Category Archives: Faces of Cooper

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Faces of Cooper: Melody Baglione

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Meet Professor Melody Baglione, Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Read about how she became interested in mechanical engineering, the projects she and her students are working on, and her fantastic advice for current Cooper students.

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from? Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

Melody Baglione: I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. I often have to repeat that it’s Detroit – Detroit, meaning inner-city Detroit, because people often think I’m from the suburbs. I’m a product of Detroit Public Schools. It was a unique environment to grow up in. It really shaped who I am. It’s also the automotive capital of the world, thus I became interested in cars and the automotive industry. My brothers, my father, my uncle, and most people around me worked for or were associated with the automotive industry so I became interested in cars and technology and ultimately decided to pursue engineering.

I did my undergraduate degree at Michigan Tech in Houghton, Michigan. It’s an engineering school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s further north than Toronto. My freshmen year we accumulated 328 inches of snowfall – we went snowmobiling in May. It is very different from New York City. It is very rural and used to be a copper mining town. The university is surrounded by old ghost towns and nature. It’s completely different from Cooper Union and being in an urban environment. I like being either in an urban setting or the country.

I also spent a year abroad on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. I studied a semester at a German technical university and did a “Praktikum” (a sort of German apprenticeship) at BMW spending two months in the Motorsport engine plant and four months working on powertrain vibration testing. I also spent a semester at the ETH-Zurich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).

After Michigan Tech, I decided to try management consulting. I worked for one of the big consulting firms for nearly two years. I quickly realized I missed doing real engineering work. I worked on business strategy projects but I missed designing and engineering products and decided to go back to grad school. I went to the University of Michigan where I got my Master’s degree and then I went to industry in an international management training program at DaimlerChrysler. I traveled back and forth between Stuttgart, Germany and Auburn Hills, Michigan. After the training program, I took a job as a power systems engineer doing calibration and control system modeling before ultimately deciding I wanted to finish my PhD. I worked part-time at Chrysler and completed my dissertation at the University of Michigan.

TCP: What is your role at Cooper?

MB: I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. I teach courses related to systems and control as well as vibration. I am also interested in advanced vibration testing (modal analysis) and acoustics. In terms of my role, I see myself primarily as an undergraduate educator. I hope to make the curriculum more interesting by adding real world projects and by working together with other faculty to create meaningful lab experiences and help students develop professional skills that prepare them to take on meaningful roles in industry and academia.

TCP: Could you tell me about the project NY1 came to look at a few weeks ago?

MB: The Interactive Light Studio project started a few years ago. There’s a desire among Cooper Union students to do more interdisciplinary projects. As part of my vibrations class, I require students to approach real world vibration projects and try to reduce unwanted vibration or solve acoustics problems. One year, students and I decided to take a creative twist by using vibration to make an interactive LED display. Nick Wong, a particularly creative Master’s student, and a few other ME students created this interactive LED sound projector for the End of Year Show. Mike Essl from the art school also helped to advise this project. The idea was to bring art and engineering together. When I found out about the School for the Deaf on 23rd Street, I thought what better way to use something like this than to help deaf children visualize sound. From my understanding from talking to teachers at the school, deaf people can feel vibration from sound. Often when one of our senses has a deficiency another one takes over. The concept turned into a number of projects over the past few years where we create technology to help these students visualize sound and also help all students become interested in science and engineering. The project also shows them the creative side of engineering and technology. The school gave us an entire room – in NYC that’s really rare – that’s at our creative disposal to try things out. We received three Diversity Action Grants from ASME to help fund the project. We’re really hoping that the Light Studio spurs more collaboration between all three schools as we come up with creative ways to make this room engaging, but also artistic and creative, and showcase technology. Channel 7 came to report on the Light Studio project a few years ago and NY1 ran a story a few weeks ago.

The studio has interactive fireflies designed by Nick Wong. Alumni Bridget O’Meara, a mechanical engineering student, and Hannah Clevenson, an electrical engineering student, made LED flowers which “talk with light”. A deaf girl from the school was interviewed by NY1 and explained using sign language how the flowers talked to her through lights, which was really inspiring. David Tan and Dale Short created a giant interactive projector that senses and responds to sound and movement using sensors from an Xbox Connect. There’s an interactive fish tank where the children chase fish around. We learned that children who require physical therapy or need help in developing fine motor skills benefit from the interactive fish tank since it encourages them to reach for the fish. There’s another sound and light installation in which students play musical instruments and see the sounds they create visually on a projector. They can interact with a Radiohead song that’s digitized by using their hands to turn on certain parts of the song. It’s really fun. If people are interested they’re welcome to come see me and come up with other ideas for the space.

TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague here at Cooper?

MB: I don’t have one particular but I have many for different reasons. The more I learn, the more I’m impressed by all the things that people are doing. We just launched the new engfac website and what other people do is impressive!

I really enjoy that in the ME Department we have a very collegial and collaborative environment and we bounce ideas off each other. It’s a great cast. We’re all very busy and there are so many things we want to do. We have a desire to work together and we’re coming up with new lab and project experiences that build on concepts from all different classes. I’m trying to integrate the systems in 41 Cooper Square into projects – the building has electrical, mechanical, and structural components – all the stuff we learn about are housed here. Other professors are working to integrate the building systems in their courses, as well.

