All posts by Matthew Grattan

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. ◊

Faces of Cooper: Neveen Shlayan

By Camille Chow (EE ‘19)

Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ‘19).
Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ‘19).

Where are you from?

I am from Nazareth, north of
Israel. Right after I finished high school, my family moved to Las Vegas so, to some, I am also from Vegas.

What is your educational background?

I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

How did you end up teaching at Cooper?

Upon graduation, I was faced with a decision to make—whether I wanted to pursue a career in academia or in industry. I thought taking some time to explore and work in different areas would help with this decision. The following year, I worked as a fellow at different research centers, which is how I ended up in New York. By that time, I had decided that I want to be in academia. I cannot recall how exactly I heard about Cooper but I guess when you live in the city the name comes up. I researched the school and it seemed consistent with what I had in mind in terms of where I wanted to work. Luckily they had an open position, so I applied.

What do you think about the Cooper community so far?

Cooper has a unique environment, at least compared to the other academic institutions that I have experienced. I enjoy my interactions with both colleagues and students alike. The level of involvement of alumni long after their graduation is remarkable. Even if they end up going to other schools for graduate studies, the alumni seem to identify with Cooper the most. I think this says a great deal about the culture at Cooper.

I understand that you taught at SUNY Maritime before coming to Cooper, are there any differences?

SUNY Maritime is a specialized school and most students are generally interested in careers related to the maritime industry regardless of the engineering field pursued. This meant that some of the material taught had to be geared towards maritime-related applications.

What do you do outside of teaching?

Outside of teaching, I work on my research. I have been researching topics related to Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) since I was a graduate student. My most recent project is related to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi detection of pedestrians for the enhancement of transit systems.

What are some of your non-academic interests?

Food has been a constant interest of mine. For instance, I become obsessed with finding the best cannoli or cupcake or pizza in town. I enjoy music that I do not necessarily understand, especially fusion of traditional, classical, and modern music. Lately, I have been also interested in improv theater. Politics is another interest, though I do not like to discuss it.

I understand you are currently the only female faculty member of the electrical engineering department. Has that had an impact on your teaching experience at Cooper?

It is unfortunate to say this; however, being in engineering, I am used to being one of the very few or sometimes the only woman in the room. It definitely makes people curious about how I ended up in the engineering field, which is strange because I never wonder why my male colleague is an engineer. It makes me feel like I must have an interesting story for them instead of the plain old “I’m just good at math and science.” I do occasionally wonder how my work environment could have been different if I had more female interaction but whether or not this has an impact on my work is hard to determine.

At the beginning of my career, faced with skepticism, I found myself becoming slightly concerned about whether I needed to seem more “tough” to get credibility but soon after I realized it is too exhausting to worry about that, so I just started pretending that the skepticism does not exist. After all, tough comes in many forms and women are very good at being tough but with grace. That being said, I always found individuals at various institutions that are very supportive of women and very serious about increasing the number of women in STEM fields. Cooper is one of them. ◊

ChE Department Seeks New Faculty

By Daniel Galperin (ChE ‘18)

The Chemical Engineering department is seeking to hire at least one new full-time faculty member this semester for Fall 2017. On October 3, 2016 a listing for a tenure-track faculty position was posted to the Cooper Union website. Candidates for the position appeared on campus last week to meet with other faculty members as well as ChE students. The candidates gave brief talks about their areas of research and their teaching philosophy. Areas of interest included surface engineering applications in formulation science and the use of catalysts for alternative energy.

Currently, the Chemical Engineering faculty is comprised of four full time professors, one laboratory technician and one adjunct professor. Comparing that to other departments makes it very clear that the ChE department is in need of a new hire. Professor Stock continues to teach ChE-352 Reactions Engineering, while simultaneously carrying out the role of Acting Dean. Cooper Union Federation of College Teachers (CUFCT) law states that the Dean may only teach one course per semester.

At the start of last semester Professor Brazinsky also had to go on emergency leave and as of today, it remains unclear whether or not he plans to return to the Cooper Union. Further, professors within the ChE department have stated that the interview process for the tenure-track faculty hire may very well attempt to produce two candidates instead of the one that was originally planned.

Traditionally, new faculty members at Cooper begin their teaching career by offering a graduate-level elective in their area of expertise. “A new graduate elective would definitely be a plus since we are limited in those options and usually have to resort to other majors’ graduate electives if we are interested in higher level material,” commented Robert Godkin (ChE ’18). ChE students are excited to participate in the hiring process in any capacity and are equally excited to have an additional elective to choose from when planning courses. The hiring process will hopefully be concluded this semester and the ChE department will have at least one additional member starting Fall 2017. ◊