Class of 2023: In Their Own Words

POSTED ON: May 10, 2023

sr snapshots 2023

At the end of each academic year, we feature interviews with a few graduating students from each of the three schools at Cooper. This time around, we decided to send all students a set of questions. Below are their responses, which, above all, demonstrate the extraordinary dedication to teaching of The Cooper Union’s faculty. 

Upcoming graduates may contribute their responses to these questions until Friday, June 2.

Which course at Cooper had the biggest impact on you and why?

bojsenSarah Bojsen AR’23: Susannah Drake’s 4th year option studio: Coastal Urbanism and the Geophysical City. This studio opened up the world of urban design and landscape architecture, two subjects that are not expounded on within the regular curriculum. This studio laid the groundwork for my thesis, and the Architecture Archive helped us publish a book of the work!

andriusAndrius Alvarez-Backus A’23: The most impactful class I was fortunate enough to take was Art Exchange Across National Boundaries, an art history course taught by Agnes Berecz. The course undertook a global survey of art from the mid-20th century to today, with special attention to the role art plays in intercultural dialogue, imperialism, and production. Because so many of my previous art history classes were anchored in a Eurocentric canon, this class exploded my cultural horizons in a really formative manner. I was introduced to ways of making I’d never seen, and compelled to ask the “big” questions I was always too afraid to ponder.

Claire Merkel A’23: The studio project classes allowed me to incorporate research into my work, which was an important leap for me to make. The small class size and commitment level of the students to each other truly made it feel like a workshop.

jun parkJun Park A’23: I think the most significant impact Cooper had on me was through its community, rather than its courses. After transferring from Parsons to Cooper, I discovered the immense value of the Cooper community. It is a place where everyone is passionate, talented, intelligent, and has a unique story to tell. Over the years at Cooper I formed lifelong friendships in the studio space, and I attribute my growth as an artist to the works my peers created and the feedback we gave each other. Even the daily conversations we would share in the studio have influenced us to become not only great artists but also great human beings.

Qasim Akhlaq CE’23: Senior Design, because I gained knowledge and experience with practical industry principles. Working collaboratively in teams, for two semesters, provided valuable experience in teamwork, communication, and project management. Overall, this course allowed me to showcase my creativity, technical skills, and problem-solving abilities, preparing me for future my career.

lionelLionel Gilliar-Schoenenberger CE’23: VIP Solar Decathlon had the greatest impact as it allowed me to collaborate with other disciplines to produce a result that is better than could be imagined by a sole person.

Sangjoon (Bob) Lee ChE’23: In Fall 2021, I took a course called EID 367: Elements of Innovation, taught by Dean Barry Shoop. This course focused on the influence of cultural, social, and religious factors on the adoption of technologies worldwide. One of the defining aspects of the course was its emphasis on writing, with Barry Shoop providing in-depth feedback on each line of my work, ensuring clarity and eliminating informal language. In this small class of five, I honed my writing skills, which later proved invaluable when submitting articles to peer-reviewed journals and writing grant proposals. EID 367: Elements of Innovation taught me the significance of effective writing and clear communication, ultimately leaving a lasting impact on my academic and professional life. 

John Patton ME’23: I think that Computation Fluid Dynamics had the biggest impact on me as it was the class that I had to work the most in but also had the most fun in.

What are you most proud of from your time at Cooper?

Sarah Bojsen AR’23: I'm very proud of my time spent serving as Ad-Chair for the Architecture Student Council, as well as learning how to utilize the shop and get over my fears of the table saw!

Andrius Alvarez-Backus A’23: I’m most proud of how I allowed myself to surprise myself throughout my Cooper experience. I arrived at Cooper so sure of my practice and lifestyle and career ambitions, but each professor I worked with slowly challenged my intuitions and pushed me into the unknown. I experimented with new media, new styles of expression, new dimensions—essentially my studio was completely reinvented and my work improved exponentially because of that. I’m proud that I put in the work that serious evolution requires.

Claire Merkel A’23: I am most proud of the friends I’ve made.

Jun Park A’23: I take pride in completing the long process of studying in America on my own as an international student and finally earning the title of an artist. It was a challenging journey, especially growing up in a family with strict academic expectations, but I am proud that I persevered and proved to myself and to my family that the choice I made to become an artist was right. I am also proud of the way I have grown as an artist who now has a different view on unclarity. Although it used to be my biggest fear, Cooper has given me a different perspective on what it means to be in a state without clarity. It was rather liberating, as it allowed me to explore various possibilities as an interdisciplinary artist without being constrained by titles, mediums, or conventional definitions of what things are or what artists are.

