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Art meets engineering

Video by Leah Dodd and photos by Doug Baker

Collaboration showcases Engineers Without Borders projects

Although Megan Safranek and Michael Johnson had never met in person, their lives had intersected through a photo and a painting.

Last summer, Safranek, a senior environmental engineering major at the University of Delaware, took the photo in the village of Mphero in Malawi, where the UD chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UD) is installing a borehole well.

Six months later, Johnson, a sophomore art major, turned the photo into a painting titled “Journey Woman.” He chose the picture, he says, because he could tell there was a story behind it.

Johnson and Safranek were finally introduced on Thursday, Feb. 23, at “Water: A Medium for Life,” an art show where paintings, woodcuts, photographs and paper cuts all told the story of work by EWB-UD and the EWB Delaware Professional Chapter to provide clean water to communities in Malawi, the Philippines and Kenya.

The two EWB chapters partnered with the UD Department of Art and Design to co-host the event.

“The show demonstrated how we can draw artistic inspiration from technical design, beyond our usual perceptions of science and technology,” says Kim Bothi, associate director for science and engineering in UD’s Institute for Global Studies. “It was interesting to see how the artists picked up on the soft skills needed in our engineering projects, like building relationships, listening to different perspectives, navigating tough situations, and finding beauty in new experiences.”

“Engaging students from different disciplines to work collaboratively is the key to enriching the undergraduate experience, and it’s really the foundation for our EWB chapter,” she adds. “Multidisciplinary collaboration strengthens our partnerships and our work by exposing students and mentors to new ways of tackling complex problems.”

Senior Laura Cooney says that she and her fellow art ambassadors were eager to collaborate when EWB reached out to them.

“We are a group of students who are passionate about leading and sharing our talents in order to better other students and groups,” she says. “The event was extremely beneficial to both parties involved and fostered a great relationship that we hope to carry into the future.”

More than 250 faculty, staff, students, and community members turned out for the show, which also featured live music by band Honey Badgers and duo Johnny U and Kira.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see this event materialize from an idea last semester into a full-fledged art show,” says EWB-UD President Sarah Hartman, a senior majoring in environmental engineering.

“I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to explore something I felt passionate about and am thankful to have had the support of the College of Engineering, the EWB Professional Chapter, and the Department of Art and Design. The event would not have been possible without them.”

As for the photographer and the artist who first met at the show, Safranek admits that she isn’t “artsy,” so she wasn’t even thinking about the potential for her photo to become the inspiration for a painting when she took it.

Johnson, however, is already straddling the line between art and engineering: his father is a civil engineer, and his mother is a painter.

About the show

Funds raised from the sale of work at the show will be used to support EWB projects.

The show was sponsored by the UD College of Engineering, Jimmy John’s, and Water is Life Kenya, a nonprofit that assists Kenyan communities to obtain water and escape poverty partially through the sale of beaded handicrafts.


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