Three Easy Pieces

Author: William Meiners
Trio of CEM students connect the dots between the arts and construction engineering

Most CEM students will tell anyone who asks that they’re drawn to the field for a variety of reasons. To solve engineering problems with their hands. To work in the great outdoors. And simply to build something — to see a construction project through to its completion.

But don’t let the stereotype fool you; these are also creative pursuits. What innovative ways can overcome a building obstacle on a particular project? How can we best manage our time around any inhospitable weather? And how can the construction of this building help make the most of its eventual form and function?

Purdue students bring that creativity to their construction projects. For many, other creative pursuits not only become central to their lives, they also enhance their field experiences. Alongside the accomplishments of rising to classroom, internship and research challenges are students dedicated to creative, artistic pursuits. To follow: a singer, a painter, and a photographer, all making those connections between the arts and engineering.

Singing Engineer

Jim Giberson, a construction engineering and management senior who will graduate in December 2010, is not only pursuing the arts at a high level, he’s helping manage the team. Giberson, a Purdue Varsity Glee Club manager, works closely with the club’s director and communicates all that information to more than 50 fellow singers.


Ba-Na-Na: Jim Giberson (far right) is part of this singing foursome renowned for oldies from Elvis to Jerry Lee, from Bobby Darin to the Drifters.

“Singing and performing have always been a part of my life,” says Giberson, who followed his sister to Purdue from their home in Steep Falls, Maine.

His sister, Kate Giberson Byers, who ended up with a degree in dietetics and nutrition, encouraged Giberson to try out for the glee club. He auditioned in his “Day on Campus” before his freshman year and has been singing with the group ever since. With between 50 and 60 road performances each year (from gigs in the Crystal Cathedral outside Los Angeles to performances in South Africa), Giberson had to get creative just to keep up with his coursework.

The connections between construction engineering and management practices and the glee club, however, are crystal clear to Giberson. “Definitely in interactions and being able to work as a team in a vocal performance setting,” he says. “You have to trust the guys to the left and right of you.”

He also has developed leadership skills as both a club leader and a representative of Purdue in their worldwide travels. These traits should serve him well in the construction field. Last summer, he spent his second internship with Thieneman Construction, working on water treatment plant facilities in northwest Indiana. Upon graduation, he hopes to land in the Chicago area, where he can begin a management career in construction engineering and keep singing opportunities within his range.

Painting Passions

A California native, Hilary Schaadt (BSCNE ’10) spent three summer internships at Kiewit Construction back home in the Golden State. It seemed a no-brainer to accept a full-time job there after graduation last spring. Drawn to Purdue’s unique construction engineering and management program, Schaadt, in spite of the demands of the major, continued to put paint to canvas — a creative habit she found satisfying after taking some art classes in high school.

One of Hilary Schaadt's many paintings

Acrylic Creation: Hilary Schaadt puts acrylic paint to canvas for still lifes, flowers, even scenes from movies she likes.

“I work mostly with acrylic paint on canvas,” says Schaadt, of Sunnyvale, Calif., “but I also do some chalk work and water colors.”

With still lifes, flowers, even scenes from movies she likes, Schaadt finds her art to be a soothing outlet away from the day-to-day demands of engineering. “If I’m able to paint what I’m feeling, I just feel very calmed,” she says.

But do those creative visions ever stir within her engineering work? How would one complement the other? “We’ve had to do work in Auto CAD programs,” Schaadt recalls. “I’ve used my artistic abilities to come up with creative solutions on getting pipe into certain directions.”

With California calling her home to the working world, Schaadt plans to keep her painting pursuits in the foreground. A summer trip to France, with the arts all around, gave her a closer look at some of the European classics. She also had the chance to do some painting in her travels.

“Once I get settled into my job, I hope to take some more art classes to help improve my drawing and painting skills,” says Schaadt.

Detailed Eye

Abhijeet Deshmukh (MSCE ’10) is pursuing a PhD degree in civil engineering. Working with Mark Hastak, head of CEM, Deshmukh has a broad focus on disaster risk reduction. A side focus, however, which he describes as a “pricey passion,” often finds him looking through the lens of an SLR camera.

Abhijeet Deshmukh's photo of a monkey

Monkey Barred: Abhijeet Deshmukh keeps his eye and camera ready for photo opportunities. The monkey he captured here looks to be doing time.

Nature and landscapes appear most in Deshmukh’s photographs, but he also likes sports and black and white photography. If his camera isn’t with him, it’s usually nearby in case the possibility of that perfect photo ever presents itself. He describes one such chance near the entrance to Schleman Hall, where the sunlight was dripping through two different-colored blooming flowers. “One was pinkish white and the other was off-white,” he says. “And then you had this yellow light coming out from the door. I thought it was the perfect picture, but the moment I came back with my camera, the light had changed.”

Still, he keeps his eyes peeled for images worth capturing. And sometimes the moment presents itself in his research. “I think both fields merge at some point,” says Deshmukh, whose master’s work explored the social and economic impact on communities and industries due to flood damage. “My research involves a lot of photography. It’s not just clicking pictures, but getting photos with information and some meaning.”

And given light, angles, and all the stars aligned, an artistic photo may even emerge from a tragic flood scene. For Deshmukh, who looks to a possible career of making a difference in the field of disaster relief at a nonprofit agency, the camera will stay close by, with his eye ever ready for the perfect time to stop, focus and shoot.