Category Archives: Faces of Cooper

Summer Experiences: Sara Wong (ChE ’17)

By Robert Godkin (ChE ’18)

SaraWongPhoto1-Grayscale

“I interned at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, NJ for 12 weeks and was working under the Soup Team in Research &

Development (R&D). My main project involved analyzing starches used in soups, and I worked to optimize conditions for the starches to make the processes more efficient.

In R&D, there is a part called Process R&D, and I worked with process engineers on a daily basis. I also interacted with product developers and culinary professionals, as well as my fellow interns! I was the only intern in Soup R&D though. I also worked alongside Science & Technology and Pilot Plant Operations divisions, both of which were very informative.

The work was really interesting and I liked that I was able to work in different environments: the lab, kitchen, and pilot plant, for example. The research I was doing was valued and would have an impact on the development of products! So exciting! It’s hard to compare it to what I do at Cooper. I was learning a lot of fundamentals and knowledge at Cooper, and I’d learn about the applications, but the internship was different. Working in industry gives you another experience, and I was seeing first-hand how my work could be applied in the real-world.

My favorite part of my internship was the people. Everyone was super friendly, helpful, and approachable! Whenever I had a question, whether it was something small or not, they were all supportive and willing to help. I wish I could have stayed longer at my internship and learned more—there is nothing negative to say!

I learned a lot over this internship, but I think my biggest takeaway was seeing what working in industry was like. This was my first industry experience. Previously, I’ve had summer research experiences at universities, but working in corporate R&D gave me a new perspective. I have a better idea of what I want to do after college, and I could see myself working in an R&D position and doing process engineering.”

Summer Experiences: Justin Merkin (ChE ’18)

By Robert Godkin (ChE ’18)

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“This summer I worked two different internships. The first was at Cantor Fitzgerald’s electronic brokerage subsidiary, BGC Partners, where I was a Financial Technology Analyst. I worked mainly with Microsoft SQL to build and normalize a database. The database tracked the inventory of all the applications used and sold by the company, in order to compile a risk assessment of each application. My second internship was at a private equity firm called Kuzari Group. The work I did there was more what you’d think of as a general finance internship. I worked hand in hand with the partners on different financial models and projections for the various active deals during the time I was there.

Seeing as Cantor is a much bigger, corporate company, I interacted with all types of people throughout the day, from the support groups who sat near me, to the CIO who hired me. It depended on the day. At Kuzari, I got a different experience since it is a very small company. I interacted with every member of the company on a daily basis. As exciting and interesting as the work was, the difficulty of it does not even compare to that of Cooper. It just goes to show that Cooper’s rigorous workload really does prepare us for anything.

My favorite aspect overall was definitely how much I learned. The combination of these two internships was invaluable to me in terms of my desired path into the financial services field. The worst thing were the hours: I worked from about 7:30am to 6pm.”

Summer Experiences: Ross Kaplan (EE’18)

By Robert Godkin (ChE ’18)

“I worked at Rubenstein Technology Group doing full stack development. I worked for a few weeks on support, which meant changing and adding new functionality for clients. They ranged from a few minute tasks to a few day-long tasks. Later on in the summer, I worked exclusively on a new project that should be released in the coming months. I’m still working there for a few more weeks to help finish it up.

Surprisingly, I worked with mostly Cooper graduates. A lot of their developers are from Cooper. They were incredible and so easy to work with, extremely helpful, and very knowledgeable. It was not difficult for me to quickly catch up to the work they were doing.

The work was stimulating and interesting. It’s hard to compare to the work I do at Cooper because most coding projects at Cooper have a pretty defined starting and ending point. Build a function that takes in this and returns that. In comparison, I was given a lot of freedom in how things were implemented—which can actually make things more difficult. That generally involved finding the best places to get the data you needed from in order to make something that’s maintainable.

My favorite part of my experience was doing active development at the end of the summer. I was able to put together all the small things I learned over the course of the summer into what I worked on. I was also able to voice my opinion about larger design considerations that helped to shape the backend of the site. So for example, in building geo-location functionality, I implemented something that I had used before with success, and it worked immediately.

