Dean interview, featured image

Interview with Dr. Dahlberg, Dean of Engineering

Saimon Sharif (ChE ‘15) & Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Editor’s Note: An unedited version of this interview was incorrectly published in-print. The interview below is the edited version.

This past Wednesday, the Cooper Pioneer (TCP) interviewed the new Dean of Engineering, Dr. Teresa Dahlberg (TD).

TCP: Do you mind giving some background on your education and past job experiences?

TD: Sure! I received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and worked for IBM as a hardware and software development engineer for 10 years. I later received an M.S. and PhD in computer engineering and then moved to a faculty position. I’ve been a faculty member in electrical and computer engineering in a college of engineering. In the last dozen years, I’ve been in a computer science department in a college of computing and informatics.

TCP: What prompted you to move into an administrative role from a teaching role?

TD: I’ve actually been in administrative roles for a number of years.  I’ve been at UNC Charlotte – a teaching and research university.  So, in addition to teaching classes, I had to build a funded research program.  In so doing, I started a wireless networking research lab and founded a research center called the Diversity in Information Technology Institute.  In the latter, our focus was on enhancing computing education as well as attracting a larger and broader group of people to the discipline.  I’ve managed lots of projects, having been a principal investigator for over $20 million in grants.  I was also associate dean of a computing and informatics college with oversight for the undergraduate programs in the college.  We had about 1400 students – including over 1000 undergraduates.  I also founded a consortium called the STARS Computing Corps, which is now a non-profit company.  We developed a service-learning program that engages college students in building the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) K-12 pipeline, as a way to strengthen the leadership skills of college students majoring in engineering and computing.  Over eight years, 50 colleges and universities in the country have adopted our program and participated in the consortium.  Since I’ve done a lot of teaching, curriculum development, project management and research, a dean’s position seemed like the next challenge.

TCP: Why did you choose to pursue electrical and specifically computer engineering?

TD: I started out as a music therapy major.  I was encouraged by my high school piano teacher to pursue music. I didn’t want to do performance, so I focused on music therapy.  In the 1980s this was a new field, using music and peoples’ interactions with music in therapy. I was this music therapy major, but I loved and missed math.  I ended up being the girl in my dorm that helped everyone with their math problems even though I didn’t have any math courses.  After the first year I wanted to change majors.  A friend’s father said, “Why don’t you try engineering? It’s math-based.” So it was a leap of faith. I changed my major. I’ve taken lots of risks in my life – like coming here. I look at the options and then I go with my gut. When I entered engineering, I took the typical survey class that goes through all the different kinds of engineering majors.  Electrical seemed to be the one I least understood because it was more abstract, but it seemed more mathematical. It, again, was a leap of faith. I became more interested in computer engineering a few years later when it was introduced as a new undergraduate program while I was still an undergraduate.

TCP: Do you enjoy teaching, conducting research, or managing the most?

TD: I’ve enjoyed them all at different points in my career. One of the things I love about being a professor – and I’m always telling students to think about the professoriate as a career – you can evolve your focus and change what you do over time. I like doing something when I feel like I’m at the edge of confidence. I want to feel challenged and a little bit scared: “Oh I have to learn this. I have to figure out how to do it.” Once I get really good at something it gets a little bit boring. When I was in product development, it was fun for 5 years – brand new environment. I was intimidated by more experienced people. After a few years it was “I could do this” then it was “I could do this in my sleep.” I loved teaching and it was all consuming in the early years.  When you’re teaching you’re helping develop another person.  I loved starting up my programs in wireless networking and in computing education research.  When you’re doing research, you’re doing the work yourself; then you’re building a team and building bridges between people to do larger projects.  As a manager you’re helping to facilitate other people.  You’re putting the vision and the team together.

TCP: What attracted you to Cooper Union?

