All posts by Matthew Grattan

The Glimmering Wing

By: Matthew Grattan (ChE ‘19) | Kavya Udupa (BSE ‘19)

The Glimmering Wing, an art show by Emma Faith Hill (Art ‘17), Mary Wichmann (Art ‘19), and Page Page, was held in the gallery of 41 Cooper Square, February 28 to March 4. The show’s title is a reference to a library wing, one of few private spaces for public use. Emma Faith Hill approached Wichmann and Page with the idea of “making work under the frame of a haptic library—haptic meaning learning through feel and touch. Physicalizing the visceral was the main approach of the show.

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Everyone Shops Together!

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.

The Pitch
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. ◊

Miles of Movies: Logan

By: Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

In a world of uplifting, happy-ending, fast-paced superhero films, Logan takes a different approach. It presents its titular character as a dark, depressed man who’s lived for two hundred years, watching other mutants like him rise and fall, and watching people he’s cared for get killed because of him. To Logan, the world is a painful place, and there isn’t much to make him care about living. Charles Xavier is one of the few people he takes care of—until he meets Laura, a young Hispanic girl that he must take to the Canadian border.

This film is half road-trip, half bloody action. There are no bright colors or super heroes. The opening ten to twenty minutes set the tone perfectly: heartbreaking, realistic and believable. They also provide some backstory about Laura and make the main characters feel authentic.

The special effects, sound design, and cinematography are all great in this film. Hugh Jackman plays Logan well and has for the past seventeen years. Dafne Keen, who plays Laura, isn’t given a whole lot to do until the last act of the film, but really brings it then. As far as I know, she’s never been in a film before, so I’m interested to see where she goes from here.

Logan’s character arc develops strongly in the first two acts of this film (introduction and road-trip), but it does not play out well in the third act. As a “road trip” movie, you might expect this film to be formulaic. And it is but not in a way that I particularly like.

For a dark movie like this to work, you need the main character to be either likable, relatable, or sympathetic. After all that Logan has been through in the previous X-Men films, he should at least be sympathetic. But in the third act, he isn’t. He just goes back to being a stubborn, cranky guy who doesn’t want to do anything or help anyone. And that took me out of the movie.

Overall, Logan is a new tone for a superhero film. It features a different world for mutants without hope or purpose. The first two acts are strong in setting up the tone, characters, and story. There are some truly heartbreaking moments here, but the third act made Logan unlikable again—which was disappointing. I would still recommend this film, but just know that it is a bloody mess and isn’t terribly uplifting or fun like a typical superhero film. ◊

Grade: B+

 

ESC Faculty Auction

By: Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19)

The Fun Committee of ESC hosted the fifth annual Faculty Auction last Wednesday evening in the Rose Auditorium. Over 100 students came after class, cash in hand, to bid on 159 spots with 51 different professors. This year, every professor sold.
The auction raised a grand total of $3,356 for the Fun Committee to use on future events, almost double last year’s total. The money made from the Faculty Auction will be given right back to the student body in the form of events including: cookies and coffee, therapy dogs, midnight breakfast, and Assassin.
The Faculty Auction lets students bid on opportunities to spend time with professors outside of a school environment. Often, these activities are tailored to the interests of the professor, so students can see how professors enjoy spending their time—besides teaching, of course. Some offers make annual appearances and become events that students look forward to. For example, there are the sought-after meditation session with ME professor George Sidebotham and the physics movie night hosted by professor Philip Yecko.
The “grand prize” that students anticipate every year is Career Center head Jolie Woodson’s investment towards professional development. The investment goes towards the GRE, membership to a professional society, or expenses to attend a professional conference. The prize regularly sets the record for highest bid, this year going for a record $250 per student!
One of the most unique prizes was offered up by new adjunct professor Christopher Curro. The highest bidder could choose which vegetable Curro would eat and, on top of that, spend a nice day in New York City with him and two friends. Professors Michael Kumaresan and Bob Hopkins both offered up a day out to a sporting event. A highly coveted prize this year was offered by President Laura Sparks, who will host two nights of home-cooked meals with her family for a dozen students.

Not only is the Faculty Auction itself an entertaining event, but it also provides the committee with the means to make more fun events in the future. If you didn’t come this year, there’s always next year, and Fun Committee will work to make each auction bigger and better! ◊

Photo by Zheng Alex Liu (ChE '20).
Photo by Zheng Alex Liu (ChE ’20).

Oli’s Sweet Mess: Van Leeuwen

Olivia Heuiyoung Park (ME ‘19)

Hey there! This is Olivia, and I’d like to welcome you to Oli’s Sweet Mess! Each issue, I’ll be documenting my adventures in the city by featuring one or two dessert shops. If you have any suggestions, feel free to reach out to me!

