The following is a conversation between Laura Sparks, President of The Cooper Union, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.
Denver: It was 160 years ago, 1859, that The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was established. It is one of the most distinguished, interesting, and historic institutions of higher education in the country, and one that has faced some significant financial challenges in recent years. Here with us tonight to talk about all of that and much more is Laura Sparks, the 13th President of The Cooper Union. Good evening, Laura, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Laura: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Denver: It’s often said that an organization is ahead of its time. But I don’t know too many organizations that could lay a more convincing claim to that than The Cooper Union and its founder, Peter Cooper. Tell us a little bit about the founding and some of the history of the institution.
Laura: To talk about the institution really requires talking about its founder. Peter Cooper had a vision for this institution that was very much ahead of its time, and in many ways still is. He was an extraordinary man. He was an industrialist. He had less than a year of formal education himself, and he became a very wealthy man. He decided that what he wanted to do with that wealth was to create opportunities for people that he didn’t have himself.
So, he didn’t have a formal education. He decided that he wanted other working class people to have that. So he established the Cooper Union. He did many other things as well. He helped establish the public school system in New York City. He was incredibly well-connected within government circles, and that became really important to what Cooper Union ended up becoming. What he tried to do was to live in some ways a very simple life, but to really advance democracy as we have come to know it and as I hope we know it in the future. He decided that he wanted to establish a school. But before that, he just wanted people to have access to books and to knowledge. His efforts predated free libraries. He wanted people to have access to information, and he wanted them to have access to it on their own time. So, he opened a free public reading room that was open after people finished work, where people could go and read books and absorb knowledge and improve their own prospects in life.
Eventually, he decided that he wanted to create a school. He spent many years planning it, amassing the land for it, and conceiving of a building that would house the school. There’s a wonderful story that we tell about the school and how Peter Cooper set it up, which is that as students entered, they would enter from the south side of the building. The working class of Manhattan lived on the south side of the island. As students graduated, they would exit through the north side of the building, really symbolizing what opportunity they had created for themselves from coming to The Cooper Union.
Denver: What a lovely rite of passage that is!
Laura: Absolutely. For him, education was about two things. It was about building somebody’s skill and the tools that they would need to increase their own economic livelihood, improve their own lives for themselves and their families, and it was about educating people who could become public citizens in service of advancing a healthy democracy, and that’s still very much how we think about education at The Cooper Union.
He wanted people to have access to that same kind of education. He believed that education of the highest quality should be open to people regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of religion, and regardless of socioeconomic status.
Denver: And at a very exclusionary time. Even more so than today, this was open to just about everybody, correct?
Laura: That’s right. Peter Cooper wanted to create an institution that provided the best education to everyday people. Working class people at that time didn’t have access to the elite institutions of the day. He wanted people to have access to that same kind of education. He believed that education of the highest quality should be open to people regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of religion, and regardless of socioeconomic status. And you have to remember that was happening pre-Civil War. Again, a man before his time, and a man who I think set the tone for an institution that endures through today, and whose guiding principles are still critical to our institution and to society at large.
We bring to Cooper Union extraordinary human beings, and they go out into the world, and they do extraordinary things…
We have immigrant training programs for engineers who often come to the program and triple their wages once they leave. For us, education spans someone’s entire life, and we want to play a role in all of that.
Denver: I think if we look at the concept of continuing education, it really had its birth there as well, right?
Laura: It did. One of the things we talk a lot about is the fact that in many ways, Cooper Union is known as an undergraduate institution, and that is the core of what we do. We bring to Cooper Union extraordinary human beings, and they go out into the world, and they do extraordinary things, and they do that having spent their time as undergraduates here. But we also have programs that outreach to students that are much younger and much older. So we have art outreach programs, STEM outreach programs that are really trying to create opportunities for students who may not have art programs in their public schools, or who may be immigrants who were engineers in their home countries, and have the capacity to be contributing and earning at much higher levels in this country, but for necessary certifications and licensure programs. We have immigrant training program for engineers who often come into the program and triple their wages once they leave. For us, education spans someone’s entire life, and we want to play a role in all of that.
