Summer Experiences: Allison Tau (ChE ’15)

Saimon Sharif (ChE ’15)

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The Cooper Pioneer interviewed current students from the art, architecture, and engineering schools about their summer experiences. The interviews will be published as a series. We hope they will serve to highlight the diverse achievements of our student body.

Here is our interview with Allison Tau (ChE ‘15).

The Cooper Pioneer: Where did you work?

Allison Tau: I was part of an REU program in engineering education at Olin College of Engineering.  My project involved using a method called discourse analysis to look at transcripts of student team meetings in undergraduate design courses.

TCP: What was your daily routine?

AT: I worked with ten other students (and later two K-12 teachers) in the same studio for five days a week, usually 9 to 5ish. Studio culture could get distracting, especially because we were all friends, but it also created an environment where we all knew what each other was working on and could share relevant information about each others’ projects. We had research meetings several times a week where we could talk about our work and hear from other students doing research at Olin who weren’t a part of the REU.  My favorite part of each day was “tube-thirty”, a break the other REU students and I took at 2:30 every day to watch YouTube videos.

TCP: What was the best part about your internship?

AT: It was really rewarding to be a student researcher rather than just a research assistant. My partner and I were able to take our own direction with the data we had. If we needed more direction, our mentor was able to provide guidance, but for the most part we had the freedom to study what interested us. The other best part of my program was being able to interact with other engineering students with similar interests from across the country.

TCP: How was it different from what you’ve done thus far?

AT: Behavioral sciences research is an entirely different animal compared to technical research. It uses a mixed-methods approach, so you have to be comfortable with both quantitative and qualitative methods. Technical researchers tend to be skeptical of qualitative analysis, so you have to be prepared to defend your findings and know the ins and outs of your work.

TCP: What do you feel was the biggest takeaway from the experience?

AT: Doing research in engineering education has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences as an engineering student. I read a lot of literature within the field of engineering education, so it gave me a fresh perspective on my education as well as something to think about this upcoming year.

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Faces of Cooper: Anita Raja, Computer Science

Brenda So (CE ’18)

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The Cooper Pioneer recently sat down with Professor Anita Raja, who is the new Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs and a new computer science professor.

The Cooper Pioneer:Where are you from?

Anita Raja:I was born in South India and grew up in the coastal city of Chennai. I came to the U.S. as a teenager to do my undergraduate education. I have since lived in Philadelphia, Western Massachusetts, North Carolina and now, New York.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

AR: I received a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in Math from Temple University followed by a M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science with a focus in Artificial Intelligence and Multiagent systems from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  My Ph.D. advisor is considered one of the founders of Distributed Artificial Intelligence and I was his 25th Ph.D. student. I feel blessed to be in the company of an incredible network of peers many of whom are doing cutting edge research in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Immediately after graduation, I accepted a tenure-track position in the College of Computing, becoming the first female faculty in the Department of Software and Information Systems at UNC Charlotte. I was excited to grow the theoretical contributions I had made to the field.  I received tenure in 2009.  One of the highlights of my time at UNCC was working with students and collaborating with researchers (from both academia and industry) from diverse areas ranging from Economics, Electrical and Computer Engineering to Visual Analytics and Political Science.  I have been the primary research advisor for two Ph.D students and dozens of undergraduate and Masters level students.

TCP: What brought you to Cooper Union? When did you start working at Cooper?

AR: I was interested in moving back to the northeast since most of my extended family is in the area. I had spent my sabbatical in 2011 at Columbia University and looked at several schools in the New York area.  I got to know about Cooper when I consulted on a project last spring and met some incredible faculty and very bright and engaged students from the school of engineering including Sharang Phadke (EE ’14)  and Eric Leong (ME ’14).  I started working here in early August 2014.

TCP: How much do you like your job at Cooper?

AR: I have been on the job only for 2 months and it has been an interesting time.  Clearly, this is a school in transition.  The Cooper community is struggling with change and the fear and uncertainty that accompany a new vision for the future.  However, I believe this can be an opportunity for learning and growth for everyone as we ensure Cooper’s future.  I love being an educator and a scientist and I think Cooper will afford me the opportunity to contribute in both areas. So I’m excited.  Currently, I am working on facilitating faculty and student research at the Nerken School of Engineering while continuing research contributions to my own field.