My least favorite part of the experience was that client requests could be potentially really foolish. One of our clients would ask every week without fail to change pieces of their site into iframes, under the impression that it would help with their search engine optimization. Even though they weren’t difficult requests, it would make the codebase of their site get larger and significantly more complicated each time. The result was that every change you made would make each future change even harder. Even if the client request is bad for their site, we still have to implement it.

The biggest takeaway for me was the experience I gained in a professional setting. I was technically an intern, but they took my suggestions and ideas as seriously as any of the developers. It really helped me shape my experience into one where I both learned a lot of things technically as well as professionally.”

Buckley - PC Wentao

Faces of Cooper: Professor Peter Buckley

By Anthony Passalacqua (ME ’18)

Can you give us a little background about yourself? 

Peter Buckley: I was born in the UK; I first came to America during my college years as part of a study abroad program in my third year. I was already interested in the country, but that experience, when I was 21, determined that I wanted to study the history of the US. That’s what I’ve been doing since! I came to the US after completing my undergraduate degree in England, and then did all my graduate work here. 

Where did you study? 

I first went to SUNY Stony Brook, where I didn’t meet Professor Om Agrawal or Professor Alan Wolf, and then I went to the CUNY Graduate Center, and it was probably that move that determined most of my interest would be centered in New York City. So that’s the trajectory. After finishing my PhD, I taught at Princeton for two years, and then at Pratt Institute. It was when I was attending a lecture at NYU, I saw a flyer on the wall saying there was a position at Cooper Union. I interviewed, and I’ve been here since. 

Can you tell us about how your fellow British countrymen felt about your decision to study American history? 

They said it was an easier thing to do because there wasn’t much of it. Isn’t that funny? It was especially funny because I think they were serious about it. When I was thinking about majoring in American history at the University of Cambridge, there were 43 medieval historians, and one US historian. That really gives you an understanding of how little the British academic establishment thought about US matters. I don’t think it was just to do with a kind of “colonial mentality” on the British part, and the fact that they lost the war of independence. I think it had more to do with actually realizing how powerful the US was after WWII and not really wanting to examine it. 

You said a flyer convinced you to interview for a job here at Cooper, but what drove you to take the position? 

Cash. I wanted a job, and Cooper, which I already knew about as a historical artifact, was a very interesting place to teach. It still is a good place to teach… maybe not to work, but to teach it’s good.

What do you teach here, besides the core HSS courses?

I teach a range of electives. Humanities and Social Sciences decided some time ago that it would be a good idea if the faculty taught on a two year rotation, so that any junior or senior would have a chance to take an elective. I think that’s been a wise policy, and I think it’s been looked at by other faculty as a model. I normally teach a particular range of courses: the history of NYC, American intellectual history, American social history. 

You said that “this is a very good place to teach, if not to work.” The question is: what do you particularly like about the environment here, and what do you dislike?

The liking is quite easy. I like the students, and I like my colleagues. I think the students still embody the right forms of ambition, and the right levels of intellectual engagement. The faculty: everyone is excited about all the new hiring. We’re getting three new full-time hires in HSS, and two post-docs. That’s five people who, hopefully, will arrive next semester. I’m very excited about that, because that will entirely amplify the range of things we teach. 

As for it being a place to work, the last few years have been tremendously tiring. Not just for the faculty, but I recognize that in the students as well. It was necessary to fight battles that should never have taken place. 

This wasn’t a fight just about tuition; what had been really eroded was governance, and then with the attempt to impose a computer science degree, it was also an attack upon academic standards. That’s a particularly draining form of attack. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. It’s not as if faculty wake up in the morning every day and agonize over academic standards. But when such a thing happens, it cuts deeper than students imagine, because it’s the faculty’s business to make those standards and to uphold them. When that is under attack, it is especially corrosive to faculty morale. That’s how I would characterize basically the last four years. 

The thing that was on the agenda, was not simply charging tuition, but something being called ‘reinvention’. What exactly that ‘reinvention’ was going to actually look like was never spelled out, but effectively it meant enacting a program of expansion that bore little relationship to the successes that we already had. It’s not as if anyone ever sat down and said “what do we do well?” That still has to happen. In my opinion, removing the President, and the previous Dean of Engineering, has not answered questions that were always there. Namely: “Who are we?”, “What are we as an institution?”, “What do we do best?”, and “How would we like to change?” Throughout all of the last four years, a lot of things have been talked about, but education itself is conspicuous by its absence. 