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

MB: Hobbies. Currently I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies. I do enjoy swimming. I try to make time for swimming. It’s a great way for me to stay in shape and reduce stress. I also have two children at home – a one and a half year old and a six year old – so spending time with them is really important.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

MB: First of all, I’m very opinionated and I’m always willing to give my opinion so students are always free to stop by regarding different things. For incoming students, my advice would change along with their progression at Cooper. When students first come to Cooper Union, the curriculum is kind of intense and focusing on your studies is important, but as time goes on, students need to find a balance and their college experience should be more than just studying. When you get involved in a project – either with a professor or with some other organization or something that students start on their own – there can be a lot of learning involved in that, too. So I encourage students to get out and get involved at Cooper or in the city. There’s a lot to be gained from activities outside of the classroom.

TCP: What hopes do you have for Cooper over the next ten years, and beyond?

MB: Well, obviously, we have a lot of challenges with the decision to charge tuition. People are anxious about what the future holds. But there are many people who care a lot about Cooper Union and I’m sure if we put our minds together we can continue to make this a great place to be. I really think that we have a unique learning environment and it can continue to be a unique environment with close student and faculty collaboration and with community projects in New York City. I see us trying to understand the needs of the students and what skills they need in the future and realigning the curriculum to maintain its academic rigor but at the same time provide experiences to help students become productive members of society in order to influence the world in a positive way and came straight to Cooper.

Photo Credit: Vincent Wai Him Hui (Arch ‘15)

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Faces of Cooper: Atina Grossmann

Chae Jeong (ChE ‘16)

The Cooper Pioneer sat down with Atina Grossmann to discuss her educational background, raising a child in Massachusetts, and the current political climate here at Cooper.

The Cooper Union: Where are you from?

AG: The Upper West Side.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

AG: Yes. I am a New York City girl. I grew up in the Upper West Side. I went to PS 87 and to Hunter High School, way back in the day when it was still an all girls’ school. It was one of those specialized high schools where you had to take a test. It was actually a wonderful place to be because back in the 60’s it was still –even in New York –not such a cool thing to be a smart girl. Once we got to Hunter, we all felt at home. It was a simulating and nurturing environment.

I ultimately ended up going to City College where I got my undergraduate degree after a brief detour to the University of Chicago, which I left, partially because I had to leave because I was a big student activist. I came to City at a time of enormous political turmoil and excitement, during the struggle around open admissions. It was a period from 69-72 where we felt that our educational life was completely entwined with our activism. I had some of the most amazing professors and that’s where I decided to become a history major because it seemed to make the most sense in terms of trying to understand what we were doing. The women’s movement was just beginning, the Vietnam War protests were in full swing, and we were trying to make open admissions work at City. After I graduated from City in 1972, I actually stayed on for another year as some of sort of assistant teacher in a new program which was designed to combine history and literature and bring together students who wanted to think about making open admissions work. It was a very stimulating and exciting time to go to school and I realized, “Oh! This could be a good life! I can be an activist and I can be a scholar” –which is what I wanted to do my whole life. In that sense, I never really left New York.

TCP: When did you first learn about Cooper?

AG: I think I always knew about Cooper or at least from the 60s on, when I was in high school, because Cooper Union, at least as a place, with the Foundation Building, the Great Hall, and all its historical significance , was so much part of the landscape, especially of the Lower East Side. And, of course, in the 60s, we would all go downtown and hang out at St. Mark’s Place and on the Lower East Side so the Foundation Building was the structure that stood benevolently over all the chaos of the time and neighborhood. I was definitely aware of Cooper in high school. I never thought of it as a school that I would apply to or go to because I was definitely not good at math and science –those were definitely not my strong points –and I wasn’t much of an artist. I was more interested in history and literature so it wasn’t on my radar in terms of where I would go to school. However, it was very much a part of the cultural and political landscape of the East Village.

One very conscious memory I have of Cooper is (I think in the early 80s, back in the day when we still celebrated International Woman’s Day on March 8th) a march that took us all around the Lower East Side. I was probably in graduate school at the time and I was the historian of the march. I remember bringing my bullhorn and pointing out Cooper Union as the site of historic events for the women’s movement, where Susan B. Anthony spoke and worked and, very importantly, the legendary and galvanizing speech by Clara Lemlich in 1909, who stood up while Samuel Gompers from the American Federation of Labor was speaking, and called on women to strike against the conditions in the garment industry sweatshops. Of course, two years later, there was the Triangle Shirtwaist sweatshop fire, which actually happened right around the corner, where a NYU building now stands. That was one of those moments when I felt that this building and this area was so much part of history and part of my identity as a historian, New Yorker, and feminist. Even though it was never a place I imagined going to as a student or even teaching at, it was very much a part of the fabric of New York City.

TCP: When did you start working here and how did you come to teach here?

