All posts by Matthew Grattan

It’s Too Easy to Cheat!

By Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Pioneer as a whole.

It’s a problem that finally caught the attention of administrators and faculty during the past wave of finals, but prevalence of cheating at The Cooper Union has long been a point of contention among “honest” students. It is especially heinous in certain curved classes, where undeserved high marks throw off the average, directly impacting everyone else’s grades. Only by understanding why and how cheating occurs can effective preventative measures be developed.

An inflated GPA is certainly appealing, but the real draw lies in how easy it is to get away with and how hard it is to prove. It’s not to say that nobody notices: with such a small student body, cheating is readily apparent and repeat offenders gain a certain notoriety. Even cheaters well-known among the other students aren’t at any direct risk of punishment, however: The ChE department’s recent letter to the students details how one might go about reporting academic dishonesty, but makes no mention of what, if any, actions would actually be taken in response to the report. The fact of the matter is, reputation just isn’t enough evidence. Notice how Snoop isn’t in jail despite being widely known as a botany enthusiast? Or, similarly, how Al Capone had to be arrested for tax evasion despite being an infamous mobster kingpin?

So, they’re safe as long as they’re discrete, right? As it turns out, even getting caught in the act is not enough: during last semester’s finals, one professor actually did catch several students cheating on the final, and even though the Dean was eventually called down, nothing came of it because verbal testimonies are meaningless: anything short of absolutely undeniable hard evidence runs the risk of turning into a game of he-said she-said.

In theory, it makes perfect sense for accusations of academic dishonesty to require rigorous proof; otherwise, a professor (or, indeed, another student) with a personal vendetta can easily get somebody expelled over a baseless accusation. But in practice, it means that the scary-sounding consequences of academic dishonesty are merely a vicious dog with no teeth. Only the most blatant, heavy-handed incidents actually result in punishment, with the vast majority of cheaters effectively granted amnesty. The risks are low, and the rewards are high; when personal integrity is the only thing at stake, it’s no surprise that cheating is such a widespread disease.

Knowing that it’s all but impossible to punish cheating after the fact, professors need to take a more proactive approach: by making it harder to cheat in the first place. The fact of the matter is that a lot of cheating occurs simply because of how easy it is. Much like how bike locks are primarily intended to “keep honest people honest”, there’s some surprisingly simple measures that can be taken to combat the most common forms of cheating, simply by making it a bit less convenient to do so.

Aside from the obvious phone-under-the-table trick, one popular ploy is “the Human Centipede”, a staple of Great Hall exams. A group of friends will sit together in a row, with the kid who actually studied passing their answers up from the front like a game of telephone. Multiple forms, even with the problem numbers scrambled, does nothing to deter this behavior as long as the questions themselves are repeated. As this method is entirely dependent on sitting among friends, it’s somewhat surprising that assigned seating isn’t the norm for large exams.
Another favorite is the “Better Late than Never”, usually used after short weekly quizzes, in which a group will share answers and correct their papers together before handing it in well after the time limit. This type of cheating could be curbed by more strictly enforcing time limits, as well as some basic attentiveness on the professor’s part. Then you have the old “Let’s Ask Yesterday’s Section Because They Took Literally the Same Quiz” trick, which… seriously, cheating should never be that easy. Invest some time into making multiple forms with different computations and this problem would basically go away.

The scale and extent of preventative measures varies widely from class to class, from professor to professor. As one student notes, “the school is pretty unbalanced with how it handles cheating. On one hand, based on the rules they have, it’s obvious that some professors clearly want to stop it, but there’s plenty of professors who do nothing.”
Some professors merely employed TA’s who hardly walked around the room, which isn’t much better than those professors who made no attempt at all. On the other end of the spectrum, during some exams, students were required to move their coats, bags and phones to the front to remove potential hiding spots for cheat sheets and notes, a trivial policy that at least appears to be effective.

