Visual arts and technology major Billie Haas came to Stevens Institute of Technology with a pretty good sense of what she wanted to do in the future. As a high school student, she attended a communications magnet school for students with career focuses in journalism, film, digital video, media and the visual arts.
“I wasn’t looking to become the best painter or the best graphic designer. What I wanted was to develop a really great portfolio and a wide variety of skills that I could apply to a number of different areas.”
The Deal, New Jersey native found the place to develop those broad skills at Stevens. Now in her third year at the College of Arts and Letters, Haas says the school’s visual arts and technology program offers the perfect blend of a traditional fine arts education and a technology-driven curriculum, one that is perfectly tailored to today’s hyper-digital environment.
“I had a lot of foundational art courses like drawing and design. Then I moved on to more computer-based courses that integrate both fine arts and the digital arts, including augmented reality and virtual reality. And when you mix all these together, that’s when you start experimenting and pushing the boundaries of art.”
That ethos of experimentation encourages students at Stevens to combine different art forms. At CAL, it’s common for students to major in visual arts and technology while also minoring in the school’s highly regarded music and technology program.
“The way these two programs are run at Stevens, you have a lot of opportunities to cross over and try different things. You can bring what you’ve learned from one discipline and bring it into the other, and figure out how they work and don’t work together.”
In addition to minoring in music and technology, Haas is minoring in theater and technology, a program that she says offers close interactionwith faculty.
“The two theater-specific courses required of the minor – Introduction to Theater and Introduction to Theater Design— are taught one-on-one with Anthony Pennino, the professor in charge of the program. In my Theater Design class this past semester I would spend three weeks designing a show — from the staging to the lighting to the color palette and overall mood — then present my design to my professor and Carl Russell, director of Stevens’ DeBaun Performing Arts Center, for feedback.”
A future role in event staging
Exposure to all three programs helped Haas narrow her career interest to the live entertainment industry, either in the area of creative direction or visual production.
“[Studying music, visual arts and theater] gives you a perspective of the entertainment industry that isn’t just limited to graphic design or just limited to sound recording. Having skill sets in all three disciplines opens up so many professional opportunities. Not only can you work at a concert, you can integrate audio into certain virtual reality projects or bring art into a sound recording project and have it be the tool that manipulates your sound, for example.”
Haas has been able to apply those cross-disciplinary skills on- and off- campus. As a member of the DeBaun Performing Arts Center technical staff, she assists with lighting, staging, audio, the stage crew, set up and general theater maintenance projects for all the shows planned for the season. And this past summer, she was able to experience first-hand the full scope of working in live entertainment at WorldStage, a premier creative firm that provides audio, video and lighting technologies to the corporate, artistic and theatrical communities. An internship at the company’s elaborate workshop in Secaucus, New Jersey placed Haas in the middle of the action, where she bounced between multiple departments involved in the handling of cables, audio, video and projection, the testing of equipment and the building of racks and systems.
“I got to physically work with the equipment that gets shipped out to certain shows. I also worked in the drafting department, helping to map out the systems that had to be sent to the convergence department to be built, something I really enjoyed because it was so closely-related to my visual arts and 3D design classes.”
Beyond the academic and industry experiences, Haas says the close-knit community of art and music students at Stevens has played an important role in her growth as an artist.
“We could all be working in the studio together at 3 a.m. and have a wonderful environment to work and mess up in. It’s really nice to have this community to draw inspiration from, share ideas with and encourage one another in, which I feel is a difficult thing to find.”
She says this closeness and generosity speaks to Stevens’ overall approach to developing and encouraging young artists.
“One of the nice things about Stevens’ visual arts program is that it’s not competitive against the students. It’s more about making you a better artist and a more critical thinker in terms of art and as a designer, and giving you a wide-range of skill sets that allow you to jump off in any creative direction you want.”