Carnegie Mellon University

Innovation through Artistic Engineering

BXA Introduces New Engineering Studies and Arts Degree Program

written by
Pamela Wigley

with contributions by
M. Stephanie Murray and Emily Syes

CMU is known for having the smartest arts students around, and this is especially evident with the students who choose the BXA Intercollege Degree Programs. It’s only natural, then, that the BXA programs would expand to bring together the College of Engineering and the College of Fine Arts. In May 2022, the first students in this new program graduated with the Bachelor of Engineering Studies and Arts (BESA), setting the standard for what the future of making will look like. The BESA is intended for students with a strong math and science background who want to find creative approaches to engineering problems and technical solutions in creative projects. BESA applications are currently open for CMU internal transfer students, and the program is part of the common application for fall 2023 first-year student enrollment.

Joey Mok, a rising junior, currently is pursuing his BESA degree. A cello player since third grade, Mok said he yearned to combine his STEM interests with music, and found that through the BESA.

"I'm glad the program was in development around the same time that I began to attend CMU, since it allowed me to study both of my main interests: music and engineering," Mok said.

Prior to the creation of the BESA program, BXA and Engineering collaborated to develop the Engineering and Arts (EA) additional major at Carnegie Mellon, which allows students majoring in engineering to choose a concentration in architecture, art, drama or music within the College of Fine Arts. The course of study is tailored to each student, whose primary major is engineering. The curriculum includes a capstone experience through BXA that combines the students' engineering and arts expertise in novel ways.

"The EA additional major blended the strengths of both engineering and the arts. The BESA takes the EA program a step further, allowing students to earn a bachelor's degree that equally combines their engineering and arts expertise, where the EA students add arts training onto their primary major."

M. Stephanie Murray
Senior Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary Initiatives
Director, Academic Advisor, Teaching Professor, College of Fine Arts

Thomas Sullivan, teaching professor in electrical and computer engineering and lecturer in the School of Music, understands the student attraction to the BESA program. Sullivan himself combines his electrical engineering knowledge with his interest in music.

"Many of our engineering students are very creative individuals and would like to apply their creative arts interests with their engineering background toward a career rather than just as a hobby interest," Sullivan said. "As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon myself in the early '80s, one had to invent these combinations within our engineering curriculum by creatively using free elective units and course substitutions in our humanities breadth."

Annette Jacobson, associate dean for undergraduate studies and teaching professor in chemical engineering, helped establish the curriculum for the BESA. When doing so, Jacobson worked with a team to ensure the depth and breadth of both engineering and the arts is reflected in the course of study.

"The engineering studies part of the BESA degree was designed as an extension of the engineering studies minor that we currently offer in the College of Engineering to students interested in taking engineering courses but who are not enrolled in an engineering major," Jacobson said.

"We welcome the opportunity to offer engineering courses to students whose interests lie at the unique intersection of engineering and the arts; this new program accomplishes that goal."

Annette Jacobson
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
Teaching Professor, College of Engineering

May 2022 graduate Perry Naseck focused his studies on electronic and time-based media. His goal while at CMU was to have full knowledge of not only conceptualizing his pieces, but also building them. Naseck worked closely with Golan Levin, School of Art professor and former director of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, to follow a course of study that would allow him to do both with the BESA degree. He also consulted with faculty and advisors in BXA and engineering.

"I'm grateful to people like Golan [and other faculty], who are resources for me, and I know they will be lifelong connections," Naseck said. "At CMU, I've learned not only the literal skills I need in art and engineering, but I've also learned collaboration and how to navigate a project, how to serve clients and how to operate as a professional."

CMU sophomore Joey Mok plays cello and guitar. He said the new Bachelor of Engineering Studies and Arts allows him to combine his interests in music and STEM.