At the intersection of art and engineering in the Senior Design Program

At the intersection of art and engineering in the Senior Design Program

Naomi Cross with her CEET team

While the disciplines of art and engineering are not always thought to converge, they quite often do. In fact, art converges with many industries and careers that many might not realize.

“Art applies to many fields, such as architecture, landscape architecture, science, psychology, medicine and of course, engineering as in this example,” said  Todd Buck, professor of art in the illustration studio of the the NIU School of Art and Design. Six students in Buck’s ART 489/689 Design and Education Collaboration/Special Topics in Art Engineering course were part of teams in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s Senior Design Program, this year.

As part of the 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. Naomi 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 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.

“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 into a variety of fields including industrial design, 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 dollars 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

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 Eshtiaghi – 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.

Retired Art History professor Avra Liakos passed at 86

Retired Art History professor Avra Liakos passed at 86

Avra Liakos

Avra Liakos, 1979
Courtesy: NIU Archives

Avra Liakos, who taught art history in the NIU School of Art and Design from 1968 to 1999 passed away, April 29 at the age of 86.

Avra was born in Athens, Greece and attended the University with the intention of studying law, but her love of art won out and she earned her degree in art history and archeology. After some years working as a lecturer at educational organizations around the world, she met and married her husband, Dimitri.

The couple came to DeKalb when Dimitri accepted a visiting professorship at Northern Illinois University, and soon accepted one of her own. She eventually joined the Art and Design faculty full-time and received NIU’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1982. According to her obituary, her lectures at NIU, “spanned prehistoric art, Minoan and Mycenean art and Egyptian art.” She and her husband co-founded ALPHA: Friends of Antiquity while at NIU, and she spearheaded numerous visits for students and the community to both The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum, most notably during the famous Tutankhamun Exhibition of 1977.

Her family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to the Avra Liakos Scholarship in the NIU Foundation or The Parkinson’s Foundation.


Artist, educator and philanthropist Dorothea Bilder passes at 81

Artist, educator and philanthropist Dorothea Bilder passes at 81

Dorothea Bilder 1990

Dorothea Bilder, 1990

Dorothea Bilder, an accomplished artist and educator and longtime philanthropic supporter of the visual arts passed away last week at the age of 81. Bilder was a professor of art in the Northern Illinois University School of Art and Design for more than 35 years, and served as chair of the Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and Illustration Division when it merged with the three dimensional studio disciplines of sculpture, fiber, metals and ceramics in what is now known as the Fine Arts Studio Division.

Bilder earned her bachelor of fine arts in art with an emphasis in painting and printmaking from Illinois Wesleyan University. She went on to receive her master of fine arts in painting with a minor in printmaking from Southern Illinois University. She did postgraduate work at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Perugia in Perugia, Italy and La Romita School of Art in Terni, Italy.

She joined the faculty of the NIU School of Art and Design in 1968 as an assistant professor of art and taught foundation drawing, life drawing and art appreciation, and was promoted to full professor in 1972.

“Dorothea left a legacy in the NIU Printmaking program, for which she gave her undivided support and advocacy to this day and for the future,” said Michael Barnes, NIU Presidential Professor, Head of Printmaking and Coordinator of Graduate Programs in the NIU School of Art and Design. “She enjoyed a long successful career as a highly prolific artist, pioneering alternative and interdisciplinary processes and introducing water-based screen printing media early on.”

Dorothea Bilder Artwork“She was a force in the classroom mentoring many generations of students towards successful careers in the arts. Dorothea was also a leading figure in the community, giving endless time to local and regional organizations and always promoting the arts through her work and outreach. I am proud to have worked with Dorothea as a colleague at NIU and will always be thankful for what she did for me as a teaching mentor and for her unflinching support as a colleague and friend.”

Bilder retired from NIU in 2003, but remained a presence on campus through exhibitions in the NIU Art Museum, visits to Jack Arends Hall, the home of the visual arts at NIU, and through her giving to the university. She established the Dorothea Bilder Endowed Design Scholarship Fund and the Dorothea Bilder Endowed Fine Arts Studio Scholarship Fund.

Bilder said that her interest in painting and printmaking came from her father, Angelo Konstantin Bilder, an internationally known artist who took Dorothea to classes at The Art Institute when she was young. Her sister, Chryssie Bilder Tavrides is also an artist.