TD: A search firm contacted me and convinced me to apply.  I became intrigued during the first interview with the search committee.  There was something special about The Cooper Union.  It’s a close and intimate atmosphere.  The students are very high-achievers and are nice people.  I like the focus solely on engineering, art and architecture in culturally rich New York City.  I saw unique opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations on and off campus.  I read the papers, and my colleagues were sending me links asking “Are you crazy?!”  I’m very much an optimist.  I just don’t let problems deter me.  I thought “Well, there’s a challenge.”  It’s a high risk – high reward position.  They could close engineering and I’m out of a job.  But if we succeed, the decisions we’re making over the next year or two will set the course of the institution for the next 100 years.  I feel optimistic that we can make it clear to the outside world how amazing this place is.  The reward will be having been a part of the rejuvenation of this unique institution.

TCP: What has surprised you the most since coming to Cooper?

TD: The closeness of faculty-student collaborations. When I talk to faculty, even the faculty that are frustrated, when they start talking about their students, they become passionate.  The students are wicked smart but, again, very nice people. The students really seem to enjoy the intellectual environment.

TCP: What are your main goals as the new Dean of Engineering?

TD: Since arriving I’ve continued to discover hidden gems. The Cooper Union has much more to offer than is visible to the outside world.  I’m very much in learning and listening mode but a key goal is to identify and promote special attributes of The Cooper Union, especially to incoming students as well as to companies and graduate and professional schools.  I also want to work with faculty and students to not only maintain, but to enhance our academic excellence, for example by insuring that our curriculum is responsive to the New York City job market and to the global need for engineering to address important societal problems.

TCP: How do you like living in NYC? Is this your first time living here?

TD: Yes it’s my first time living here. I love it. It’s very different for me. I’ve always lived in suburban neighborhoods. I left my big house in Charlotte. I left my car. I’m very close to the college. I’m on foot – living in an apartment – and I love it! It’s a completely different lifestyle. There are so many things going on in the city.  I think it’ll be a long time before it wears off.

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

TD: I work a lot, and I spent a lot of time with my daughter, Kristen, who’s 15, our dog Clyde, and my husband Brian.  I have a 22 year old son, Nathan, but he’s on his own in graduate school.  I like to run, lift weights, listen to music, and read.  These are my stress relieving activities.

TCP: Where do you think Cooper Union’s engineering school stands in terms of academic competitiveness with other engineering schools?

TD: I think that the engineering school’s curriculum is highly competitive. In particular, it’s very rigorous. It seems to be highly project oriented, which I think is great. There are a lot of opportunities for unique experiential learning – like Invention Factory, internships, research experiences – lots of competitions. There are rich experiences for the students. If we look at the national and regional landscape for engineering – what is needed for the 21st century engineer, I think we can use some tweaks. New York City has set this aggressive goal to be the East Coast Silicon Valley, and there are a lot of startups and technology. Even though we’re small and there are lots of big players in the city, I think we have an opportunity to create a niche and a unique contribution.  When we look back ten years from now, when NYC reaches it’s goal, Cooper Union should be remembered as a player in that.

TCP: What advice do you have for Cooper students or faculty?

TD: The advice I have for Cooper Union students is to stay optimistic. This is a great place to be. It’s going to continue to be a great place. I think students come here knowing they have to do well in class, and I’m told students take a lot of course credits. That’s terrific. You should also have fun – I have to remind myself of that too. We tend to be all Type A people. Work all the time. Set the goal. Reach the goal. It also matters to do fun things. Look at your educational experience as not only what happens inside the classroom, but also what happens outside of the classroom. I mean out of the classroom in a number of ways. First, competitions and research experiences, going to lectures and seminars. Those you should do. But also, it’s great that we’re here in this city with art and architecture. So go to lectures and performances and art exhibits and things that stretch your comfort zone because that’s what’s unique about being at this institution. My advice for faculty is to stay positive, and work with me to transform The Cooper Union.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Free Cooper Union General Meeting

Joseph T. Colonel (EE ’15)

Folks who walked into the Rose Auditorium for Free Cooper Union’s General Meeting this past Wednesday were greeted by a half dozen stacks of miniature crimson manila envelopes vaguely reminiscent of the packets given and received on Chinese New Year. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, which typically contain money to usher in a new year filled with prosperity and good luck, these manila envelopes contained contents that outlined exactly why the Cooper Union projects a $16,000,000 deficit this school year, one bound to be fraught with tension, unease, and unrest. These “disorientation packets” contained a timeline outlining Cooper’s financial history, a reader describing Free Cooper Union’s demands and principles, and a zine containing five articles and a 990 form detailing the compensation of Cooper’s ten highest paid employees.

