Category Archives: Interviews

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Caroline Woolard on Wound Study Center

“WOUND is a study center for practices of listening, attention, and collaboration. The study center is pronounced /waʊnd/, as in: the clock has been wound. WOUND aims to mend time and attention by providing (1) practice spaces for groups, (2) a study center for sculptural tools, and (3) trainings in practices of listening, attention, and collaboration.” -

by Emma Faith Hill (Art ’17)

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.

Your title in conjunction with the show is Director. Can you speak about what the role means for you? How it differs from the title of Artist or Curator?

At this time, a Curator or an Artist is often understood to be a person whose individual expressions, labor, and critical thought enable a project to exist. But I want to create projects that exist beyond my initial vision; that can be modified and renewed with the energy of the people who are working on them, over years. So I am the interim Director of the Study Center because I am currently the primary person who is responsible for the long term mission of the space. The Study Center aims to mend time and attention by providing (1) practice spaces for groups, (2) a study center for sculptural tools, and (3) trainings in practices of listening, attention, and collaboration. The Director must change for the project to live on, over time, in adaptation to local contexts, so I look forward to transitioning out of this role.

By naming my role within the Study Center, I am articulating the tasks that I carry out at this time, while also opening up these tasks to people in the future. I am interested in naming titles and roles that comprise the systems that I create because this allows for visible accountability and training for people who wish to move into these roles. When someone hears the title of Director, they imagine that it stands for a series of responsibilities and tasks in service to a broader mission, while an Artist or Curator is likely imagined to be responsible to their own vision, a vision that can change from every season. While I hope that the ways we understand the titles of Artist and Curator transforms in time, at this moment, the term Director conjures up associations that align more closely with my goals for longevity and strategic action.

If most New Yorkers have no
experiences of democracy at work,
at home, in school, or online,
how will we learn to work together?

I aim to co-create both discrete works of art and also institutions for the solidarity economy. My method is to enjoin objects to their contexts of circulation. For example, I build sculptures for barter only as I also co-create international barter networks that continue to grow; I fabricate model Shaker housing and I also convene organizers of community land trusts. I am currently working with Susan Jahoda and Emilio Martinez Poppe on a book and a card game about the commons, which could eventually live in the Study Center. But at the moment, we lack nuanced dialog and critical reflection about group work in the visual arts. This Study Center provides a space for reflection among peers, which lays the groundwork for additional feedback and deep thought about the card game and book. I find that many emergent projects make sense within collective work or institutions that must be established.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.


As well as directing Wound, you also contributed many Ladder Chairs to the show. Could you expand on where the design of these chairs came from?

I want to furnish gathering spaces with objects that are as inspired as the conversations that occur in those spaces. Ladders, like the sculptural tools in the Study Center, have functioned historically in artworks as both designed objects and also as cultural symbols. I made the ladder furniture to connect the spatial dividers of the Study Center to this long lineage of ladders from Dada, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Fluxus, and Conceptual Art. I am thinking of one of the last sculptures that Joseph Beuys made before his death (Scala Napoletana, 1985), Mel Bochner’s measurement of a ladder’s shadow (Measurement: Shadow, 1969), Man Ray’s photograph of a miniature ladder engulfed by a human foot, Alexander Rodchenko’s photographs of ladders, Yoko Ono’s ladders (Ceiling Painting, 1966, Golden Ladders, 2015), and Alma Buscher’s ladder chair (Ladder Chair for Children’s Room, 1923). Ladders have been used to stand in for aspiration, for getting ahead, and also for temporary stability, for construction of the new.

The image I created for the show, which circulated months before on a postcard, is of a ladder, tipped on its side, being used as a compass. The rungs become available for the compass point as well as the tip of a mark making material. The ladder chairs I made also have a small piece of graphite, making the careful observer imagine the furniture on its side, drawing a six-foot circle. The inability of the two points—the point that creates the center of the circle and the point which draws the circle—to connect is often my experience of communication in groups. People circle around one another, unable to hear what they do not already know or think. As the Study Center is dedicated to group work in the visual arts, this concept of division through aspiration and verbal disconnect seemed important.

The columns are made of turned poplar, and can be used for meetings, or they can stack to form a 10-foot column. This sculptural furniture is meant to point toward the classical forms that structure social life and social space in academic settings and to the smugglers of antiquities who broke ancient columns into sections. I hope that visitors will practice assembling and disassembling these forms while thinking about the design of spaces for learning.

In an arts ecology that privileges
individual success, and that rarely flies collaborators
around the world for public talks,
conversations about political economy become primary.