The best were the classes whose exams came in several forms, in which equivalent questions were only conceptually similar; attempting to copy would be futile because two versions of the same question might have entirely different answers, depending on the wording and setup of the problem. Writing and grading such an exam takes much more effort than just having one set of questions in mixed order, but it goes to show that some professors are willing to put extra effort to prevent cheating. The Student Council has also provided additional suggestions in their recent letter to the engineering faculty. Hopefully, a better understanding of cheaters’ means and motivations will help students and professors work together to devise more effective techniques, preventing cheating before it ever happens. ◊

Faces of Cooper: Cassandra Jolicoeur

By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (ME ‘19)

Photo by Sage Gu (CE '19).
Photo by Sage Gu (CE ’19).

I know your bio on the Cooper website, but please introduce yourself for our readers!

I’ve been at Cooper for I think about a month and a half now. I’m the student care coordinator, which means that I’m here for all the students—I’m here for extra support. For example, if someone is overwhelmed with classes, struggling with a mental health issue, looking for individual counseling or outside referral, I’m here—just to make sure the students get what they need.

What led you to become a counselor?

I think what led me to counseling was my own experience in school. You know, going to college is not just about grades and academics. I mean, it absolutely is—that’s why we’re here, but besides from grades and academics, you might also be struggling with things like relationship or family issues. There’s just so much more involved with being a college student, and I just wanted to be the support for someone in that area.

Could you explain your “counseling style?”

My counseling style is very client-focused. I’m not here to tell you what to do or how to live your life. You’re the expert on your life and I’m here to sort of guide you through the issues you have and to get you where you need to be.

What do you think is the difference between a school counselor and a therapist?

It really depends; in some circumstances, they can be the same things. It is based on what the person needs. Typically, when I think of school counselors I think more of guidance counselors; while therapy, I think, is more about exploring people’s emotions or pasts and how that’s affecting their current behaviors.

What led you to come to Cooper?

I think it was Indeed.com. I was just looking for different jobs at the time and what struck me about Cooper is that it’s such a unique school with such dedicated students. I think there’s something really admirable about that. I just wanted the chance to be able to provide a little bit of a “stress-free zone” here.

What are some of your goals at Cooper?

I always say this, but I am a big “self-care” person. I think my primary goal here is to educate people about mental health and also about ways to take care of themselves. As important as it is to go to class, do work, and focus on academics, if you don’t take care of yourself, you really can’t do any of the other stuff. My goal here is to really teach people to take care of themselves, and learn to take time for themselves.

As students, we might have a hard time reaching out and asking for help, or even noticing that we might need help. Do you have any advice or suggestions for us?
As students, I think the first thing is to always take care of yourself. Even if it’s something very small, like going for a walk to destress, making sure you get a healthy meal, exercising, or going to bed on time. Even now, in general, I’ll check my email in the morning and the students I’ve been meeting with would have sent an email late the night before, and I can’t help but think “I hope this person is sleeping!” I think it’s important to remember that YOU come first, and that you should put yourself first so that you can be healthy enough to get to the other stuff.

In terms of reaching out for help, I think it can be pretty scary. It can be daunting to go into a room and talk to a stranger about what’s going on with you, but I’ve seen the amazing effects. It’s not only important for just the students but also everyone to have that one person that you go to once a week and just spill out everything, let me hold everything for you for just a bit so you get a break.

Aside from counseling, what are some of your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing?

In my free time, I enjoy self-care: sleeping. Aside from that, I’m really into photography. That’s a pretty big thing of mine as that’s kind of like how I do self-care and destress. And in general, going for walks helps clear my mind a lot.

Most of the areas of interest listed on your bio are related to mental health, but as students, we might not realize we suffer from these conditions. What are some things we should know to be aware of our situations?

One thing I plan on doing, hopefully, is to provide mental health education. Either in groups or just with workshops on what mental health concerns look like—signs that maybe something’s not right.

