Alfred University News

Gift from Trustee Michele Cohen, husband Martin, to fund Alfred University foundry/distributed boiler project

Alfred University’s heating plant, shown here, will be renovated to house a new foundry facility.
Alfred University’s heating plant, shown here, will be renovated to house a new foundry facility.

Board of Trustees member Michele Cohen and her husband Martin have long been among Alfred University’s most generous benefactors. Their most recent gift, of $6 million, will provide the University with a state-of-the-art foundry facility that will create exciting new opportunities for art and engineering students, while also providing the campus with a new energy-efficient heating system.


ALFRED, NY—Board of Trustees member Michele Cohen and her husband Martin have long been among Alfred University’s most generous benefactors. Their most recent gift, of $6 million, will provide the University with a state-of-the-art foundry facility that will create exciting new opportunities for art and engineering students, while also providing the campus with a new energy-efficient heating system.

Alfred University President Mark Zupan this week announced the Cohens’ gift, which establishes the Michele and Martin Cohen Capital Fund in support of Alfred University’s foundry/distributed boiler project.

“We are so inspired by and grateful for all the magic that Michele and Marty Cohen are setting in motion through their generous philanthropic commitment to the foundry/distributed boiler project for so many future generations of Alfred University students, faculty, and staff,” Zupan commented.

The project will renovate the existing heating plant—currently located in a building behind the Carnegie Hall parking lot—to house a state-of-the-art foundry, and will replace the University’s current central steam heating plant with an energy-efficient distributed boiler system, thereby creating significant savings in our utilities and maintenance costs while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The overall project also will create upgraded space to house displaced facilities team members who now work out of the existing central heating plant.

Michele Cohen, who has served on the University’s Board of Trustees since 2001, is retired from Cohen and Steers Capital Management in New York City and currently serves as chair of the Board of Trustees at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. Alfred University awarded her an honorary degree in 2018. Martin Cohen, who co-founded Cohen and Steers in 1986, is the company’s chair. The Cohens’ son, Adam, is a 2003 alumnus of the Alfred University School of Art and Design.

The Cohens’ previous philanthropy has endowed the deanship of the University’s School of Art and Design and Division of Performing Arts, established the Cohen Center for the Arts and Cohen Gallery, and launched APEX, our applied experiential learning program.

The Cohens established the capital fund after the project was identified as something “that would be transformative for the University,” Michele Cohen explained. “We had been considering a gift to Alfred and when this project was described, it became clear that it was something we could support. There are multiple ways it will help the University and the student experience.”

The new foundry will be home to our University’s National Casting Center, Advanced Digital Fabrication Lab, and Additive and Advanced Manufacturing Center. The student-focused collaborative space will provide melting facilities, classroom space, and other experiential learning opportunities. It will be utilized by the School of Art and Design’s Division of Sculpture/Dimensional Studies for its glass and metal casting programs, and by the Inamori School of Engineering for the materials science and mechanical engineering programs.

The facility—which creates the potential for new degree programs in combined art and engineering, such as digital fabrication design and engineering—will significantly benefit Alfred University’s student recruitment and retention efforts.

“The possibilities of what can be accomplished in this new building are endless.  I have always wanted to see more collaboration between the many departments, giving students the opportunity to use different parts of their brains and to explore classes that they might not otherwise had considered. This will help to maintain and amplify the excellent reputations of both of these top-rated schools,” Michele Cohen commented. “Giving students more creative, wide reaching opportunities will keep them engaged, excited, and challenged.”

Lauren Lake, Michele and Martin Cohen Endowed Dean of the School of Art and Design and Division of Performing Arts, agreed that the foundry will attract a diverse population of students, while also shining a spotlight in the sculpture program.

“The foundry is a collision space for the creation of new knowledge, research and teaching—a co-laboratory for students studying art, engineering, and more. The facilities will attract undergraduate students, transfer students and graduate students to our programs while providing community bridges across disciplines at Alfred and connections with the greater foundry communities across the country,” Lake said.

Gabrielle Gaustad, dean of the Inamori School of Engineering, agreed. “Engineering and Art and Design already collaborate in a variety of ways, she said, pointing to shared courses like the GlassArtEngine, in which engineers and artists work together on glass related projects, and shared facilities like our Digital Fabrication Lab. “This will open additional opportunities for those interactions – both curricular and extracurricular.” 

“Having this new facility on campus will open a large variety of opportunities for our engineering students,” Gaustad added. Among those opportunities: creation of metallurgy labs, in which materials science and mechanical engineering students learn about processing, smelting and casting; expansion of digital fabrication and 3-D printing capabilities; and enhancements to extracurricular offerings, like the student forging and blacksmithing club.

Coral Lambert, professor of Sculpture/Dimensional Studies in the School of Art and Design and director of National Casting Center Foundry, is excited about what the foundry project will mean to the growth of the Sculpture/Dimensional Studies Program.

“Being able to offer courses in a brand new facility located directly on campus holds tremendous opportunities for the Division of Sculpture, the School of Art and Design, and the University in general,” Lambert commented. “Due to proximity, educational collaborations can be more easily implemented by integrating course content with art history, engineering, environmental and global studies, among others.”

Lambert said the foundry facility’s centralized on-campus location will better serve existing students and be beneficial as a recruiting tool.

“The major difference for the new facility is its location, which is something I fervently advocated for because it will raise the visibility of the National Casting Center Foundry and will increase student involvement,” Lambert said. She noted that the facility’s split-level design—which includes a catwalk that will allow for foundry pours to be viewed safely from above—will make the facility more accommodating for student visits and public tours.

New York State has approved $1.2 million from the SUNY Construction Fund for the foundry project’s design phase, set to begin in January. Construction of the new foundry will be completed by the fall of 2022 or spring of 2023. Construction of the new distributed boiler system will begin in January, with completion scheduled for the fall of 2021.

“We are truly grateful for Michele and Martin Cohen’s gift. They understand the important role that transdisciplinary and exceptional facilities contribute to support thoughtful, innovative and expansive research,” Lake said. “Our learning community is dedicated to building a shared base of knowledge that supports each student's individual development and prepares them to be active creative members of the world and their support allows this to happen.”

The Cohens made their $6 million commitment to the foundry/boiler project in honor of 1954 Alfred University graduate Marlin Miller (honorary degree recipient in 1989 and 2019), Michele Cohen’s colleague on the University’s Board of Trustees. Miller, a former Board chair, is a noted businessperson and philanthropist, and Alfred University’s most generous donor. Projects funded by his gifts include the Miller Performing Arts Center, Miller Theater, Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, renovations of our Tefft and Openhym residence halls, construction of the Link between Tefft and Moskowitz halls, and a repaving project on campus which will create new bicycle and pedestrian paths as well as nearly 100 new parking spaces. Marlin’s philanthropy also supports numerous student scholarships and endowed faculty/staff positions.

“We both want to recognize a hero of ours.  There is no one we know who has taught us more about generosity and philanthropy,” Michele Cohen said of Miller. “Marlin has an elegant and gracious way of seeing a need and addressing it directly, providing our students the opportunity to be their best.  There are few people who make such an everlasting impression on the lives of so many.”

With the Cohens’ commitment, Alfred University has generated $102.3 million as part of the quiet phase of the fundraising campaign that began in July 2016. At some point over the next year or two, the University will publicly announce a target of at least a $200 million for the campaign, toward advancing Alfred University’s mission, vision, and values.