Sunshine and Pizza

On November 4, Acting President Bill Mea invited everyone to enjoy pizza and sunshine on what “may be the last nice day before the cold sets in.” How many pizzas? According to an email Bill Mea wrote to his cabinet, “[I] figure 8 slices per pizza and two slices per person, maybe three. So let’s say a pizza feeds three people. We might need 200 pizzas to feed 600 people. Would we get 600 people? Can we fit 600 people?”

Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ’18)

Sunshine and Pizza - Photo by Simon Shao ME '19
Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ’19)

Remember the War Years: A Collection of Alumni Stories from WWII

By Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)

A little over seventy years ago, Cooper students much like ourselves were practicing air raid drills in the basement of the Foundation Building and putting studies on hold to become soldiers and factory workers. And like the rest of the nation, The Cooper Union and its faculty also took part in the war effort. These storytellers come from various backgrounds and all sides of the war. It is not my intent to glorify warfare, but instead bring to light the lives of the brave and dutiful men and women of Cooper Union during that time of strife. The following alumni stories are excerpted from Remember the War Years by the Cooper Union Alumni.

Not all Cooper students featured in the book lived in the United States during the war. This artist recounts the bombing of her town in Germany.

“In Würtzburg, Germany, March 16, 1945, as the
sirens started wailing in the middle of the night, we carried our baby down three flights of stairs to the subterranean vaulted basement. The detonation of the bombs shook the apartment building until one bomb finally hit the ground in front of the building and forced us to crawl out of the cellar before the building collapsed. In the cellar it was pitch dark and plaster was peeling off the walls. As we climbed up, we faced an inferno of racing fire and searing heat. We pulled an old baby carriage up with us and shielded the baby’s face. In this firestorm there was total chaos: collapsing structures, thick black smoke, people screaming out of cellars and into obstructed streets. We ran across burning asphalt towards the hillside from which a medieval fortress overlooked the city.”

“The site of Würtzburg now, fifty years later, totally
restored and viewed from the same hillside, cannot erase the horrific memory of hell on earth.”—Rosemarie Willmann Nesbitt (Art ‘53)

The positive attitude my father had about life, to make the best of a given situation, would be the one trait I admired and always tried to emulate.”—Yuriko Otani (Art ‘76)

Yuriko Nakamara Otani (Art ‘76), 12 years old portrait and identification card from her internment in 1944, Arizona.

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Alexa Strautmanis - Photo by Sagu Gu CE '19

Faces of Cooper: Alexa Strautmanis

By Mary Dwyer (ChE ’19)

Meet Development Associate, Alexa Strautmanis: artist, advocate, and lover of The Cooper Union

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Alexa Strautmanis: I’m a New Yorker. I grew up downtown, less than a mile from Cooper. Though I am originally from Canada, I moved here in the third grade with my very large family. My grandfather was an abstract expressionist, and we ended up living in his loft, where my dad grew up, because that was the only place that could hold all of us. So I grew up in Soho! I went to PS 3 in the village, the Clinton School for middle school, and then I went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art.

What are your interests?

I feel like my interests have taken a back seat because I recently moved from East Harlem to Astoria! So my interests, outside of unpacking boxes, include exploring new bike paths in the city, going to museums & galleries, traveling, reading, and sketching. I still love to sketch. I still love using those skills even though I don’t necessarily need them in my day-to-day job. You have to keep drawing to be able to create at the level that makes you happy. You are your own worst critic, so the more that I continue to work at my art, the more I am able to accept the level that is my best.

“Often, parents want to push their kids into
something that is more career-oriented
than art seems, but my parents allowed
me to do what makes me happy.”

You seem to have a very art-based history, could you expand upon that?

Yes, I feel very lucky to have been able to go to school for art. Often, parents want to push their kids into something that is more career-oriented than art seems, but my parents allowed me to do what makes me happy. I feel very grateful to have had the freedom to explore that, and this is the exact city in which to do it.

I went to college here in Manhattan at the School of Visual Arts where I got my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, majoring in painting with an unofficial minor in critical writing. Writing was something I discovered I really enjoyed in college. As an art student, I would have assignments to go to museums and galleries and write reviews — something most of my classmates abhorred — but I loved it! I loved being able to go somewhere, find someone’s creative vision, and share my take own on it through writing.

How did your education affect your career path? 

Well, I did not graduate from college and become a renaissance oil painter! After working for a couple of artists and doing copy work for them, I was able to travel and really focus on writing, which was a skill I wanted to build upon after school. I ended up working for a creative consultancy, and I became the right-hand of the company. It was really exciting; I was able to work with artists and entrepreneurs who were really passionate about what they were doing.  And while it was not art focused, it was still interesting work with creative people who wanted to be the best at what they did. But I soon realized that the industry just wasn’t for me. I loved the work that I was doing, but my heart was not in it. I wanted to make a bigger difference.

