By Jessie YingAmong all the alumni that have graduated from the Master of Engineering (MEng) program at UC Berkeley, Luna Izpisua Rodriguez immediately stands out. Instead of following the common MEng graduate career path as a technical engineer, she became a designer at the Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts (CEVA). CEVA is a partnership between the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Its mission is to explore and research best practices for fostering empathy and compassion through arts engagement. Luna’s role is to design the visual component of the CEVA mobile application that MIA’s museum-goers will experience during their visit. Luna’s interest in arts goes back a long way. She originally enrolled at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate majoring in Art Practice. However, after a year and a half of studying Art Practice, she switched to Chemistry, while still remaining loyal to the arts. After completing her undergraduate study, she went on to pursue a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR). “I was interested in the Berkeley MEng program because of the hands-on experience that the Capstone experience provides. I was also excited to imbibe the critical IEOR mindset — its practical focus on optimization and systems engineering is one that I can apply in any field,” she said. For her Capstone project as part of the Masters of Engineering Program at the Fung Institute for Engineering leadership, Luna sought out the opportunity to combine her passion for arts and technology. She, along with four other MEng students, worked with the Arts and Design Initiative (A+D) and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of UC Berkeley to devise a way in which technology could increase students’ engagement in the arts. The team, under the advisory of A+D Communications Director Sarah Fullerton, the UC Berkeley CTO William Allison, and the Associate Vice Chancellor of A+D Shannon Jackson, aimed to create a mobile technology that would allow students to incorporate the arts into their everyday life. After conducting research and interviewing hundreds of students about their arts experiences and interest, the team got to work on developing a campus-wide arts access program and accompanying mobile app. The research culminated with a weekend-long user experience test at Isaac Julien’s Playtime exhibition at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in San Francisco where the team concluded that what students needed most in order to engage with the arts was a friend to go with, along with free admission and accessibility. With this information, the team designed and launched the Arts Passport app in conjunction with the campus, working in tandem with UC Berkeley’s IST and Public Affairs offices to optimize digital alignment with the campus. A year later, the Arts Passport pilot program provides all UC Berkeley students with free or subsidized access to art and design experiences on campus and throughout the Bay Area. The app can be found within the UC Berkeley official mobile app. Luna believes that although technology and art are often defined as separate schools of thought, they have many underlying similarities.
“The arts and sciences are fields that are deeply rooted in exploration, play and curiosity,” she explained.She admitted that before coming to MEng, she feared that her art practice would need to come second to her engineering studies. However, through her Capstone experience and other classes, she found new ways in which her passion for the arts and her background in technical studies could feed into one another. She would often turn her engineering class presentations into performance art projects that reimagined the rigid schema of tech presentations. Luna strongly believes in the importance of diversity in the engineering labor force. For her, this not only means bringing a cross-discipline perspective to her engineering projects, but also to voice her opinion as a woman in a male-dominated field. She co-led FemTech Make Robotics, a workshop series designed to introduce groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering to technology and maker spaces.
“It was very important to me that the engineering mindset be constantly pushed to understand and incorporate perspectives from different genders, races, and backgrounds,” she said.She worked hard to create a more inclusive environment within engineering, and admired the professors and classes that aimed to do the same. “I admired the Professors in the MEng Bootcamp that would use feminine pronouns to refer to example company executives, constantly reminding students of the importance and prevalence of women’s presence in the technology workforce. It’s these kinds of values, not necessarily the technical skills, that students should hold on to from Fung Engineering.” Going forward, Luna hopes to pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree and build her own career in art practice. Aside from her work with CEVA, she continues to develop her own performance and mixed media art. She recently performed a piece at the Caravaglia Gallery in New York that her and fellow UC Berkeley student Christian Nagler created in response to an online persona, Cami, that they originally designed for one of her MEng classes. Although Luna wants to pursue the arts in the long run, she carries the importance of science and engineering with her. “My time in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at the Fung Institute’s Masters of Engineering program positioned me as an artist that is able to respond and act in today’s technology-influenced world,” she said. Luna Izpisua Rodriguez is a designer at the Center for Empathy and Visual Arts (CEVA). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and went on to get her Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at the same school. Connect with Luna.
Luna Izpisua Rodriguez: Bridging engineering and arts was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.