In December 2020, over 150 high-school students taking Industrial Design courses at Brooklyn Tech tuned into a video feed streaming live from the hot glass studio of UrbanGlass. On their remote screens, they watched as designer Bill Couig, assisted by Shuhei Fujii, discussed and demonstrated the process of mold-blowing glass vessels to take on specific shapes and patterns.
The five demos were streamed on December 21 and 22nd, and were viewed by six different classes. An in-depth demonstration and practical application of modelling, something their teachers Mike Fisher and Richard Singler were exploring with students, was a continuation of a course earlier in the year. Before the Covid-19 pandemic forced UrbanGlass to close in March 2020, it had just concluded the second of a 9-week course titled “Explorations of Glass and Light,” which offered Brooklyn Tech students a survey of the many different techniques using glass as a design medium. The remote courses were a continuation of that program, as well as an expansion of the fruitful partnership between a nonprofit arts institution and a neighboring selective high school that prides itself on giving its gifted students practical, real-world experience in the technical subjects they are taught.
The connection between UrbanGlass and Brooklyn Tech was struck by Tom Volpe, a proud alumnus of the high school, who connected with the glass-art center when he started studying glassblowing in 2003. A tireless booster of his native borough of Brooklyn, Volpe soon joined the board of directors of UrbanGlass, and quickly saw that combining the creativity of the art center and the technology of Brooklyn Tech could expand the impact of two unique Brooklyn institutions. Volpe also serves on the board of nearby St. Francis College, and zeroed in on its entrepreneurship program as a possible third partner in this collaborative effort.
Matt Mandery, the Chief Educational Officer for the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, says that Volpe discussed with him ways to connect the three institutions for years: “If you think about the dynamics of the artistic elements of glass, and being creative, as well as the elements of entrepreneurship, you see the ‘a-ha!’ moment that led to this program with Brooklyn Tech.”
UrbanGlass made a lot of sense as a partner due to the unique nature of the high school’s approach to learning. Brooklyn Tech, with 6,000 students the largest STEM-focused high school in the U.S., has also stood apart for its focus on practical experience as part of the curriculum. “We offer a good deal of lab experience,” explains Mandery. “It’s not just learning a lot of content, but applying what you’re learning. An industrial-design major could learn what it means to create, design, and produce a project thanks to this partnership.”
As it continues to develop, and the role of St. Francis College becomes more defined, Volpe sees the synergy between these three Brooklyn institutions intensifying.
“I do feel that this program enhances UrbanGlass and its reputation in the glass community,” says Volpe. “The entrepreneurial piece of it will help creative individuals like Bill Couig, who took part in the demo, and others to enhance their marketing and business efforts. I can see adding other organizations, such as the architectural community, into this initiative. There are a lot of possibilities where this can go.”
Mandery is very proud of Brooklyn Tech’s unique ability to partner with institutions such as the utility Con Ed to give high-school students real-world experience as they hone their interests in preparation for college. The UrbanGlass initiative fits perfectly into this effort.
“What makes the UrbanGlass partnership very special,” Mandery says, “is how it brings the learning and vision students may have together with real hands-on experience and has them making external connections to practicing artists and designers working the field today.”