“If someone wants to contribute, or connect;
with alumni, with students or staff, with Cooper,
we are here to reach out and form those connections.”

And then, Cooper?

Exactly! I saw the job listing for Cooper just over a year ago — and I thought: this is awesome! I want to come here, I want to learn what it’s about, I want to be a part of this. I actually applied to Cooper after high school as an art student, and I did not make the cut. But after going to the art shows, and seeing what freshmen students produce, I understood. I would not have accepted me at 17 either! It is a different caliber here. Last year, I went to the ‘Boroughbreds’ art show, which, if I can remember correctly, showcased the early work of freshman and sophomore students, and I was blown away. The work was beyond anything I had seen even as a senior artist at SVA.

What differentiates, in your opinion, the caliber of two pieces of art?

I guess it’s the thought behind it. Technical skill is something you can hone with practice, but if a piece is not thought-provoking, if the concept is not original, if it is based on a hollow idea, then it feels of lesser quality than a piece that makes you think of something in a new way. The inspiration that goes into each piece of artwork, I feel, can really dictate one’s reaction to it. By understanding the mind and the method of an artist, you can really grow to appreciate and understand his or her work at the next level.

What does your current position at Cooper entail?   

To best explain my role as Development Associate, let me first explain the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs. Our office exists to further the entire institution as a whole. We connect entities like organizations, corporations and individuals (both internally and externally of our Cooper community), with our alumni, our students and departments within the schools to best serve and benefit the institution each year. I work with both the Alumni Affairs team and the Development team, with annual giving being one of my main focuses.

Last year I worked with the senior council, and I am doing the same this year. We all work together on the senior bash, and senior gift [and right now artists and architects are under-represented so we could  use your help!]. I am excited to work with the seniors, many of whom I’ve met in the past year and they are really passionate, involved, and enthusiastic individuals.

My role recently just shifted from assistant to associate, so I will work more closely with alumni this year. Specifically, I am working with volunteers for engagements events, one of which is Reunion Weekend (June 3 – 5, 2016). This year’s is expected to be the largest reunion yet, and I want to help ensure a high turnout from all participating classes – so no alumni miss out on what always proves to be a fun and celebratory event.

I also work with alumni affinity groups, and we just recently started one for entrepreneurs. Cooper is in a real need for a solid alumni group for students and faculty interested in entrepreneurship to connect and help  one another to grow and prosper. We have a very driven group of alumni and faculty pioneering this project, and I see it being vital and successful, even in these early stages.

This is what we are here to do. If someone wants to contribute, or connect; with alumni, with students or staff, with Cooper, we are here to reach out and form those connections, and do what we can so this institution can continue to flourish year after year.

What do you love most about your job?

I love how inspiring the students are. Cooper is a special place; amazing things happen here. It was a tangible moment when I started out and I was invited to the Invention Factory lecture and reception. I was new and still learning, so I was solely attending as an observer. But immediately, I was overwhelmed with awe by what these students were doing — it was so inspiring to me, and it stuck.

I really try to take that feeling to work with me: the way that I see students in Invention Factory, exhibitions, etc. talk about their work. Cooper students look at the world and say how ‘can I improve this, how can I make this more functional, or more beautiful?’ — they take what they have in front of them, maybe confront something that they cannot see, and they find a solution creatively, academically, or socially to address the problem at hand. Anything is possible to a Cooper student — I am so aware of that; I see it every day. So I come to work here at Cooper each day and I try to do just that; anything great we can do, we should do. Just as Cooper students say, “if it is the right thing to do and it will benefit society” I say, if it is the right thing to do and it will benefit the school — let’s do it!

Where do you see yourself going from here?

I just started a new chapter here, so my sites are on the upcoming year and the tasks at hand. It’s really advantageous to start out a new semester because I can focus on improving upon last year’s programs, events and initiatives to be better than they ever were before – constantly striving to improve. This is also is a very important time at Cooper, and I knew that during the time when I came on board as well. A clear shift and transition is happening, in a place that has seen more than its share of transitions in recent years; a real weight has been lifted with the resolution of the lawsuit, and with that good news to share we are looking forward to what is next to come. We’re especially able to better, and more openly communicate now— especially with the CUAA in particular — so it has been a really positive working environment as we share knowledge and rebuild faith and trust within the Cooper community.

“A clear shift and transition is happening;
a real weight has been lifted with
the resolution of the lawsuit”

What advice would you give Cooper students?

