Visual arts for engineering students: More insight and accomplishment

Three people sitting at a long table in an open area working on a laptop

Engineering students participate disproportionately high in the arts. For example, while working as an engineering dean, my office collected and analyzed campus student activities data. While engineering students made up ten percent of the student body, they comprised more than 20 percent of the campus musical groups. Colleagues at other universities have shared similar observations.

My story

Permit me to share some thoughts with those of you – faculty and students — who are not actively involved in the arts but are open to experimenting. Eight years ago, following a five-decade lapse that began after the third grade, I returned, on a whim, to art by taking a one-day graphite pencil drawing class, loving it, going to many more classes, and doing a variety of drawings. I soon moved to colored pencils and discovered that I would draw for two or more hours while being oblivious to the passage of time.

This post includes images of two of my drawings. The first (Street in Rennes, France) was done in graphite, that is, it is a black and white pencil drawing. Graphite is where I started and where, in my view, anyone who wants to learn how to draw or paint should start because it teaches widely applicable drawing fundamentals, just like a static mechanics course teaches widely applicable engineering fundamentals. The other drawing (Ize) is in color and was created with colored pencil supplemented with ink and acrylic.


In returning to art, I initially envisioned no connection to engineering education or practice. This was simply a pleasant diversion. However, as a result of drawing, thinking about it, talking to my art instructors and to other students, and doing some reading, I began to see possible connections between visual arts and improving engineering education and, ultimately, practice. That prompted in-depth research, including studying recent neurological discoveries, interacting with colleagues, writing articles, presenting papers, and conducting workshops. My book Introduction to Creativity and Innovation for Engineers was published by Pearson early this year. No one can predict a series of positive and enlightening outcomes like that!

Possible benefits for you

I hope that sharing my art story will encourage engineering faculty and students, if you are not already doing so, to consider taking up, learning the fundamentals of, practice, and getting good at some form of visual (or performing) art. Less there be any misunderstanding, when I say “take up” I don’t mean just study, I mean that plus “do.”

“Doing” art is likely to open up a new world of insight and accomplishment for you – like it did for me. You may experience many benefits, such as the following which I will discuss in the next two blogs:

  • See more, literally and figuratively
  • Collaborate more creative/innovative results
  • Enhance your sense of composition


In the meantime, please consider sharing your views – supportive of or contrary to my views — about actively participating in the visual and/or performing arts.


About the Author
Stuart Walesh, Ph.D., P.E.

Stuart Walesh, Ph.D., P.E.

Stuart G. Walesh, Ph.D., P.E., practicing as an independent consultant, provides management, engineering, and education/training services to private, public, academic, and volunteer sector organizations.  After earning a BS in Civil Engineering at Valparaiso University, Stu obtained a MSE at The Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a licensed professional engineer in Indiana and Wisconsin and a Diplomate of the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers.

Stu has over 40 years of engineering, education, and management experience in the government, academic, and private sectors and has worked as a project manager, department head, discipline manager, author, marketer, sole proprietor, professor, and dean of an engineering college. He is a member of ASCE, National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and has chaired state and national committees and groups.