Denver: And for people who may not be that familiar with The Cooper Union, you’re divided into three schools. What would those schools be?
Laura: Our schools are Art, Architecture, and Engineering – three core disciplines that we think are incredibly important in the shaping of a modern society.
We’ve had 10 US presidents speak in the Great Hall. Movements have been born there. One of Peter Cooper’s innovations at that time was to use the building to generate revenues. So he would lease out the first floor of the Foundation Building to generate rents that could then pay for the school. He rented an office on the second floor to Susan B. Anthony, and she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would go downstairs and organize and advocate for women’s right to vote in the Great Hall.
This has been a place where people have been willing to take a risk and use their voice to put ideas forward that could shape the future of this country.
Denver: Another part of the school that has been very important in shaping the modern society has been the Great Hall which is located in the basement level of the Foundation Building, and that has been the site of some of the most notable and memorable addresses and other activities in the history of this country. Share a few of those with us.
Laura: I will. To understand the Great Hall and its connection to our academic program, you also have to understand that in addition to our three schools of Art, Architecture, and Engineering, we also have a Humanities program. The one thing that Peter Cooper required, that the school teach was Political Science. That continues to be a guiding principle for us. The school is celebrating our 160th anniversary this year, but the Great Hall actually opened a year before the school in 1858. The Great Hall opened in 1858, and it was really designed from the beginning by Peter Cooper to be a platform for public discourse, a place of civic organizing, a place of activism; again, part of this effort to really encourage a robust and healthy democracy. The Great Hall is where Abraham Lincoln made his famous “Right Makes Might” speech, where he argued against the expansion of slavery; and Lincoln credits that speech to launching his bid to the presidency.
We’ve had 10 US presidents speak in the Great Hall. Movements have been born there. One of Peter Cooper’s innovations at that time was to use the building to generate revenues. So he would lease out the first floor of the Foundation Building to generate rents that could then pay for the school. He rented an office on the second floor to Susan B. Anthony, and she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would go downstairs and organize and advocate for women’s right to vote in the Great Hall. Early meetings to form the NAACP took place in the Great Hall.
We’ve had extraordinary moments that have really shaped in many ways the history of this country. It’s where some of the first workers’ rights campaigns took place. It’s where some of first mass feminist meetings took place. This has been a place where people have been willing to take a risk and use their voice to put ideas forward that could shape the future of this country.
Denver: What a rich history! Another part of that history has been free tuition. But in 2014, for the first time in your history, The Cooper Union was forced to charge tuition to some of the students attending the school. What were the events, missteps, the financial hardships that occurred that made you have to make this difficult decision?
Laura: Cooper Union in many ways experienced something that felt deeply personal to the institution. Free tuition for Cooper Union; yes, it was about full-tuition scholarships for our students, but it was also about so much more than money. It’s really about our culture, our identity, the ability to take risks. So, the decision and the things that led to it felt deeply personal. At the same time, as I’ve worked to deconstruct what happened prior to my arrival, what I’ve come to understand is that so many of the things that Cooper Union was facing were really typical of what other colleges and universities are facing.
Most colleges and universities have experienced the situation where the expense base has outstripped revenues over time. Things have become more expensive. Healthcare has become more expensive. Operating buildings has become more expensive. Over time, for The Cooper Union and for many other colleges and universities, revenues have not kept pace, and that’s what happened with The Cooper Union
Cooper Union is a small, but mighty institution that’s nestled in the East Village, and yet in the midst of a global city. That combination, our size, the intimacy of it, and the ability to be in the midst of such extraordinary things happening is really special and really creates a learning environment that I think is deeply rich for students.
Denver: Certainly New York City has become more expensive. It’s a tough place to do business, no matter what you do.
