By: Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)
For a university established “for the Advancement of Science and Art,” students from the different schools have very little opportunity for interaction. They are confined to different buildings and workspaces with almost entirely separate curriculums. There’s no good reason for this, especially considering that there are some important skills that all first-year students would benefit from: physical prototyping using hand tools and other equipment available in Cooper Union’s’ machine shops.
Recognizing this common ground between disciplines, a group of students working with Professor Lima drafted a proposal for a new class. This class would allow students from all three schools to work together in a shared environment to learn fundamentals of working with metal and wood using common tools, a skill set important to each of their majors.
Shop Class Now
Currently, all students are required to attend a machine shop “class” of sorts, where the different tools and machines are introduced and demonstrated. However, this tutorial amounts to little more than a general shop-safety orientation: students never get a hands-on experience and merely watch the operators describe and use the machines.
In reality, first-year engineering students have few opportunities to get their hands dirty—there just aren’t many 100-level classes that necessitate physical prototyping. EID101 is the only mandatory project-based class, and even then, the amount of hands-on work that you do varies pretty widely between sections: an engineering student can easily go their entire freshman year without ever returning to the machine shop.
In my experience, it’s definitely true that many engineering students are woefully inexperienced when it comes to building; in Design and Prototyping, a 200-level mechanical engineering course, many of the students in the class had zero prior experience, with at least a few admitting that this class was the first time they’d actually used a drill.
On the contrary, first-year art students have way more experience actually making things: 3D Design gets them familiar with tools and machines, with turning abstract concepts into physical prototypes. Engineers have no analogous class, and this proposed course seeks to rectify this issue, simultaneously opening up avenues for interdisciplinary cooperation.
Pranav Joneja (ME ‘18), one of the students who drafted the proposal, notes that “a class like EID101 doesn’t need to be limited to only engineers. Wouldn’t it be great if that class was cross-disciplinary? There’s no real reason it can’t be; the only limitation is the separated structures of the three schools.” This encapsulates the inspiration behind the proposal, whose main goals include the creation of a shared machine shop and a new class where artists, architects and engineers can work together to create installations for Cooper Square Park, turning it into a functional, student-built community space.
Another group of students has proposed a winter intensive with similar goals of fostering collaboration between the three schools. Students would work in small groups—mixed between schools—and use their differing areas of expertise to solve real-world problems similar to those encountered in EID101. Working together with other students with different skillsets and perspectives is an invaluable experience; it’s a shame that such interactions are so uncommon. These two proposals aim to break down the imaginary walls by promoting cooperation, collaboration and respect among the three schools. ◊