New Endowed Professorship to Encourage Cross-Discipline Innovation

POSTED ON: February 26, 2024

John Manuck

John Manuck ChE'69

This year, engineering alumnus John Manuck gave back to his alma mater in a big way: he and his wife established the John and Mary Manuck Distinguished Professor of Design professorship to raise the visibility of design as a unifying element of art, architecture, and engineering and the humanities and social sciences. The goal of the professorship, which is funded with a $3 million grant from the Manucks’ foundation, sets out to foster collaboration across disciplines. The position will rotate among Cooper’s three schools. 

Professor Sam Keene, had already led myriad initiatives with students from all three schools when he was awarded the first Manuck Distinguished Professorship, a position he'll hold through Spring 2025. Keene has a particular interest in the hidden impacts of surveillance, the bias present in machine learning models, and the implications of those biases. Some of the earlier projects he and his students worked on include an exhibition about facial-recognition technology and how to subvert it, as well as an interactive exhibition about a high-precision tracking device that resulted from collaboration of an art studio, an electrical engineering class, and an architecture studio. As Manuck Distinguished Professor, "I will continue to design devices and exhibits that expose and educate the community about these issues," he said. 

Manuck, who graduated from The Cooper Union in 1969, is the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Techmer PM, a major producer of colors and additives for the plastics and fiber industries.  Today, the company has locations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. His very generous gift came out of various experiences at Cooper. In a recent interview, he recalled a weekend during his senior year at the school’s rural retreat, Green Camp, that played as formative a role in his future as the years studying chemical engineering. A group of student leaders convened on the upstate New Jersey compound as part of “sensitivity training,” a method for being attuned to other people’s perspectives. Manuck, who was president of his senior class and fraternity, met with several other seniors from all three schools to learn how to break down defenses that prevent clear or honest communication. 

He said that the experience at Green Camp deeply influenced his career choices and made him highly aware of the power of innovation and collaboration. He's been recognized in his field for valuing just those characteristics: in 2016, Manuck was named to the “Crain 100” list of “innovators, disruptors, and change-makers in business.”

  • 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.