Laura: It is. It’s a tough place to do business. It’s a tough place for students to live. It’s extraordinarily expensive, which is why we feel so passionate in part about full-tuition scholarships for all students. And yet, New York City is, as you know, an amazing place. Cooper Union is a small, but mighty institution that’s nestled in the East Village, and yet in the midst of a global city. That combination, our size, the intimacy of it, and the ability to be in the midst of such extraordinary things happening is really special and really creates a learning environment that I think is deeply rich for students.
Denver: And I know you have a plan to return to free – which we’ll get to in a minute. I think a lot of listeners might not realize that one of your most significant assets and a source of revenue is the land under the Chrysler Building. Tell us a little bit about that, and how significant it is to the well-being of the school and its operations.
Laura: In the early 1900s, Andrew Carnegie gave a gift to The Cooper Union that helped create the endowment that would ultimately fund what was called the Polytechnic Institute, which became the Engineering School. As a match to that gift, Peter Cooper’s family gifted us the land where the Chrysler Building now sits. That land has been part of our history for a very long time. The Chrysler Building was built on it. We benefit from that through ground lease revenue. We collect ground lease revenue. It’s a significant part of our capital structure and our revenue sources, and we use that money to fund full-tuition scholarships for our students.
Denver: You’re a very interesting organization. So many different facets.
You arrived in 2017, and I know part of what you’re doing right now is this effort to return to free by 2029. Among other things, that’s going to take a significant fundraising campaign. What are your plans for that? And what provides you the hope and confidence that you’re going to be able to reach that target and that goal in order to be able to return to free in the next decade?
Laura: The plan is an ambitious one, and it requires several things, including fundraising; it includes also expense management. We’ve put ourselves on a rigorous expense management plan which we’re ahead of schedule on. It requires amassing additional resources for scholarships, and it requires investing in our academic program because we’ve always said that the beauty of Cooper Union was not only that it offered full-tuition scholarships for its students, but that it was an extraordinary academic institution. Fundraising is a big part of it, and part of what gives me confidence is that we’ve had some really good success early on in the plan. We exceeded our financial goals by all measures in the first year of the plan, and we are well on our way in the second year of the plan. That gives me confidence that we have the momentum that we’ll need to achieve the plan. Overall, we need to amass $250 million over the course of this next 10 years, and that will come from a combination of fundraising and operating surpluses that we will generate through more efficient management of the school.
It doesn’t feel like fundraising when you’re passionate about what you’re raising money for. It feels like you’re sharing an extraordinary opportunity for people to be part of something that will really change the world.
Denver: Do you like fundraising?
Laura: I do. I like fundraising when I really care about what I’m raising money for. It doesn’t feel like fundraising when you’re passionate about what you’re raising money for. It feels like you’re sharing an extraordinary opportunity for people to be part of something that will really change the world.
Offering an education free of financial burden allows people to take risks, to explore, to make the kinds of discoveries that we hope will influence society for the better for generations to come, and that’s why full-tuition scholarships is so important to us.
…although we’re not currently offering full-tuition scholarships to all students, many of our students still are on full-tuition scholarships. Over a third of our students still receive full-tuition scholarships. Everybody receives at least a 50% scholarship, and upwards from there. On average, we are covering 76% of tuition costs for our students. Our work right now is to really close that critical gap between 76% and 100% because we feel it is so important to send people off into the world without that financial burden.
Denver: Is there a danger, Laura, maybe not with you, but others around you, that getting back to free will so dominate the conversation, the focus, the energy of the institution that other things are in danger of falling by the wayside?
Laura: I do think that’s a risk, and it’s a risk that we’ve tried to be very mindful of. We care deeply about the return to full-tuition scholarships for all students. We also, as I said, care deeply about the educational experience of our students. Offering an education free of financial burden allows people to take risks, to explore, to make the kinds of discoveries that we hope will influence society for the better for generations to come, and that’s why full-tuition scholarships is so important to us. In order for all of those benefits to manifest, we also need to make sure that we’re creating a learning environment that is rich with experiences for our students.