For my first “Oli’s Sweet Mess”, I thought it would be most fitting to feature none other than “Van Leeuwen,” my favorite artisan ice cream parlor of all time! As a lactose intolerant ice cream lover, Van Leeuwen is the perfect place for me. They have both amazing classic and vegan ice cream flavors, with phenomenal seasonal flavors such as: rose jam cardamom cake, labneh (yogurt-cheese) with pistachio & candied orange, and banana cream pie. A scoop costs $5.50 (or $6 for vegan flavors), but it’s totally worth the price!

The ice cream is super rich and flavorful, and you can even try as many flavors as you want before deciding on a flavor! It’s very close to Cooper actually—located on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street. It is a perfect spot for hanging out with friends, treating yourself, or even studying! They have limited seating, but the store itself has the perfect atmosphere to grab a warm drink and to study (yes they have free Wi-Fi). Also, the workers are all very friendly and fun.

Van Leeuwen was created by three friends in a small kitchen in Brooklyn in 2007 and now has several locations and trucks in New York and California. The store offers amazing ice cream with optional toppings, house made sundaes, Toby’s Estate coffee and espresso, Rishi Organic teas, house made pastries with plenty of vegan options, and more! The only downfall is that the East Village location doesn’t have a bathroom, but hey, everything else about this place makes up for it. You can even buy hand packed pints at the store, or for a cheaper price at a grocery store nearby!

Next time when you’re craving something sweet, cold, or even just a quick cup of joe, give Van Leeuwen a try! I promise you’ll fall in love with the store as quickly and deeply as I did! ◊

Buy High, Sell Low: Risk

By: John Doe

Hello Readers. Below is a new column with the goal of educating Pioneer readers in matters of investment. This column will cover topics that translate well from math and science classes at The Cooper Union to real applications in financial markets.
Risk is a difficult thing to define. For most people, the risk of making a decision is the possible negative impact of the choice. In terms of investment, the risk is the total loss possible from that decision. Some people use volatility as a measurement of risk, volatility being the standard deviation or variance of an investment return.
The standard deviation of a set is well known to all engineering students at The Cooper Union. If we look at the close prices of Apple (NYSE: AAPL) and Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) every week over the past month and tabulate the average and standard deviation (see Figure 1), we can see in this definition of risk, AAPL is a “riskier” investment than MSFT.
However, this definition of risk is extremely lacking in utility. For example, look at the prices for AAPL and MSFT; while the AAPL prices continue to rise, MSFT hovers around the average and not rising or falling. Now, investors are not distressed by rising prices; in fact they find it very good! So how can we define risk to be more useful for evaluating investment options?
In 1987, there was a particularly nasty stock market crash where overvalued investments corrected to very low prices. Most investors did not have a way of numerically understanding the possible losses associated with investing in the stock market bubble and lost a lot of money. Investment banks and financial institutions sought out statistical ways of determining—to a percentage certainty—how much money could be lost in a crash. It turns out this method is very simple to understand. Say we aggregate the daily returns of AAPL and MSFT into buckets and plot a histogram of the number of days each bucket of returns occurred for the last 5 years.
Figures 2 and 3 are the normal distributions of the daily returns of AAPL and MSFT—Cooper students are very familiar with the physics of normal distributions. Since we order the returns from worst to greatest, we want to look at the left tail of this distribution. This allows us to make a very useful statement: With a 99.92% confidence, an investment in AAPL will, at worst, absorb a daily loss of 13.2% and MSFT can incur 12.1%. Now, it is very clear that AAPL is riskier than MSFT with a 99.2% confidence interval.
This method has its faults, it makes two basic assumptions: (1) that past performance is predictive of future performance and (2) that the distribution of returns is normal. These are very basic statistical mistakes in finance, and so the value at risk (VaR) estimate, like the one done above, must be considered alongside other measures of risk. There are ways to make VaR more effective which will be covered in the next installment of “Buy High, Sell Low.” Happy investing, everyone! ◊

Figure 1: A comparison of the average and standard deviation of Apple and Microsoft for the month of February.
Figure 1: A comparison of the average and standard deviation of Apple and Microsoft for the month of February.

 

Figure 2: The daily returns of Apple for the past five years.
Figure 2: The daily returns of Apple for the past five years.

 

Figure 3: The daily returns of Microsoft for the past five years.
Figure 3: The daily returns of Microsoft for the past five years.

 

Closing the Engineering Gender Gap at Cooper

By Brandon Quinere (CE ‘19)

The percentages of male and female undergraduate students broken down by school. In an email, Dean Lipton commented that “there are many ways to define diversity, and regardless of where Cooper Union sets its goals, we should be inclusive in our definition.” Statistics provided by Office of Admissions.
The percentages of male and female undergraduate students broken down by school. In an email, Dean Lipton commented that “there are many ways to define diversity, and regardless of where Cooper Union sets its goals, we should be inclusive in our definition.” Statistics provided by Office of Admissions.