Take advantage of the amazing resources that are offered here on campus: career fairs, mock interview nights, networking & volunteer opportunities, even after commencement; we have programs in place to help connect graduates with career opportunities and to other alumni in their fields. At Cooper, we really want to engage with our community in these aspects because it is so important that we take care of our students while they are here and continue to nurture them after they graduate.

Anything else you would like to share?

I would like to briefly circle back to my work with the Annual Fund. Now that a ‘Free Education Committee’ will be created and put in place at Cooper, it is also a goal of mine to grow participation this year. This means increasing the number of supporters that Cooper has, outside of fundraising totals. [Some background on Annual Fund gifts: All dollars raised are unrestricted, meaning they can be put to immediate and valuable use where funds are most needed within any of the respective schools.] This is vital because each and every student at Cooper directly benefits from the vital resources on campus that these gifts help to provide.

Growing community participation – even slightly – also greatly helps the likelihood of Cooper being selected to receive large gifts and grants from major donors and corporations outside of the institution. Organizations want to support institutions that have the support of their community.

It is something I am very passionate about, because Cooper was built on a foundation of philanthropy, so it is prevalent that the generosity of individuals matters a great deal to the continuing success The Cooper Union. For these reasons (and for all of the other reasons I’ve mentioned as well), I am also very happy and proud to support Cooper’s amazing students each year.

Stop Yelling At Each Other For One Second

By Daniel Galperin (ChE ’18) and Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

What follows is an editorial about the manner of discussion regarding the conversion of all restrooms to gender-neutral facilities. The discussion happens to be very similar to how many complicated and polarizing issues are discussed at Cooper Union. Please read it in the lens of the conversion of restrooms, but also in the foreground of the other important issues we face as a community. The authors believe there are bad community habits that require addressing. The authors also refer to themselves as “I, me” so as to reserve the use of “we, us” for the wider student body and “you” for… well you, dear reader. Each of the three sections speak to a different “you.”

Should all bathrooms be gender-neutral? It seems no one has known for the past three months. I, for one, don’t know. Judging from what I’m hearing in the hallways and reading on Facebook threads as of late, everyone has an opinion now! That is truly fantastic, but many of us are appreciably late to the party, aren’t we? When the idea of converting binary restrooms to gender neutral came up at the October Engineering Student Council meeting, representatives were supposed to be relaying the sentiments of their sections, but there was very little conversation… to put it lightly. 

For some reason, it seems as though the majority of engineers, which is the majority of students at Cooper, just forgets to care about governance and social issues. On November 8, Joint Student Council passed a resolution calling for the conversion of all restrooms to gender-neutral restrooms. The outcry of reactionary opinions has been quite a raucous! In discussions I’ve had with other students, I’ve frequently heard the opinion that engineers’ representatives didn’t adequately voice the opinions of their constituencies. “Why?” you ask? People are pretty quick to say that our governance is to blame, but I challenge these people to attend ESC meetings and voice their concerns in any context that isn’t strictly reactionary. Apologies if that sounds brash, but it is difficult to accept a criticism of a system from a person who has never cared enough to see how it actually functions. And therein lies a big part of this week’s outcry. 

“It’s not all our fault!” you say. “We have governance in place that is meant to represent us, but it failed to in this case.” To that, I say: you’re partly right. Governance is at fault—to some degree. I know for a fact that almost everyone actually cares, it’s just that some exam is coming up and there are three problem sets and an essay due. Many of the concerns raised now should have been represented at the JSC meeting—and for that, two things should have happened: first, students should have relayed their concerns to their reps, and second, ESC reps should have been more proactive in hearing the students’ opinions.

A few representatives held meetings with their sections (real life meetings!), so they were most aware of where students stand. That is actually an excellent idea, and I’m sincerely glad they made those efforts. But many of these representatives were not present at the JSC meeting where the voting happened. They didn’t follow through.

Even when a representative has two days’ notice of a meeting and is unable to attend, there is still something he or she can do. That is, send an alternate, someone who the rep nominates to attend a meeting and vote on their behalf and by extension, on behalf of their constituency. A representative can never allow the chance of totally failing to represent the people that elected them. Moreover, perhaps what is needed is a more sophisticated method of gauging student opinion, more sophisticated than “please respond to this email with your thoughts.”