So our 10-year plan to return to full-tuition scholarships is also a plan about investing in the academic program. It’s also a plan about investing in the long-term health and sustainability for the institution. One of the things that we’re very clear about is that when we return to full-tuition scholarships for all students, we want to be able to sustain that in perpetuity. To do that, we need to make sure that we shore up the long-term financial health of the school. One of the things that we also often talk about is the fact that although we’re not currently offering full-tuition scholarships to all students, many of our students still are on full-tuition scholarships. Over a third of our students still receive full-tuition scholarships. Everybody receives at least a 50% scholarship, and upwards from there. On average, we are covering 76% of tuition costs for our students. Our work right now is to really close that critical gap between 76% and 100% because we feel it is so important to send people off into the world without that financial burden.
There’s some people who believe that the way to make fundamental change, long-term change, massive change is to tear everything down and start all over again. I don’t believe in that. I think often we burn too many bridges when we do that. I believe that to have long-term, sustained change that outlives any one person, it’s really critical to bring many people on board for that change, and to collaborate and partner with people who have been part of an institution for a very long time.
Denver: I’m glad you included that because sometimes that gets lost in the headlines when something like this is going on.With all that’s going on– raising the money and cutting the expenses that you mentioned, and just a lot of other change in the institution, I know how difficult that can be. How do you think about change management to make it productive, successful, keep people on board, and optimistic about the future?
Laura: I’m glad you asked that question because people think about change management in very different ways. There’s some people who believe that the way to make fundamental change, long-term change, massive change is to tear everything down and start all over again. I don’t believe in that. I think often we burn too many bridges when we do that. I believe that to have long-term, sustained change that outlives any one person, it’s really critical to bring many people on board for that change, and to collaborate and partner with people who have been part of an institution for a very long time.
We have people at The Cooper Union who have spent their entire careers there. They’ve done that because they’re deeply passionate about the mission of the school, and they have a depth of knowledge about the institution that I couldn’t even begin to have as somebody who’s been there for just two years. I think it’s really important to work in partnership with those people who have that depth of passion and longevity with the institution, to make sure that they’re part of the change, to make sure that they inform the change. Also, to bring new people to the institution who bring another kind of perspective, and I think the strongest outcome comes when you marry those two things.
Denver: I think you’re right. It’s interesting from the changes that I see in institutions, even dramatic changes, most everything stays the same. More than half of it is going to remain the same, and we don’t ever think about that. We think about all the things that are going to change.
Let me ask you a few questions as a college president, and I think one thing that you and many of your compatriots are always wrestling with, is how to maintain the right balance between freedom of speech on one hand, and an environment where people feel safe and not needlessly offended on the other. How do you navigate those waters?
Laura: A lot of people talk about those things as though they’re mutually exclusive, when in fact, I think that they’re mutually reinforcing. I think that in order to have free speech and productive free speech and speech where people can really engage in dialogue and healthy debate, it’s important to create spaces where people feel comfortable doing that. I think we do that in many different ways. I think that’s about creating relationships. It’s about creating spaces for people to come together.
Last night, I sat with students at a community dinner. We started instituting community dinners. We’ve got… for those who know the building, you know that we have a bank of windows along the west side of the building that creates what we call a colonnade, and we put a very long dining table there. The dinners are open to anyone- faculty, students, staff – it’s just a time to pause, to take stock, and to be with one another. It seems like a small, informal thing and yet, those are the kinds of things that I think create the space and the safety for people to engage in dialogue and debate that is rich, that’s healthy, that’s productive, and where we can learn from one another. Issues around free speech are in the news a lot, and they’re loud, they’re visible, and they’re sometimes bombastic. I think that if we are truly to learn from one another, we have to create an environment where people can have intimate conversations about differences of opinion. I also think that as educators, it’s really incumbent upon us to make sure that we are developing skills in ourselves and in the students who come through our doors to be able to do that.