In addition to the turned poplar edition of the furniture, I have made a version that is an open source file for people with Computer Numerical Control machines to adapt. The CNC version is an example of what I call an Open Source Systems and Art project. I made the designs, files, and assembly process for this and (also for my Queer Rocker) available for use and modification because I learn by doing and by uniting research with action. I hope to add spaces of reflection and healing to social movements, so many of which are, at present, focused on protest and progress. Many students, activists, and grassroots organizations cannot afford to purchase furniture, but they may have time to create things with the materials around them. My aim with open source projects is that through communal production and alteration, an embodied politics will emerge.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.


The tools in the show are labelled as either On View or In Use. What classifies a tool under one of these two terms? And how does the label of ‘tool’ rather than ‘sculpture’, ‘piece’, or ‘artwork’ transform the objects?

A tool “In Use” is an object that will be touched, activated, and used during the time it is at Cooper Union. For example, Adelheid Mers’ The Braid is “In Use” both during her training in notation and communication methods and also throughout the duration of the Study Center’s hours at Cooper Union. Conversely, Paul Ryan’s Rose Window is “On View” because it is a delicate model that cannot be remade, so it cannot be used at this time. By referring to the objects in the Study Center as tools, I hope to trouble the autonomy we often associate with sculptures. What would it mean to see all objects in exhibitions as both formal experiments in material and scale and also objects that need to be understood within a community of practice? Stamatina Gregory and I made a decision not to show any documentation (photography, video, interactive websites) of the tools in use, because we wanted to emphasize the importance of demonstration, of experience as a criterion of knowledge. In this way, all objects have the potential for use, but may be resting at this time.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.

Collaborative time is a part of the study center’s vocabulary (used in wall text and online), and is “a time which is specifically marked by our engagement with one another.” This definition felt related to the goal of solidarity economies, where the gains made are produced from non-for-profit exchanges. For you, are these two models (collaborative time and solidarity economies) integral to one another?

The term “solidarity economy” emerged in the global South (economia solidária) and is known internationally by different names: the workers’ economy, the social economy, the new economy, the circular economy, the regenerative economy, the local economy, and the cooperative economy. It is recognized globally as a way to unite grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, and community land trusts to form a powerful base of political power. The solidarity economy is a system that places people before profit, aiming to distribute power and resources equitably. In this way, collaboration is always already a component part of the solidarity economy.

Caroline Woolard notes: As Marco Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004: “A solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective… innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-finance-distribution-consumption-education-communication.”

When an issue is your focus, group work becomes obvious, because the group will keep the issue alive. When we collaborate, we have to articulate our process to others, and therefore to ourselves, as well. This allows us to understand our own work and to refine our thought in debate and in encounters with difference—difference of experience, of perspective, of values. When we collaborate, we also have to accept different approaches to allocating time and money to projects, as collaborators attempt to agree upon which resources to share. In an arts ecology that privileges individual success, and that rarely flies collaborators around the world for public talks, conversations about political economy become primary. By articulating a collaborative economy of shared time and resources, students of collaboration also become students of solidarity economies, looking at shared livelihoods as always already part of shared production.

The Wound Study Center is made to be on-going, (which seems inherent to the study center, since the facilitators chosen to participate engage in long-term practices). Where do you see the Study Center next, and how malleable is its format as it transitions locations and institutions? How important is it that the study center operate in an art-related environment?

It is not important that the Study Center operate in an arts environment, but it is important to recognize that no new models for economic justice will be created without the arts. I see the arts as the center of all interdisciplinary work. To my mind, institutions like community land trusts, cooperative finance, and other brilliant, beautiful, systems-thinking models require the arts to envision, implement, and celebrate the unknown. The practices that the Study Center honors enable people from law, policy, finance, health, and planning to come together to create innovative models. While we see these models of credit unions, worker cooperatives, and community healing spaces, we might not realize that what brings interdisciplinary teams together are arts practices. Lastly, the arts are often the best place to test ideas for long term institutions. I have done much of the research and development of long term institutions within arts spaces.

The Study Center could take a variety of forms, ranging from (1) a small display case of tools  in a community center or public library to (2) a week-long study seminar for groups with daily trainings using sculptural tools. In the best case scenario, the Study Center will (3) become a permanent space for group work in the visual arts. Just as dancers take classes throughout their lives, the Study Center would be a place to take classes or use meeting spaces on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I would run into other members of collectives, groups, and cooperatives in class, knowing that the musculature of dialog, attention, and listening has to be practiced to become strong. For this to function, I will need to move the collection to a permanent space. I am currently in dialog with the New York Public Library and also the Brooklyn Commons about this possibility.