Cooper is known for its traditional and very successful teaching methodsso the last thing I expected was to learn about innovative pedagogical methods for online education while at Cooper. But that is exactly what happened. The first day on the job in August I was informed that Cooper had won a highly competitive edX grant to create two Advanced Placement MOOCs for high school students and that I would be project director. I was new to the world of MOOCS but in the past two months I have learned a whole lot about the world of MOOCs, new pedagogical methods, role of video production, attended an edX training session and visited the edX main offices in Cambridge. I have also met with teams at Harvard and Columbia who have taught and produced some of the world’s most popular MOOCs.   Since childhood, I have been involved in outreach aimed at providing educational opportunity to those who cannot afford it. I am delighted that Cooper’s MOOC effort will engage high school students, some of whom who may not have access to AP courses, and STEM education attractive to them!

TCP: From your bio in the Cooper Union website, you have contributed to the research of artificial intelligence (AI). Can you tell us more about your research?

AR: I would love to! My research is generally founded on strong mathematical formalisms such as decision theory and cross cuts fields such as AI, Economics and Cognitive Science.  I explore approximations that allow these formalisms to be applied to real-world applications. Specifically,  I design and build smart intelligent systems (software agents) that can learn to make autonomous decisions and work as teams that solve problems in real-time. I am specifically interested in equipping agents with the ability to reason about goals and plans while accounting for time, uncertainty and costs. For instance, along with my students I designed and implemented algorithms for a National Science Foundation (NSF) project that would allow a network of radars to automatically track weather phenomenon like tornadoes so that appropriate alerts can be made to save human lives and property. My most recent NSF project, in collaboration with Columbia University, takes on the problem of prediction of preterm births in first time mothers, considered a major public health issue with profound implications on society. We are developing advanced machine learning algorithms including Bayesian statistical methods and Support Vector Machines to analyze electronic health records to facilitate this prediction.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

AR: Cooper students form an exceptional community of scholars.  They already know what it is to aim high, work hard and follow dreams. That said, I think it is important to build on that foundation by creating a unique vision and record of their time at Cooper.  Follow your passion and do whatever it takes to achieve your goal. Challenges are inevitable in one’s career but they are also the facilitators of growth and innovation. I am a strong proponent of undergraduate research – I know for a fact that my research experience as an undergraduate in Information Retrieval set my career path and to this day I love what I do! I would strongly encourage Cooper students to participate in research and other academic activities that exemplify their individual strengths.  I also think all undergraduate students should get a strong background in Mathematics and Humanities – Arts, Literature etc. If I had a chance to redo my undergraduate education, I would take all the courses I could in these areas and not just my focus area. Finally in all things, be compassionate towards other people– I believe that is the secret to a truly successful life.

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

AR: I love reading classics including works by Thomas Mann, Garcia Marquez, Nabokov, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I enjoy painting with watercolors.  I also enjoy spending time outdoors – hiking, spelunking, kayaking, calesthenics and shadow boxing.  I sang Contralto in church choirs for over a decade and I now enjoy attending New York Philharmonic concerts and exploring Central Park with my husband. Of late, my hobbies have revolved around the activities of my 2 sons, ages three and one – watching them grow, play and learn.

TCP: Do you have any closing remarks?

AR: I think Cooper Union and New York City are exciting places to be as for students and educators and I look forward to what the future has to bring!

The Red Light District Project

Anushree Sreehdar (ChE ’18)

On September 22nd, a troupe of students hurriedly made their way to each room in the dorms, with a huge bucket of lights in their possession. When I opened the door to them, they quickly stated their plea, and left a whirlwind of red lights in their wake. These students are part of Free Cooper Union, which protests against the unfolding tuition debate and student debt crisis. We hung up the lights they gave us and in twenty minutes, the entire dorm building was flooded in red lights. People on the street stopped, stared, asked questions and left in awe at the amazing unity of the residents in the dorms.

The idea for the “Red Light District Project” stemmed from the Quebec student protests that occurred in 2012. During these rallies, students wore red squares to protest the dramatically increasing tuition they faced. In addition, The Cooper Union alumni and upperclassman made the huge clock in the Peter Cooper suite red during their occupation. Reflecting on these two situations, a group of freshman in the dorms decided to implement these ideas into a form of a visual protest. Believing that the freshman would be upset with the newly instituted tuition and administration, Free Cooper provided a way for freshmen to voice their opinion without hesitating to display dissent.   “We wanted to give them an opportunity to speak anonymously, show solidarity to students who were participating,” comments a freshman who wished to remain anonymous.

