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NIU Today | At the intersection of art and engineering in the Senior Design Program

As part of the engineering bachelor’s degree program, students in their senior year form teams to

take on a real-world challenge in the Senior Design Program. The challenges involve creating or improving commercial products or industrial processes. To complete the project, students use classroom knowledge to integrate concepts, apply theories, and construct a prototype or process.

Along the way, they are mentored by faculty and industry professionals. This year, 61 teams showcased their projects at the Senior Design Day event held on Friday, May 6. This hands-on, real-world experience is a high point of their education.

This year, student Naomi Cross was one of several art students to represent both engineering and art, as she is majoring in engineering and minoring in art. Her team developed a type of underwater robot that can collect data deep in the ocean. Cross developed an aesthetic design and a logo for the prototype.

“It gives a project a more professional look,” she said. “It helps being an artist to be able to envision three-dimensional space, it also helps to bring forth a pleasant-looking product that people want to buy or invest in,” said Cross. “When I first heard about industrial design, I realized I could combine my love of engineering with art.”

Buck explained that many students in art don’t see all the ways in which they can use their artistic abilities. “When students are first starting out, they don’t know all the paths that are available. But there are many paths forward,” he said. In fact, Buck himself started his career in biology and is now an internationally known medical illustrator in addition to teaching at NIU.

“When students are first starting out, they don’t know what paths are available. But there are many paths forward,” he said. In fact, Buck himself started his career in biology and is now an internationally known medical illustrator in addition to teaching at NIU.

“Art is very applicable to commercial and industrial design, it is the convergence of aesthetics and the user experience,” said Douglas Boughton, director of the School of Art and Design. “It provides the enterprise between the user and the machine.”

Buck added that School of Art and Design graduates can go on to a variety of fields including industrial design, landscape architecture, art therapy, scientific and medical illustration, to name a few. “We provide students with the tools, and then we help them see a successful career path,” he said.

Before the pandemic in 2019, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the arts contributed 4.3 percent to the US GDP, nearly a trillion at $919.7 billion. This includes the production of arts and cultural goods and services. In fact, the site goes on to say that this exceeds industries such as construction, transportation, warehousing and agriculture.

For more information about the Senior Design Program visit niu.edu/ceet.

CVPA students take part in CEET Senior Design Day

Seven of the 61 project teams had some kind of involvement with students or programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Six School of Art and Design students were part of Senior Design Day teams through their involvement in the ART 489/689 Design and Engineering Collaboration/Special Topics in Art Engineering course. Their role was to bring their design expertise to their team, not only for the report materials but for the aesthetics and functionality of the final product.

Art and Design Students

Naomi Cross – Design Team #1 – Design of low-cost underwater robots for swarm robotics

Nestor Alvarez – Team #41 – Grip Force Monitoring System for Day-long Data Logging in Occupational Settings

Sara Muszanski – Team #3 – Development of a Wearable System to Track Anxiety Level (Part III)

Arman Ashtiaghi – Team #21 – Wireless Sensor Network Ground Testing for Eventual Application on the International Space Station

Olivia Lonteen Team #23 – A smart face mask for reliability and comfort for indoor/outdoor use

Erin Crawford Team #49 – 2021 NIU Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge

And one team’s project (Team #31) was Mechanical Forging for the Construction of a Standardized Steelpan (Part II). They worked with the Steelpan Studies program at NIU as their client. Specifically with Yuko Asada, Musical Instrument Technician, Assistant Director of the NIU Steelband and Director of the Community School of the Arts Steelband. This was the second year of the steelpan project, and effort to develop a less physically taxing method of shaping a steelpan.

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