As (4) a group of practitioners, the Study Center can exist as a consortium that offers meeting-facilitation and collaboration trainings to corporate clients as well as community based organizations using sculptural tools in unconventional environments. For example, Project 404 could teach members of a worker-owned business how to focus on a single image on their smart phone in a gallery. The Extrapolation Factory could provide futurist scenarios for activists in the basement of a museum.

If most New Yorkers have no experiences of democracy at work, at home, in school, or online, how will we learn to work together? This Study Center provides a practice space for joint work and joint decision making. Whether the Study Center becomes a small display case, a week-long institute, a permanent space, or a consortium of practitioners, I know that this is the work that is necessary for the cooperative culture and the solidarity economy that I want to see. ◊

Wound Study Center is open by appointment until Friday, November 18 (email 




Trustee Interview: Adrian Jovanovic (BSE ’89)

by Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)

Photo provided by CUAA.
Photo provided by CUAA.

Where you are from and how did you hear of Cooper?

I’m from way upper Manhattan (now called “Hudson Heights”) and discovered Cooper Union in my junior year of high school, when researching potential colleges. I was looking for a top school where I could pursue my interest in computers, and free
tuition certainly made Cooper stand out!

I moved to Seattle in 1990 to work for Microsoft and later, in 1994, founded eMedia Music, an educational software company. Over the years we’ve expanded into instrument and software bundles and distribution of other music related products. I’m running the business there, managing software development, and overseeing our sales/marketing and operational efforts. I’m based in Seattle but do get to New York regularly to support our operations and contribute to the effort to restore Cooper Union’s free education mission.

You were elected to the Board of Trustees in 2015; how would you describe your involvement on the Board? 

Like all Cooper trustees, I share responsibility for the strategic development and oversight of the school. But it’s no secret that alumni elected me, and I joined the Board, in order to help achieve an expeditious return to a stable, tuition-free, and thriving Cooper Union. To achieve those goals, the Board has to build trust and support through transparency, fiscal responsibility, and unity of purpose. I’m pushing hard and trying to spur discussion and
action on all three fronts!

“The Board will not authorize cuts that
compromise the education or safety of our students.”

How would you describe your involvement with the Free Education Committee (FEC) so far?

The Free Education Committee was one of the new board structures dictated by the Consent Decree. Its role is to develop a comprehensive and viable plan to return to full-tuition scholarships for all Cooper undergraduates. I believe that the FEC is critical to the ultimate success of our efforts to restore Cooper’s mission. That’s why I pushed for its inclusion in the Consent Decree and sit on the Committee.

The FEC has to consider complex fiscal, legal, educational, and operational issues as it develops its recommendations. It’s a massive undertaking. To date, we’ve been gathering information and studying past efforts. But I’d like to see us make more progress, faster, in developing a thoughtful framework for the plan to return to “free” as well as establishing extended working teams to pursue specific plan elements. I’ve asked the Board to consider adding more trustees to the Committee to help expedite that work.

As President of the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU), you were one of the main petitioners in the lawsuit against the Board of Trustees. Some of the respondents of the lawsuit—such as current Chairman of the Board, Richard Lincer—are still trustees now. How would you describe the dynamic of your relationship with them now that you serve with them as a trustee?

Chair Lincer and the trustees have made a genuine effort to cordially welcome me to the Board. I truly appreciate that effort. For my part, I’m determined to work constructively with the Board and do my part in helping it be as effective as possible. Acting together as a unified and mutually supportive group is the best way to succeed.

Richard Lincer’s term ends this December, what action will the Board take thereafter? What would you say is the main focus of the Board of Trustees looking forward?

After Richard Lincer’s term ends, the Board will appoint another Chair. The Chair has a considerable amount of influence on the board­—for example, the Chair appoints all Committee Chairs and sets agendas for board meetings. It’s premature to speculate on the focus on the board until the new Chair is in place.

How would you describe Cooper’s current financial outlook especially considering our higher-than-normal proportion of non-instructional staff relative to students? What steps has the Board recommended to create a balanced budget?

At the June 2016 Board meeting the Board instructed Bill Mea to model and evaluate scenarios for additional expense cuts
between $5 million and $7 million. However, while it is critical that Cooper live within its means, the Board will not authorize cuts that compromise the education or safety of our students.