My advice for anyone is to pay attention to your body and what you’re feeling. Think of how people describe you. If someone says that you are social and outgoing, but suddenly you don’t feel like hanging out with friends, or maybe you’re not eating as much, or sleeping more than you’re used to, there might be an underlying issue there—and I think it’s important to just know yourself and to recognize changes.

Fun question: if you were a fruit, what would you be?

That’s a good one! I’m not actually really good at eating fruit though. I’m trying to eat healthy but can I be a certain smoothie instead? I would probably be a pineapple-mango smoothie as those are my favorites. You sort of have your fruit all at once, and that’s it!

Any last words?

I’m in the Student Affairs office, so definitely come by and say hi! I’m hoping to stash my office with candy, which is always a good way to get through class without falling asleep. Even if you’ve got nothing going on, feel free to drop by! I love talking to people—that’s just my thing. I’m super social! I’m hoping to get accustomed to the culture here more and to get a chance to meet everyone! ◊

The Office of Student Affairs provides free counseling services to students, and appointments can be booked online, with a total of 3 different counselors.

“Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)”

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. ◊

Archi-Skate One

By Austin Richard Mayer (Arch ‘18)

ishod-ware-grind-foundation
Photo provided by Austin Richard Mayer (Arch ‘18).

The Cooper Union sits in what might be considered the cradle of NYC skateboard territory. Our next few issues will profile the building elements that compose our own campus skate park. First up we have east coast powerhouse Ishod Wair performing a 50-50 grind on the Foundation Building’s access ramp handrail. The ramp, designed by John Hejduk and Edwin Aviles, was installed in 1992 to allow wheelchair access and heavy freight loading into the building. Drawings made by Steven Hillyer were granted approval from the Landmark Preservation Committee to construct this addition to the portico of our 1859 historic brownstone. The ramp-side space created is a tiny thread of juxta-temporal urban fabric with a mood all its own, enjoyed by those who frequently and infrequently hang out within it. In conclusion, I suggest that this element can be read as a lil tongue sticking out the side of a lil mouth. ◊

Miles of Movies: The Lego Batman Movie

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

The Lego Batman Movie is about Lego Batman who goes around Gotham City saving the day, fighting criminals, and above all, working alone. Much to the dismay of Alfred, his caretaker, and even The Joker, who just wants to be Batman’s arch-enemy, Batman just doesn’t care about anybody but himself. So when he accidentally adopts the orphan Dick Grayson, Batman must grapple with his fear of family and what that might mean for both him and his image.
I was skeptical about this film, which seemed like it would be just a sillier version of the previous Lego Movie, but in fact, I was surprised. The Lego Batman Movie is just as good as The Lego Movie, playing a lot of the same beats but taking its focus away from the story and onto Batman. In fact, the entire film revolves around Batman’s inner struggle with having people around him to care for. There are a lot of moments when you really feel for Batman and what it’s like to be admired by so many people but unable to connect to any of them.

The self-aware humor and cultural references in The Lego Movie are all back for this film. What worked really well in The Lego Movie works even better here as this film brings back all of Batman’s villains and then some, making fun of everything Batman. The slapstick comedy that was everywhere in the previous film is toned down a little bit in this film to make way for more Batman-related humor. The Joker’s relationship with Batman is hilarious and the other villains tie in pretty well. Even Sauron is in this film! How did they manage to get that to work?

A big change in this film is the animation. It’s still mostly Legos, but there is a distinct camera now, giving a feeling of a live-action film. The lighting effects are really great this time around, and there are some wide shots of Batman flying that look gorgeous. The color scheme is different too, focusing on blacks and reds in contrast to the colorful feel of the previous film. All of these changes make you forget that you’re watching a movie animated from Lego blocks. So much of The Lego Movie revolved around building things with Legos, but almost nothing in The Lego Batman Movie required them.

Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is a worthy follow-up to The Lego Movie. It keeps the same amount of humor but changes it up a little. The story itself is centered around Batman, which makes for good character development but a bit of a forgettable story. I really enjoyed the change in animation style, even though it begs the question, “why even bother making it a Lego Movie?” I really had a blast with this film and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good time or just feeling a little lonely; you’ll finish the movie with a smile on your face. ◊

Grade: A-

Photo by Simon Shao (ME ‘19).