The meeting began at 9:15 PM with Casey Gollan (Art ’13) addressing the nearly full Rose Auditorium on the creation of Free Cooper Union and its actions up until this past summer. Vincent Hui (A ’15) went on to describe the occupation of the president’s office and the press it generated. Afterward Anna Vila (Art ’15) described summer activities associated with Free Cooper Union separate from the occupation, including workshops in Wisconsin about student power. The night concluded with a Q&A session moderated by Harrison Cullen (BSE ’15).

A recording of the event can be found on Free Cooper Union’s usteam account, on Free Cooper Union’s Facebook timeline, or at

April 23, 2013: The Day Cooper Charged Tuition

Joseph Colonel (EE ‘15) & Marcus Michelen (BSE’14)

At 6:05 AM on April 23rd 2013, members of the Cooper Community received a campus-notice email from Mark Epstein, Chairman of the Cooper Union Board of Trustees. The email was an invitation to an event at noon the same day, hosted by the Board of Trustees. According to the email, the event would “announce the decisions the Board reached on the future course of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.” The 61-word email closed with a requirement: “No signs or banners please.”

At the event itself, a lone podium stood before a packed Great Hall. At about ten minutes past noon, Mark Epstein walked in, and took his place behind the podium. He quietly read a written statement from the Board of Trustees: “The Board of Trustees voted last week to reduce the full-tuition scholarship to 50% for all undergraduates admitted to The Cooper Union beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2014.”

He continued for approximately 15 more minutes, finishing the written statement that was subsequently emailed to the Cooper Community at 12:23 PM. Epstein then opened the floor for questions. However, instead of receiving questions verbally, Epstein insisted on receiving questions in writing. Men and women with large index cards walked around the Great Hall offering the cards to those who wanted to ask questions.

In order for one to ask a question, he or she needed to raise his or her hand, receive an index card, write down the question and give the card back to the carriers. The carrier would then give the index card to Epstein, who would put the card into a pile of questions to answer. As Epstein attempted to answer many of the questions, he ignored duplicates and questions he deemed antagonistic, as more questions came in.

A few of the questions along with Epstein’s answers are reproduced below:

Cooper Community: “To avoid the consideration of charging tuition, how many millions of dollars would The Cooper Union need?”

Mark Epstein: “We would probably need a minimum of at least 300 to 400 million dollars.”

CC: [Question unknown]

ME: “No, you are not getting a swimming pool.”

CC: “What will stop an inflation [related] increase of the 50% [tuition].”

ME: “If you all would donate to this school, that will stop.”

CC: “This format of asking questions is insulting.”

ME: “Maybe so. Being yelled at, like the last meeting, was offensive so we’re trying to keep it civil.”

According to student Natalia Maliga, a walk-out was planned on Facebook, beginning a little after 2 PM. Beginning outside of the foundation building, the student-protestors entered 41 Cooper Square at approximately 3:30. The students walk up the Grand Staircase and stopped at the top the stairs, just outside of Frankie’s lounge, chanting “Free as air and water!”

The group of students then began screaming and banging on the floor and walls of the school, attempting to get the attention of complacent engineers scattered throughout the building. The student-protestors went up to the 8th floor, calling for a unified school the entire way.

The movement walked back down to the 4th floor and stopped in front of Frankie’s lounge, releasing another collective scream, reported to have been heard in the Rose Auditorium. The protesting continued outside of the foundation building for quite some time afterwards.