Indeed, students are justified if they feel the process of governance did not work. However, just being mad about the process is not enough. It needs to be followed up with a solution that the community can agree on and the administration can enact. In an email to all engineers, ESC recognizes that the topic “may not have been discussed thoroughly enough” and calls for “all reps to re-engage in productive discussion with their sections.” Bill Mea and Chris Chamberlin are “planning to bring trained facilitators to educate the campus about the issues facing trans and gender non-conforming students so that we can all enter into discussions from an educated perspective.” These are all steps we need to take together: we need to develop the language around the issue, look within ourselves to understand where exactly our opinions come from, and most of all, listen to each other. 

To reiterate, we should voice our concerns and show up to ESC meetings so that we can affect change proactively, instead of attempting to yell retroactively. ESC representatives need to make a greater effort to represent their sections and more importantly, need to show up to JSC meetings. If they can’t, they must send an alternate. For us to have a say in Cooper’s governance, we need to try harder. 


This week, hundreds of online comments were filled with hateful language and presumptuous overtones. People said really vicious things. It got ugly.

The way discourse is going right now, people are forced to pick one of two sides over an issue that is actually much broader and deeper. Some don’t voice disagreement for fear of being perceived a certain way. Others feel compelled to take sides because that’s what seems to be the dominant perspective. In truth, these are signs of a polarized discussion that is no longer worthwhile.

I understand the urge to be witty and sharp in an argument, but this shouldn’t be about how fast you can respond because that is how conversations get derailed and all progress is lost. Everyone needs to be more mindful of how they address this issue and each other. When someone says something hostile or just straight up trolls, both groups immediately lose the ability to have meaningful discussion. They surrender the possibility of reaching a resolution or compromise that they claim to want so much. 

Simply put: who is going to listen to you after you’ve just gone and said something that they interpret as completely misinformed and hostile? How can you even expect anything less in return? Sure, you may not have meant to be rude, or maybe you have some reason for why what you said isn’t offensive (i.e. it’s not logical to get offended by this OR you’re part of a socially dominant majority so you can’t be offended by this). Your comment is followed by their rebuttal is followed by your outrage is followed by hurling insults. By now, the discussion is so far removed from the real thing. 

It’s too disheartening, however, for us to simply throw up our arms in frustration. I think we can all agree that Facebook is a toxic environment for group discussion. The mixture of the ability of a comment to get likes, the urge for rapid response and most importantly, the fact that you’re not actually speaking to another human being in person, are all factors that make for a very antagonistic and unsympathetic atmosphere. 

We need to foster person-to-person discussion of
bathroom issues. In a broader sense, we need to create a Cooper Union that allows for the respectful consideration of opinions from all sides. This is the duty of the entire community, and above all, the duty of JSC.


Most depressing of all is the fact that the real concerns of trans and gender non-conforming students were entirely lost in the commotion. Shouldn’t we be listening to the trans and gender nonconforming people who feel misgendered by binary bathrooms? That’s you! People will try to speak on your behalf. They will twist the issue and bend it back over itself. They will misrepresent your arguments. Worst of all, the vast majority of them will do it inadvertently. 

You are irrefutably frustrated. I couldn’t possibly understand, but I think I could begin to imagine the annoyance that must be felt in having to explain for the umpteenth time why this is an important issue. Do you really have to educate every single person in the entire school so you can go pee? Absolutely not. 

It’s easy to become frustrated with, even indifferent to, the opinions of those who you feel could never understand you. What isn’t easy is bringing about institutional change in a community that may not fully understand the depth of the issue at hand. When faced with this seemingly impossible task, instead of being abrasive and standoffish to people who don’t yet understand you, perhaps consider how institutional change is actually brought about. Doing so begins with seeding the discussion in a way that helps to develop the language around the issue. In increasing order of escalation, it involves person-to-person discussion, workshops and community building campaigns. In between all of that, there is a need to call out injustices. It should be acknowledged this is an attempt to make a sweeping change to the status quo so it must be explained by one group in order to be understood by everyone. This is the best way to change the status quo.

It is imperative that people see eye-to-eye when enacting change. Moreover, the institutional change brought about by the gender rights movement is directly related to the level of engagement and advocacy that its proponents are willing to do. This is not to say that the GNC and transgender community has not done enough explaining. It is, however, abundantly clear that many people are still not aware and this is resulting in catastrophic miscommunications. It is also clear that the topic of converting bathrooms is deeper than what one group wants over another group. The truth is that it’s multi-dimensional and all wrapped up together. What I can say with certainty is that the solution will inevitably come from within. 