I think back to my own college experience. A professor who influenced me in really significant ways, and I remember a talk that he gave outside of the classroom where he said very clearly, “If somebody were to ask me where I stand on the political spectrum, I would say that if you stood all the way to the left and squinted through a pair of binoculars, you still would not be able to see me.” And yet, in the classroom – he was an economics professor – he was the best teacher of Milton Friedman, and why? Why was he the best teacher of Milton Friedman? Because he believed in the importance of showing his students a range of perspectives on the economy, a range of perspectives that then informed policy decision, so that we could be empowered to make our own choices, our own decisions, develop our own perspectives in ways that were independent from his. That to me was one of the greatest gifts that a faculty member could have given me, and I’m excited for us to be creating spaces at Cooper Union where we can offer that to our students as well.
Denver: He was also pretty influential in getting you off of pre-Med.
Laura: He was. I grew up in a medical family. So I always assumed that I was going to be a doctor. I knew exactly what kind. I was going to be a neonatologist. I wrote all my college essays about it with the exception of one. One of my college essays was a poem. I went to Wellesley College to become a doctor. But I was in a liberal arts institution. The school did a wonderful job of encouraging students to try new things. I got to the second semester of my first year, and I thought to myself: I’m at a liberal arts school. I don’t really understand what philosophy is, but it seems like I should take a philosophy course, and I don’t really understand what economics is, but I had heard that Wellesley had a wonderful economics department. So, I happened to take Introduction to Macroeconomics and Introduction to Moral Philosophy at the same time. The combination of those two courses opened my eyes to the world in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I knew I wanted to be a doctor because I was interested in helping people, and I thought that medicine was one way to do that. Philosophy and economics gave me a way of looking at the complexities and challenges of the world in an entirely new way and opened my eyes to the myriad ways that one can have a positive outcome in the world.
Denver: I look at so many of these successful entrepreneurs, at least the ones who went to college, and then invariably, one out of every two was a philosophy major. And it is just so interesting.
Another thing that’s in the news a lot is diversity. I know that your campus and others across the country, students are calling for greater diversity among faculty and administration. How have you addressed those concerns at The Cooper Union?
Laura: We’ve tried to tackle those issues head on. To me, having a diversity of people at the school is critical to offering an education that is what we want it to be. I think of diversity in many ways. I think of it with respect to gender, with respect to race, with respect to experience, and with respect to beliefs. We try to think about diversity in many ways. Our Faculty-Student Senate raised this issue prior to my arrival and issued a report in my early days there on what they saw as opportunities for improvement with respect to diversity at The Cooper Union.
That work was, I felt, critical, and it informed a taskforce that I launched at the school focused on diversity and inclusion. That taskforce was open to all to participate. We had faculty, staff, and students on it. They issued a report at the end of last semester, which we’re now in the process of implementing recommendations from. We’ve tried to make sure that even the process of exploring these issues takes into account diverse viewpoints, diverse people, people who come from lots of different backgrounds, and we’ve tried to make sure that it’s an inclusive process.
Denver: Great. I’ve heard people say, Laura, that being the president of a college is like running a small nation state. Given that no two days of yours are ever the same, how do you spend your time? And how do you prioritize with all the competing claims on that time and for your attention?
Laura: That’s a great question because the role is a complex one. There’s been much that’s been written about that. I try to prioritize my time by grounding myself in the core reasons why I’m there in the first place. First and foremost, for me, it’s about the students and the faculty. They are the heart and soul of our institution. They are what makes it what it is. Everything else is designed to support their work, to advance their work. I start first and foremost with students and faculty, and as I said, I spent yesterday evening with them in community having dinner and in conversation.
Denver: Which is great for them because it’s not online. That’s where you really get great discussions.