Near the end of the night, starting at 7:30 PM, a candle-light vigil with a small bonfire was held outside of the foundation building. Students of all three schools sat and stood around the fire sharing memories of their experiences at Cooper. The vigil ended when police peacefully asked the students to put out the bonfire. A student poured out the fire with sand from a fellow student’s show.

Two Takes on Today’s Events by Pioneer Staff (2)

Joseph Colonel (EE’15)

He had lived through so much to get to that day, the day he learned he had been accepted to The Cooper Union. His friends all congratulated him, his parents congratulated him, the strangers that his parents had told congratulated him. His English teacher convinced him to accept the full tuition scholarship: there was no better place to get an engineering undergraduate education in the country. The college would suit him: a college in an urban environment – the Village, no less –; a small college, with a small student to faculty ratio; a college close to home, less than an hour from his birthplace.

“And, it’s free.”

He didn’t even realize how lucky he was, he was told. His parents had really hit the lottery, he was told. Such a selective school… he must be so grateful, he was told. He would be an anomaly among his peers – he would not receive a debt totaling six figures attached to his diploma.

He sits in the Great Hall, five rows away from Mark Epstein, directly opposite the shorter than average man. The human twenty feet in front of him cannot control its presence in the Great Hall. The multitude occupying the seats of that hallowed speaking ground bore holes into Epstein’s face with their intent. Jiggling legs, nervous laughs, idle conversations that no one cares about, abnormally heavy breathing, thinking, hoping, praying, and sweating all fill the room with their cacophony. Two years of deliberations, two years of disagreements, two years of time, two years of the occasional sleepless night contemplating this miserable day…

“…Consequently, the Board of Trustees voted last week to reduce the full-tuition scholarship to 50% for all undergraduates admitted to The Cooper Union beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2014.”

It continues. No one rushes the podium. No one sets themselves on fire. No one sets off the bomb carefully attached to their chest, concealed under their clothes. Feedback eclipses Epstein’s processed, barely amplified voice. It continues to continue.

The spectators write their questions on sheets of paper that get brought up to Epstein. He flips through some, disregards others. A girl walks up to the podium and puts her question on Epstein’s podium. She taps the sheet of paper twice, then walks back to her seat. A boy places a scroll on Epstein’s podium that is promptly ignored by no one but Epstein. The spectators cheer for some questions, laugh at some answers. Emotions flare, piercing the silence Epstein tends as he reads.

He has never felt more alone in his life.

He will worry about planning his senior project. He will have experienced four years of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. A baby faced young person will be lost within the steel façade of 41 Cooper Square, searching for a classroom, or food, or an event. He will approach the young individual. The young individual will turn, and he will look into the eyes of the Class of 2018. And he will be lucky.

Two Takes on Today’s Events by Pioneer Staff (1)

Marcus Michelen (BSE’14)

As nearly every student here would say, I distinctly remember when I found out that I got accepted to Cooper. I was working on a presentation for Macroeconomics with my two closest friends and my mom called me. When she told me the news, I nearly collapsed to the floor. My friends thought that someone in my family had died. When I finally got myself together and told them what happened, they were ecstatic. They knew how much this meant to me, how I had wanted this more than anything else, how it felt like it would be the single greatest day of my life.

I never knew why I wanted to go to Cooper. In middle school, I dreamt of being an architect but, more importantly, studying at Cooper. As I got older and entered high school, I realized I wasn’t talented enough to be get into Cooper for architecture. I put any and all of my architecture dreams on hold: in order to go to the Cooper Union, I had to be an engineer. I wanted – I needed – to come here. I needed to come here.

There was a mystique, an aura surrounding the school in my mind, one I never bothered to contemplate until recently. It wasn’t exactly the free tuition that made me so enamored with the school, but nearly everything I idolized about Cooper can be seen as a direct result of the free tuition.

I’m reminded of Alexander Sokurov’s film Russian Ark. The film covers over 300 years of Russian history, yet consists of a single 96-minute long Steadicam shot. No one would ever argue that the single-shot structure of the film is what makes it so appealing, yet this superficially interesting constraint is responsible for nearly all of the charms of the film. In other words, a constraint with a superficial appeal sometimes nurtures lasting and deeper positive qualities.