AG: I first came in the fall of 1996. It was kind of a roundabout trajectory because I went to graduate school at Rutgers. I was always a public school person. I am very loyal alum of City College. When I went to City, it was free. I don’t think I ever paid for my education in my life. When I went to Rutgers, which is a state university, I was a TA and my education was covered by fellowships and my TA-ing. As I was finishing my dissertation at Rutgers in modern German history and women’s history, I got a job at Mt. Holyoke College –a tenure track position at Mt. Holyoke College –and I knew I didn’t want to want to go to western Massachusetts. I was a big city person and I didn’t really want to go. But, it was the 80’s and there were very few jobs in history and I really wanted to do a post-doc but my advisors said, “You’re crazy. You can’t turn down a tenure track job.” I buckled and went to teach at Mt. Holyoke. It was beautiful, and it was calm –some of the students had horses. I really, really wanted to go back to the city though. I had had my first child and my husband was working in New York. It was hard to be, basically, a single mother. There was still a lot of snow during New England winters and every morning I had to dig out my car; in New York, I can just get on the subway. I really needed to get out of there.

I always tell this anecdote because it’s the day I realized I really needed to do this. Once again, it had snowed and junior faculty didn’t have garages. I had to dig my old Toyota –which was a good car –out of the snow and bring my year and a half old son to daycare. I had this whole organizational strategy. I would get him all dressed up in a snowsuit, bring him outside and put him down. Then I would clear off the snow and get the car started. Nothing could stop me from this routine because I had to get him to daycare and I had to get to class. But he was screaming and screaming and I was ignoring him because I had to do what I had to do. I finally got the snow off my car and I go to pick him up and he’s screaming his head off. I then realized I had forgotten to put his boots on. So, I thought, “Uh oh.” It was not a good situation. I decided I needed to leave and live as a family with my husband in New York.

I was incredibly lucky at that point because I got a job at Columbia. Columbia, though, at that point did not hire tenure track and I knew that. But, I was so desperate to get out of western MA and to get back to New York that I didn’t care. So, I went to Columbia, which was wonderful. I had some wonderful students and worked with some amazing graduate students, some of whom are now very well known in their fields and among my colleagues. I was there for about 10 years but I knew that at some point it was going to end. I decided that I’d better leave them before they left me. In those days, the Ivies never tenured from the inside –even if you won a Nobel Prize, they wouldn’t tenure you…not that I did. I had finished writing my first book and I was happily doing research and teaching. At that time, I was working on modern German history, gender history, population policy, racial hygiene and sexuality. I knew two things. I knew that I wanted to stay in NY, despite opportunities at other universities. At this point I had another child and I was heavily involved in the community of the public school community that my children went to on the Upper Westside. I was very happily working on of Parent-Teacher leadership team and I didn’t want to give that up. In my whole life, I was happiest when I was doing scholarship and something that felt like activism. I also knew that I loved being a historian, an intellectual, and a scholar and I wanted to continue being a professor.

I had a very good friend named Andy (Anson) Rabinbach, who was my predecessor at Cooper. He taught history here and he developed what was then the “Making of Modern Society”course. He had gotten a job at Princeton. It was another way I knew about Cooper because we had always joked that if he ever left, wouldn’t this be a great job because it was such an interesting place, it was in New York, as a full-tuition scholarship institution it fit with my ideals of social activism, and it was full of interesting students. I had the opportunity also to continue my scholarly and professional life, as a historian of gender and sexuality, modern Germany, and the Holocaust, to research, publish, lecture, and be part of an international community of scholars. I think that practicing scholars who research and publish are also more interesting (if sometimes overly busy!) teachers. Sure enough, I applied for the job and I got it. It was really wonderful. The one thing, though, that I missed from Columbia was working with graduate students. But, being here in New York, I get to work with graduate students from NYU and I also work with graduate students in Berlin. I don’t feel deprived. I have to say, however, at the time that I came, I didn’t think that humanities and social sciences were not central to the curriculum in the way that I’m worried now that they aren’t as central as they should be because the people I knew who taught at Cooper were such scholars and intellectuals. It seemed like HSS was taken very seriously. When I came, we used to sit around in our book-lined conference room at 51 Astor Place and have meetings and talk and argue for hours about what the IDs on the HSS3 final should be. There was really a sense of intellectual excitement that I’m not sure we have been able to sustain right now. I hope we get back there.

That’s how I came, and I taught the course that Andy Rabinbach had developed. I taught that for one year and then I had gotten a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton that year. I was already thinking about my next book and working more on the Holocaust and Jewish studies. I left for Princeton for a year and came back to a completely changed curriculum, with the introduction of HSS1-4. I’ve been teaching here ever since, always trying to think of ways to make history seem important and exciting to the students. In some ways, I feel like it’s a little harder now. I don’t know why but I think it may be because the students are more overburdened . For me it’s been a way to integrate my life: to live in the city, which is my home, to see my kids through school, and to work on my own research.

TCP: What would you say your role is here at Cooper?

