Heads and Tales 2021 Debuts Online

POSTED ON: July 6, 2021

Just Desserts

An illustration by Sommre Philips A'21 for chemical engineering junior Edward Bukhman's story "A Tale of Just Desserts"

Jeannette Circe

Hannah Wu A'22 and Yeji Kim A'22 created these illustrations to accompany mechanical engineering senior Jeannette Circe's fairytale "The Ocean and the Cliffside."

Laz Xenophontos

Lazaros Xenophontos, a junior studying civil engineering, wrote a fairytale called "Philipan Stag and the Hunter." The illustration is by Patricia Suslo A'21.

Maya Dixon

Maya Dixon, senior art student, wrote and illustrated her story "Three Hairs."

Last Thursday, a group of students from a five-week-long Summer class taught through the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences demonstrated the power of interdisciplinary collaboration. Before reading the stories they wrote as part of a course entitled "The Fairy Tale," they marveled at how much they were able to get done in such a short amount of time by supporting each other through writing, editing, and illustration.

Yeji Kim, a rising senior in the School of Art who was part of the production team for the class publication, said that the course would be an excellent experience for all Cooper students: “It could be a rite of passage,” as she put it. Taught by Professor Harold Ramdass, the class usually gives students the chance to closely study fairy tales as a literary tradition. However, since the class would run only for six weeks, Professor Ramdass needed to make a choice: students could either dive into the intellectually demanding work of literary analysis of tales from around the world or they could build their creative muscles by writing and illustrating their own fairytales. After a period of so much uncertainty and anguish invoked by the pandemic, Professor Ramdass thought it best to opt for the latter. During Thursday’s public presentation of their work, students applauded that decision.

The class members, a mix of aspiring artists and engineers, attested to the pleasure they received from writing a compelling tale. Professor Anne Griffin, acting dean of HSS, who attended the online presentation, said, “I’m tremendously grateful that Harold Ramdass was free and able to recreate 'The Fairy Tale' for us at Cooper this summer.” She noted the popularity of the course and its ability to challenge students who frequently have not written fiction before.

Over the course of the abbreviated semester  the group compiled their collection, the second edition of the course’s publication, "Heads and Tales," which had its premier edition in 2019. While students reported that they wished they’d had more time to write, design, and code the online magazine—an extraordinary task for so short a period—they made clear that HSS was highly supportive of the project. The tales span the gamut from comedy to drama: students wrote stories that obliquely or not, hit on cultural belonging, immigration, the horrors of climate change, the need to find a genuine path not determined by family or society, and even the real reason we love iced coffee.

When Professor Ramdass addressed the class on Thursday, he said that “in a lot of ways, Cooper is about joy”—the joy of intellectual and creative searching. He pointed out that HSS can provide an excellent platform for interdisciplinarity by letting students make work outside of their usual wheelhouse. Students’ comments confirmed his observation: Madelin Almonte, a senior art student, said she enjoyed getting to work with engineers that she normally doesn’t encounter let alone collaborate with. Chemical engineering senior Jillian Frost said that she’d never thought of herself as a creative writer but that the act of editing some of her colleagues’ stories taught her much about the art of fiction writing.

But it was Hannah Wu, senior in the School of Art and member of the digital text production team, who may have summed up the experience best: “The course was a good ending to the fourth semester of digital university.”



  • 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.