Since September 22, Free Cooper put together another Red Light District. “The first Red Light District was a practice pitch that we assumed would be an instant strike – like in baseball – but the second one was a 90 miles per hour pitch. That one hit home for us,” affirmed another anonymous freshman. The impressive turnout was quite unexpected, yet wholeheartedly welcomed. “We totally didn’t expect everybody to be so eager to participate. We had to go out and buy more bulbs and do it again, because people were like ‘Where’s my lightbulb?!’” remarked the first anonymous freshman. “Hopefully upperclassmen realize that this isn’t over. Just because we came and we paid doesn’t mean any of this is over.”

On September 22nd, a troupe of students hurriedly made their way to each room in the dorms, with a huge bucket of lights in their possession. When I opened the door to them, they quickly stated their plea, and left a whirlwind of red lights in their wake. These students are part of Free Cooper Union, which protests against the unfolding tuition debate and student debt crisis. We hung up the lights they gave us and in twenty minutes, the entire dorm building was flooded in red lights. People on the street stopped, stared, asked questions and left in awe at the amazing unity of the residents in the dorms.

The idea for the “Red Light District Project” stemmed from the Quebec student protests that occurred in 2012. During these rallies, students wore red squares to protest the dramatically increasing tuition they faced. In addition, The Cooper Union alumni and upperclassman made the huge clock in the Peter Cooper suite red during their occupation. Reflecting on these two situations, a group of freshman in the dorms decided to implement these ideas into a form of a visual protest. Believing that the freshman would be upset with the newly instituted tuition and administration, Free Cooper provided a way for freshmen to voice their opinion without hesitating to display dissent.   “We wanted to give them an opportunity to speak anonymously, show solidarity to students who were participating,” comments a freshman who wished to remain anonymous.

Since September 22, Free Cooper put together another Red Light District. “The first Red Light District was a practice pitch that we assumed would be an instant strike – like in baseball – but the second one was a 90 miles per hour pitch. That one hit home for us,” affirmed another anonymous freshman. The impressive turnout was quite unexpected, yet wholeheartedly welcomed. “We totally didn’t expect everybody to be so eager to participate. We had to go out and buy more bulbs and do it again, because people were like ‘Where’s my lightbulb?!’” remarked the first anonymous freshman. “Hopefully upperclassmen realize that this isn’t over. Just because we came and we paid doesn’t mean any of this is over.”

Lessons From “Lessons From Modernism”

Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

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On Thursday, October 2, Cooper Union welcomed Professor Daniel Barber, Associate Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, to deliver a free, public lecture on how structural design responds to the environment and to global climate change.

The Rose Auditorium hosted Prof. Barber as he took his audience through the historical progression of an architectural movement he calls “environmentalization”, which he described as a specific undercurrent of the larger modernism movement of the 20th century.

As an architecture historian, Prof. Barber studies how other architects consider scientific and historical knowledge of the global environment and incorporate them in their own work. In his talk he cited the work of Victor and Aladar Olgyay, pioneers in the field of bio-architecture in the mid-century, as an example of using purposeful structural design as a means to maintain the climate in a space. He emphasized the benefits of this approach, as opposed to mechanical systems, for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) implemented in almost every modern high-rise. The Olgyays researched a precise definition of the universal comfort zone, which involves the optimal balance of environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, and sunlight. To maintain this balance, the Olgyays designed the brise-soleil, a sunshade that deflects sunlight, which is now a commonly used structural feature in landmark buildings, such as the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and The New York Times building.

In the informal Q&A session following his lecture, Prof. Barber also commented on the need for more open and frequent public discourse on this matter. He voiced his opinion about changing the conversation to refrain from discussing how previous decisions in history have resulted in the current climate crisis, and instead move towards openly discussing what needs to be done now. He said “we’re sick of hearing about how we should have done it differently”. They say hindsight is 20/20 and there is no doubt that learning from mistakes made in the past can prevent foolish repetition of the same mistakes. However, the need for clairvoyance is now and decisions for our future must be made in the present. Responding candidly, Prof. Barber echoed this sentiment by saying that “[we could all spend time] marching up and down 6th Avenue” (in reference to the People’s Climate March on September 21), but the political interpretations may not align necessarily with what needs to be done for the climate.”

