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A Summer at The Cooper Union

posted Jul 1, 2016, 12:00 PM by Michael Toise   [ updated Jul 1, 2016, 12:30 PM ]
The lights go out. Bright lights in purple, yellow and white illuminate the structure fashioned out of recycled wood, metal and foam. A small silver ball begins its ascent up a spinning pole, reaches the top and then cascades down a slide before being deposited on what looks like a mini Ferris wheel. In fact, if you look carefully there’s a replica of a carousel and, if you consider the structure as a whole, you can see a roller coaster and, come to think of it, the lights make it seem like a mini Coney Island on a summer night. All that’s missing is the ocean reflecting the lights’ glow.

The project, called “Amusement Park,” was designed in the summer of 2015 by Manhattan Comprehensive students Yingzhi Hao, Fatou Ndiaye, Edison Pilamunga and Camryn St. Vil as part of a summer STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program at Cooper Union, a college located a few blocks south of MCNDHS that specializes in engineering, art and architecture. This July, MCNDHS students will participate in the Cooper Union STEM program for the tenth year in a row. The program runs for six weeks and is designed to give NYC high school students an intensive hands-on introduction into the world of engineering. 

According to Cooper Union professor George Delagrammatikas, who has worked with each group of
MCNDHS students since 2006, the summer STEM program gives students an opportunity to “learn to be resourceful and also learn about teamwork and the engineering process.” Working in small groups, students begin envisioning their designs from the first day of the program. Then, almost immediately groups bring their designs to life working primarily with recycled materials including old electronics, pieces of metal and wood, and tools like laser cutters and 3-D printers. The summer culminates in group presentations of their designs and, in perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the program, a first-hand look at their machines in action.

Part of the fun of the program is the diversity of designs, says both Professor Delagrammatikas and Yingzhi. “The idea is to make [the machine] as complicated as possible,” said Yingzhi, who came to MCNDHS in fall 2014 and is the valedictorian of the June 2016 graduating class. “For example, if you want to have a ball go from one place to another, don’t just make it go in a straight line. Make the design more complicated. Sometimes the ball doesn’t follow your idea, so you need to find a way to control it. The ball didn’t alwayslisten to our ideas.”

In part thanks to his summer experience, Yingzhi decided to apply for undergraduate admission to Cooper Union and, a few months later, made history by becoming the first MCNDHS student ever to be At Cooper Union, Yingzhi plans to major in electrical engineering in part because of his fascination for the “character of electricity, the connection between electricity and magnetism.” Yingzhi’s goal in the future is to design machines that better manage electricity and distribute it more efficiently to help cut down on waste. “People like beautiful things,” said Yingzhi. “I’m interested in how to combine beauty and function. When I try to make something I will try to make an awesome design that will make people want to use it.” (Think of the colored lights and graceful curves of his group’s Amusement Park machine.)accepted by Cooper Union. “I was really happy to be the first,” said Yingzhi, 20, who grew up in a city in Northeast China known for its coal and petroleum factories. His father works as a chemical engineer and as a boy Yingzhi would “hang around the factory, but I couldn’t go in.” Yet his curiosity about the goings-on behind the factory gates would stay with him.

Professor Delagrammatikas predicts that Yingzhi will find that the time and project management skills he learned in the summer STEM program will help him as a first-year student at Cooper Union and beyond “in internships and jobs in his future after graduating.” For Professor Delagrammatikas, Yingzhi is also part of an impressive legacy that MCNDHS students have created over the 10 years that they’ve participated in the summer STEM program.

“Students from MCNDHS are great,” he said. “They have such interesting life stories. Working with them allows me to reaffirm Cooper Union’s mission for social justice by giving opportunities to students who might not have them otherwise. They’re incredibly creative and I’m always astounded at what they’re able to create out of very little, and their level of creativity and imagination.”

As the first MCNDHS student to attend Cooper Union, it would make sense for Yingzhi to feel nervous. However, he is listening to his own advice to current MCNDHS students and fellow graduates: “Be brave.”

“Sometimes when you want to do something there is no one else so you need to do it by yourself. There are always some really awesome opportunities waiting for you – but they’re new opportunities so you don’t know [what will happen]. But don’t be afraid – be brave and try it,” Yingzhi said.

Words of wisdom, indeed, and perhaps not surprising from someone whose name includes the Chinese character for “brave.”

Danny Bloch , CDI 2016