AG: That’s a really interesting question. I feel like it keeps changing. The position for which I was hired was pretty straightforward. It was to teach history, to be the lead lecturer in the Making of Modern Society course, to supervise the adjuncts and to teach electives especially in my two specialties, European history and gender/women studies. I still think that what I would like my primary role to be is to teach that general history course and teach it in such a way that students can see that it is not a burden or something that is forced on them but something that is necessary and interesting for their future lives as professionals and citizens. I think the question of what electives I teach is harder because many students used to sign up when I taught courses about the Holocaust or 20th Century Europe but now there seems to be less of an interest. I’m trying to figure out what that’s about. So there’s that: my role as a teacher.

I think there’s a role here for somebody who is really a research scholar in one of the non-major fields, who writes, publishes, and lectures around the world and is both really rooted in NY and in Cooper and also has an international presence. I think that’s really important, also for students, so we’re not just locked into Cooper. Obviously, now, (it must be my activist background) I am very concerned about what’s going on at Cooper and the future of the school. Both about the decisions being made and about the way decisions are being made. I think faculty have a delicate role to play. We’re not the students and I don’t think faculty should act on the behalf of students or tell students how they should think. We offer students tools to think about what’s going on and to make their own decisions. But I think that we, especially as full-time faculty, have a huge stake in the future of the institution and I’m worried about that future . It’s an amazing place.

Also, I would love to be part of a relationship that creates a synergy among the three schools and HSS. Otherwise, you can just be at SVA for example. Cooper has this extraordinary interdisciplinary potential.

TCP: As a closing remark, do you have any advice for the Cooper community or the students specifically?

AG: I think that Cooper has a remarkable history and that we should be very careful with how we both preserve and move forward with it. I really do hope that we can maintain a full-tuition scholarship policy. I’m completely aware of the financial challenges. I think that there are ways we can do it. I think, also, that for students it’s an extraordinary opportunity to be in the city, to learn from the professors and students of the other schools, to take seriously the opportunities that humanities and social sciences can provide. It’s the students that are going to have to speak up (if that’s important) and say, “Yes, we are committed to our fields but we need time to partake in everything that Cooper has to offer.” And we’ll be right behind you!

Photo provided by Atina Grossman

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Faces of Cooper: Andrea Newmark

Chae Jeong (ChE ‘16)

The Cooper Pioneer sat down with Andrea Newmark, chair of the Chemistry department, to discuss her education, seeing her former students grow up, and the importance of communicating.

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Andrea Newmark: I grew up in Brooklyn. I went to Boston for school for two years and then ended up back in Queens. Now I’m on Long Island. So, I’m mostly a city person.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

AN: I graduated Queens College with a Bachelor’s in chemistry. Then I applied to Columbia to what they called the 4-2 program, where if you had a bachelor’s in science you could get an engineering degree. So, I ended up going to Columbia for a master’s in chemical engineering and stayed on for my Ph.D. The department at that time was chemical engineering and applied chemistry. My research ended up being more towards the applied chemistry so that’s how I ended up here. I graduated Columbia in 87 and came straight to Cooper. I went right from grad school to teaching.

TCP: How did you first find out about the Cooper Union?

AN: Actually, when I first saw the ad for a chemistry professor, I thought that it fit me perfectly, and even though I grew up in the city and went to school here, I hadn’t heard about Cooper until I saw that ad. Although, once I mentioned it to my mom (she grew up on the Lower East Side) she told me that she had heard of Cooper Union, but I never did.

TCP: What brought you to the Cooper Union?

AN: When I first saw the ad, I knew it was right up my alley. I had the mixed background of chemistry and chemical engineering… they were looking for a chemistry professor, but it was an engineering school so it was a great fit. That’s really one of the reasons why I came. I also loved the location, the whole history, but it was also a great fit.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper?

AN: I’ve been the chair of the chemistry department for the past… I guess this is my fourth year. I’ve been a chemistry professor to the freshmen and juniors, mostly. In years past, I was a freshmen advisor, but I haven’t done that in a while. I feel that apart from teaching the chemistry classes, I like to teach students about life, about what they’re going to see when they go out into the “real” world and about how to be good people. I feel like that’s my role.

TCP: How do you like your job at Cooper?

AN: I love my job. I love the students. I’ve been here 26 years. I love interacting with the students. They’re the best part of Cooper. I’m sure most people say that.

I’ve kept in touch with a lot of students. I love seeing what they do. We just had one of our alums give a talk and it was great to see her. I love seeing what they have accomplished, both professionally and personally, like having kids of their own.

They’re getting closer to my age! When I first started, I was not much older than they were. But somehow, it seems that my past students are getting closer and closer to my age! They have kids now. Actually, I had one student and I was told he has a kid older than my kids. I don’t know how that happened.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

AN: My advice would be to stop taking so many extra credits and start experiencing life a little bit: get involved in extracurricular activities, professional societies, theater groups, religious groups –whatever you want to be involved in. Put some extra time into that and take leadership roles, do community service. Taking a ton of extra courses is not necessarily what is best for your career and for you personally. It isn’t going to necessarily make you a better person. I think you really need to develop your communication skills and find what you are passionate about. I think by doing extracurricular activities and experiencing all that the city has to offer, you’re better positioning yourself.