Let me pose one of those questions to you. For your department, what would you want to change, especially with all of these new hires coming in? 

This is such a large cohort to hire, and the new faculty will inevitably change the nature of HSS, especially its core offerings. We had started examining HSS one through four, and that process will be made immeasurably easier, when we have new people contributing to that. For example, we’re due to hire someone whose center of interest is economics. A student has already asked “well, what does that mean for the core?” The answer is, obviously, something more to do with economy or political economy will appear within it. The decision of whom we hire is also a decision of how we want to change. 

What do you feel your role of a professor here is? How do you think that reflects on your pedagogical methods? 

I’d like to break that question down. One answer is: I’m a historian. I like the study of history because of how it disturbs the present. So my role as a historian at the Cooper Union, is to make the present unfamiliar, by pointing to how the past is contingent, not a given. It’s contingent on a whole set of
actions that have taken place in the past. 

As a faculty member, overall, my primary task is to encourage a sense of excitement about ideas, and how questions themselves can be very exciting. 

Do you have any advice to offer students? 

Yeah, get out more often! By which I mean especially studying abroad, even if it’s just for a summer or a semester. I’m always surprised at the number of students who wish to remain in New York for their entire lives. That’s my advice: get out! 

Our last question: What are your hobbies, and what do you do in your spare time? 

As a rhetorical answer: Is there spare time at Cooper? Real answer: … What do I like doing? I really like gardening, which is not something that is Cooper centric. I’m thinking of getting some sheep for my place upstate, because they’ll probably be better behaved than the current crop of freshmen.  

Jolie Woodson - PC Toby Stein CE '18

Faces of Cooper: Jolie Woodson

By Toby Stein (CE ’18) 

The classic interview question, tell us a bit about yourself: 

So you know my name, my name is Jolie Woodson, and I’ve been working at Cooper Union for just over seven years assisting engineering students in their career development. I am originally from Long Island, but I’ve been living in New York City for the past 15 years. I’m married, and have two cats, Betsy and Eloise.

How did your educational and career path lead to you to Cooper?

I studied at New York University getting a degree in Psychology and Metropolitan Studies, and then immediately after graduating I did some traveling around Asia for a few months. My first job was working in admissions and recruitment at a CUNY system for a school in the Bronx called Lehman College. Then, I transitioned to another CUNY school, Baruch College, where I ran a professional mentoring program for students and then I came and started working here at Cooper.

What is your favourite thing to do at Cooper?

My favorite thing to do at Cooper is definitely talk to students. It’s my favorite thing to do because you the students are amazing; you’re an interesting hardworking and impressive group that is incredibly inspiring, and because of that my favorite thing is to talk to students. Luckily, there are quite a number of students, and just one of me, so I get to do it quite a bit.

Assuming that all students read the weekly emails, and attend all the prep events, what is the one thing that students should do, actually? 

“The one thing that every single student should do, actually” is ask themselves what they want. It all boils down to trying to figure out what you want, not what you think you should do, not what other people before you did, not what your parents tell you to do, but to think about what you actually want. Because once you have an idea of a direction that you want to go in, and I am not looking for something super specific, it’s just that once you have that idea, everything else gets much easier. I find that oftentimes people are challenged in seeking out opportunities because they are not sure what they are looking for. I understand that as college students you guys are trying to figure that out, but if you can do little things to figure out what you want, it goes a long way.

In five words, what is the best general life advice you have for us college students?

Forget about your GPA, please.

Outside of the Cooper community, what other passions or hobbies do you enjoy?

Other than replying to all of the emails, I spend a lot of time with my family. A lot of my family is local, and so I generally visit them. My grandmother is 95, and as she lives on Long Island, I get to visit her pretty much every weekend. But my grandmother isn’t a typical grandmother, she has a smartphone and a tablet, an Instagram account, and she sends me text messages, so she’s certainly hip, but also old. Beyond family, my husband and I enjoy traveling. We don’t travel every weekend, but we certainly like to take one big trip every summer. This summer we are planning to go to both Iceland and Scotland, as last summer was a trip to Peru.

