Welcoming New Employees & Aligning Saturday and Outreach Art Programs

From President Sparks:

I hope this issue of CUrrents finds the beginning of your academic year off to an exciting start. I'm delighted to see you all back here on campus and look forward to the great promise and possibility this year holds for our community. Each of you plays an integral role in all that Cooper continues to achieve and pursue. It is the commitment and ingenuity of our faculty and staff that have been—and will continue to be—essential to the work of creating a financially sustainable institution that leads by example across our schools, our academic programs and pedagogy, our promise to return to full-tuition scholarships, and in our promotion of civil discourse and engagement on important civic issues.
Building and supporting the team here at Cooper is a critical component to our success. We have been hard at work since the spring to identify the leading candidates for administrative and faculty positions, and I am pleased to introduce you to several new members of the Cooper community and to others whose roles have changed and grown here.

As you may know, after serving as Acting Dean of HSS since the fall of 2017, Peter Buckley stepped down from that role at the end of the semester in May. I have been especially grateful for Peter’s contributions since my arrival here at Cooper. His institutional knowledge as our resident historian is unmatched, and his insights throughout our strategic planning process as well as our work to evolve Cooper’s mission and vision were invaluable. He has impressed me time and again with his willingness and enthusiasm to think unconventionally about potential future paths for The Cooper Union.

The importance of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Cooper cannot be overstated. It is a critical element of our students’ academic community, as it is in these classrooms where all of our students come together, regardless of professional discipline. It is also a curriculum about which our students have strong opinions, which they amplified this past year. To continue to address those issues—about diversity, decolonization, and pedagogy—while also continuing to elevate the Humanities and Social Sciences as critical areas of study that inform students’ understandings, engagements, and practices, we have further evolved the HSS leadership roles, and I am pleased to announce the following:


Anne Griffin has assumed the role of Acting Dean of HSS. Anne has been a full-time faculty member in HSS since 1978, teaching both the core curriculum and advanced electives in political science. Anne will serve in this capacity as the Council on Shared Learning completes its work and makes recommendations on the shared literacies, inquiries, and proficiencies in a holistic education that serve to make students’ time at The Cooper Union relevant, compelling, and distinctive, regardless of their professional field of study. We expect these recommendations to inform our next leadership decisions.

We have also created a new position of Assistant Dean of HSS to support the faculty’s critical efforts on issues of diversity and decolonization. Nada Ayad has returned to Cooper in this capacity and will provide additional administrative support for HSS as the program that engages the most students.

Nada was a postdoctoral fellow in comparative literature here at Cooper before taking a role as assistant professor of world literature at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2018. Her research focuses on 20th and 21st century Arabic literature, women of color feminisms, theories and literatures of decolonization, and translation studies. She has also translated contemporary cultural texts from French and Arabic. In her new role, Nada will support the dean’s office as a resource for faculty and staff; provide support and leadership by partnering with faculty on issues of diversity and decolonization; support faculty, staff, and student diversity and inclusion efforts across the institution; and also provide leadership support for evolving Cooper’s interdisciplinary learning initiatives.

Loujaina Abdelwahed joins HSS as a new full-time assistant professor of economics. She earned her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research includes work in development economics and applied macroeconomics, with specific focus on foreign aid and natural resources windfalls, and their impact of fiscal decisions in developing countries.

We welcome one new and one returning postdoc to HSS this semester: Rose Oluronke Ojo-Ajayi (right) is a new postdoctoral fellow in art history specializing in contemporary art of the African diaspora. Ninad Pandit has returned to Cooper to continue his postdoctoral work in social science.

David Gersten has taken on a new position within HSS to lead initiatives focused on interdisciplinary learning. He will also continue teaching as an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture.


Hayley Eber is joining as the new Assistant Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. Hayley is an architect, designer, and educator who teaches as an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union and is the principal of EFGH. She has stepped in to fill administrative duties as Elizabeth O'Donnell prepares to transition out of her current role as associate dean.

