A New Center for Writing and Learning in the Library

POSTED ON: August 7, 2023

Kit Nicholls

Kit Nicholls, director, Center for Writing and Learning. Photo: Marget Long

The news is full of stories about how artificial intelligence is going to change higher education: Why would a student write their own essay if they could just feed the prompt to ChatGPT? Why should anyone write an essay—or complete any assignment at all—if the work can be automated?

This past fall, the Center for Writing reopened in a newly renovated space in the library as the Center for Writing and Learning. With loads of natural light, comfortable furniture, good coffee, and even some greenery, the new Center has quickly become a destination for students, faculty, and staff who want to share ideas and move their engineering, architecture, art, and writing projects forward. After having to meet with students and colleagues virtually so much during the worst of the pandemic, we’re ecstatic to be not just back in person but in a place that fosters conversation and collaboration.

And that’s at least part of the answer to the challenge posed by artificial intelligence. The future of college learning is likely to be both communitarian—motivated by and for groups of people with shared interests—and idiosyncratic—increasingly an outgrowth of each student and faculty member’s ideas, experiences, and interests. You can’t automate the kinds of work that Cooper students are doing in the Center; no algorithm can build coalitions of students, faculty, and staff who imagine, experiment, and build together.

Writing is about having something to say, not just about handing work in to a professor. And learning is about discovering things you’re motivated to do and working with others to acquire the knowledge and skills that will allow you to live out your ambitions—not just about grades or degrees. Our new lounge space has hosted groups of faculty discussing their teaching practice and students talking about their classroom experiences, and our creative writing group relaunched this past semester so that students can share poems and stories. The library staff has been doing phenomenal work to make the first floor of Foundation a busy hub for our campus community. Together, we’re making sure that a Cooper Union education is alive, active, and human.

Kit Nicholls, director, Center for Writing and Learning

Generous support for The Center for Writing and Learning is provided by The Gelb Family Foundation.

  • 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.