Scott Lerman (Art ‘81) joined the Board recently. Wasn’t he involved with the Committee to Save Cooper Union? Could you describe his what he does with CSCU and the Board?

Yes, Scott is one of the important new voices on the board—as a former President and CEO of two leading global brand consultancies, and current CEO of Lucid Brands he brings valuable organizational and branding expertise to the board.

Scott was officially a strategic consultant to CSCU (pro-bono—we couldn’t afford him otherwise!) and was directly involved in the Attorney General brokered settlement negotiations that resulted in the Consent Decree. He currently serves on the Communications and Development committees of the Cooper Board.

What do you think about electing Laura Sparks as President? What skills do you think she brings to Cooper?

The Board sought a 13th President capable of partnering with the Board to stabilize Cooper’s finances, restore full-tuition scholarships for all, and advance the quality of the schools. Laura Sparks brings highly valuable experience and skills to Cooper Union. She has led a leading not-for-profit foundation, is knowledgeable about fund- and grant-raising, and has relevant financial expertise. Her proven abilities in uniting and inspiring diverse communities and raising institutional prominence coupled with her respect for Cooper Union’s historic mission bodes well for our future. I have high hopes! ◊

Photo by Simon Shao (ME ‘19).

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

by Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18)

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

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

How did you initially join the faculty at Cooper?

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

What is your current role at Cooper?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any closing comments?

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

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

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

More photos on Instagram @cu_mx

Ten Days in Mexico City: Third-Year Architects’ Travelling Studio Class

By Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

This semester, third-year architects are studying architecture in the Mexican capital region—but they’re going about it in a way that’s never been done before at Cooper. In fact, it’s not even technically at Cooper. On September 23, the entire Architecture Class of 2019 embarked on a trip to the Mexican capital and returned just yesterday. Travelling with them was Dean of Architecture Nader Tehrani as well as Prof. Mersiha Veledar, Prof. Maria Gonzalez Pendas, Prof. Michael Young and Mauricio Higuera. Mauricio planned the logistic intricacies—he even has a 3-foot-by-6-foot map of Mexico City hanging in his office, with pins marking all the sites they intend to visit.

Their itinerary was packed with “site visits, exploring buildings not open to the public and discussions with expert scholars,” according to Dean Elizabeth O’Donnell, Associate Dean of the School of Architecture. In her experience, “once you’re an architect, you’re no longer a neutral tourist. Even though you’ve seen photos, and designs and models of the structures, visiting the thing itself is so important.” She referred to the works of architect Félix Candela she taught the same students about last year. She added, “To study something abstractly—through photographs and structural concepts—is one thing, but to actually climb the shell and feel the curvature in your bones and walk the scale yourself is another thing entirely.”

More photos on Instagram @cu_mx
More photos on Instagram @cu_mx

Such a trip is unprecedented. The idea to incorporate a travelling portion to the curriculum originated from a student, Kevin Savillon (Arch ’19), while in discussion with Dean of Architecture Nader Tehrani. Faculty said that Dean Tehrani’s immediate interest in having an ‘on the ground’ research component made the trip academically compelling and ultimately possible. It took over two semesters of meetings between Savillon, Dean Tehrani and others to make the trip happen. They just had to figure out how to incorporate it in the jam-packed architecture curriculum and then pick a place to go.

The trip to Mexico is folded into the curriculum halfway through the students’ Cooper career. It is part of the requirements for Analysis Studio, a class in which the students each pick a work of architecture and conduct research through nearly every lens imaginable—from studying street-grid traffic to learning about how climate effect and solar conditions affect the design. In previous years, third-year Design Studio classes picked buildings around a theme, like libraries or focused on precursors to modernism. But they never had the opportunity to visit the sites they studied so intensely. That’s what is different about incorporating this trip in Design III.

The question on their mind while choosing where to go was “what would be the most culturally and experientially powerful choice” that was not too far away (so as to keep costs down). Indeed, costs were an important deciding factor. The trip was funded within the School of Architecture’s Special Project Fund—that is to say, within the budget of the school, without any outside donations. So is that justified in the context of the Cooper Union’s steep budget cuts and demands for even more cuts coming soon to reduce deficit spending?

The idea is to fund this trip in this way this year and then get it endowed by an outside donor for years to come. Of course, there were other projects that the Special Project Fund would have been spent on but now must be
foregone. Still, the value of this trip is substantial and enduring. Not only is the trip valuable to the travelling students’ own practice, but the trip also fosters bonds with other architecture scholars internationally but also builds an incredible archive of global work and understanding that will be familiar to future Cooper architecture students.