For Cooper, the superficially appealing constraint was the full-tuition scholarship. It’s certainly tempting to go to school for free, but that can’t be the only reason to go to the school. The scholarship yielded many qualities that I desired, in retrospect: the school couldn’t afford too many scholarships each year, so the school remained a very small, tight-knit community; students weren’t treated as customers and, thus, were required to genuinely work and learn for their degree; the school was insanely competitive, giving Cooper an aura of exclusivity.

Cooper was the type of school that could take something that Mark Epstein would see as “icing on the cake” and transform it into the foundation of a mythic place of obscure charm and mystique. It seemed like magic to me.

Now that the school has decided to charge tuition, starting with the incoming class in fall of 2014, the world has finally seen the smoke and mirrors behind the magic trick that was Cooper Union. In the years I’ve spent at Cooper Union, I’ve grown up significantly:

During this time of my life, I started drinking coffee, I held a 40-hour a week job, I started monitoring my cholesterol, I was rejected from a job for the first time, and I had a job that I was specifically trained to do.

I came to accept that change probably won’t happen, that when someone’s neck is on the line, they will not innovate.

I had my first serious relationship, I learned to deal with failure, and I learned to treasure true success. My youthful high school ego, the one that got me into Cooper, was cut down by students far smarter than I will ever hope to be.

Perhaps most importantly, I stopped believing in magic.

Guido Interview

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

At some point in the semester, a schedule for the upcoming semester is released. We usually don’t think much of it; we figure out what classes we want to take, put them into a Google calendar or Excel Spreadsheet and hope the gods of Registration and Datatel are kind to us. Last week, I sat down with Professor Vito Guido, the man who makes the engineering schedule each semester to get insight into his process. He gave the Pioneer the following statement:

Each semester, in the Fall and in the Spring, I send an email to the seven department chairs in the engineering school. So let’s say for this particular Spring semester, for registration for the Fall: back in late January, early February I started requesting to have the information back by February 14th so I could start making the schedule, because invariably there are going to be changes made in the schedule and we would like to have them completed as soon as possible before registration.

So what do I include in that email? A request from the department chairs saying what courses are going to be offered in the fall semesters; who’s going to teach those courses; what special requirements they have. When we were in 51 Astor Place, not all the rooms were smart classrooms. Here they all are, so that’s not a problem.

If it’s an adjunct, I need to know what special hours they need, because they work in industry. So maybe they can’t be here during the day. If they teach somewhere else, they have to make sure their schedules mesh with our hours here. So those are the kinds of requirements I get from the department chairs.

Then I look at an overall master schedule, which I work on, to try to make sure that you’re not going to have any conflicts. You don’t want, say, a senior ChemE course conflicting with a graduate level ChemE course, because there may be some seniors in ChemE that want to take graduate courses. So we have to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s not always 100% foolproof.

The other thing is, in this building we have to be conscious of how many students are registering for classes because not every classroom has the same number of seats. So that’s another thing I request from the department chairs: what are their estimates of how many students should be in a class. If it’s a junior level required class, say, in EE, they’ll know more or less how many students they’ll have. If it’s an elective, they may give me a range because then, when you’re making the schedule, you also have to pair the time with an available room. On the fifth floor, 502 and 503 have 30 student limits, but 504 505 and 506 have 40 student limits. So it may be silly to put a class that may only have 12 in a room that can accommodate 40 students, and vice-versa. So that’s another thing we have to look at.

It’s like a big puzzle, putting all the pieces together. One of the major issues is Humanities. I also have to fit them into the schedule. I basically assign rooms in 41 Cooper Square. Foundation building [assignments] are under architecture [direction] and some are under art. Occasionally we switch back and forth, but I try to keep most of the engineering classes in this building, 41 Cooper Square.