Dorothea Bilder 2019

Dorothea Bilder 2019

In a story for NIU Today she talked about her creative process as she was preparing an exhibition and 10-day workshop in printmaking at the Universidade Federal de Paraiba in Brazil in 2002.

Bilder’s abstract works feature landscapes and flowers to compare and contrast what goes on in nature, including human nature. Her layered pieces — painting combined with printmaking — represent “different relationships and trials and tribulations that we as human beings go through in our lives.”

She begins with a canvas layer, which she paints, and then laminates pieces of printmaking to the canvas. She tops that with delicate layers of rice paper, representing skin, and paints more on that.

“We pile up thoughts and relationships and concepts and people in our lives and events and travels,” she said. “All of this becomes who we are and what we are.”

Dorothea reflected on her time at NIU in an interview in 2019 on the 50th anniversary of Jack Arends Hall. She said she began her college education at NIU before transferring to Illinois Wesleyan where she could focus more on painting and printmaking, opportunities she helped create for NIU art students when she returned as a faculty member.

“I always had a way of working with people,” she said. “To help students find and focus on what they did best and were meant to do. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a lot of fun. I would just like to be remembered as someone helped move art [at NIU] forward.”



Caroline Kent, Northwestern University art theory and practice professor to give visiting scholar presentation at NIU, April 12

Caroline Kent, Northwestern University art theory and practice professor to give visiting scholar presentation at NIU, April 12

Caroline KentCaroline Kent, assistant professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University, will deliver a visiting scholar presentation, Tuesday, April 12 at 6 p.m. in Room 100 of Jack Arends Hall, the Visual Arts Building on the NIU Main Campus. The presentation will also be streamed on Zoom.

Kent is a Chicago-based artist originally from Sterling, Ill. She is currently showing as part of the Chicago Works programming at MCA. Other notable venues in which Kent has had recent solo exhibitions include: Casey Kaplan Gallery, NY; ISU, Normal, Ill.; Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago; Hawthorn Contemporary, Milwaukee; and TCNJ Gallery, New Jersey.

Kent has participated in international residency programs and numerous group exhibitions including at the California African-American Museum in LA, and the Art Institute and the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.

“How does language structure our world? Who gets to be inside or outside a language? What would it mean to invent a new mode of communication? And what social conditions make creating a new language necessary? Chicago artist Caroline Kent explores these questions through paintings, drawings, sculpture and performance works that speak in an abstract visual vocabulary she developed over years of practice.” — Press, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Malika Green, ’05, M.M. ’07, Forges Passion for Jewelry-Making Into Business

Malika Green, ’05, M.M. ’07, Forges Passion for Jewelry-Making Into Business

Malika Green has always been an artistic soul, and her passion for creating has manifested itself in several ways and stages throughout her life.

Growing up in Maryland in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Green was always an introvert, but she never shied away from expressing herself through her arts.

“I liked crafty things, making things with my hands, making necklaces and earrings with found objects, like wire and paper and cardboard, old keys and my mom’s old jewelry,” she recalled. “I liked music, too. I started piano at age 8, and at age 10, I heard a steelband and loved it. At 12, I visited Trinidad and learned to play the steel pan. Then everything changed, steel pan became my life. When I returned to the U.S., it was with a steelpan, and that was it!”

Green started college at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she completed her first two years. Wanting to take steelpan more seriously, she transferred to NIU because Drexel had no pan program.

“At NIU, I studied with Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis,” she said. “It was a huge change to be in the middle of cornfields of Illinois. I’d never been there before. It was good place to focus, practice and hone my craft.”

Green credits her late instructor, Alexis, who anchored the program at NIU for decades, with teaching her this flexibility and patience.

“He was a person who always supported his students, in the steelband and outside of the steelband,” she said. “He would always call the hallway in the music building his ‘office’ because that’s where he learned everything he needed to know about his students. If he felt like you were going after something and were motivated, he’d be your cheerleader. I always appreciated someone like that in my corner.”

Green appreciated that support so much that she stayed at NIU after receiving her B.A. in music in 2005, and she earned her master’s in music in 2007. Her last year at NIU, she took a fine arts credit, and the experience brought another of her passions to light.

