CVPA alums feature prominently in Netflix’s “Senior Year”

CVPA alums feature prominently in Netflix’s “Senior Year”

The new Netflix movie Senior Year features Rebel Wilson playing Stephanie, who was injured in a cheerleading stunt when she was 17 only to wake from a coma 20 years later and insisting on returning to finish out her senior year of high school and attend her prom. Mary Holland, who earned her MFA in Acting from the NIU School of Theatre and Dance in 2007, co-stars as Martha, Stephanie’s friend from high school who is now the principal and cheerleading coach.


Jermaine Stegall, who received his BFA in saxophone performance and composition from the NIU School of Music in 2000, was the music director on the film. Stegall most recently composed the music for Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America. 

Holland starred in The Happiest Season and co-wrote the film with Clea Duvall. The pair are currently writing a TV series for Lionsgate titled Day Job and Holland will play the lead character. She is also featured in the recently released Netflix comedy series The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window with Kristen Bell.

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.

Congratulations to all of our Spring 2022 graduates

Congratulations to all of our Spring 2022 graduates

Congratulations to all of the students in the NIU School of Art and Design, School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance who earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees last weekend.

Nina Caliendo received her bachelor’s degree in music education, and was featured during the commencement ceremony.

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.


School of Music’s Gregory Beyer and percussion alumni featured on PBS’s “Now Hear This”

School of Music’s Gregory Beyer and percussion alumni featured on PBS’s “Now Hear This”

Gregory Beyer, Professor and Director of Percussion Studies in the NIU School of Music and percussion alumni Ethan Martin and Noel Streacker were recently featured on PBS’ “Now Hear This.” The three are part of Arcomusical, made up of Beyer and NIU Percussion graduate students and alumni, whose mission is “to spread the joy of the Afro-Brazilian musical bow known as the berimbau through the development of innovative and excellent musical repertoire.”

The episode is titled “New American Voices” and features American composers inspired by their immigrant roots: Brazilian-born Sergio Assad and Indian-American Reena Esmail.

“Sergio Assad, one half of the famous Brazilian guitar duo, the Assad Brothers, lives in Chicago,” Beyer said. “He reached out to me to be involved with him in the episode and together we co-composed a work for classical guitar and three berimbaus that is premiered in the first segment. Working with Sergio was a delight. He is a consummate professional and a lovely and sensitive musician and human being. Making music with him for us was a joy and an honor. And co-composing the work was also delightful. I sent him an initial idea, he composed something for himself above what I wrote, and we continued ping-ponging the score back and forth until we were together happy with the final result. We hope to continue this collaboration in the near future.”


Beyer is featured twice in the episode. The first time at 26:25 when Martin and Streacker join Beyer and Assad. Beyer is featured again at 40:06 when he joins Assad and members of Gingarte Capoeira Chicago.

Arcomusical recently released their third album, Emigre and Exile, which has received a number of excellent reviews, including:

“Every so often an ensemble comes along that is dedicated to some sort of stylistic-meta-acoustical  way of playing-listening. The berimbau ensembles are inspired, beautifully sonic and a major reason to listen. But also the compositional approaches are all worth your attention over and above the sonic wonder of it as an entirety. The music pulsates in engaging ways. Everything has a kind of tribal folk-avant forward momentum, an elementally riff-like tonality, with repetition ostinatos not at all formulaic. This is not an ordinary sort of album. It is uplifting and unusual. I recommend it if you are wanting something different, something off the well beaten path. Bravo.” – Grego Applegate, April 19, 2022, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

You can watch Arcomusical’s album release party, which was held at Chicago’s Constellation.

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.”