Readying Your Welcome for Fall 2020
Dear Cooper Union Faculty, Staff, and Students,
I hope this message finds you well and anticipating the start of a new academic year with the kind of aspirations that inspire great learning. It will be a fall semester unlike any other, certainly with challenges and also with the chance to create and experience something extraordinary together. That is what we have been preparing for all summer, and I can’t wait to welcome you back later this month, no matter where you will be.
At the same time, I understand deeply that the challenges and worries related to COVID-19 remain for many. We’re all navigating as best we can to support one another while facing ever-changing circumstances and information about the pandemic’s trajectory and epidemiology. During this kind of uncertainty, it’s easy to focus on all that we’ve missed, on what could have been, or on what we used to do. However, as an academic community with an extraordinary lineage of visionaries and pioneers, now is the time to reset our collective focus and to make our mark on the moment.
This semester will be a time of invention and experimentation, a time to engage with each other in new ways. With most classes continuing virtually, the typical constraints of space and scheduling fall away, presenting new ways of working and learning together. Our faculty and staff took to heart what we all learned together in the spring semester and the feedback that our students provided to prepare for the upcoming academic year. We’re glad that so many of you have participated in the opportunities that your Deans made available to offer your thoughts, share your concerns, and articulate your aspirations. Your continued feedback will be critical to maintaining the high standard of a Cooper Union education this semester and beyond.
You will be receiving additional communications from your Deans about the specifics of your program, but as a full school community, I want to share key components that we have been developing:
For those of you who will be spending the semester in New York City, our buildings are being transformed to provide additional spaces for community members who will most benefit from the facilities, namely for making, creating, and experimenting. Just as all formal classroom instruction will continue online to free up classroom spaces, staff who can continue to work remotely will do so to help create additional space and reduce the density of our buildings for our students. Access to the buildings will continue to be limited, and your schools will communicate what this means for you.
You will receive a detailed Returning to Cooper guide that will include protocols for social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be worn in the building, testing requirements, required screening upon entering the building, and contact tracing and quarantine practices if a member of our community tests positive for COVID-19. We will also ask each member of our campus community to pledge to abide by the health and safety protocols aimed at mitigating the introduction and spread of the virus at Cooper.
Our staff has been working tirelessly, as have faculty members who worked through the summer on a variety of topics relating to improving virtual pedagogy, supporting students, and adapting course content and structures to this new model. This effort has included both full-time and part-time faculty and has resulted in lively discussions and tactical recommendations for enhancing our approaches.
Each school is sourcing materials and developing project kits to mail to students enrolled in various courses. All incoming students will receive a kit particular to the first-year curriculum of their schools, as will continuing students in select courses.
The IT Department is enhancing the elements of the teaching and learning support plan, focused on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Moodle for teaching technologies; increased software access through VPN connections and at-home applications; cloud storage and collaboration; and contactless order/pick up for select AACE Lab, Media, Architecture, and Brooks Lab services. There is a new IT homepage to orient students to available training, services, and assistance. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to complete the technology questionnaires and participate in the opportunities for feedback shared by your Deans. These measures have been created so your faculty will better understand any difficulties you are experiencing and can preemptively address them before the semester begins.
We are redoubling our efforts in interdisciplinary work between Art, Architecture, and Engineering. They include structural changes to increase your ability to enroll in courses across schools in the Spring 2021 semester, as well as continuing informal opportunities to collaborate with students in different schools. We will also offer a one-credit interdisciplinary course designed to support international students’ transition to New York City. The course will be open to all students who are interested in exploring the city as a living laboratory, built to explore and develop new questions that address the challenges of our increasingly complex world
Last month, we launched a first year/returning student mentorship program, as part of our efforts to build a culture of community in a virtual environment. In addition, Assistant Dean Nada Ayad and Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin, in collaboration with students, have curated a series of readings centered on the theme of intersectional justice. First-year students will participate in facilitated discussions, and the list will be shared with all students, faculty, and staff who wish to study and discuss. Look for more details in the coming weeks about this shared experience, and others in the works, from the Office of Student Affairs.
We have an incredible opportunity, with so many people in different places around the world, to understand and document how each of us, as individuals, is experiencing this historic moment. You will soon hear more about a collective project to reflect as individuals and share as a community our own writings, art works, inventions, and other reflections of life in these extraordinary times. We will link our reflections to record our collective and dynamic narrative.
We are not simply a group of individuals, but rather a community of people who are connected in many ways – we share knowledge, discussion and debate, physical space, and the epidemiology of how we are all related to this pressing public health issue. The semester we will soon embark on will amplify how important it is for us to support and care for one another, especially now. Combatting the pandemic is a group effort, and for us, it will require that we literally protect one another through meticulous attention to science and our safety protocols and with compassion, respect, and kindness. New Yorkers have exerted heroic efforts in flattening the curve here, and it is part of our commitment to the social contract and each other to do our part to help mitigate this virus.
I am confident the interactions we will have this fall, albeit in new formats, will result in important new ways of learning, innovative research and meticulous probes, thoughtful reflection and engaging discourse, and creative, inspired work. While I look forward to welcoming you all, wherever you will be this fall, I truly cannot wait to see how we grow and what we create together this year.