“I took jewelry and metalsmithing, and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I loved the physicality of it, the sensuality. I loved the fact that you can hit something and see its shape change immediately, like tapping a pan and hearing the sound. There is an immediate gratification, although I also love the designing and the constant problem-solving to create something beautiful and special.”

Malika Green metalsmithing

Green meticulously works on her jewelry for MR Designs.

Jewelry-making became a hobby, and because there were none of the distractions of the big city, Green continued the discipline of practicing every day, which he had learned with music.

“When I took the metalsmithing course, I learned how to solder things, how to use the flame, when I needed to sand something a bit longer to get it just right,” she said. “I practiced constantly, and years of doing that and seeing improvement from day to day, week to week, year to year, it’s a very transferable quality. You develop the patience to say, ‘I may not be good today, but I will be if I practice.’”

She moved back to Maryland and spent four years working for the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ), a program her mother started. In this role, she used the steel pan as a tool to help kids excel academically. Then, Green spent the next eight years in the Midwest, working with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO), first as community engagement coordinator, then as director of the four steelbands she created. In her last years at CYSO, Green received a Fulbright Fellowship to study steelband pedagogy, which took her to Toronto, London and Trinidad.

Since moving to Trinidad in 2019, Green has worked with the University of Trinidad and Tobago Pan Fellowship but her passion for jewelry was always an undercurrent. Then, when she interned with a local jeweler—Robert Mouttet of Mouttet Jewelers—she was swept away by her passion for the process of making jewelry out of metal.

“I did a lot of repairs, fixing chains, making school rings, maybe doing simple designs for necklaces out of stones laying around the shop,” she said. “Then, when I was not in the workshop, I focused on my own work and commissions for people, creating Caribbean-themed bangles, working on new designs, finishing whatever items I needed to add to my stock at the store where my pieces were sold.”

Suddenly, this art took precedence over everything else.

“It was all I wanted to eat, sleep and drink,” Green said.

Today, through her business, MR Designs, Green sells handmade metal jewelry online.

Malika Green work
“I like to work with silver and gold. All my materials are recycled, and I like slow-made work. Everything is handmade. Even the tiny, tiny rings I use as connectors I make myself. I like having a hand in every part of creating the piece, from beginning to end,” she said. “I like knowing that every piece was thought out and made for that specific item and person and is not just a generic component bought somewhere.”

Malika Green workGreen also likes the tangible aspect of this work and the close relationship she must have with the metal.

“You have to know what it’s going to look like at each stage, so you don’t ruin it,” she said. “It’s just a few degrees between a melted piece and a masterpiece. I like the excitement, the risk of making a one-of-a-kind piece. And I get a huge sense of satisfaction when it’s completed.”

For Green, jewelry-making is fulfilling because of what it becomes for the customer.

“When you think of where people wear jewelry—at the neck, arm, fingers, arms, ears, the parts of your body that only they touch on a daily basis… There’s a joy in knowing that someone is so connected with something you made that they want to wear it on special occasions,” she said. “To be part of someone’s joy and journey in that way, it’s really fulfilling to me.”

In general, Green’s pieces are inspired by nature, and she likes to incorporate multi-colored stones that have many inclusions and can change shades at different angles.

“I love textures. I love flowers and leaves and shells and things you find in the sea,” she said. “That’s just an extension of my love for tangible things. I want to touch something, I don’t want it to be completely smooth, I want it to have a unique texture, a memorable texture.”

Today, while she is temporarily working in the U.S. with CAFÉ in Maryland, Green splits her time between arts administration and teaching, and making her own jewelry—a perfect balance of two loves. Whether it’s with the steel pan or with a metal piece of jewelry, Green is proud of her work.

“I’m proud of the new body of work I’m now doing with jewelry,” she said. “II’m now using a technique that’s new to me—wax carving followed by lost-wax casting. I’ve fallen in love with that technique, and it’s changed my approach to making my pieces. It’s more daring, more artistic and I’m really excited about a collection I’m bringing out late in March.”

Green credits Cliff Alexis with giving her the peace of mind to know it’s okay to leave music and pursue other passions.

“He’d seen so much in his life, and he’d done so many things and taken risks,” she said. “At the age of 20, he couldn’t imagine getting an honorary doctorate and influencing so many young people. He was always the one to say, ‘It’s okay, you don’t owe anyone anything, it’s your life, live it with joy.’”

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