When you went to NYU did you know about Cooper? 

I learned about Cooper, and I know that this is now kind of weird, when Bill Cosby spoke in the Great Hall. NYU students were invited or something like that, and I came to the Great Hall to hear Bill Cosby talk. I remember at the time thinking “this is so cool,” granted now I feel a bit weird about it, but as this was a long time ago it was still really cool. That was my first time at Cooper. In fact, despite being from Long Island it was the first I had heard of Cooper.

Who is your Cooper Idol?

See, there have been so many amazing people, and I can’t just pick Peter Cooper because that would be too obvious and boring. Have you ever gone to take a test and just not had the answer, and then you start to get stressed out by not knowing? That’s where I’m at right now; this has really stumped me. You know what? I’m going to go with the first person that honestly came to my mind: Frankie. He’s friendly all the time, always in a good mood and always talks to people. Obviously he keeps everyone well fed which is important and he’s one of the only people that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a bad mood. That’s kind of amazing, so I’m certainly going with him; he makes me smile even when I’m kind of grumpy, so I guess it’s Frankie.

Abby Davis

Faces of Cooper: Abby Davis

By Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18) 

Abby Davis

Photo provided by Abby Davis

Where are you from?

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I don’t have an accent because my mom is from New Jersey. She’s from the shore—that’s right the Jersey Shore! She went to the same high school as Bruce Springsteen. She probably snuck into the Stone Pony and saw him.

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

I got my Bachelor’s degree in American history and classical humanities at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; so, a very different place than Cooper. I went to a small high school so I wanted a big school and a college campus. I worked for a couple of years in Washington D.C., and then went to NYU to get my Master’s degree in the history of education.

I wrote my thesis on student protests, specifically the Student’s Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better known as the SNCC. It was quite ironic because when I started at Cooper just after finishing that, students were occupying the President’s office. It’s very rare that you get a degree in liberal arts and it has any sort of correlation to what you actually do. I went from perfect public school education my whole life to ruining that with NYU. However, it did bring me to Cooper!

What is your role here at Cooper?

As one of the director of admissions, we recruit students! So we go to high schools: fairs or private meetings and we talk to counselors, teachers, and potential students. We also host events for them here so that they can learn more about Cooper specifically I, along with the help of Theresa Leary, our Administrative Assistant, organize campus tours and tour guides (I love my tour guides!).

Another major event we have is Women in Engineering. That is really important to us because, like any other engineering school, we are trying to get more women into the field. If you look at architecture, they have a great mix of male to female and they are able to make that organically. With engineering we are really trying to push for women and, of course, underrepresented students overall. Women in engineering is great because you really get to see the connections that people make. The current students are here as mentors and gives the women coming into here a sense of security saying “I am going to be the minority, but I can look around and see all these classmates who are excited.” I think a lot of friendships are made there.

And of course, reading applications is a huge part of it so we read all the undergraduate applications for the school of engineering. We help the committees within the art and architecture schools read their applications by making sure the students have all the help they need when applying. That includes answering any questions, sending and receiving the home tests, and making sure all their test scores and recommendations are in.

So how does the application process work? 

It’s a holistic process, which is what every single admissions office is going to say. For engineering, we are looking for certain things: someone with good grades, someone who is taking the hardest math and science classes, someone with good standardized test scores. A lot of people who apply have those qualities so a lot of it goes into the second part which is where you talk about yourself and that’s where we see whether you are a good fit for Cooper. Obviously there are plenty of really smart people out there who wouldn’t be a good fit here. We want to make sure people have done their research about Cooper and what makes Cooper unique. We want to make sure students know what they are getting into and that their parents didn’t just tell them to do engineering or pre-med. At age 17, it’s tough to decide what to do with the rest of your life, but some students know and those are the students we are looking for.

Letters of recommendation are really important and we want to see students who are respected by their high school teachers. There is that kind of factor where every incoming class is different depending on who is applying. For example, this years first year students have a ton of students who were theater kids like they did set design or something and we thought that was new. That’s good for engineers; it’s exposure!

