Honors College 2023-2024 PRAx Fellows Explore the Crossroads of Art and Science  

The grand opening of the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts (PRAx) on April 6 will be a pivotal moment in the history of the arts and humanities at Oregon State. PRAx will be a new hub for performance artists, musicians, theatre groups and dance companies and highlight the work of contemporary artists situated […]

March 13, 2024

The grand opening of the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts (PRAx) on April 6 will be a pivotal moment in the history of the arts and humanities at Oregon State. PRAx will be a new hub for performance artists, musicians, theatre groups and dance companies and highlight the work of contemporary artists situated at the crossroads of arts and sciences in its 3,000 square foot gallery. The center is also boosting the next generation of artists and researchers at OSU through the PRAx fellowship program. 

The fellowship, which includes a $1,000 grant, is awarded to graduate or undergraduate students with a keen interest in the intersection of art and science. Fellows can choose from four tracks: film + science, humanities + science, art + engineering or art + science. Collaborating with mentors from both the artistic and scientific realms, participants in these interdisciplinary tracks develop projects that will be showcased in the PRAx gallery at the conclusion of spring term. For the Oregon State University Honors College — which highlights the value of cross disciplinary work and dialog and requires a thesis — the PRAx fellowship represents a unique opportunity for students to advance their training through innovative research. Of the 22 PRAx fellows in the initial cohort, four are from the Honors College. 

AJ Damiana Art + Science 

AJ Damiana, a PRAx fellow following the art and science trajectory, is a third-year honors student majoring in biochemistry. AJ was originally introduced to the world of Art-Sci through the Seminarium club, which she is now the president of. She recollects, “the club was hosting art science talks associated with the fellowship, which is how I discovered it. I thought, ‘This is fantastic. I’m a biochemistry major, and I do art. This is perfect for me.’”  

The introduction came at a crossroads for AJ, who, while looking for employment, realized she did not want to be on the “traditional biochemistry trajectory.” She elaborates, “I was searching for internships, but I didn’t want to pursue a medical career. That’s when I stumbled upon science communication, which captivated me.” 

Science communication involves translating complex scientific concepts into various mediums accessible to the public. This approach formed the foundation of AJ’s project. “It’s in an abstract state right now, but essentially, I want to communicate how cells age in a way that resonates with all audiences— not just the scientific community — using visuals and writing.” The inspiration for her project, with mentorship from Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer and David Maddison, is using science communication as a tool to “fill the gap between what I know and what others don’t.” Through this experience, AJ has discovered her passion for involving a broader audience in the sciences, making it more accessible to those “not inherently connected” to the hard sciences. “I feel there’s a focus on hard sciences and this idea that everyone should understand it immediately. Being someone in the sciences, I’ve realized what captivates me might not be universal. I’m trying to make scientific topics engaging for more people.” Embracing the interdisciplinary nature of her work in science communication, AJ advocates for the interconnectedness of different academic fields. “I don’t think that there’s enough communication between disciplines, despite the potential benefits. Over the course of this project, I’ve learned how much can be gained from bridging these avenues. Disciplines shouldn’t be as segregated as they currently are.” This interdisciplinary ethos is at the center of PRAx’s mission to further both the worlds of science through art, and the world of art through science — a perspective shared by all of the PRAx fellows. 

Cassidy Ochoa — Art + Science 

Also pursuing the art + science track is honors student Cassidy Ochoa. As a climate science major and writing minor, Cassidy’s work explores the correlation between changing atmospheric pressure conditions and cyclone production. Guided by mentor Andrea Jenney, Cassidy’s research utilizes a dataset that examines regions with shifting pressures and considers how variables like humidity, wind speed and temperature affect cyclones. Cassidy’s objective is to make the dataset more comprehensible to all audiences. 

“I’ve developed a short-story, ‘Weathermakers’ which takes place in a city where humanity has passed the climate threshold and begins running into environmental crises,” says Cassidy. Rooted in the dataset, “Weathermakers” teaches about the potential repercussions of advanced climate change while exploring creative solutions. “The characters have sort of geoengineered their way out of their own climate crisis through the creation of machines that control the weather and environment.” 

Cassidy’s story delves into “the ethical implications” of geoengineering, “aiming to portray a human perspective.” Emphasizing the narrative nature of her work, Cassidy thinks of the story “as a tour guide” for readers, who are “led through this world and its themes by characters.” Her work is another example of the interdisciplinary work PRAx — and the Honors College — aims to facilitate. Cassidy adds, “This fellowship provides a space to explore both of my passions, without compromise, in a hands-on way and has introduced me to a community of people who value interdisciplinary studies.”  

