Category Archives: Letters

Letter to the First Years

By Pranav Joneja (ME ’18), Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19), Kavya Udupa (BSE ’19)

To the class of 2020/2021,

Welcome to Cooper!

Yes, we all come from different walks of life, study various disciplines, and have diverse interests. But, there is one thing we do share in common: this institution. It seems that for a short while our paths have converged.  It’s easy to take that for granted—Cooper is a school after all—and there is a certain amount of transience regarding those who pass through its doors.

This year is an opportunity for renewal: we will welcome a new president, search for new deans and administrators, and persist on the path to tuition-free education. Your presence and energy will help to shape this renewal. Amidst this, however, don’t forget the old.

The way Cooper is now is not the way it has always been. As a student here, you should feel an obligation to learn what has changed. Our institutional memory need not be wiped away every summer and in your time here, we hope that you join us in
remembering how we forgot. Time is linear, but our stories do not have to be.

At Cooper, it is easy to immerse yourself in your practice, but do not forget to spend some time elsewhere. You will learn that the community around you can foster a deep sense of collectivism.

“Create lasting habits, bring stories to share, ask a question and listen to each other.”

With love nonstop,

The Pioneer Editors

Senior Class Letter

March 7, 2014

Dear Friends,

2014 seemed so far away when we arrived at The Cooper Union. Now we have less than three months left until we graduate.

During the past few years, we have worked countless hours in labs and studios striving to become the great architects, artists, and engineers that Peter Cooper envisioned. We are all extremely privileged to have received full-tuition scholarships during our college careers. Now we have an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of full-tuition scholarships while helping to provide for the next generation of Cooper students. Continue reading

Letter Regarding Art Portfolio Reviews

Ryan Garrett (ART‘06)

Dear Friends,

I was in Ohio [on October 5th] reviewing portfolios in Cincinnati and Cleveland for Cooper and I have to say it seemed to be a pretty dismal sign of what Cooper may face as we switch to a tuition based model. I’ve attended Portfolio Reviews for the last three years and despite our total lack of advertising or signage we always have had very long lines and excited prospective applicants. Typically, if there were a student that firstly knew about the Cooper Union and secondly had any prospect of getting in, they would be excited to say that Cooper was their first choice of school and that they would be willing to commit if offered an Early Decision application. In both cities this weekend this was not at all the case.

There were no lines at all, only a slow trickle of students. Schools nearby had long lines. At first I attributed this to possible regional discrepancies, or it being the first Portfolio day of the year, but it became very clear that these factors alone could not account for this dramatic reversal of interest in the school. Of the students to whom I spoke with who were talented, motivated, had invested research into potential art schools and whom I felt were worthy of a referral for Early Decision, each said they would not be willing to commit to a binding decision based on Cooper’s decision to start charging tuition in 2014. This hesitance, of course, may have also been caused by the administration’s decision to delay [early decision applicants] last year.

Oftentimes prospective students knew a lot about Cooper and said that it would have been their top choice, but on account of tuition, they felt more attracted to their other top choices (RISD, SAIC, Pratt, etc) because of the facilities, range of specialized programs, and other nonessentials available at those universities. I made sure to guarantee them that it was only half tuition, and that there were a number of potential merit and need-based scholarships that would be available, and that the application process would remain need-blind, but it was clear that at the prospect of being charged tuition, to these students Cooper was just another art school out of many, and one that did not compete in regards to its superficial offerings.

No matter how many tentative caveats are attached (possible extra scholarships, need-blind admissions, etc), the introduction of tuition completely undoes Cooper’s exceptional reputation by placing it in direct competition on the open marketplace. All of this was confirmed by the reviewers who [went to] Texas. The fears and concerns that the Cooper Community had over the impact of switching to tuition are no longer speculative.