This trip in the present has the potential to radically change the students’ practice and identity now and even decades from now. ◊

More photos on Instagram @cu_mx
More photos on Instagram @cu_mx

Student Comments:

“There’s a moment so surreal when one physically enters a space that has only been experienced through literary references and secondhand representations. The implementation of a traveling portion within the ‘analysis’ studio gives students the opportunity and fulfillment of experiencing a built structure in-person in tangent to its site, culture, and history.

Five days after visiting the building that I will be analyzing for the entire semester, my class took a trip to School of Architecture at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). During that visit, we were shown the ‘Archive of Mexican Architects’, wherein I found countless original drawings of the Museo Tamayo. There were drawings of construction details, isometrics of electrical mapping of the building, to the details of screws used to holster up the skylights—none of which were digitized or copied and stored elsewhere.

But what was even more interesting and enlightening about traveling to Mexico were the conversations that I have had with professors and historians about the history of the building, the construction and political process in developing the project, as well as their personal experiences in visiting the building 30 years ago.

I hope this experiment of traveling abroad in tangent to the analysis semester proves successful and continues for years to come. Cheers to Dean Nader Tehrani for taking a risk and making this program come to life!” - Kevin Savillon

More photos on Instagram @cu_mx
More photos on Instagram @cu_mx

This trip was so fantastically educational for me. I come from an incredibly monotonous suburb in a country without much cultural identity, so the opportunity to be immersed in a place with so much heritage and ambition that translates architecturally was so great and really moving. – Joyce Li

“Mexico city seems to be a collage of different cultures and eras, and it is precisely this mixture what Mexicans feel represented by. It is apparent in the architecture we have seen the influence of the country’s heritage and geographic location: from Barragan’s use of color to the way a great amount of buildings play with rain water, such as Ramírez Vázquez in Museo de Antropología.” - Mireya Fabregas 

“Apart from the architectural riches Mexico has to offer, I find the traveling studio to be a great way to get to know the my fellow students and the professors. First time excitement not only on a geographical base, but also in terms of social and intellectual interaction. I could not have imagined a more delightful introduction to The Cooper Union!”
- Bastiaan Vandersanden

More photos on Instagram @cu_mx
More photos on Instagram @cu_mx

Introducing Your New Student Trustee

By Brandon Quinere (CE’19)

The Pioneer had the chance to sit down and talk with newly-elected Student Trustee Julian Mayfield (Art ‘18) about his role and how students can become more politically involved at Cooper.

This is Simon's Pic_BWJulian Mayfield (Art ‘18) was elected Student Trustee in May, 2016. He serves on the Free Education Commitee of the Board. Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ‘19).

What are your feelings about being elected as our new Student Trustee? 

Julian Mayfield: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and I feel pressured towards fulfilling my duties in a way that satisfies how I interpret the ethics behind this institution per the Consent Decree. There’s also expectations from people who encouraged me to run for the position, though their expectations are definitely not tempering any of my decision-making. But I definitely feel a desire to get to it and do the best that I can here.

[Editor’s note: The Consent Decree is an agreement worked out by New York’s Attorney General and signed by both the Board of Trustees and the Committee to Save Cooper Union (the litigators in the lawsuit over previous years). The Consent Decree outlines specific measures that the Board must enforce in order “to return Cooper Union to a sustainable, full-tuition scholarship model.”]

Are you excited to get started?

I really wanted to fully grasp the scope of my responsibilities to the beneficiaries of the Cooper community before I jumped in. Luckily, I had a small period of time where I basically got to shadow the Student Trustees at the time (Jessica Marshall (EE ’17) and Monica Abdallah (ChE ’17)) and observe their participation at the meetings. It was encouraging to be reminded that I too have the ability to be as active and forthright with my opinion. There’s a gap in expertise that I want to bridge immediately and it’s not something I’m going to learn overnight, but I definitely will do the best I can and really try to protect things in this institution that might be overlooked.

Did you feel a shift in going from a student vying for Trustee as to now, acting as one?

Not necessarily. In my relationship with students, I don’t think me acting as a Trustee is something a lot of students think about. With teachers and the other Trustees, there really isn’t too much of a shift either. The shift was in myself and discovering a greater appreciation for impartiality in my decision-making, as well as a need to avoid the politics of it all. There are politics, but that’s beside the point when it comes to something as big as keeping this whole situation afloat.

Now that you have been elected, have any students reached out to you in your new role? 