I remember when I was accepted into Cooper and came to the Women in STEM event. I walked in and you immediately knew who I was. How do you remember all of the students??!

I think I have a little bit of a photographic memory. I think that is why I’m good at history because I would be like “Oh, I remember that on the page.” Also, we read all about you guys and we spend so much time thinking about the applicants. Anyone who says something funny or something weird we will remember that. It’s just part of the process! We spend so much time with the files and talk about them to each other and talk about them with Dean Lipton when making our case. It’s fun to put a face to an application! I also want it to be a personal experience for the students. I want you guys to come in and feel like people know your name and are happy to see you.

In your words, what is the benefit of having a diverse class?

I think there are multiple benefits to having a diverse class (diversity here meaning many things – race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, background, culture, even personal experience). First and foremost, Cooper exists in a diverse city, so a diverse class means that we are reflecting our location and continuing to serve the population that we have for the past 150 years. A diverse class means that we are doing our best to help many different groups access a top-quality college education. I also think students benefit from a diverse class in terms of opportunity and learning experiences. The world outside college is diverse, so shouldn’t college be, too?

How does Cooper attract underrepresented minorities and achieve greater socioeconomic diversity?

Any way that we can! We visit so many different kinds of schools—public, private, parochial, magnet, specialized—because you never know who you will find at those schools. New York City public schools are some of the best in the country and draw from a wide population, but some of the most expensive private high schools in the city, for instance, actively pursue students who otherwise could not afford to go there and give them a full scholarship. So we visit as many high schools in this area as we can.

We also do work with some local community groups that actively assist underrepresented students in preparing for college. And sometimes students from outside our local area, even places we don’t recruit, seek us out, which is always great. But of course, once you get students on campus, you still need them to stay there—through financial support, but they also need to feel like they are a part of the community. Some of the Ivy League schools have come under scrutiny lately for neglecting the latter, but I think Cooper is different because it has always drawn from many different demographics, not just the elite.

Since this is the Valentine’s issue I must ask: how do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Even when I’m in a relationship, my friends and I like to see the worst movie that we can find on Valentine’s Day. And this is regardless of who is dating. Last year we saw “The Loft” which I don’t recommend. It was a scary thriller and we literally scour the newspapers for the things that get the worst reviews.

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Faces of Cooper: Gearoid Dolan

By Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)

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Photo by Wentao Zhang (ChE ’19)

Where are you from?

Gearoid Dolan: I’m from the north side of Dublin, Ireland. I lived there until ‘87 when I graduated from art school and then I came directly to New York.

What brought you to New York?

I was advised by an Irish artist living in the city that my work would be well suited here. So I thought I’d drop by New York on my way to live in Berlin, and I haven’t managed to leave since.

How did you wind up at Cooper?

I started working at Cooper in 2000. I had been teaching at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, and a good friend of mine, a Cooper alum, used to teach web design here, put me forward as a potential candidate for the director of the Computer Studio in the School of Art. We were still in the Foundation Building at that time and Cooper’s IT department didn’t exist. There were separate computing centers for each of the three schools. I was brought in to basically take what was the Computer Studio in its early stages and turn it into something big and useful for art students.

So at some point the different computer labs were integrated?

Yes, when we built the New Academic Building. The idea was both out of practicality that we’re building a new building and we should put all the new technology there, and because the Middle States accreditation committee suggested that we coalesce my department with the Computer Center and form the IT
department. So the Computer Studio handles the Macs, the Computer Center handles the PCs, and together we handle the Architecture Lab.

Is there anything that you particularly enjoy about directing the Computer Studio?

I am very passionate about creating art and facilitating the creation of art, and so the art students, which were my original mandate, are still high on the list of my purpose in life in Cooper. Now that we’ve expanded, architecture students have come much more into that area too, so we’re helping them facilitate their work. The big picture is that I just really like helping students make their work and helping people be creative in any aspect of it.

I understand you have been working on an art project named screaMachine. Would you like to talk about that?

ScreaMachine is an art project I started the year I came here in ‘87 and I’ve been working on that ever since. My central passion in life is to make political art, to make reactive art, and art that is involved in community and the current state of affairs. I refer to my work as technology enhanced performance art and it’s about interacting with the public. I try to take the message to the people as opposed to only existing inside of a gallery.