We also welcome two new full-time faculty members in architecture who will help us evolve and expand the school's curriculum in critical directions:

Nora Akawi is a new assistant professor of architecture. She is a New York-based architect whose work is focused on the expansion of the geographies and languages within contemporary repertoires of architecture history, theory, and representation, particularly at the intersection of urban and environmental justice, collective memory, and architecture.

Lydia Kallipoliti also joins us as a new assistant professor of architecture. Her background in both architecture and engineering brings a theoretical and historical perspective to questions of the environment that stands to change the nature of inter-disciplinary research undertaken in the school of architecture.


Coco Fusco is joining the School of Art faculty as a guest associate professor while on a leave of absence from the University of Florida. She is an interdisciplinary artist and writer and recipient of a 2018 Rabkin Prize for Art Criticism, a 2016 Greenfield Prize, a 2014 Cintas Fellowship, and a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship among others.

We welcome Fia Backström as a new assistant professor. She is an interdisciplinary artist and writer who represented Sweden in the Venice Biennale 2011 and was included in the Whitney Biennial 2008 and Greater New York, PS1 in 2016. She was also the artist represented for the Artist's Institute season of Fall 2015.

Cristóbal Lehyt, formerly an adjunct professor, will assume a new role as assistant professor. His work, which spans different media, has been shown at the Carpenter Center, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Fundación Telefonica Chile, Or Gallery, Kunsthaus Dresden, and The Shanghai Biennale among others.

Doug Ashford, formerly a proportional time faculty member, is now associate professor of art. He is a 1981 Cooper graduate and has taught here since 1989. Doug’s principle art practice from 1983 until 1996 was Group Material, a collaborative project that used exhibition design and social practice in museums and other public spaces to imagine new political forms.


I am pleased to announce Lisa A. Shay has assumed the role of Associate Dean for Educational Innovation at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering. She comes to Cooper from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she was Director of the Electrical Engineering Program.

Lisa recently retired from a distinguished career of 30 years in the United States Army. During this time, she served in numerous leadership positions while stationed in the United States and abroad. She retired with the rank of colonel.

Nori Perez joins as administrative manager, reporting to Dean Barry Shoop. She has over 20 years of experience working as an administrative support professional and corporate paralegal. Nori is also part of an urban farming cooperative in the Bronx led by other Black and Latina women and their allies who are committed to building healthy neighborhoods.


After a comprehensive, national search, we found Cooper’s new Vice President of Enrollment… and he was literally right around the corner. Mark Campbell joined Cooper in July to head up Admissions, Financial Aid, and the Registrar’s Office. He comes to us from The New School here in New York where he also led strategic enrollment management.

Mark’s deep understanding of a student’s collegiate life cycle—from inquiry and application through admission, retention, and successful completion of an academic program—will be key to building comprehensive enrollment strategies across our schools. However, it was his student-first focus that was strikingly evident in virtually every conversation he had here that made Mark our top candidate for this critically important leadership position here at Cooper.


Terri Coppersmith also joined us in July as Cooper’s new Vice President of Alumni Affairs & Development. Terri comes to us with more than 20 years of nonprofit fundraising experience. She describes herself as an entrepreneurial leader, and her track record speaks to her success in aligning public and private partners around a shared vision to create sustainable organizations and enriched communities.

She most recently served as the Chief Development and External Affairs Officer for the World Science Festival here in New York, and for 13 years, served in similar leadership capacities for Central Park Conservancy, managing multi-million-dollar campaigns annually. Earlier in her career, she also served as the Director of Institutional Partnerships for the Whitney Museum of Art.


For nearly two years, we have benefitted from the experience and leadership of Robert Reinckens in our IT organization. Robert first came to Cooper with Interra Consulting to conduct an initial review of our information technology operations and later led a full assessment of our IT structure with the aim of maximizing operational and cost efficiencies as well as integration and compatibility among systems and technology across The Cooper Union. This summer, Robert accepted our offer to now serve as Cooper’s Chief Technology Officer. His expertise in transforming operations and processes, elevating digital platforms, enhancing data security and compliance, assessing data analytics, and focusing on user needs and experience is essential for our students, faculty, and staff.


