Fifteen years ago, when Peter Michaelian graduated from The Cooper Union, he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. He stayed on two more years to complete his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Then he traveled far – across the country. He works in San Francisco as the head of design at Dolby, the innovative audio, visual, and voice technology company. Next month, he returns to Cooper as a speaker for Reunion Weekend 2017. We learned a little more about Mr. Michaelian’s background and current work in advance of his talk.
What brought you to study engineering at The Cooper Union?
It’s a lot of pressure for a 17 year old to figure out what they want to do. When you think about it, it’s a pretty big decision that can set the course of the rest of your life. I originally thought I wanted to become a dentist because a lot of my extended family members were dentists, but my mind has always been wired to make things. I thought I’d give engineering a shot and randomly ended up applying to Cooper for civil engineering. When I was accepted, something clicked. Cooper was a small school in my hometown that wasn’t mainstream, it mapped to who I am, it just felt right as the next step in my journey.
Can you identify any influential professors or classes from your undergraduate and graduate studies?
In undergrad civil courses, there was no-nonsense Constantine Yapijakis, who didn’t treat us like college kids, but gave us a real taste of the professional world, both in curriculum and the way he interacted with us.
Stan Wei, who supported my goal to craft a master of mechanical engineering program to focus on product design, even though there was no formal program.
While I cursed how many humanities courses that were required, Professor Leo Kaplan really expanded the way I thought as a person, and even had me thinking I should switch to psychology.
Design is often referred to as the unifying concept between the three schools at Cooper. Do you agree? How can we use this idea to bring together more interdisciplinary work?
Creativity and discovery are at the foundation of Cooper — and all three schools. The desire to innovate as artists, engineers, and architects creates a commonality between all of us. A multidisciplinary curriculum is richer and leads to diverse thinking, regardless of focus area. Through cross-functional collaboration we inspire one another and expand thinking to advance our individual growth. Cooper is founded on disciplines that are core to design and creative thinking. I would love to see the design curriculum evolve to further embrace the inherent strengths of the university, opening up new and exciting opportunities for its future.
Of your many projects and patents, can you describe a few that you are most proud of?
It’s not the well-known products for sexy brands that rise to the top for me. The most gratifying projects were for smaller startup companies. One in particular, PatientTouch, was a project intended to eliminate preventable error in a hospital. Spending time with nurses, understanding pain points, developing design, mechanical, and electrical solutions to actually help save lives. The result was a handheld device and application that would seamlessly fit into a nurse’s day-to-day routine.
However, I did enjoy designing corkscrews, cheese slicers, and bottle openers, which always included plentiful research and testing. Now my focus is in designing products and experiences that leverage the most cutting edge audio and vision technologies.
What do you miss most about New York City? And the least?
That’s easy — pizza. But also the genuine nature and directness of New Yorkers. The thing I miss least is the freezing cold grey sludge that fills your shoe as you cross the street after it snows.
For more information and to purchase your tickets for Reunion Weekend 2016, visit support.cooper.edu/reunion