It’s a thing that evolves. For the Fall Semester, it evolves over the Summer. When they assign freshmen to a section in August, things may change. An adjunct may say, “Oh, I can’t teach anymore” so we have to get a different adjunct and find if his hour mesh with where the course is already in place. So that’s why it keeps evolving.

For the math classes, basically all the freshmen and sophomores take the same classes. For math electives, professors will usually indicate to me to make sure that it fits in the EE schedule, because they have some required math courses in their curriculum. And if those spots where we put it fit in for other students to take them, then that’s it. Sometimes professor Agrawal will say to may, “well I have some students that want to take this but it conflicts, can we see if we can find another time?” We try to do that. Sometimes we’ll put it at 8 in the morning, from 8 to 10 or 8 to 9, so there’s never any conflicts because there are really no scheduled classes
at 8 o’clock.

“Culture Central” Cooper’s Culture Show 2013

Yara Elborolosy (CE ’14)

On April 6th, hundreds of students filled the great hall for the annual culture, run by the South Asian Society. Sponsored by Dean Baker, the culture show demonstrates that Cooper Students can bring more to the table than their intelligence. The emcees for the night were once again Marcello Ricottone (ChE’14), Jonathon Ostrander (ME’14), Alexa Reghenzani (Arch’15), and Sharang Phadke (EE’14), entertaining the crowd between every act. The night started off with Poco a Poco, an instrumental group that just started up this year. They broke up their act into two parts, the first part composed of tubas, trombones, and trumpets while the second part composed of the string instruments. Playing classics that most of the audience recognized made the act a great way to start the night. Next up was SAS Girl Dance, a recurring act that manages to be different every year. They danced to a mixture of contemporary upbeat Bollywood music, which made the act enjoyable to listen to and watch. Afterword, the Cooper Union Breakdance club performed with some new recruits including, for the first time in my last three years here, girls.

Professor Lepek once again awed us by playing a classic on the piano, filling the great hall with beautiful music. Ballroom dance club danced elegantly, showing off their Argentina Tango and Salsa skills. Chinese Yo-yo, an act that started off as a one-man show, evolved into an eight-person group during the culture show. This allowed for many amusing tricks, such as passing yoyos to each other. To end the first half of the talent show, SAS performed the guy’s dance, which was just as wonderful as the girl’s dance. Once again, they picked upbeat music and kept the crowd in good spirits. After a fifteen-minute intermission, the culture show started up again with the Cooper Union Gospel Choir, a singing group that just started up this year. Singing with beautiful, strong voices, Gospel Choir had the entire audience joining in, either by encouraging spectators to clap to the beat or sing along. Afterwards, CooperNova, another group that also just started up recently, entertained us with their dance moves. Dancing to songs from all over, CooperNova integrated cultures from members of their group into one great performance. Sons of Pitches, a male acapella quartet took over after CooperNova. They sang two songs, one more well known then the other, but did a wonderful job with both songs.

A new act performed by Mary Madison Mazur (CE’15) was up next, an Irish step dance called Kilkenny Races, a unique and wonderful act, showing us a great dance we may have never seen elsewhere. Coopertones came up next, our very own singing group. Celebrating their last performance with one of the senior members of the group, Coopertones sang beautifully as always. The dombra, a two stringed lute from Kazakhstan was played beautifully once more. Playing two well-known songs, Diana Yun (Art’13) filled the hall with elegant musical notes.

Chinese Student Association (CSA) performed a Chinese cultural dance, similar to the one performed last year. Their Chinese cultural dance fused ribbon and fan dance together with great light effects to create a beautiful performance. Last but certainly not least was the SAS group dance. Group dance was a very upbeat and fun performance to watch, made even more enjoyable was the reaction the audience had when President Bharucha came out during the Group Dance and joined along. Ending the night with delicious food that, Culture Show 2013 was an amazing event. The unsung steer of this year’s culture show was its integration of the three schools, across all years, into its acts.

This year was a shining example of how much better the performances will be because of it. If you missed the Culture Show, be sure to check out the videos all over Facebook.

Photo credits to William Biesiadecki (ME’14)