of our students.  To all of our returning students, your resilience and creativity in light of the challenges we all experienced over the last three semesters were simply remarkable.  I was impressed at every turn with how you made the most of your virtual learning – from your at-home spaces of making, creativity, and experimentation to the innovative, online End of Year Shows.  Now, along with our incoming first-year class of talented, diverse, and highly engaged students, it is time to reconnect and revitalize what it means to be pursuing new knowledge and exploring intellectual curiosities together.  I can’t wait to see you all in action in the coming days. 

For those of you who have returned to campus, you might notice that some of our physical space looks different.  One of the major changes is the exciting IDC Foundation Art, Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (AACE) Lab in the Foundation Building.  While many of you relied on the AACE Lab remotely last year, please know that it is open and ready for you to explore this fall.  It was clear as I toured the space with new students on Wednesday that ideas for interdisciplinary projects that can come to life in the AACE Lab are already flowing.  

As I shared in my summer message, other new interdisciplinary spaces will be coming online in October.  Adjacent to 41 Cooper Square will be the new Civic Projects Lab, which will have open work and maker spaces for student and faculty collaborations that are in the public interest.  Next door to the Civic Projects Lab will be The Hub (accessible from E 6th Street), a new central location for information and questions about enrollment, financial aid and scholarships, student accounts, and more.  And in the coming months, both in the Foundation Building and 41 Cooper, you’ll find more informal lounge space, more comfortable lobby seating, and in response to requests from students, a meditation space off the hallway that leads into the Rose Auditorium. 

Also new to Cooper are 48 full- and part-time faculty members – 12 in The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture; 17 in the School of Art; 8 in the Albert Nerken School of Engineering; and 11 in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.  We are thrilled to welcome such a diverse and accomplished group of scholars, teachers, and practitioners.  

I also communicated previously that this semester will mark a time of leadership transition for both the School of Architecture and HSS.  Nader Tehrani begins his final academic year as dean of the School of Architecture, after which he will join the full-time faculty. We will formulate a search committee to identify Dean Tehrani’s successor this fall.  With HSS Acting Dean Anne Griffin’s retirement last spring, I will be spending more of my time this semester working directly with faculty to develop a future vision for HSS, which is central to a Cooper Union education.  As part of that work, a Visiting Committee of scholars from other colleges and universities will also convene to review our current HSS program and provide their thoughts on reimagining its future.  I am pleased to report that Ben Vinson III, provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), has accepted our invitation to chair the Visiting Committee.  A historian of Latin America, Dr. Vinson is an accomplished academician and administrator.  At CWRU, he has led the university’s strategic planning initiative, which has received national recognition for its innovative and inclusive process.  Prior to joining CWRU, Dr. Vinson served on the faculties of Barnard College and Penn State before joining Johns Hopkins as a professor of history and founding director of its Center for Africana Studies. He is also chairman of the board of the National Humanities Center, a member of the board of the National Humanities Alliance, serves on the advisory board for Dartmouth’s Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, and is a member of the Association of American Universities’ (AAU) Advisory Board for Racial Equity in Higher Education.  I look forward to sharing updates on both of these transitions with you as they evolve. 

We enter this year with both great enthusiasm about being back together at Cooper and a palpable awareness of and connection to the challenges that we confront as a society every day. From human rights violations around the world that are once again heightened, to the continued pursuit of racial justice here at home, to the global pandemic that continues to threaten daily life as we knew it, we are faced with new questions, uncertainty, and heartache every day. We are also faced with tremendous opportunity to examine and address these challenges together, to build our collective strength by supporting one another. It is through our collective resilience and creativity that we will thrive and seed new ideas that can inspire and make a difference despite the many obstacles around us.  

Nurturing and caring for our sense of community are central to this. With nearly half of our students new to Cooper Square and nearly 50 new faculty joining us this fall, it’s been incredible to see how, already, a wonderful sense of camaraderie and community is building.  I look forward to seeing this continue to deepen this semester. I am also pleased to report that more than 650 COVID tests were administered on move-in day last week with zero positive cases; nearly 99% of faculty, staff, and students are vaccinated; and seamless compliance with masking protocols was evident this past week.  We are working through the weekly on-campus testing process, and we thank everyone for their understanding during the long waits on Monday.  

Every one of us is working hard to protect ourselves as individuals and those around us. Life will get busy in the days and weeks ahead. It could be easy to fall into old habits or to lose the benefits we’ve gained from learning to do things in new ways. Let’s work hard to guard against that as we see our way through to brighter days. We will all benefit from a commitment to flexibility, kindness, and a generous spirit in this dynamic environment. It will take each and every one of us making a concerted effort to do our part to lift our community up in these extraordinary times, and I have every confidence that we can to it, 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.