TCP: Who is your favorite professor at Cooper? Why?

AN: I can’t answer that. I think the professors are all really good people and they care about their students. It’s a loaded question obviously because I can’t say one person over another and, plus I haven’t taken any of their classes, so how would I know?

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

AN: I like tennis, snowboarding –I love going on Dean Baker’s ski trips. I like reading, keeping up with current events, hanging out with my family; that is the best.

TCP: Do you have any closing remarks?

AN: As I said, I think Cooper is a wonderful place. It’s in a great location, one of the greatest cities in the world. I think students should take advantage of all of the things it has to offer. I mean, they’re going to take their core courses and graduate. They should work and study hard but I feel that they really need to experience life. Part of going to college is learning to be a good person and maturing into a responsible adult. I think that people should be doing that a little more than they are. And I can’t stress enough the importance of communication skills because when our students go out into the working world or grad school, wherever they’re going to be they will need to be able to communicate. I think the one thing Cooper is lacking in is stressing how important it is for our students to be able to articulate their thoughts, whether in their professional or personal lives. I think they should take advantage of that when they’re in school. And try to have fun! It’s supposed to be four years of… somewhat of a good time. Of course they’re always learning, but it doesn’t hurt to have some fun along the way too.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Faces of Cooper: Jameel Ahmad

Caroline Yu (EE ’15)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from?

Jameel Ahmad: I was born in Pakistan but I came here when I was still in my teens.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

JA: I went to the University of Hawaii first and got a Masters there and then I got a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Then, I taught at a couple of places first then came to Cooper. I’ve been here ever since!

TCP: Why did you choose civil engineering? What is your favorite field within civil engineering?

JA: Since I was born in a developing country, there was a need for water supply and infrastructure and roads. So I was attracted to that. I liked science and math – those were my favorite subjects. Engineering is a natural profession grounded in science and math. It also is an applied profession so this is the reason I went into civil engineering. And then I found out that the civil engineering field is really broad. You can do a lot of things. For example, you can work in structural engineering or you can design transportation systems or waste-disposal systems. You don’t really feel like you’re confined to one field.

I’m a structural engineer. One interesting area that appealed to me was the generation of power from flowing water – hydroelectricity. I had an interest in building dams. Lately, we don’t build dams so now we have kinetic hydro-power which means how to extract energy from flowing water. I have a patent for a new technology which I got in 2008.

The real world isn’t disciplinary. It’s quite multidisciplinary. Disciplines are the way fields are organized but not how the problems are solved. The difference is that when you get involved in a real project – it really doesn’t really go by discipline. For example, in any of the engineering projects, permitting requirements, financing issues, return investments, and ethical issues are also involved. I think not all of those we learn while we’re in school because we only have a small amount of time – four years for an undergraduate degree but it’s sort of amazing to work with very many different people. A lot of different professional people involved. As a structural engineer, I work with architects a lot. This is the nature of how design is done. You also deal with owners, contractors, labor forces, unions contracts, how to procure materials, [and] environmental issues. So, it’s a large team effort and engineers work on very large projects! This skill that one has to develop is how to network with other professionals, how to communicate, [and] how to outreach the community. Our projects have a very large impact on the community. We need to get the community involved very early on in the project.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper? What is your department’s role in Cooper?

JA: I’m a professor in the Civil Engineering department. I’m the chairman of the department also. The engineering school is basically divided into four degree departments with separate faculty in each department. There is interaction with other departments – including the school of architecture. We are trying to develop that collaboration. Next year we plan to offer a lab course which will be available to the engineers and the architects. This will basically be a course on the testing of building materials – it’ll be done in our structures and material lab in the CE department.

TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper?

JA: Well, I have a very big respect for the Cooper faculty. You have to be a good teacher and a very knowledge person to be able to teach here because our students are very gifted students and they don’t really need to be spoon fed. You realize that very early on. It’s a challenge to teach here. It’s never really dull because the students are always very mature into the field and their high level of interest and you have to keep them motivated and keep yourself motivated. I don’t one or two favorites – almost every faculty member in the engineering school know their field. In my own department, I have very experienced faculty members that have been here for decades. You can learn from them and collaborate with them. Some of the young faculty are very impressive. I see them and they are working with a different technological world. Twenty to thirty years ago we didn’t have the technology we have today. The instruction has changed a lot. The students have changed a lot! You have to keep up to date on your knowledge.

I attended a lecture just last night, which was about the tallest building world which is being designed in Saudi Arabia – Kingdom Tower. 1000 meters high. The kind of challenges they were talking about were incredible. If you interact with the faculty, you can learn a lot. If you find out what they’re doing – it always amazes me. They’re doing great things!

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

JA: I like to travel. I also like food. I cook. I also like to read – not necessarily about engineering. I was recently in Paris and it was such an interesting experience because it has such a rich history. It has tremendous food.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

JA: I believe that each generation meets their own challenges. Just like when I was a young engineer, I saw the challenges – the space program that was just getting underway. Even the mainframe computers weren’t invented yet! We prepared and couldn’t really seek advice. I worked for the space program as a graduate student the University of Pennsylvania. This
project was to put a man on the moon – this was started under President Kennedy. There was no blueprint to do that! We were very young and when we were working on this program they would discourage us to seek guidance from senior people. And we said, “What do you mean?!” He said because they will tell you, you can’t do it – there are so many unknowns.