For more information about future lectures and public events hosted at The Cooper Union, check out www.cooper.edu/events-and-exhibitions/

Photo Credit: Winter Leng (ChE ’18) 

Sports Update

Yara Elborolosy (MCE ’16)

With the end of September comes the start of fall and of the rigorous demands of classes, with midterms and even second exams looming in the future. For the scholar athletes of Cooper, this is also combined with the demands of their teams. For the soccer team, their season has already started with three games played against two of their rivals, CIA and Webb Institute. A long-standing tradition for the soccer team is to play these two teams for Cups, the Campbell Cup and the Webb Cup respectively, where the winning team brings the cup home. They lost their first match against CIA on September 6th, but on September 14th, they defeated CIA and brought home the Campbell Cup for the first time in four years. On September 20th, they defeated Webb Institute after a tense match to keep the Webb Cup home. The next match for the soccer team will be on September 26th against King’s College at Randall’s Island.

For the men’s tennis team, their first game is the 1st Annual Fall CU Invitational on October 17th and they have been practicing hard in the mornings to prepare for their upcoming match. The women’s tennis team is in the process of rebuilding, since most of their team had graduated this past May, and has their first match in the spring.

The cross-country track team has been running around the city, practicing and participating in local races. The men’s volleyball team, with their first game in January, has been focusing on building their team and practicing consistently. Women’s volleyball started their season along with the school year with three games already completed against St. Joseph, Pratt, and Mount Saint Vincent and another one upcoming on September 27th against CIA. They are also in the rebuilding process but are very hopeful in their team and what they can accomplish.

The first men’s basketball game will be an Alumni game on October 25th at Baruch JHS. They have some very skilled players on every position and were lucky to find talented new members to join their team. With friendships both on and off the court, the team chemistry is wonderful. The women’s basketball team is also in the rebuilding process but with the skills that were developed at Cape Cod and consistent practices, they are confident of what the team will be capable of. Their first game will also be an alumni game on October 25th.

For more details and schedules, check out the “Student Affairs” section on the Cooper website!

Cooper Union Soccer Team

9/6/2014 Cooper Union CIA
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9/14/2014 Cooper Union CIA
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9/20/2014 Cooper Union Webb Institute
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Cooper Union Women’s Volleyball Team

9/5/2014 Cooper Union St. Joseph
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Microdance Club

Evan Burgess (Arch ’15)

Have you ever thought to yourself:

“Gee, I wish I could move my body in new and exciting ways, driven by the bass rhythms of popular music.  But I don’t want to go all the way up to Hell’s Kitchen at 9:30 on a Wednesday night, and I can only step away from this HSS3 essay for 30 minutes or I won’t finish it by midnight.  If only I could show off my godly twerking skills in a dark room full of sweaty artists, preferably somewhere within the Foundation Building.”

Of course you have.  I feel this way all the time.

The truth of the matter is that “dancing like there’s no tomorrow with the sole intension of getting all hot and sweaty” is an amazing way to get away from the studio or the computer lab for a few minutes.  It lets your brain rest for just long enough that you can go back to work with renewed energy and enthusiasm, or at least a better perspective.

But where can I find the ideal conditions for dancing?

Thankfully, our fellow students Hunter Mayton (Art ’16), Jakob Biernat (Art ’16), and others have done all of the hard work for us by founding The Microdance Club.  Every Wednesday night at 9:30, they host a 30-minute dance party from start to finish, complete with the appropriate levels of darkness, bass, and raw energy.  Every week features a new theme and student DJ.  The themes so far have included the classic “Nerd Takes Off His Glasses And Is Suddenly Hot,” as well as the unforgettable “And In That Moment I Swear I Was Andy.”

Join them next week, and every week thereafter, on the sixth floor of the Foundation Building behind the round elevator.  Draw a little figure of Miley Cyrus into your Wednesday 9:30-10:00pm timeslot.  They’ll be there.

 

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Faces of Cooper: Philip Yecko

Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18) & Caroline Yu (EE ’15)

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     Meet Philip Yecko, Associate Professor of Physics, the newest member to the physics department.

     The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from?

     Philip Yecko: I was born and I grew up in Pittsburgh. I was there until college and since then I’ve been pretty much everywhere.

     TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

     PY: Sure! It’s a long story. When I was a student at MIT, I studied Physics. I didn’t know about Cooper at the time. If I had I would have loved to have been here, but at that time MIT was all I could think of. I was a graduate student at Columbia, where I did my Ph.D. in Astronomy.  I had been a physics major but I was more interested in classical physics than modern or particle physics. In order to do more classical physics in grad school, I had to go into something slightly different, so I switched to astrophysics. That’s also when I realized what interested me most was fluid dynamics. I began studying the fluid dynamics of atmospheres of planets and eventually of accretion discs, which are the structures that form solar systems. After that I did postdoctoral work in Florida, Paris, and Italy.

     TCP: That’s amazing. I’m going to assume that your favorite subject is physics then?

     PY: Yes, my favorite subject is physics! And I suppose everything I do is connected to fluids.

     TCP: And astronomy?

     PY: Yes. A lot of problems in astronomy can be studied from a fluids point of view.  But I also moved from studying these really large astrophysical objects like discs to fluids that are microscale and magnetic fluids in the blood.

     TCP: How did you hear about Cooper Union and what brought you to Cooper Union?

PY: I was a graduate student in New York City and that’s when I learned about Cooper in several different ways and when I first met Alan Wolf. To be honest, whenever I was looking for a place to work, I’ve always looked at Cooper. Until very recently, it never worked out. This is my fourth faculty position, but along the way, Cooper has always been a place of interest to me.

TCP: So you hope to stay?

      PY: Yes, absolutely! I’ve met so many people here who were Cooper students or have one or two or three different affiliations with Cooper. I think it’s great. You are lucky to be in a place where there’s a sense of place and people care about it.

      TCP: How would you describe your current role at Cooper?

      PY: I am half the physics department — me and Alan Wolf– we are the smallest department here.  I’m starting with the Physics Laboratory. There are a lot of things that I want to do there, teaching-wise, but I won’t be able to do them all in my first year here. Next semester I’ll be teaching Modern Physics which, among other topics, has quantum mechanics in it, one of my favorites. I’m really looking forward to it. That class will be in Rose Auditorium and I feel a little strange teaching in rooms like that.  I like to interact with people while teaching, to have everybody involved if possible. So we’ll see! It is a very nice space, so I think it will work out.

     TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper yet?

     PY: It’s too soon. I’m afraid I have met not enough people yet. So maybe later you can come back and ask me.

     TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

     PY: Hobbies? That’s a tough one. I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies. I enjoy cooking; it’s relaxing for me. I started growing some grapes. I’m hoping one day I can make wine out of them. I’ve done it once before and it would be fun to try again starting from the vine.

     TCP: What type of things do you make?

PY: With food I’m focused on Mediterranean. Because of time constraints, I usually just make things that are quick. In doing that, I’ve started using less and less meat, which I think is good.

      TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

     PY: You should try to get as much as you can out of this unique environment and the opportunities that you have here. Work with your professors; do research with them. I’m really happy that a lot of students have come to me so far – interested in doing some research. Get as much as you can out of your classes, too.  Cooper isn’t the real world, which has a good side and a bad side. Try to get the good before you go out into the real world where things are more complicated – not as focused.

     TCP: What hopes do you have for Cooper over the next ten years, and beyond?

     PY: I’m aware that Cooper is going through a change as far as the undergraduate tuition model. I think Cooper is based on a lot more than that.  People are talking about a computer science major and a math major. The physics major hasn’t been here for a long time – but physics was really an important part of Cooper at one time so I think it can come back. I have a lot common interests with people in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and math. Fluids isn’t just in physics, it’s also in engineering and in math – so I think there’s a good chance physics can keep growing here. I’ve been thinking a lot about what new courses can be offered and I’ve been listening to students and asking what kinds of courses they would like to have — maybe astrophysical fluids or geophysical fluids. It’s nice when you find an elective that really sticks with a certain place. So that it just clicks because the students really like it.  I used to teach a course like that in non-linear dynamics and patterns. It had applications in physics and astrophysics and biology and it became really popular.

TCP: Do you have any favorite books, magazines, or subscriptions?

     PY: I read the New Yorker regularly. I read the cartoons first and I love xkcd. I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut fan – I like reading but I don’t have much time to read.

Professor Yecko has beautiful pictures of nature as his screensaver…

     TCP: Is it safe to assume you like nature?

     PY: A lot of these involve fluids, you know. Every year in November there’s a fluids dynamics meeting of the American Physical Society. One part of it is a competition called the Gallery of Fluid Motion – you enter an image or a video. This year is the first time I’ll submit an entry. Obviously, the image has to have scientific content, which is not a problem. The problem is making it stand out visually in a meeting of 2000 people, many of them just walking by.

Photo Credit: Jenna Lee (EE ’15)