Last November, the Faculty-Student Senate released a statement to the Cooper community adopting a resolution that addresses the gender disparity in the School of Engineering. As advisors to the President and Board of Trustees, the Senate requested that a strategic plan be devised to increase the applicant pool specifically for female students pursuing engineering at Cooper. The Pioneer had the opportunity to speak to Senate Chair Stan Mintchev, Vice-Chair Sam Keene, and Secretary Julie Castelluzzo on how diversifying the engineering major is crucial for the school.

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, of all the bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded in 2015, women earned only 19.9% of them, a small improvement from the 19.3% reported nine years ago in 2006. This gender gap is further represented in the workforce, with The Chronicle of Higher Education reporting that 12% of all engineering jobs were held by women in 2013.

For larger schools whose STEM programs represent only a small portion of the types of curricula available for students, this particular issue may go unnoticed. In the case for Cooper, whose schools are split between three programs, it becomes harder to see past that gap, as explained by Professor Keene, “The gender disparity issue is really not an issue in the schools of Art and Architecture. They are much closer to a 50/50 ratio, so that is why this particular resolution was specific to the School of Engineering.”

Perhaps most unfortunately, an overall disinterest in the field is not why women are less inclined to be enrolled in college engineering programs. At often times, the role of intimidation and a lack of comfort comes into play, especially in male-dominated learning environments. “I had been hearing anecdotally for some time that there were issues of harassment in the School of Engineering,” described Professor Keene on how the issue of gender disparity was brought to the Senate floor. “The more I heard, the more convinced I was that there was a problem.”

Discussions and workshops about sexual harassment and consent have become more prominent at Cooper to avoid the possibility of a student having their scholarly path derailed because of someone else’s inappropriate campus behavior. A popular opinion piece published by The New York Times last year investigated sexual harassment in science, revealing that women in STEM even felt motivated to quit their programs because of unwanted advances by their male colleagues.

Beyond the fear of sexual harassment, female students may also feel that they are not equipped with the skills that their male peers have in terms of performance. A lack of female representation may discourage female students from pursuing STEM fields at a young age, simply because the industry is so commonly depicted as primarily male. Developing strategies and better support systems to encourage more female students in engineering can greatly dispel these false narratives.

The intersection of gender and race also plays a pivotal role in terms of better representation in STEM. A study conducted by the Society of Women Engineers revealed that in comparison to their white male colleagues, women engineers and engineers of color felt more of a need to prove themselves to gain respect, potentially demoralizing further interest in their field. (On a related note: as a celebration of diversity on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cooper sponsored a free screening of Hidden Figures, a film about black women mathematicians Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson and their success at NASA.)

The Faculty-Student Senate stressed a need to improve the overall campus environment at Cooper by improving female outreach of prospective applicants in future classes. Within the School of Engineering, the Senate foresees an increase in comfort for female students in a more inclusive environment: “We feel there needs to be a critical mass of women students, so that they can form study groups, work on group projects, or attend a class where they are not the only women present.”

Because the Senate’s role at Cooper is advisory, meaning they do not specify how goals should be implemented, they believe the Board of Trustees, Administration, and Office of Admissions can move forward with their requests by better prioritizing this issue and formulating a detailed plan to increase the female applicant pool. Still, the Senate is not advocating for a different admissions process for female engineering students; the goal is to recruit more women without tampering with existing admissions criteria.

As a message to current students at Cooper, the Faculty-Student Senate had the following to say on how they can assist in closing the gender gap for future classes at the School of Engineering:

Having an open dialogue around these topics is the beginning. Talk to the other students in your major and in other programs as well. Talk to female faculty in the School of Engineering about their opinions and experiences. Discuss it with students you know at other engineering schools. Consider your choices of words more carefully; for example, joking about rape is not funny to the survivor who overhears you. Educate yourself on the meaning of consent and why it’s important.

Female engineering students at Cooper who are interested in taking a more active role as role models could talk to their Dean, people in student services, and people in the Admissions office about how they can get more involved in communicating with prospective students.

Furthermore, if you are aware of specifics that place Cooper at a disadvantage with regards to the recruitment or retention of female students, make yourself heard. General information about the student experience, how institutional resources play into all of this, how current students describe Cooper to prospective applicants (e.g. younger cohorts from their high school, friends, neighbors, etc.), or how upperclassmen describe the Cooper experience to current freshmen would be of tremendous value to the Senate subcommittee.

Cooper students who would like to contribute to this ongoing conversation with any comments or advice for the Senate may contact Professor Keene (keene@cooper.edu). By recruiting more women in the School of Engineering, Cooper would be making great strides in diversifying future work environments and inspiring the next generation of women engineers. Representation in any field is very important; it assures the underrepresented that they too can succeed in environments that are not dominated by people who identify with them. ◊