My advice is to have new challenges. You should look at those challenges from the prism of your own self: “I would like to solve this problem and invent something new.” You need a lot of knowledge based on experience but that experience is based in prior history but it’s not based on the future. My hope is that students will be prepared to address those challenges that might not have addressed in a course or lecture. You have to prepare yourself for the future. I got my undergraduate degree exactly 50 years ago. The amazing thing is that I’m still working in this field. One of the things I keep in mind when I’m teaching students is that they might be active in their profession for 60-70 years! The best thing we can hope to do is to make sure students learn how to teach themselves and develop a mind set. To have confidence in your ability and to give everything their best shot. They have to build their own world – it’s a very exciting world!

TCP: Why did you choose civil engineering? What is your favorite field within civil engineering?

JA: Since I was born in a developing country, there was a need for water supply and infrastructure and roads. So I was attracted to that. I liked science and math – those were my favorite subjects. Engineering is a natural profession grounded in science and math. It also is an applied profession so this is the reason I went into civil engineering. And then I found out that the civil engineering field is really broad. You can do a lot of things. For example, you can work in structural engineering or you can design transportation systems or waste-disposal systems. You don’t really feel like you’re confined to one field.

I’m a structural engineer. One interesting area that appealed to me was the generation of power from flowing water – hydroelectricity. I had an interest in building dams. Lately, we don’t build dams so now we have kinetic hydro-power which means how to extract energy from flowing water. I have a patent for a new technology which I got in 2008.

The real world isn’t disciplinary. It’s quite multidisciplinary. Disciplines are the way fields are organized but not how the problems are solved. The difference is that when you get involved in a real project – it really doesn’t really go by discipline. For example, in any of the engineering projects, permitting requirements, financing issues, return investments, and ethical issues are also involved. I think not all of those we learn while we’re in school because we only have a small amount of time – four years for an undergraduate degree but it’s sort of amazing to work with very many different people. A lot of different professional people involved. As a structural engineer, I work with architects a lot. This is the nature of how design is done. You also deal with owners, contractors, labor forces, unions contracts, how to procure materials, [and] environmental issues. So, it’s a large team effort and engineers work on very large projects! This skill that one has to develop is how to network with other professionals, how to communicate, [and] how to outreach the community. Our projects have a very large impact on the community. We need to get the community involved very early on in the project.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper? What is your department’s role in Cooper?

JA: I’m a professor in the Civil Engineering department. I’m the chairman of the department also. The engineering school is basically divided into four degree departments with separate faculty in each department. There is interaction with other departments – including the school of architecture. We are trying to develop that collaboration. Next year we plan to offer a lab course which will be available to the engineers and the architects. This will basically be a course on the testing of building materials – it’ll be done in our structures and material lab in the CE department.

TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper?

JA: Well, I have a very big respect for the Cooper faculty. You have to be a good teacher and a very knowledge person to be able to teach here because our students are very gifted students and they don’t really need to be spoon fed. You realize that very early on. It’s a challenge to teach here. It’s never really dull because the students are always very mature into the field and their high level of interest and you have to keep them motivated and keep yourself motivated. I don’t one or two favorites – almost every faculty member in the engineering school know their field. In my own department, I have very experienced faculty members that have been here for decades. You can learn from them and collaborate with them. Some of the young faculty are very impressive. I see them and they are working with a different technological world. Twenty to thirty years ago we didn’t have the technology we have today. The instruction has changed a lot. The students have changed a lot! You have to keep up to date on your knowledge.

I attended a lecture just last night, which was about the tallest building world which is being designed in Saudi Arabia – Kingdom Tower. 1000 meters high. The kind of challenges they were talking about were incredible. If you interact with the faculty, you can learn a lot. If you find out what they’re doing – it always amazes me. They’re doing great things!

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

JA: I like to travel. I also like food. I cook. I also like to read – not necessarily about engineering. I was recently in Paris and it was such an interesting experience because it has such a rich history. It has tremendous food.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

JA: I believe that each generation meets their own challenges. Just like when I was a young engineer, I saw the challenges – the space program that was just getting underway. Even the mainframe computers weren’t invented yet! We prepared and couldn’t really seek advice. I worked for the space program as a graduate student the University of Pennsylvania. This
project was to put a man on the moon – this was started under President Kennedy. There was no blueprint to do that! We were very young and when we were working on this program they would discourage us to seek guidance from senior people. And we said, “What do you mean?!” He said because they will tell you, you can’t do it – there are so many unknowns.

