By Jenna Scott (CE ’21) and Courtney Chiu (ChE ’21)
Can you tell us about yourself?
Sure! My name is Mili Shah, I’m a professor here in the Math Department. I grew up in south Georgia, hence the accent. I went to Emory for undergrad and Rice University for grad school. And then I was a professor at Loyola University in Maryland for 11 years.
What classes will you be teaching at Cooper this year?
Right now, I’m teaching material science for chemical engineers which is a sophomore class. I also teach the senior separation process principles class. In the spring, my plan is to teach a graduate-level drug delivery class and the second semester of the senior lab.
Doug is the lab manager for the mechanical engineering labs on the seventh floor of the NAB. His role involves helping students with the more practical side of their courses, like fabricating things for ME-211 Design & Prototyping and assisting lab work for ME-352 Process Control.
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. ◊
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.
I was born in Hollywood, Florida but my family didn’t stay there very long after I was born. I grew up in the small rural towns of South Jersey. I went to a public high school in Bridgeton, NJ where I ran cross-country and middle-distance track. I came to Cooper Union as a student in 1995 and graduated in 1999. After Cooper, I got my MFA at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 2001. I hung around Philly for a year with my cohort of MFA’s and sold tickets at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Eventually, I wiggled my way to the education department and worked with young children at the Mural Arts Program as I had developed some baseline teaching skills in Cooper’s Saturday Program. I kept myself afloat by doing art residencies that gave full or partial financial assistance such as the Skowhegan and Studio Museums in Harlem. I began showing my work around New York in 2004. By 2007, I had gallery representation, I was an adjunct professor at Cooper, and I taught courses at UConn Stamford. This was the juggling act until 2009 when I started teaching full time at Yale. During my time at Yale, I kept a studio practice going and was fortunate to exhibit at some major institutions and have a few solo shows at the Susan Inglett Gallery all while commuting between NYC and New Haven.
How did you arrive back at Cooper?
After teaching at Yale for 6 years I was really ready to be in one place. I saw that Cooper was hiring for tenure track positions in the School of Art, which I think was a big moment not only for me but for Cooper as well. I knew that whether or not I got the job, good things were happening at Cooper and I gave it a shot. I’m here!
Explore every idea good or bad.
Talk about your failures as much as your successes.
Learn a useful skill.
How do you perceive the difference of the art context at Cooper between “then” and “now”?
Well, I think like any art school, the art context is in many ways affected by the larger art context, at least from the standpoint of critical conversations being held. In 1995 the major gallery scene was SoHo. There were way less galleries in general. The New Museum was in an old building on Broadway and would show artists you didn’t see in major museums or galleries. Exit Art still existed and it held down the fringe. By the time I graduated in 1999, Chelsea was slowly becoming an art destination and there was funky stuff happening in Williamsburg with no baby strollers around. Williamsburg was pretty much invisible to the art market.
At that time, I believe painting was in its third dead-alive state and critics started talking about “conceptual painting,” that was, after a recent discussion of “bad painting.” The internet was a new beast and video and installation art were becoming more mainstream and gaining new theoretical frameworks, perhaps more than in a previous generation. Back then, it was sort of bad to talk about “identity politics” and “multiculturalism’ in mixed company. People talked of “culture wars,” which I always felt was such a negative term. What we were seeing of course was an all-out revolution in the arts where women and people of color were defining space in the art market and discourse for challenging Western patriarchy. Art was in a breakthrough stage.
Now many of these things are mainstream, but not without detractors in criticism. Language has changed. Art fairs are a thing. Galleries are as big as museums. SoHo seems like a weird place to go see art. You can see great art shows in the Lower East Side. Technology has drastically and quite intimately been integrated into our everyday reality. It has had a profound effect on art and social space and students are in tune with this. Art school facilities have adjusted. Painting continues its zombie apocalypse now joined by art, critical theory and history,things that have all been deemed dead and resurrected. We should consider art after Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby.”
What advice would you give to current students in the art school?
Explore every idea good or bad. Talk about your failures as much as your successes. Learn a useful skill.
What would you like your students, as young artists, to take away from your class?
That what we do as artists is different than what critics, curators, historians and gallerists do, but altogether it’s an influential echo chamber. Create your own echo chamber of perspectives with your peers and test them out while you have this time in school. Understand the difference. Develop a community.
Tell us a little bit about what you like to explore in your art, and about any current projects in the works.
I’m interested in the Black presence in painting. My narratives are about visibility and historical erasure. I like the figure. Male figures that are made of small pieces of natural debris that shift, pile and disperse as a condition of being. This is kind of like autumn leaves piled on the lawn. I cut pieces of flora out of this black velvet paper I’ve had lying around for some years now. I paint and collage in body parts. I’m showing two now at the BRIC Biennial which is becoming our central Brooklyn community hub.
“Black Pulp!” is a show that I curated with Mark Thomas Gibson and it shows a history of African-American printed matter alongside contemporary artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Kara Walker and Ellen Gallagher. Lots of printmaking and paper ephemera such as zines, comics and more! ◊
Note: BRIC Biennial is located at 647 Fulton St. The show “Black Pulp!” is at the International Print Center New York, 508 W 26th St. 5FL until December 17.