What are some of your other passions?

Another passion of mine is that I’m a martial artist. I’ve been studying jiu jitsu for a long time. I’m five years into my first black belt and I’m about to earn my second—soon I hope. I design the website for the martial arts studio and produce the videos for them.

The third big passion in my life is making music and night clubbing. Through the 90s I was DJ-ing and making drum and bass music. I like to dance, and so the dancing and the martial arts go very well together because the both keep me really fit. Originally, I was in punk bands when I was 12 or 14. As electronica came into the scene, I followed that route. I do know how to play drums and bass and other instruments, but I haven’t touched an analog instrument in 20 years. I compose on the computer mainly, but all of my analog music skills come into play. I particularly like the rhythm section and I spend a lot of time figuring out intricate drum patterns with heavy bass over the top. All the rest is superfluous; I’m not a big melody guy.

Do you have anything that’s currently in the works as far as art or perhaps plans for the future?

I always have plans—plans to take over the world! Not actually. My current art project, called Psoup Kitchen (as in pseudo soup kitchen), is an interactive soup kitchen. It’s a comment on the politics of charitable giving and how people take the opportunity to proselytize their institution while taking advantage of poor people who need to eat. In this case there’s a lot of identity in it. When you enter the soup kitchen you have to give of yourself in many ways in order to get the food. It’s almost like an obstacle course of machinery. For example, you have to be photographed when you enter and then a barcoded ID is printed out and you scan the barcode to get a bagel. It’s a commentary on the disenfranchisement of poor and affected people being manipulated by the caregivers. It’s become even more relevant since the Snowden documents were released because the nature of identity and surveillance has changed.

I have another ongoing piece that has to do with identity too, which is my spiral belly tattoo. Whenever I get government identity numbers like my driver’s license number and my passport number, they get added to the tattoo. As I get more into the governmental system, I get more numbers. The idea of this piece is that it starts out with my birthdate at my navel, which is the point of your first identification—once the umbilical cord is cut, you become you. Then it expands in sequence through all the numbers I’ve been given, and when I die the final thing that goes on there is my death certificate number and then the piece is complete. The piece is called Define Me and so it defines me as I have existed in bureaucratic systems. Identity is one of the issues that is important to me, especially identity relative to society.

Would you like to share a particular story from your time at Cooper?

One of the things that had the greatest emotion for me at Cooper is the recent turmoil with the tuition coming in, and the passion of the students and their reaction to that. I identified with that closely, and it made me proud to be a member of Cooper. I’ve always thought that this is a great place to work, that it’s a very positive role in the world, and it gives to other people. Any mitigation or watering-down of the mission affects all of us emotionally and responsibly. While it was a very troubling time for me it was also a proud time for me to see the students stand up for something we’d hope to attain again someday. The sense of community is one of the greatest aspects you have at Cooper, and I find that people thrive here because of that.

Do you think the sense of community has changed since that time?

Time will tell in retrospect when we look back on this era of turmoil and change. Whether or not that will have a long-term effect or whether it effects the nature of students themselves is really hard to say.

Do you have some words of advice for Cooper students?

I would say that the greatest mistake you could make is to not take advantage of all the facilities and people you have available to you. The facilities and staff at Cooper are fantastic. The students here have access to many, many more minds than most students have access to at other schools. The people here are some of the greatest assets, and if you can use everything to its full extent, you’re going to really benefit from being here. For me the biggest thing when I left college was that suddenly I had no access to wood shops or metal shops or dark rooms, which all cost a fortune in New York. Use the resources while you can, that would be my biggest advice.

Would you like to add anything about your personal life?

Well, I’m a dog owner. I’ve got two pit bulls. My wife and I rescued them last year around this time. They were left to die tied up to a fence in deep snow on Long Island, when a rescue organization found them and we took them in. That’s a big part of our life now. My wife’s in fashion design and about to begin costume design and party design. That’s part of the nightclub element that I’m now involved in, throwing nightclub events that are also costume events. My degree in sculpture comes in very handy there when I’m making face molds and prosthetics. My home life is very much about fashion and creativity too.