By Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19)
In his day, Peter Cooper was known as a humanitarian who gave back to his community of New York City. One of his most significant and lasting acts of philanthropy was, as one can guess, the founding of a little college known as The Cooper Union. One hundred and fifty years later, the institution is still giving back to its community in more ways than just producing artists, architects, and engineers. Unknown to most of the student body, Cooper proudly hosts the Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers, which is a program that allows immigrants with backgrounds in science or engineering in their home countries to use their education to serve their new country. The program not only provides classes and educational resources to the students, but also aims to help them find work once their retraining is complete.
The Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers has been in action for the past twenty years. It was originally started in 1987 by Bnai Zion inspired by the number of engineers emigrating to the United States from the Soviet Union at the time. The program was held in the Bnai Zion Scientists Division in Midtown who shortly formed a partnership with Cooper in 1991, as both institutions had a common aim of giving back to the community. In 2015, Cooper Union began hosting the entire program by holding the classes and career counseling for members of the program found through the Bnai Zion Foundation. Although the program is very accommodating, it still has important limits—those enrolling in the program must be legal immigrants who hold degrees in science or engineering from an institution in their home country.
The Cooper Union provides the program with classrooms, academic curricula, and professors to teach a variety of classes ranging from classes specialized in technology and other branches of science to business tactics. The program not only gives immigrant engineers another education but also works very hard in providing jobs for them. Around 60% of participants in the program find work through the program as well. These jobs are acquired through networking—something Cooper students are familar with. Like our own Career Development Center, the Retraining Program helps the participants find jobs through exercises such as resume preparation and mock interviews as well as finding jobs through professional networking.
This program is significant in present day, especially in places like New York City where over a third of the population are foreign-born immigrants. For centuries, people from all over the world have emigrated to the United States, especially to cities like New York City, in hopes of attaining a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them would be educated in very specialized fields, but would have to give up their education because they didn’t have access to something like the Retraining Program. Thus, the stereotype of immigrants working menial jobs despite having been surgeons in their home countries persist. Access to the Retraining Program allows immigrants to not only lead better lives themselves in their new home, but to also serve the country in a positive way. ◊