My advice is to have new challenges. You should look at those challenges from the prism of your own self: “I would like to solve this problem and invent something new.” You need a lot of knowledge based on experience but that experience is based in prior history but it’s not based on the future. My hope is that students will be prepared to address those challenges that might not have addressed in a course or lecture. You have to prepare yourself for the future. I got my undergraduate degree exactly 50 years ago. The amazing thing is that I’m still working in this field. One of the things I keep in mind when I’m teaching students is that they might be active in their profession for 60-70 years! The best thing we can hope to do is to make sure students learn how to teach themselves and develop a mind set. To have confidence in your ability and to give everything their best shot. They have to build their own world – it’s a very exciting world!

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Faces of Cooper: Maxim Marienko

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from?

Maxim Marienko: I am from Russia. I was born in Omsk but I got all my degrees in Moscow where I moved at the age of 17. I graduated from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (Phystech), one of the most selective and arguably the best physics school in Russia.

I got my PhD from another excellent place – Kapitza Institute for Physical Problems. I’ve been specializing in theoretical condensed matter physics – superconductivity, superfluidity, quantum liquids and gases, organic and high-temperature superconductors, physics of correlated electrons and complex quantum phenomena in general.

TCP: Why did you choose physics?

MM: Because I love it and I have a passion for it. Physics is the most fundamental of natural sciences, and it teaches us to think and to understand the world around us. I love questioning how things work. I like the idea that my research is making a contribution to world of knowledge. I like to solve problems.

It is the analytical thinking that physics develops that helps you with everything, not textbook problems – everything. And I really enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge, it is a very rewarding experience.

TCP: Which university or research lab was (or is) the most exciting place to work?

MM: I’ve been working at several universities. I went for a postdoc at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada. That is a great place for a condensed matter physicist and I learned a lot being there. I love it here in NY. With many universities around, there is a huge potential for learning, exchanging ideas, communicating with best researchers. My PhD years back in Moscow were absolutely great.

That was the first time I’ve got an experience working in a real research group, at a famous institution, wondering, discovering and publishing. The atmosphere was amazing – I probably didn’t have that anywhere else. And I love to be at Cooper. I love the students and their attitude. I feel that they are very energetic and many of them are trying to do more than just simply attend lectures, do the homework and pass the course. It reminds me of my years at Phystech, too.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper? What is your department’s role in Cooper?

MM: This is my 2nd semester here. I started with a recitation section. This semester I’m very excited to teach [the] lecture course of modern physics. It is a big class, and [that] is always a challenge, but it’s so exciting to teach such a complicated subject. I am enjoying doing that – working on my lectures, being in a classroom, trying my best to explain and I hope it works for students!

TCP: What brought you to Cooper Union?

MM: I knew Cooper is an excellent school and heard many good things about it. I thought, “I want to teach a course here,” and I am very glad that at some point it became possible!

TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper?

MM: So far I’ve been working with Prof. [Alan] Wolf and with Prof. [Partha] Debroy. It’s going very well so far, and I look forward to meeting with other Cooper faculty members.

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

MM: Black and white traditional film photography, skiing, and mountain biking, if you wanted me to name three of them.

I am a big fan of black and white street and abstract photography. I do all the stages of it, including developing and printing in the dark room, even though I don’t have much time for it now. I like the style of Magnum photographers, Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Koudelka, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson – the list is long actually. I’ve been very pedantic about a composition which is often hard to have in a street scene. You never think about the moment when you press the shutter button. You just do it when you feel everything in the viewfinder is at the right position. If you think, you will be a split second late and everything will change. So for me it’s some king of sport, too.

I do mountain biking in the summer and I ski a lot in the winter. I enjoy challenging terrains, bumps, moguls, trees. And I am glad to share my passion with many friends from whom I can learn too. After all, skiing is a social sport.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

MM: To be creative. To use their own initiative. Know your goals and be focused on them, but always try to invent something new in your life. Use your time at Cooper wisely. And once again, be creative.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Face of Cooper: Leonid Vulakh

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Meet Professor Leonid Vulakh – the mathematics professor who everyone from electrical engineering students to physics professors and alumni go to for mathematical clarifications and discussion. Many students love him for his teaching style and quotable statements.

Professor Vulakh is originally from the former Soviet Union in the region that is now Ukraine. He spent most of his time in Moscow where he earned a master’s degree in control science engineering from the Moscow State University. While getting this degree, Professor Vulakh was also pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics at an institute of automation in Moscow. After spending two years in industry after graduation, Vulakh went back into academia at the same institution where he pursued graduate studies. After successfully earning a Ph.D., Professor Vulakh then went to teach at an institution similar to Moscow State University. It was extremely difficult to find a teaching position at a university during this time because of competition – being a professor was a very well-respected occupation.

After immigrating to the United States, Professor Vulakh started teaching at Brooklyn College and Baruch College in 1985. However, he was so disappointed with the student bodies at both colleges that he almost gave up teaching entirely. In 1986, Professor Vulakh came to The Cooper Union as a visiting professor. Professor Vulakh knew Harold Shapiro, a professor at New York University at the time, who in turn knew a professor at Cooper. When Professor Vulakh was offered another year as a visiting professor, he decided to go to St. Johns as a visiting professor first. Professor Vulakh reminisced about this point in his life with a laugh: “Cooper called me back. Students had started asking ‘Where is Professor Vulakh?!’” In 1988, Professor Vulakh became an associate professor at Cooper. He is very happy with his decision. He believes that his students are – and have been – perfect.

