Art And Science Schools Set To Collaborate

Mary Hafeli, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, said a small statue in her office was created through a revolutionary process. Hafeli said a two-dimensional image of her husband became a three-dimensional bobble head thanks to “digital fabrication” technology that merges the sciences and arts.

“This went in as a photograph and came out of a printer like this,” she said. “This kind of thing could be used as a piece of artwork – you could  make a really interesting piece if you made a hundred or so of these and put them together to convey some sort of statement or message – but it could also be anything for industry. The possibilities are interesting.”

Administrators in both the School of Fine and Performing Arts and the School of Science and Engineering said students’ interests, faculty with new expertise and the demand for professionals with background in design and engineering in the workforce are prompting them to collaborate in creating an interdisciplinary program.

According to Hafeli, conversations between administrators in each academic unit began about a year ago when Daniel Jelski, former dean of the School of Science and Engineering, approached her about developing a degree program between the two schools. The deans then assembled groups of faculty who expressed interest in cross disciplinary work, who then met about six or seven times throughout the year.

Daniel Freedman said he only became involved in these talks this summer upon being named interim dean of the School of Science and Engineering, but he thinks an academic marriage between the arts and engineering will be “really fun.”

“This will really take advantage of some of the unique strengths of the school,” he said. “We’re the only one of the comprehensive colleges in the SUNY system that has an engineering program as well as an absolutely fabulous school of art. It’s not as an established area, so I think it’s going to be really exciting to see what we are going to get out of it.”

Freedman and Hafeli said they are looking to first develop an interdisciplinary program at the graduate level in which students can concentrate in either the arts and design or engineering, which may lead to the creation of a bachelor’s degree program. When the discussions about the program began, faculty examined courses currently offered in each unit. Hafeli said they then started research interdisciplinary programs offered at other colleges last spring.

Hafeli said they thought it would be a good idea to talk to leaders of these programs who have gone through the process of creating a new kind of curriculum.

“There is no kind of manual for doing this as these are two very different disciplines,” she said. “We are each kind of bringing our own background to the table and we are all excited, but we’re inventing something and there is no real curriculum for it.”

Hafeli said cross collaborations between the arts and sciences “fell into certain categories” at other schools. One type of program is called “information visualization,” and it involves developing ways to display information normally shown in pie charts or graphs in three-dimensional, modeled forms. Another thing other schools have done is partner with a company who would provide resources for students to work with them them to solve a problem

“You’ve got artists and designers who are very inventive and imaginative and can visualize. You’ve got engineers and scientists and computer engineers who have all of these technical skills and you have an industry partner whose got a fabrication area and everybody wants to create something that is going to contribute to maybe, solar energy or sustainability,” she said. “The other thing that this would allow us to do is to use industry facilities for the purpose of art making in ways that we haven’t be able to before.”

Although President Donald Christian said he has not be involved in recent discussions about this collaboration, he said he thinks several developments in the sciences at the college could be important to the local economy.

Christian, a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s regional Hudson Valley Economic Development Council, said the creation of the biochemistry major at the undergraduate level and new offerings in the Graduate School could meet local workforce needs.

“I’ve learned that one of the key industry clusters that is a focus of economic development in this region is biotechnology. That then raises questions about where the workforce is coming from for that,” he said. “I’m learning some things about programming that may have promise for us.”

Hafeli said the schools are looking to have a curriculum for the program developed and going through a campus level approval process by the end of the academic year. Administrators have begun to reach out to possible industry partners and have been met with “hugely positive response.” This process will also continue as the year goes on.