Faces of Cooper: Yash Risbud (EE ’92, MEE ’94)

by Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18)

Tell us about your education and how you ended up at Cooper.

I went to a regional parochial high school in Bergen County, New Jersey. After that, I went to Cooper, where I graduated as an electrical engineer. I found out about Cooper because my father got his masters from Cooper in the 70s. I had a choice between Columbia and Cooper, but I wanted to be at a smaller school and go to the same place my father went to. Now here we are several years later, and I’m thankful for that decision.

How did you initially join the faculty at Cooper?

I joined the EE department as an adjunct in 1997. When I was a graduate student, I started teaching in the Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers. It was started and funded by many philanthropic organizations to help Russian Jews who had to emigrate after the Soviet Union broke up. They were brilliant people and some had multiple PhDs, but their educational background didn’t translate to the workforce in the US. So this program retrained these people to have multiple skills so they can get work here; work that wasn’t well below their academic credentials. A number of us who taught in this program ended up as adjuncts through a process of choice and need by the institution.

What is your current role at Cooper?

My official title is Managing Director of the CV Starr Research Foundation. Cornelius Van Der Starr was the predecessor of AIG fortune tree. He retired at that company, which eventually became AIG, and they started a philanthropic foundation involved in a number of different sectors including higher academia.

In 2006, Cooper received $10 million to fund any labs, classrooms and facilities in this building; it was a capital campaign going on at the time. I was involved on the alumni side before I started here full time. When I started, one of my first tasks was to convert any of the research efforts that were going on into one unified effort under the CV Starr name it currently has.

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

What is your favorite part about being involved in your former college?

The last couple years have been eye opening and difficult. But even with everything going on, there’s something about being around young people that is exhilarating and irritating all at the same time. I’m also one of those that never really left Cooper; I was teaching and before I was a full time professor, I was on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.

I never had the down time to figure out whether it was good for me or not, but I do know that there is something about the opportunity to help students figure out what their next best step is. You can’t really beat that as a job. For me, it’s one of the best parts of the institution. It’s really one of the reasons that we have what we have, because each year we have an amazing set of undergraduate students that we put through the ringer day in and day out.

As a student, you were on the staff of The Pioneer, too! What was your experience at the time?

I was the business manager for two years, so when I was there we bought the first computer, (a desktop Mac) for The Pioneer. That was a big transition because we used to send everything out to be typed set, laid out, and produced. It was the late 80s and early 90s and we were spending a tremendous amount of money doing it. With the advent of desktop publishing tools, they made certain advances in the publishing arena back then. That was a fun job.

You mentioned earlier that you worked in the private sector. What was your experience like?

I finished both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cooper and then worked in the financial services space. I worked the IT side of the space for about three years for a software company, one that provided software data and feeds to the entire financial sector. My first set of jobs ranged from running around from trading floor to trading floor to doing the little things like installing software. I then went to work for a consulting firm just as the client-server market went to the delivery of what is now the internet. We did very well and I had some stock in that company. That was my first flavor of having options.

After I got married, I went to work with two other Cooper alumni on a private venture where we all had ownership stock in the company. I wish everyone can have that experience of going to go work for themselves and pay for themselves. It is tough to be an entrepreneur, but a great path to try. That is why I invest time here in working on things like that. After that was over, I did some consulting work and I helped the college with the search that was going on for my current role.

Any closing comments?

Cooper is more expensive now than it was for people from my day, and that’s painful to see. I think there is always a challenge to find a better path to make education affordable for anyone, especially for students that are bright enough and talented enough to be in a place like this. I think there are ways for us to make it better and bring that impact.

The only thing I would say is that everybody should participate in the community both during their time here and after they leave. You can’t claim to be part of the community if you aren’t constantly supporting it.

