Akcali Introduces Art to Engineering

Engineering is considered by some to be a rigid academic discipline, but problem-solving requires creativity.

Enter Elif Akcali, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, who expanded the mindsets of her students this past semester with two major projects aimed at introducing them to the world of artistic expression.

“Creativity and problem solving are defining characteristics that make us human,” said , Akcali, who served as Creative Scholar-in-Residence at the School of Theatre and Dance. “Everyone is an artist and an engineer.”

Akcali asked the entire freshmen and transfer engineering class of 1,609 students to write their “grand dream” on a strip of paper. She then folded an origami crane for each student and attached his or her dream to it.  She called the project, “Somnium Grusi,” which means “Crane’s Dream” in Latin.

In Greek mythology and Anatolian folk tales and songs, cranes are symbols of grace, strength, longevity and loyalty. As a visual artist, Akcali uses the origami crane as her medium for storytelling.

“Origami helps me create in a very simple, honest and a straightforward way,” she said. “A square sheet of paper becomes this 3D object that looks like a bird. It is like magic!”

Akcali took her creativity and passion for the fine arts a step further by incorporating them into the senior design class in the department of industrial and systems engineering. Throughout the semester, the curriculum included storytelling, drawing and dancing. She teamed with dance professor Tzveta Kassabova who introduced the engineering students to basics of dance choreography. Each senior design team was matched with a group of dance students. The students were asked to choreograph a dance work that interprets and communicates the basic theme of the engineering design projects. They performed their choreographies at the Harn Museum of Art at the end of the semester.

“Coming into our senior design class, we had absolutely no idea we were going to have a dancing component to it, let alone art, drawing or storytelling,” student Matthew Jonas said. “But, we did it all.”

Akcali plans to continue to include the fine arts in her engineering classes for semesters to come.

By Sixtine Gurrey