QasimQasim Akhlaq CE’23: I’m most proud of starting the Cycling Club after Covid-19 to foster an interdisciplinary environment for students to meet up and ride bikes. I’m also happy to have helped revive the Muslim Students Association and grow the club! Alhumdulillah.


Lionel Gilliar-Schoenenberger CE’23: Success in the Solar Decathlon Competition, placing first in the division competition and winning the commercial division. 

SangjoonSangjoon (Bob) Lee ChE’23: I am proud of founding the Cooper Union Undergraduate Research Club. In Fall 2022, we successfully organized Cooper Union’s inaugural undergraduate research symposium, which attracted more than a hundred students, staff, and faculty, including President Laura Sparks. As a new club, we applied for and received the 2022 Educational Innovation Grant Award, which allowed us to host the symposium with 20 undergraduate poster and oral presenters. In Spring 2023, we organized a Research Seminar that featured 11 graduate and upperclassmen from Cooper Union. Furthermore, I take pride in re-establishing Cooper Union’s Gamma Epsilon chapter of Omega Chi Epsilon, the National Honor Society for Chemical Engineering. Under the guidance of Prof. Jennifer Weiser, we inducted 13 distinguished members and forged unique bonds among our academically high-achieving classmates. 

John Patton ME’23: I think I am most proud of the time when I was Pattonpresident of the Zeta Psi Fraternity at Cooper Union. COVID had hit us pretty bad in terms of involvement and I would like to think that we were able to turn things around and now the brotherhood is as strong as ever.


What are your immediate plans after graduation? Your long-term plans?

Sarah Bojsen AR’23: Soaking in the sun, and getting a master’s degree.

Andrius Alvarez-Backus A’23: Following graduation, my first solo museum exhibition will open at the Fitchburg Art Museum in Massachusetts, and will be on view from June through August. In the fall, I’ll be beginning the Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia University. With respect to long-term plans, I hope to pursue my passion for arts administration alongside my personal ambitions as an artist in my own right. For the past four years, I’ve served as the Graphic Design Manager at Queer|Art, a NYC-based non-profit connecting LGBTQ+ artists across generations and disciplines. I envision myself in a similar role in a similar organization in the future—somewhere I can synthesize my interests in visual art, arts administration, and social activism.

Claire Merkel A’23I hope to take a year just reflecting on what I’ve made thus far and creating a new body of work to begin applying to residencies with. Hopefully grad school in 3–5 years!

Jun Park A’23I am planning to return to my hometown in Korea to spend some quality time with my family while simultaneously working on strengthening my portfolio and applying for jobs. Following this, I intend to come back to New York and enjoy my non-student status to its fullest as an independent artist and pursue all the things I’ve always wanted to do not restricted to school curriculums. I hope to write more and create a short illustration book for artists, participate in a residency that will help me grow as both an artist and an educator. The year after graduation will be an opportunity for me to contemplate who I am as an artist and what I want to achieve in the future, and I am looking forward to conducting many experiments that won't be graded and devoting the time exclusively to myself.

Qasim Akhlaq CE’23Immediately, I’d like to gain as much work experience as possible. Long term, I’d like to take on complex projects and work in more impactful roles.

Lionel Gilliar-Schoenenberger CE’23Become a registered structural engineer, purchase land to develop experimental housing construction types that are sustainable and adaptable. 

Sangjoon (Bob) Lee ChE’23: Under the guidance of Prof. Robert Topper, I have had the opportunity to conduct three semesters of Independent Research in Computational and Quantum Chemistry. This invaluable experience led to my acceptance into Columbia University’s graduate program. In Fall 2023, I will begin my graduate studies in Materials Science and Engineering at the university’s Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics department. Prior to starting the program, I will spend the summer conducting additional academic research at Columbia. In addition to my academic endeavors, I have arranged a summer vacation to the beautiful city of Paris, France.

John Patton ME’23: Immediately after graduation I will be working for the Army Corps of Engineers before returning to Cooper for one more year for my Master's. After that I am looking to work in the world of defense where it be federal work with the Department of Defense or private.


  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.