Time, effort, support, all those things are essential. Once we cut through all the noise of the debates, it comes down to how well we want to support our alma mater. I think it’s a cop out to want a clean slate after all we went through. Then, I’m disappointed that this is the virtue of the Cooper community. If you truly felt that way, then why not do something positive to change it. ◊

Museum Review: The Cooper Hewitt

by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ’19)

Photo by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19).
Photo by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19).

Peter Cooper was known as a philanthropist for his dedication to the advancement of science and art in our society, a goal immortalized in our institution. What few people know is that his goal remains alive outside of our school in a beautiful museum tucked away in the Upper East Side: the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. The Cooper-Hewitt is a unique museum dedicated entirely to design and its implementations in both modern and historic contexts.

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum was founded in 1897 by Peter Cooper’s three granddaughters, Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Cooper-Hewitt. It was originally an extension of the Cooper Union located in the fourth floor of the Foundation Building. In 1967, the Smithsonian Institution absorbed it as the design branch in their extensive museum network. Shortly after in 1970, the museum and its exhibitions were moved into the Andrew Carnegie mansion on 91st and 5th overlooking Central Park where it remains open to the public to this day.

The museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Since it was once a part of the Cooper Union, the Cooper-Hewitt offered free admission to students. However, when the Cooper Union began charging half-tuition, the Cooper-Hewitt also began charging for student admission. Don’t let that deter you from visiting, though. Just flash your Cooper ID at the ticket booth and you get access to all the incredible exhibits for $9.

Traveling from our natural habitats in the casual East Village to the more upscale Upper East Side compliments a museum outing perfectly. Breathing in the fresh air from Central Park, I arrived at the Cooper-Hewitt and bought my ticket. With my ticket, they gave me a large stylus: one end worked as a pen for drawing on tablets spread throughout the museum and the other end saved favorite exhibits to a personal library accessible online. This stylus and library were integrated in the museum experience to make the exhibits more interactive, further distinguishing the Cooper-Hewitt from other museums.

The Cooper-Hewitt houses many interesting exhibitions but a few were particularly notable. The first exhibit I saw, entitled “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse,” showed the work of three designers who were inspired by sustainability to use discarded PVC and fabric scraps to make clothing and accessories. Other exhibitions include treasures from the Hewitt sisters’ personal collections, a room full of mirrors and shoes painted silver, notable examples of interior design pieces throughout the 20th century, and a collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glassware. There is also the famous Immersion Room, which has become very popular on social media. The room features two interactive walls that visitors can design by drawing on the tablet in the middle of the room. The result is the drawing projected onto the walls, making for a great design lesson and photo op.

Notably, the third floor is entirely dedicated to exhibiting the design process as it integrates in our daily life. The exhibit, “By the People: Designing a Better America,” presents ingenious inventions made by average people and architecture plans for sustainable homes. It not only highlights the social and economic inequality that exists in our society, but also demonstrates how thinkers, when presented with a problem, can design a solution through architecture and engineering.

A personal favorite was the Process Lab, a room that guided the viewer step-by-step through the design process. First we were asked to choose a sticker stating a theme we were interested in, such as family, technology, or resilience. Then we were asked to find a problem relating to our central theme. After sifting through inspiration cards we were asked to design a possible solution to our problem that would address the theme and then submit the final design to be a part of the exhibit. People of all ages were discovering the same type of design process that everyone attending the Cooper Union learns and implements in their projects.

I strongly recommend taking at least a few hours off from studies or projects to go to see what the Cooper-Hewitt has to offer. What I love most about this museum—especially in the eyes of a Cooper student—is that there are exhibitions that anyone in our school can enjoy. The inventions featured on the third floor are perfect for an engineer and budding entrepreneur. Architects can enjoy and draw inspiration from the various plans and models on display. Everything featured in the museum is a work of art that artists and everyone else can enjoy. The Cooper Hewitt is a testament to Peter Cooper’s legacy that can and should be appreciated. ◊