Cooper Union President Elected Chair of AITU

POSTED ON: February 2, 2022

Laura Sparks

Laura Sparks, president of The Cooper Union, has been elected as the 2022 chair of the Association of Independent Technological Universities (AITU), a group of more than 20 of the nation’s leading private technological institutions of higher education which, along with Cooper, includes California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Stevens Institute of Technology. Cooper Union’s vice president of finance and administration, John Ruth, was elected to serve as the association’s treasurer.

Last month, AITU held its annual meeting of member institutions, with a virtual convening for college presidents, chief financial officers, provosts, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officers. The meeting was attended by Sparks and Ruth as well as Barry Shoop, dean of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, and Toni Torres, Cooper’s vice president of institutional effectiveness. Operational and business best practices in the face of COVID-19 were among the various topics under discussion at the meeting, but it was diversity, equity, and inclusion that took center stage throughout the three days of virtual breakout sessions.

Administrators and invited faculty speakers shared insights and strategies for DEI goals, such as increasing the number of underrepresented minority college graduates entering Ph.D. programs, addressing inequity in engineering, building pathways in STEM education from K-12 all the way to graduate school, and supporting professional development and mentorship for faculty. One session focused on the relationship between student and institutional preparedness, a critical component in positioning underrepresented students for academic success. A keynote address, delivered by John L. Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), further reflected on the notion of student-readiness with a talk entitled, “The Future of Engineering Education: Education ≠ Σ(courses).”

“The idea of a student-ready institution centers on the understanding that education and learning are more than the sum of the courses in the curriculum,” explains Dean Shoop. “To become student-ready, there is much that needs to be done with respect to an institution’s policies, practices, and culture to prepare students for the transition from high school to college and support their success and progression to earning a degree.”

President Sparks notes that the discussions around DEI that grew out of this year’s AITU meeting underscore a primary part of the organization’s mission: sharing knowledge across institutions to help advance creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in engineering and technology. “AITU is a collective of educational leaders, and through collaboration we have the potential to make a far greater impact on the field,” Sparks says. “Though our member schools range in size, location, degree program offerings, and other distinguishing characteristics, we are navigating comparable challenges and have the power to seize on similar opportunities if we share ideas and best practices with each other.”

“The association has made it clear from this year’s meeting that fostering supportive and equitable learning environments should be a priority in our schools,” adds Sparks. “As chair, I look forward to shepherding that work into the next stage.”

  • 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.