a collaborative effort between Engineering and Art departments

The Engineering Tree mural

The Story

The ideas for the Engineering Tree mural images evolved through the creative input of both engineering and art classes, a collaboration in the spirit of the merging of arts and sciences that is STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art & Math).

When the Engineering Department classroom moved in 2013 to the newly renovated 800 building, the new classroom opened up to face a tall, blank, concrete block wall. Jo-Ann Panzardi, the chair of the Engineering Department, envisioned transforming the dull wall with a mural that would be welcoming, inspiring, and instructive for students and the campus community. Nine years later, we are celebrating the completion of a journey made by a large group of creative and dedicated people, working collaboratively and so very generously to make this vision a reality.

Sylvia Rios was the lead ceramic artist and instructor for the Art 92 Mural course that took on this project in fall 2019. She coordinated the hand-building of the 200 square feet of bas-relief ceramic tiles that make up the mural. A group of volunteers continued working to revise and refine the tiles and prepare them for glazing for the next 2 ½ years, interrupted for 12 months when Cabrillo shut down for COVID. After the tiles were glazed, Sophie Lastra, the Ceramics Lab Instructional Assistant, fired them. The mural was assembled twice on the floor, once in VAPA 3004, and again in Engineering 825, where pieces were labeled with an alphanumeric location system. For six weeks beginning in April, 2022, Wilma Wyss, a mosaic artist, and Phylece Snyder, a tile setter, expertly carried out the complex challenge of transposing the mural layout from the floor to the wall and affixing each uniquely shaped piece in proper relation to its neighbors, completing the installation in May, 2022.

Dedication and Gratitude

Our students and our community are represented in the mural, along with all the elements of the mission of our Engineering Department: creativity, hands-on design, sustainability, integrity, engineering as a helping profession, and diversity and inclusion. Please visit the mural on the Cabrillo College campus at the east end of the 800 building to see the dedication plaque expressing gratitude for those not mentioned above who have generously given their creativity, expertise, time, and funding to produce this mural.

Engineering Tree - work in progress
Engineering Tree - work in progress
Engineering Tree - work in progress

Key participants

Jo-Ann Panzardi, Engineering Department Chair

Jo-Ann Panzardi has been the Engineering Department instructor/chair since 1995. She, along with all of the engineering faculty, are dedicated to making the program accessible to all and providing students with an exceptional education that prepares them to transfer to a university and achieve their degree in engineering. To learn more about the engineering program: www.cabrillo.edu/engineering .Thank you to so many people who made this a reality, especially Sylvia!

Sylvia Ríos, ART 92 Instructor, Mural Designer & Production Director

Sylvia Ríos is a ceramic artist and instructor dedicated to the ceramic process and to fostering creativity and craftsmanship in those around her. She has been teaching ceramics at Cabrillo since 2004.

The Engineering Tree is the heartfelt work of a rich and diverse community of creative, committed individuals. Every piece is carefully formed and glazed by the hands of so many people working towards a common goal. Without them, this mural would not have been completed, to stand for as long as this wall exists. Gracias a mi familia de amigos!

Wilma Wyss, Art Mural Installer

Wilma’s art practice is focused on designing, fabricating and installing custom fine art mosaics. Her compositions are abstract, with nuanced colors and varied textures inspired by nature. She has created mosaics in private homes and gardens, as well as in public parks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I especially appreciate the different textures in the tiles. The tree bark is amazing! There are many thoughtfully created details that clearly took a lot of effort to make. Technically, the project was a real head scratcher. Phylece and I used seven different methods/systems to help us move each ceramic piece accurately from the floor to the wall. I’d like to thank Sylvia and Jo-Ann for their patience and support.

Phylece Snyder, Tile Setter

Phylece received her BA from the University of Florida. She has worked primarily on residential projects, but for the past decade she has specialized in more artistic ones, including installations in public spaces, such as the Lincoln Park Steps in San Francisco.

I am honored to have worked on this magnificent mural. It was particularly challenging, especially transporting the tiles, in order and with tight spacing, from the floor to a wall, complicated by their different thicknesses and textures, to ensure that this mural was installed as envisioned by the artist and the many volunteers who put in countless hours and care to bring this project to fruition.

The Image

A tree is a truly amazing entity. From its life-giving functions to its structure and beauty, it is a fitting symbol to remind us of the interdependencies of the natural world and human endeavors and the importance of following sustainable practices as we engineer our future.

The Engineering Tree also represents the interconnection of the multiple fields of engineering with science, technology, art and math (STEAM) disciplines. This tree is rooted in the Earth. Math is at the foundation of the tree, informing and nourishing the trunk of biological and physical sciences, feeding the branches out to the tip of every leaf. Each leaf represents one of the many applications of engineering, and the unmarked leaves are those yet to be invented by future generations of engineers. This intricate image, beautifully rendered in the medium of ceramics, reminds us that in ancient times ceramics significantly elevated the possibilities for human civilization.

The tree overlooks Monterey Bay, extending the roots of our campus mission into our local land and community. Our agriculture, seen in the row crops and orchards, feeds the nation. The Pacific Ocean fog and breezes meet the warm Pajaro Valley air mass, creating winds to power wind farms. The sun powers solar arrays on our hills and in our cities and rural communities. The magnificent redwood forests and the beautiful Monterey Bay Sanctuary lead our eye into the ocean depths. All of this inspires

us to preserve and protect this beautiful world that we have the responsibility to care for and sustain.

The square icon tiles at the bottom representing engineering applications were created using 3D printed stamps made by engineering design students. Look closely around the mural to see smaller beings present in the landscape and to find several heart shapes testifying to the love carried on this journey so far and held for future adventures in science, art and engineering.

The Journey

Science informs inquisitive humans who are full of wonder. At the beginning of human adaptation to our environment, curiosity, imagination and calculation were the seeds of engineering, which creates and recreates tools and infrastructure. Technology continually applies new knowledge. Art can open windows to beauty and imagination. Lastly, the language of mathematics enables solving more extensive, complex and theoretical problems.

Through our success in solving problems to make our lives easier and longer, we have created new problems: shrinking resources and threats to the health of the planet and her inhabitants. The symbol of a tree—a complex and sustainable being—suggests that it is upon us now to pay careful attention to nature in order to undo past harms and create only truly benign inventions.

The STEAM approach, informed by social justice, welcomes all, especially those historically left outside of the process, to discover ways of existing within the natural world that will allow all life to thrive for many generations. May this mural inspire budding scientists, technologists, engineers, artists and mathematicians to fulfill their visions for this blooming future.

Envisioning a mural