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

NIU photography students best world record holder for largest paper snowflake

NIU photography students best world record holder for largest paper snowflake

NIU School of Art and Design students in ARTD 464 Advanced Photography: Post Production created a paper snowflake that measured 44 feet, six inches, besting the current Guinness of Book of World Record of 20 feet and one half inch. The students, led by Jessica Labatte, associate professor and head of the photography department toiled for more than ten hours laying out, tracing, cutting and folding the snowflake on the floor of the NIU Convocation Center.

They will submit the official supporting materials to Guinness to have their new world record certified.