I have to say it was all very depressing, and I do not mean to sound alarmist, but it was strikingly clear, though I’m sure of no surprise, what this economic model is going to mean for the future of Cooper. Cooper will be unable to continue relying on attraction and will have to turn to promotion. The school will have to invest huge amounts in advertising to attract top caliber students. This, of course, will mean that the school will need to continually expand (its facilities, its degree programs, departments) in order to compete where it did not need to compete before.

When the board members shrugged off these concerns in the lead up to their final decision to charge tuition by saying things like “Cooper is not only about being tuition free” or “I would send my kid to Cooper even without a pool, or state of the art facilities” they were clearly being disingenuous… or mournfully ignorant.

Regardless, it seems necessary to confront them with reality in order to counter such wishful thinking. One parent whose mother had graduated from Cooper and had really wanted her daughter to attend asked “Whats the difference between Cooper and any of the other big art schools now?” I tried to explain Cooper’s ethic toward education, how it attracted the most talented faculty and students, how the creativity of the students was less impinged by commercial interests or economic pressure, but I realized that all of these qualities were inextricably tied to the economic freedom that it had been guaranteed throughout its history. She simply responded, “But how long can they sustain that?” I had no answer and I’m wondering if anyone does.

For my part I would be happy to help write recruitment reports, along with the other reviewers/recruiters, to give the Board, the President, and the rest of the Cooper Community a concrete assessment of the impact that charging tuition will have on the School of Art’s future.

Ryan Garrett

Letter to the Community

Malcolm Dell (ME ‘14)

As many of you already know, it was discovered on Monday, October 7th that the heated gardens on the roof of the foundation building were vandalized. The details concerning the extent of the vandalism have not yet been released to the public; however, we do know that more than half of the plants were torn from their beds and the remaining root systems were severely damaged. Soil was shoveled out and used to write “Garden of the Union”. The student built, thermally insulated beds were also damaged. This project represents a concerted seven-year effort by nearly 50 students both graduate and undergraduate, all of whom were working with Professor Dell. Students have worked on the heated gardens in Iceland for credit under the summer study-abroad program, which will be offered again in the summer of 2014. The student who was affected the most was William Foley, a Master’s Thesis candidate. He had been caring for these plants for a year under the advisement of Professor Dell and Professor Wei. William was trying to prove that there were other plant varieties than those previously tested which would be able to survive and produce crops in the winter. This would help to prove that the growing season can be year long. He was also investigating automated heating and irrigation systems. William Foley’s thesis and graduation have now been delayed for a year.

There are currently two other heated garden locations, one at the Agricultural University of Iceland and the other is the Keilir Institute of Technology, both of which are located in Iceland. These experimental gardens utilize waste steam to heat the soil and promote plant growth. There is an average increase of 20% in plant growth and flowers can bloom in the snow. These gardens allow for crops to yield in cold-weather conditions which were previously considered inhospitable to many plants. In Iceland there are banana trees and an oak tree being grown outside, uncovered, and this summer there were tomatoes, zucchini, pea plants, and celery. This new agricultural technology offers a more economically profitable method of growing plants in prohibitively cold weather conditions, eliminating the need for green houses for at least a majority of the plant varieties which were tested. Sustainability is also addressed by utilizing waste-steam heat. In New York City alone, if this technology were to be implemented on the roofs of 30% of Consolidated Edison’s steam customers it would save more than 3 million cubic meters of drinking water per year. The drinking water would otherwise be used to cool the steam before it is released to the environment. This work has been recognized by ASME, the Geothermal Resources Council and various other organizations and periodicals. The project was at a critical point where press coverage was increasing and commercial applications were being negotiated, all of which would have benefited our school.
Professor Dell has discussed rebuilding the gardens with members of the student body from any of the three schools and is thankful for the support he has received. Cooper alum Gene Tabach, who had also worked on the heated-garden project, setup an Indiegogo donation page to help the project get up and running again ( The administration has been aiding in resolving the issue and discovering the culprit(s). No other details are available at this time.

- Malcolm Dell (ME ‘14)