Yes, and I highly encourage more too! It hasn’t necessarily been people whom I’ve never talked to stopping me in the hallway, but people who I have previous rapport with have definitely felt comfortable coming in and trying to stay within the information flow. And I appreciate it, it’s important that we don’t feel alienated from the Board and can continue to stay informed.

For the new school year, what issues do you anticipate will be discussed between you and the Board?

Well I’m on the Free Education Committee and there’s definitely a lot more work being done there. With that comes a lot more contention and tougher decisions that will need to be made. If you’ve read the quarterly Board report that was released in June, you’ll know that there’s a lot that goes from declaring a commitment to actually perfecting these decisions and agreements. That’s definitely going to be a prime focus as soon as we get all of the methodologies set and our strategies finalized.

This is your introduction to a lot of the freshmen unfamiliar with you or your role. To those new students, how would you describe what you can do for them? 

It’s hard to really put that into words because the Trustee position isn’t necessarily something that can have immediate or direct impact into student lives. A lot of it is management of other people who are going to be committing actions. What I can do is talk to the new students if they need to stay informed and be made aware of resources that can help them become more politically involved in the institution. It’s the most we really can do at this point; to make sure that when things change, they aren’t changing in a way that will negatively impact the institution. And if it does turn towards that direction, then I have no interest in being part of decisions that will destroy the quality of current or future students’ experiences here.

Do you have any advice for students both new and old who want to become more involved in Cooper affairs?

It can be anything from getting involved in Student Council or forming an affinity group and just speaking out. E-mail campaigns, making posters, talking to your professors about these issues. They have a lot of opinions and have watched this cycle for a lot longer than us and will keep seeing it after we’re gone. They can offer a lot of real insight and have been some of the people who have kept me the most informed about political changes in this institution. Ultimately, make sure that every one of your friends are informed of events. Do whatever needs to be done so that you don’t go down without a fight. ◊

Thinking on the Page: Cooper’s How-To for Effective Writing

by Ruchi Patel (ChE ’18) and Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18)


Photo by Ruchi Patel (ChE ’18)

Although incredibly intelligent, Cooper Union students aren’t particularly known for their writing abilities. Inspired by their students, humanities professors Gwen Hyman and Martha Schulman came up with Thinking on the Page: A College Student’s Guide to Effective Writing, a “how-to” book published in March of this year. The 328-page guide intends to get the good ideas that “bad writers” have onto the page in a way that makes sense to them and to others. 

Schulman: Writing is for everyone, whether or not you plan to read a literary work again after college. You have to tell people what you are doing whether you are a chef or an engineer or applying for a grant. You have to figure out what you want to say and you have to get it on a page clear enough so that some one else can read and understand it. And then you have to do without being there to explain it to them. You cannot—in a million years—do that right on the first or second try. Asking that of yourself is setting yourself up for failure. This book is here to teach you to communicate in any scenario.

Hyman: The theory behind the book is that most people are taught to write as if they are English teachers because they are taught by English majors.

Schulman: When students come and say that ‘I can’t do this,’ we just don’t believe that. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t amazing at something, and not everyone is equally amazing in everything, but if you have a brain that works that well at one thing, then that has to be harnessed and channelled into other things. There is no mystery or magic dust. We would give you the magic dust if we had it. There’s only work and knowing how to do that work in a productive way. You guys are passionate and you work hard. No one at Cooper is a slacker.

The authors acknowledge that humanities is not why students come to Cooper. But engineers, artists, and architects meet in the writing center and in HSS. Being able to interact with all three schools gives Hyman and Schulman a better perspective on how students think. The duo spent four years forming a theory of how to teach writing to aesthetic, visual learners, the kinds of learners one finds at Cooper. 

Hyman: From being at Cooper for so long, we learned that you guys work together. Engineers work in groups and artists and architects do critiques, all the time! Writers tend to think ‘Oh, I am just going to go into my room and work.’ But watching you guys work gave some value to how to bring that to your work.

Schulman: Writing comes naturally to me and I thought that smartness was the kind of smartness that I had. I taught at Columbia before here and those people were smart in a variety of ways, but they were super well-rounded, which actually made them really boring. Then I came to Cooper, and these students were so smart in ways that I wasn’t. I would ask an architect why she wanted to look at that passage and she would look at me like I’m crazy and say ‘Because it is so spatial.’ I’m thinking ‘It was? It is? Oh, yes it is!’

“Our title has two meanings. One, you get your thinking on the page, and two, the act of writing lets you see what you are thinking”

The duo then continued to talk about the setup of their book and how it is used to outline writings.