Read this op-ed again, but this time, don’t think about bathrooms and gender issues at all. Replace those thoughts with any issue you think the Cooper community faces right now. Write down your response, come talk to me. I’m here to listen. Write to pioneer@cooper.edu

Intervarsity’s Syrian Benefit Concert

By Anthony Passalacqua (ME ’18)

Syrian Refugee Concert 2 Photo by Howie Chen EE '16 BW
Photo by Howie Chen (EE ’16)

On November 12, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship ran a benefit concert to help refugees who lost their homes or were displaced in the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. Intervarsity aimed to raise $3,000 for Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with global politics, refugees are leaving the Middle East en masse, many from Syria. Over 11 million people — close to half the population of Syria, have been displaced from their homes by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Student performances included Chinese Yo-Yo, juggling, Coopertones, a dance performance by Brenda So (EE ‘18) and Calvin Liu (ME ‘17), and a vocal rendition of “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera by Keira Li (ME ‘18).

Syrian Refugee Concert 1 Photo by Winter Leng ChE'18 BW
Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ’18)

Intervarsity President Chae Jeong (ChE ‘16) says, “$1,180 out of the total goal was raised through the sale of tickets and candy. Anyone willing to contribute can enter our raffle at our table in the NAB lobby, or simply donate online.”

Lectures Do Not Work: Student Performance in Lecture

By Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)

Despite their widespread use in higher education, lectures may contribute to poor student performance. The lecture tends to present topics as unquestionable facts, quite contradictory to the thorough questioning by which the arts and sciences are developed. And while there is little debate concerning well established principles, questions and open discussion certainly do not inhibit student comprehension.

Without a strong basis of knowledge, the lecture may have little foundation to build on, leading to poor student success. The discrepancy between the material taught and knowledge gained has been a pervasive problem as long as lecture classes have existed. The competence of both instructors and students have likely been questioned, but what about the instruction format itself?

David Hestenes, a professor of physics at Arizona State University, has pursued this problem since the late eighties. As he writes in his 1987 publication in the American Journal of Physics, “[instructors] practice in the classroom what they would never tolerate in the laboratory. In the laboratory they are keen to understand the phenomena and critically evaluate reasonable alternative hypotheses. But their teaching is guided by unsubstantiated beliefs about students and learning which are often wrong or partial truths at best. This kind of behavior would be as disastrous in the laboratory as it is in the classroom.”

Faced with poor student performance in introductory physics courses at Arizona State, Hestenes posed questions about a system for which many alternatives to encourage student involvement have been considered. Collectively, these methods are referred to as active learning.

A meta-analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compared science, technology, engineering, and math courses taught in traditional lecture setting to those taught with various active learning approaches. The active learning courses included aspects such as cooperative assignments and interactive classes.

The study found that students in active learning style courses performed better in some areas than traditional lecture-based classes. While active learning only increases average test scores by 6%, student failure rates are diminished 55% compared to lecture style classes. In other words, the larger benefit of active learning classes lies in the decreased rate of failure rather than the increased grades.

Fortunately, the size of Cooper Union circumvents the widespread need for large lecture style classes. Even so, could there still be problems with instruction methods lurking beneath the surface? Such an answer would require feedback from all sides of the classroom.

Course structure merely represents one of many factors which impact student learning. The “best” learning experience may always be elusive, but improvement—like learning itself—is something to strive for.

I’m Wild About Boring Things

By Vanessa Ritz (Art ’18)

I’d like to control the weather. If I were able to do so, I wouldn’t go crazy and you probably wouldn’t even know that I took over.

Right now the weather tries to control me but I refuse to succumb.

I became infatuated with this power while walking home from school after it had rained. I realized that I walked around the corner that I normally walk on because of a puddle. The power of this puddle to determine how I walked home bothered me. This happened over a year ago and I still think about it. After I found myself stepping around my normal path, I emailed this revelation to myself for a permanent documentation. This was the moment I decided the weather would not control me. I would always be one step ahead.

How to be ahead of the weather? Proper preparation. One must check the weather daily. When I have moments to kill on my phone, I check the weather. When I wake up, I check the weather. When I go to bed, I check the weather.

Stay informed. Defy its control. If it is going to rain, don’t let the weather stop daily routines or postpone plans. Rain dates are a bitch, so stick to the initial plan. Be as powerful as the weather. Invest in rain boots, snow boots, a tent for events, a rain jacket, an umbrella, and a headlight for blackouts.

There are two approaches to confront the weather.

1. Ignore it. Simple. Wear jackets when you want to, wear shorts in the snow, walk through puddles in sandals, drink hot coffee in august, eat Mexican food in the sun.

2. Mock it. Plan in advance. This is all about efficiency. You become so overtly prepared for the weather that it doesn’t matter what is happening outside because your gear leaves you virtually unaffected.

Personally, I like to ignore it. I like to have ice cream in the winter and hot tea in the summer. So, moral of the story: ignore the fucking puddle.

 VRitz - Wild About Boring Things