Lucinda Boyle — Humanities + Science 

Honors student Lucinda Boyle is a Washington native studying natural resources with a botany concentration. Pursuing the humanities + science track as a PRAx fellow, Lucinda’s focus is on creating journalistic and nonfiction pieces about mosses in the Pacific Northwest. Through photography and science journalism, Lucinda aims to underscore the significance of mosses as indicators of stream health and communicate this to a broad audience, with guidance and support from mentors Chris Johns and Bryan Endress. 

Science journalism, which informs the public on scientific topics or developments, is particularly important to Lucinda. Her aim is to, “communicate science in a way that’s accurate, appeals to people who might otherwise feel shut out from scientific discourse and interests children in a far more accessible medium than a scientific paper,” Lucinda explains. “I’m hoping photography will help make scientific work accessible to a range of people who may not be ordinarily interested in reading about the finer points of moss.” 

Lucinda references the essay, “Learning to See,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which focuses on the ability to be in nature, experiencing and noticing its various aspects, rather than allowing it to become mere background noise as a particular inspiration for her interdisciplinary focus. “Moss is everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, but I never looked closely,” Lucinda says.  

“I hope, when people view my photographs, they’ll appreciate the beauty captured in each image. My wish is that the next time they take a walk or head to their car, they’ll glance down at the cracks in the sidewalk or the trees, notice the moss and take a moment to observe it more closely, reflecting on its presence and significance.” By combining humanities and science, Lucinda seeks to provoke thought and bridge the gap between different ways of thinking. “The humanities and sciences tend to be separated in a university setting between the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science. But I think, in reality, it’s important to talk between those disciplines.”  

Nyssa Engebo — Art + Engineering 

On the PRAx art and engineering track is Nyssa Engebo, a bioengineering major who is focused on the human aspect of design. She is crafting a children’s book that highlights one invention from each of the 50 states. 

 The idea for Nyssa’s project originated from a trip she took during a time of immense pressure. “Your third year in engineering is a very heavy workload,” Nyssa explains. “While in Arizona for a trip, I went to the Botanical Gardens and discovered all these cactuses we don’t have in Oregon and thought, ‘Wow, that’s really very interesting.’” After researching the cacti, Nyssa spoke with her mentor, Skip Rochefort, coming to the realization that, “every time I go to a new state, I find something new and interesting. I then had the idea to turn this into an outreach or scientific communication project.” 

Inspired by the Family Science and Engineering Nights she regularly works at to provide engaging science interactions to elementary aged children, Nyssa decided to write a children’s book. “There’s research that shows if a child isn’t interested in science before eighth grade, they’ll never be interested in science” she explains. Nyssa, having been introduced to science at an early age herself through books such as “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” aims to find a human aspect behind each invention that will make it more relatable or interesting to children. “I discovered many human-focused stories behind inventions” says Nyssa. For instance, the creator of Band-Aids invented them when he noticed his wife had burns on her hand because she was cooking all day, and he wanted to help prevent her injuries. Additionally the Polaroid camera was invented because the creator took a photo of his daughter on the beach, and she wanted to know why she couldn’t see it immediately. 

Thinking deeply about the intentions behind inventions has affected Nyssa’s own engineering work. “My senior design project is a reusable auto injector. I’ve been contemplating its significance: Why am I pursuing this? Why is it important? When I get frustrated or caught-up on how I get this mechanism to work, I remind myself, ‘this is going to help somebody,’” Nyssa explains. “The humanities and the arts give engineering purpose,” says Nyssa. “I’m a better engineer for creating my PRAx project because it helps connect me to the people on the other side of my work.”  

By facilitating and supporting interdisciplinary collaboration, the PRAx Student Fellowship offers a unique platform for students to explore and celebrate the convergences of the arts and sciences. Guided by their mentors, these four honors students, alongside the 18 other 2023-2024 PRAx fellows, are paving a new road at the intersection of art and science at Oregon State and blazing a new path for Honors College students interested in interdisciplinary work. 

The application for the 2024-2025 PRAx fellowship is open through March 15, 2024. 

By Ava Wittman, Honors College student writer 

CATEGORIES: All Stories HC Student Spotlights Homefeature Homestories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.