Shulman: How do we unpack that knowledge? There are charts, drawings, and dialogic journals to help visualize what otherwise might seem like “Oh, this is a dumb idea” or “This is all in my head and I actually can’t visualize it and get it on the page.” That is why the book is called Thinking on the Page. Writing is thinking and we think that until you see it, you can’t really use it or firm it up, or play with it, or do all the things you do in writing.

Hyman: It is no different than engineering problem sets. You can never do that work in your head. You pick up an idea or you follow a train of thinking and you see where it goes. But people are reluctant to take risks and ask questions as they would in other fields so a lot of our work is how do we get you to ask questions.

Schulman: That’s why there is a whole chapter called “Asking Questions: Generating Ideas,” because one of the big things we are interested in is the thinking process. With engineers, you need a huge trial of numbers as you figure out the calculus homework. You can’t just beam it onto the page. Sometimes you have to go back to middle and track it. But if you don’t have a record, you can’t do that. That is why we make a big distinction between the product and the process.

Grammar can sometimes get in the way of writing, and the book addresses this uniquely. 

Schulman: Sometimes when you don’t know what you are trying to say, the syntax gets all weird and convoluted because you are actually in a process where you are trying to fix it. The act of unscrambling will often rearrange the pieces to make sense and some sentences might even go away. First, we talk about it as a thinking issue and then we talk about  the grammar errors that suggest that you haven’t totally thought through the relationships.

Hyman: It is also a process-product issue. A lot of people try to fix the grammar as they are writing and doing that creates a problem for you because you can’t think and you can’t produce ideas and you can’t test things out because you are so worried about the grammar.

Schulman: You are also wasting time! The one thing about working in a pair is that there is always some working critique. We must have fine-tune edited 100 pages that never got near this book. Don’t do what we did! You don’t need to think about grammar unless you are lost in your own sentence, and that’s a thinking issue more than a grammar issue. When you know what pieces are actually going to be in your final product, you can clean up the grammar and the relationship between idea A and idea B.

Hyman: Writing is hard. And if it is not hard, then you are doing it wrong.

Schulman: Our title actually has two meanings. One is that you get your thinking on the page. But two: the act of writing lets you see what you are thinking and lets you then generate more thought. So it is a process that keeps moving, and if you stop writing and you don’t know how to continue, then you are stuck. In theory with this book, if you are willing to use it, you should never actually stay stuck. You should say “Okay, I’m stuck right now but I’m going to go back into the text and ask these questions and do a mind map. I’m going to have a technique.” Sometimes all it takes to get unstuck is to do something. It’s to move. Those three hours between 2-5 A.M. when you are staring at your computer—that is unproductive time! That is what this is meant to end.

Thinking on the Page

Image from Amazon

How did they make the book easy to understand to engineers, architects, and artists? We all see things differently…right?

Hyman: Even though people learn in different ways, there are more connections across the school that you perhaps don’t perceive while in school. In a way, you all are visual learners. You see the world differently than we do. This forced us to think through the project of the book and make it useful for everyone.

Schulman: Sometimes people get snippy about the other schools, but when you are all invested in the topic, there is suddenly like a huge knockdown fight about what the tower of hexagons in the History of Bable physically looks like. And there is an argument going on between these three different types of people who can all visualize it and know more about a hexagon than I do. And it’s the coolest. And we have that in a way that other schools don’t have. Even if it is at first reluctantly, you all come together. It’s kind of exciting for us.

Hyman: More or less, Cooper students have been our guinea pigs for all this time. So we know what works because we have tried it in the Writing Center and in our classrooms. The same thing does not work with one person as it does with another. We found that in our working style, Martha and I approach things differently. I outline. If I don’t have an outline I’m lost. So we have outline options and “so you hate outlines” option.

Schulman: We feel very fortunate that we have this opportunity. Cooper is unique in the world. The funny thing is we come from this place and we think this book actually works for many, many people who are never going to go to Cooper or want to go to Cooper. If it turns out that you are in nursing school, or a biology major, business major, or music major, or anyone else that may have been told in school that they are not good writers (or who are decent writers only because they color within the lines but don’t necessarily feel connected to it) you will find processes that would work for you. So when you find what writer you are, we tell you how to assess your work so that you can move on to the next stage.

Hyman: We really believe in this stuff and it is very close to our hearts. Writing is power. It is really a big deal for us to share then and instill it and get it out in the world. We would love for more people to learn this stuff and get access to it.

