Vision - Civil Engineering

The civil engineering undergraduate degree program at Cooper Union dates back to early 1900’s. It was during this period that New York City’s policy makers had the foresight to realize that surface transportation for a growing population would be inadequate. This led to the monumental decision to dig the subway tunnels for a fast and reliable underground transportation network. The subways required an enormous expenditure of public monies without any realizable benefit to that generation of citizens for many years. That visionary thinking has served generations of subsequent straphangers. The subway system was a marvel of civil engineering and construction management. In fact, the civil engineering degree program at Cooper Union introduced novel concepts of structural analysis and geotechnical engineering in the curriculum to prepare the graduates for the challenges posed by the subway system.

Another challenge addressed by the City’s policy makers was to envision a clean drinking water system through the upstate reservoirs and underground tunnels. This undertaking started in 1917 and it took ten years to complete two water tunnels hundreds of feet below the ground with enormous layouts of public monies. Construction of a third water tunnel has been under construction for the past several decades and would take many more years to complete.  Again, the civil engineering degree program at Cooper Union introduced novel concepts about water resources planning and heavy construction in the curriculum to prepare the graduates for the challenges posed by the water storage and distribution system.

During the 1970’s, in response to the growing concern about the degradation of our marine ecosystem, several initiatives, such as the Clean Water Act, were launched by the policy makers to save the marine environment. The civil engineering degree program at Cooper Union introduced water pollution control and environmental technologies in the curriculum to prepare the graduates for the emerging environmental challenges.

The problems confronting the City now are apparent to the general public and the experts alike. Our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Critical shortages of affordable housing and transportation infrastructure bedevil the general public. The New York Harbor is one of the City’s greatest assets that over the years helped establish the City as the leading financial center in the world. But the harbor has recently been vulnerable to the extreme storm events that have deluged the East Coast, flooding lower Manhattan and parts of the subway system. There is an urgent need to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy through bold and creative solutions. Complicating the picture is the fact that the current economic environment in the City and the country is not conducive to massive layouts of public monies for the necessary solutions.

Consistent with our glorious tradition dating back to the early 1900’s, the civil engineering degree program at Cooper Union in the 21st Century is poised to introduce bold and innovative curricular changes in our program to prepare our graduates for the technological challenges confronting the City. A key element of our strategic curricular planning is our decision to develop stronger collaborative relationships with the Cooper Union School of Art and the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture.

In the past, Cooper Union’s civil engineering alumni have been leaders in the planning, design, and construction of the City’s subways, water reservoirs, skyscrapers, water pollution control technologies, and transportation networks. We expect our future graduates to play pivotal leadership roles in meeting our modern challenges: rehabilitating the City’s infrastructure, protecting New York Harbor and the City’s coastal communities, developing viable public-private financial partnerships, and developing and implementing sustainable design and construction practices. 

In 2014, the US News and World Report ranked the civil engineering program at The Cooper Union # 4 among all non-doctoral civil engineering programs in the United States.

  • 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.