Laura: It gives us a place to physically come together and to share conversation and ideas. That grounds what I do, and it helps me set my priorities throughout the day. Of course, I can’t spend all my time at dinners. There’s core work to be done. One of our core priorities is to shore up the long-term financial health of the institution so that we can offer full-tuition scholarships for our students. I try to make sure that I’m spending actually a lot of time with our head of finance and administration, making sure that our plan is on track. I spend a lot of time with our development team and with donors who are excited about contributing to Cooper Union’s mission. I try to spend my time making sure that we are aggregating the resources that we need to deliver on a mission that is about educating students to go off into the world and to make a difference.
Denver: Describe what it’s like to work at The Cooper Union, the corporate culture. What do you do to help shape it, influence it, and what do you believe makes it such a special place for employees to come to every morning?
Laura: As I said earlier, The Cooper Union is a place where people have both joined recently and have spent many years all for the same reason… which is to advance the mission of our school. People don’t come to The Cooper Union just to work in a college. They come to The Cooper Union because it’s The Cooper Union. They come because they want to be part of a place that is working to restore full-tuition scholarships for all students and all that that represents– the notions of equality, of equity, of diversity. And I see that passion on a daily basis. It permeates throughout our buildings. I think that’s what defines our culture. As somebody who has come from corporate environments, I try very much to stay away from the notion that our culture is a corporate one. It is a culture with heart and with soul, and with a commitment to improving the lives of people on a daily basis.
Denver: I think sometimes we’re lucky to get the best of both worlds in this sector… if you can really meld them together somewhere in the middle, that produces just a great organization.
Talk a little bit about that journey. I know you came from… you started at Goldman Sachs, for goodness sake, and now you’re at The Cooper Union. Tell us a little bit about that; and were there any mentors, Laura, along the way, or people who really inspired you?
Laura: I have been so fortunate to have such a varied career. I think that variation has really served me well at The Cooper Union. As you’ve noted, these are complex roles, and they require skills in finance, in the law, in education and culture – everything. I’ve been really fortunate to have had so many different kinds of experiences in the business world, in the nonprofit world, in the education world, in the philanthropic world, and I have had mentors at every stop along the way.
I’m someone who tends to see opportunity in just about everything that I do. I’ve been really fortunate to have had people who have guided me, and who have created opportunity for me all along the way. I had someone at Goldman Sachs who believed that I didn’t need three other people between me and the partner on a deal. That gave me tremendous.. both confidence and opportunity to pursue things that were probably far beyond my years from any typical measure. That happened, one, because I proved myself; two, because he was willing to take that leap with me, and I’m still in touch with him. I just exchanged emails with him the other day. When I was at Wellesley College – I mentioned I had a faculty member – many faculty members who are hugely influential in my life.
Denver: Which, I guess, is one of the reasons you love so much being in education, because what education did for you to change your trajectory is sort of a “pay it forward.”
Laura: That’s right. For me, this is an extraordinary time in somebody’s life–typically, between the ages of 18 and 22; although sometimes younger, sometimes older. This is a moment in one’s life where you have the opportunity, and you’re at a stage in life where you’re really thinking about who you are as a person, who you’ve been, who you want to become. Hopefully, we’re always doing that in life. But this is a particularly important time in the development of someone’s life, and it’s one of the things that excites me so much about the students at Cooper. I’ve been really fortunate to go to some pretty amazing institutions of higher education, yet I have never seen students like the ones I see at Cooper.
They are simultaneously focused, passionate, active, engaged, and have such a strong desire to influence the place where they are, and have so many ideas to advance those desires. Just in the last few days, I’ve had conversations with students who have really important ideas about our physical space, the way it looks, the way it makes people feel, and they have ideas that they’re putting forward about that. I’ve talked with students; just yesterday, I had a conversation with a student who’s talking about the work that our students are doing to mobilize around issues of climate change, and how to integrate issues of climate change more directly into our curriculum and to the pedagogical approaches at the school. We have students who have actively participated in the issues around diversity and inclusion and in the taskforce. They are at Cooper Union because they’re focused on their practice–their art practice, their architecture practice, their engineering practice, their work in the humanities to deepen and expand the way they think. They amplify that with the work that they’re doing to make our community stronger and very deliberate in active ways.