Exchange Students Tell Us What We Already Know… Plus More

By Monica Chen (ME ’18)

Study Abroad Students Shrikant Chavare and Manu Manso - photo by Winter Leng ChE '18

Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ’18)

Every semester, Cooper welcomes foreign exchange students to experience the culture of our unique community while living in the heart of the East Village. This year, students from Spain, India, Germany, and more traveled to New York to continue their studies in engineering and art. This interview features two students, Manuel Manso Morato (CE ‘17) and Shrikant Chavare (ChE ‘16). 

TCP: What did you expect your Cooper experience to be like before you arrived?

Shrikant: One of my major concerns before coming was that the other students who came before me were in a group of 4 so even if they had any problems or were feeling lonely, they could figure it out amongst themselves. This was a concern because I was the only one coming from India. So far, I haven’t faced any problems and overall, the experience is better than I had expected

Manu: I thought the people here were going to be more into studying and not as much into having a social life. Cooper Union chooses the most clever individuals from all over America, so I wasn’t expecting them to be as cool as they are.

What motivated you to study abroad?

M:  I’ve always loved the English language so I knew I definitely wanted to go to an English-speaking country. When I was 15, I did an exchange program in New Zealand with the American Field Service (AFS). It’s an organization that promotes intercultural exchange, and I came to learn that the world is way bigger than what I know. I was hosted by a really nice family in New Zealand, where I learned English and attended high school for 5 months. I was able to travel around both islands and to me, New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world, and I loved the experience. Since then, I’ve always wanted to live on my own abroad, and now that dream is accomplished.

S: I am interested in two options after I graduate: getting my Masters or getting a job abroad. I’ve also had experience working abroad for certain summers, but I wanted to know if I could sustain myself for the long term alone.

What made you choose Cooper when you were deciding on where to study abroad?

M: My university has a lot of agreements with other universities, but I did a bit of research on all the colleges I could apply to and Cooper Union was the biggest name on the list. Also, as a Spaniard, living in New York City was a unique opportunity; I could probably only have the chance of living in the middle of the East Village once in my life so I couldn’t say no to the opportunity. As soon as I got accepted, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to Cooper.”

How does Cooper compare to your colleges back home?

M: Burgos, my college in Spain, has 9,000 students and the engineering section is the largest one, so it’s very different though we do have very small classes right now because of the crisis in Spain. Also, our buildings and laboratories are larger, but obviously you can’t ask for that if you’re living here in the city. In Spain, I live in a very small town of 200,000, much smaller than Manhattan!

S: At IIT Bombay, there are at least 60 people in each chemical engineering class and for the common engineering classes, the number of students in each class sometimes goes up to 120 or 150. After coming here, there are a maximum of 25 people in a class so every student gets more attention.

Also, the exams here are less competitive than the ones at my university. After the first month of lectures, professors are required to give at least 2 or 3 exams every 2 weeks. In every class, there are several short exams, 1 midterm exam, and 1 final exam as compared to 1 midterm and 1 final exam in the classes here.

Best part of your Cooper experience so far?

S: The best part may also be the worst part because Cooper being a small school, you know everyone studying here. It’s not like you feel alienated and even if you meet someone new, you end up seeing them quite often within a couple of weeks and end up becoming friends. You basically know everyone when you go to a small school so if you have some problems, you know to ask for help.

M: The people and the location. The people were really open to me when I arrived. There haven’t been many foreign exchange students so that was a big shock for my classmates. As for NYC, there’s nothing bad I can say about it. I’m living in a wonderful location and I wish I could stay here longer for another semester.

Worst part of your experience?

M: Probably the price of the city. In the city, all the prices are all very expensive, including the rent. That’s probably the worst part — having to think about how to spend money when you’re here. I feel like Americans earn more money; in America you’re able to earn double what you could earn in Spain, but the living expenses are also higher in New York.

S: My university has 16 dorms, a football field, cricket field, a hockey field, and a huge residential area and a lake. There is around 800 acres of campus so even if you’re not in school, you can go outside and hang around. Here, if you want to play sports, you need to walk for 15 minutes to get anywhere.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done in the States?

M: When I arrived here, I spent 15 days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida chilling on the beach. Since I’ve started school, I’ve visited all of NYC and Niagara Falls with some of my classmates. This weekend, I went to Indianapolis, which was a 12-hour journey by bus, where I stayed for half a day then drove up north to Michigan, where I stayed in a cabin for 3 days without electricity. I plan on visiting Tom’s River in New Jersey during Thanksgiving. After classes end, I plan on visiting Washington D.C., Boston, and then Florida again before going back to Spain.