Harrison Tyler has officially joined The Cooper Union as Director of the Art, Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (AACE) Lab, the new interdisciplinary fabrication studio which will be built in the Foundation Building. Harrison has been consulting with the Deans and me since last year when Cooper received generous seed funding from the IDC Foundation to support the development of this concept for pushing the boundaries of Art, Architecture, Construction and Engineering through interdisciplinary making, study, and research that engages the full spectrum of available technologies to advance collaborative, hybrid and hands-on learning. As Director of the AACE Lab, he is working closely with the leadership of Cooper’s three schools and will be responsible for project management of the design, construction, and implementation of new digital fabrication facilities.

Each of the roles outlined above represent both important capacity building for our Cooper team as well as the opportunity for new ideas and new approaches to help propel our plan and our vision forward. I am exceedingly gratified to have these key positions now in place as another academic year gets underway and as we continue in Year 3 of our plan to return to full-tuition scholarships.

I know you will join me in welcoming all of our new faculty and staff members and congratulating returning faculty and staff on their new roles.


The Cooper Union has a long-standing history of offering outreach and enrichment programs in the arts for New York City high school students. Two programs, in particular, the Saturday and Outreach Programs, have provided transformational opportunity for the students who have participated, including the student instructors. These programs have been offered for free to high schoolers, many from low-income families, who might not otherwise have access to the programming, resources, faculty, and student mentorship that we offer. We are steadfastly committed to creating equitable opportunity for students to access a Cooper Union education and to the traditions of faculty and student engagement.

• A deepened commitment to the pedagogical foundations of the program, providing the ability for program staff (themselves working artists) to focus on faculty, peer, and community engagement; an immersive model allowing serious time for art production; and exploration of the social, moral, and interpersonal concerns inherent in students' communities

• Greater involvement of the School of Art faculty to support the programs' objectives and enhance the student-instructor experience

• Enhanced coordination with the Office of Admission to provide program participants with essential guidance regarding the college-going process and develop meaningful outreach activities with staff. Our goal is that the program continues as an important pipeline of talent for The Cooper Union.

To move toward these objectives, Toni has sought to bring the strengths of each program into a unified, single, Saturday pre-college program. The reconfigured program maintains the Saturday Program design while including:

• More student supports and multi-tiered mentoring for student peer instructors and program participants

• Deeper partnerships with the School of Art and Admissions to more fully integrate faculty and staff in program design, delivery, and outcomes. With these faculty, the program will continue to explore the integration of inclusive instructional practices in classes and critiques.

• Redeployed staff to centralize operations and support the ability of instructional staff to focus on instructional practice and students' artistic and college readiness 

Key faculty in the School of Art and the Humanities and Social Sciences (including the Writing Center) will be identified to work with the director of the Saturday pre-college program. These faculty will be engaged more fully in the program planning to support the underlying pedagogy and social justice framework including the mentorship of student instructors.

Practically speaking, all non-traditional programs will operate under a single umbrella, which Toni and the program teams are in the process of naming. The programs under this umbrella include:

• A combined version (free to participants) of the Saturday Program and Outreach.  Integrating these previously separate programs into one will allow for a more seamless commitment to courses, curricula, and pedagogy as well as experiential activities such as museum and gallery visits and guest artist visits – all within the weekend schedule throughout the academic year.

• The Cooper Union Summer Art Institute (or CUSAI), a program that is currently fee-based

• Continuing Education (fee-based)

• The Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers (RPIE) (free to participants)

As part of this realignment, one final aim is to also foster our ability to grow the school’s understanding of diverse students’ lived experience and contribute to the evolution of inclusive practices.

Look for updates on how the programs will be managed and staffed in the next issue of CUrrents.

—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.