Denver: That’s wonderful. Because I think when you get students involved in that fashion, they’re no longer students, but they rather become owners of the school. This is their place now. They’re decorating it. They’re creating things. When you get an owner mindset among students, you really have arrived, I think.
Laura: That’s right. I learn things from our students every single day. One of the things that I instituted when I came to The Cooper Union was to have office hours. You can sign up online. You don’t have to go through any gatekeeper. You don’t have to tell me even what you want to talk about before you get there. Part of why I did that was because I wanted people to know that the office of the president is an accessible place. The other reason why I did that, even more importantly, was because I knew that I would learn a lot from the people who would come to those meetings. I do; I’ve continued to have those office hours because every single day, I’m learning from our students, our faculty, our staff who take me up on the offer to talk.
The world is changing rapidly, and the core disciplines of art, architecture, and engineering– when we consider them in humanist ways, when we consider them in ways that take into account the ethical, the environmental consequences of what we’re doing– have the power, I think, to really shape modern society in very fundamental and important ways. So I’m excited about being part of an institution that is working every single day to do that…
Denver: That’s very smart. As I said, it’s very easy to lose touch as the president of a university or a college unless you maintain that touch.
Let me close with this, Laura. The DNA of Cooper Union is progressive roots. Boy, that’s an extraordinary legacy that you now help to carry. What is your vision for the institution over the course of the next several years?
Laura: My vision is multi-pronged. Of course I want to restore the school to full-tuition scholarships, and we’re working very hard to do that. I want the school to be, as we say, in our mission statement, to be a center, a free center of learning and civic discourse that inspires inventive, creative, and influential voices in architecture, art, and engineering, to address the critical challenges and opportunities of our time. The world is changing rapidly, and the core disciplines of art, architecture, and engineering– when we consider them in humanist ways, when we consider them in ways that take into account the ethical, the environmental consequences of what we’re doing– have the power, I think, to really shape modern society in very fundamental and important ways. So I’m excited about being part of an institution that is working every single day to do that, to do that in a way that is vibrant and dynamic; to do that in a way that considers our students, our faculty, our staff as partners and as collaborators to do this work every single day.
Denver: Laura Sparks, the President of The Cooper Union, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. For people who want to learn more about the school, maybe some of the events and activities occurring in the Great Hall, and other things that are happening around campus, what is your website, and what will they find on it?
Laura: Our website is www.cooper.edu. You’ll find loads of information about our history, about the future that we’re trying to create, and about our alumni. I would really encourage people to look at the stories of our alumni. As I said before, we are a small, but mighty place. People like to say we punch above our weight. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can simply look at what the extraordinary people who come through our doors have done. I look at people like Dick Schwartz who is an engineering grad, who helped create GPS and recently received the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, one of the most prestigious prizes that you can receive in the world; Stan Lapidus who revolutionized the PAP smear for women; Nina Tandon, another engineer who started the company called EpiBone which is developing synthetic bone and will change the course of how we deal with people’s medical challenges over time; Liz Diller and Rick Scofidio – people who are well-known in New York, but also the world over, who just were awarded the Royal Academy Prize of Architecture; Eric Mack, a young art grad who has a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. These are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.
What we often overlook is that in addition to all of these big names and all of these prestigious prizes that Cooper Union grads have amassed, we also have people who are making change in less visible ways, but equally important ways in their communities…people who are sitting on their local planning boards, artists who are working with their neighbors to create a more vibrant community for themselves. The vision for Cooper Union is to be a place that embraces all of those kinds of change. People can have impact in their communities and in the world in so many different ways, and I’m excited about the fact that Cooper Union creates space for people to do that.
Denver: A wonderful note to end on. Thanks so much Laura. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Laura: Thanks so much for having me here. You’re doing incredible work.
Denver: Thank you. I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.