Through the years, Professor Vulakh has taught almost all the mathematics courses offered at Cooper. Regarding the importance of teaching students mathematics, Professor Vulakh believes that “[students] need a strong foundation. They need to learn how to work properly.”

Other than Calculus I and II, Professor Vulakh most regularly teaches the discrete mathematics course at Cooper. Back in the Soviet Union, Professor Vulakh wrote a book on discrete mathematics – as well as one on linear algebra. He talked to the mathematics chairmen a few years ago about adding the course. With a smile again, Professor Vulakh commented by saying “since I created the course – I am teaching it.”

Because Cooper is an engineering school, Professor Vulakh strongly believes that the mathematics department has to closely work with other departments in the school. He was involved with updating and revising the calculus curriculum to better coordinate the material taught in Calculus II with other courses such as mechanics.

Other than teaching, Professor Vulakh also leads research. Selected research publications can be seen at http://engfac.cooper.edu/vulakh. Although Professor Vulakh used to be more active in the research field in past years when he attended science conferences every year, he still corresponds with other mathematicians about number theory – his area of expertise. In 2010 alone, he published three papers.

Outside of Cooper and number theory research, Professor Vulakh likes to play chess – as many people do in Russia he says. During the summer, Professor Vulakh very much enjoys swimming and biking – activities he has enjoyed since childhood. Being passionate about everything he does seems to be the trend; Professor Vulakh takes pride in always being there for professors and students: “I help students who need help. I am always available! I give them advice when I teach them. They need to spend a lot of time working. If you want to succeed you have to work – no matter how talented you are.”

Faces of Cooper: Zinoviy Akkerman

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Zinoviy Akkerman: Russia. [Well,] it’s a bit more complicated [than that]. I was born in what is now Moldova and then I went to the Novosibirsk State University and got stuck there already. So Novosibirsk is Siberia, Russia. So I came here from Russia – proper Russia. Siberia even.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

ZA: [My] education [was at] Novosibirsk State University. On the outskirts of Novosibirsk there is a very famous little township [campus] called Akademgorodok, with about 20 what would be called in the United States, national laboratories. And there is a university, a famous one, we used to be in. Actually, we [were involved] in research, etc. So that was my educational background pretty much. And after [doing research at] the university, I worked there for 22 years and got my PhD there. And [I] worked [there] on materials research – semiconductors, insulating materials, or what we often called dielectric materials, stuff like this, optical properties etc.

TCP: When did you first learn about Cooper Union?

ZA: 2004. [To be] very specific – hadn’t heard about before. I was just uptown at City College. [I heard about it here] and then I went here for a job interview and lo and behold have been here ever since.

TCP: What brought you to Cooper Union? When did you start working at Cooper?

ZA: [I came here] in 2004. That’s when I started working at Cooper. And what brought me here actually, [was that] I was switching my career to teaching and I started teaching. There was an ad that I had seen and I applied and, as I said – actually, without any problems I had been accepted to teach here. I didn’t have too much trouble fighting for the place [job] but it was very nice and very unexpected. I like it very much here.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper? What is your department’s role in Cooper?

ZA: My role in the department in Cooper currently is pretty much to support Professor Wolf’s lectures. In the beginning, I was teaching a couple of courses – I taught Modern Physics. But after a while, and certain developments I am just teaching, supporting I should say, Professor Wolf’s teaching electricity & magnetism and mechanics.

TCP: How much do you like your job at Cooper?

ZA: [I like it] very much. It’s probably the nicest job that I had. I am teaching at different places, but Cooper is certainly the best place to come to teach. For a simple reason – because of the students.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

ZA: Oh, that’s hard. Basically [the advice I’d give is] to use the opportunities that are given to them pretty much because they have very good faculty that teach them, they have very good courses here – their future is very bright. So better don’t screw it up.

TCP: Who is your favorite professor at Cooper? Why?

ZA: Well I don’t interact with many [so] I cannot say anything about them. But I can certainly see that the students are taught well. [Though, again] I don’t have too many to compare [to].

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

ZA: That’s complicated. Pretty much, I read a lot. And I used to spend more time, [though] lately less, trying to develop some new problems in physics and this is very difficult. So physics problem composition I should say is still a hobby but, it’s a low yield hobby because it’s very hard to come by something new after three hundred years of Newton.

TCP: Do you have any closing remarks?

ZA: I pretty much said what I thought when I talked about the students and what advice I can give to the students. Maybe I should end on a sour note – my closing remarks are certainly the high school education in the United States should be improved because even the good students that are accepted to Cooper Union lack certain technical abilities. Is it good or bad? [It’s] hard to tell by the way, but I think it’s more bad than good.

So I think that this comes from very spotty, nonsystematic, high school education – very regional and not standardized. O.K. I admit that it’s hard to standardize some of the disciplines, some of the subjects in high school but physics and math certainly should have certain standards that go beyond just the multiplication tables. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking.