This graduate is not just an engineer, she’s artsy too

Photo of GMU student, Lily Patterson
Lily Patterson knew she wanted to make things when she began her studies at George Mason University. Photo by Sierra Guard/Creative Services

Lily Patterson knew she wanted to make things when she began her studies at George Mason University.

“I just wanted to turn physical things into something that’s really cool and awesome,” she said.

The thing is, she went about it in a fairly unique way, as a double major in art and visual technology and mechanical engineering.

Patterson, an Honors College student,  admits there are many differences between mechanical engineering and sculpture. But she’s found a way to mesh the two intersecting interests to bring her studies together.

“A lot of my interests in both fields is related to different aspects of how I like to be creative,” she said.

Patterson, who is transgender, said her strengths in math and science led her to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. But by the time she was halfway through the program, her passion for art and sculpture was reignited.

Multimedia artist Lily Patterson poses with her senior design project for art and visual technology, "Visible." Photo by Sierra Guard/Creative Services

I got this glimpse into art the beginning of my second year, where I was trying to piece things together at the front end of my college education,” Patterson said. “I was taking these extracurriculars and then I landed on art. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really cool.”

The Charlottesville, Virginia, native said she particularly enjoyed a class on studio fundamentals, which allowed her to use acrylic paints. She learned the basics of color and the source of art principles for something that is two-dimensional work on a piece of canvas.

“I was really astounded by how much I actually really liked that course,” Patterson said. “It was a total breath of fresh air.”

As for a sculpture class, “I realized that this is what I can grab onto, and this is how I can make stuff that I really like,” she said.

“The best educational dynamic between professor and student is when the line between teaching and learning dissolves and the two become indistinguishable,” said Peter Winant, professor and director of sculpture, School of Art. “Lily has shown everyone in the sculpture area a lot. I will miss her.”

Patterson said she’s fascinated with high fantasy, and all types of stories about heroes in an age of darkness, medieval-style weaponry, and technology. So she made smaller wooden knives, and other sculpture that she could hold in her hands and “feel the inertia of its weight.”

After graduation, Patterson says she plans to take a break. In the future, she’s not quite sure if she’ll pursue an engineering position or one in which a she can use her bachelor of fine arts degree to create new art and sculpture.

"Lily Patterson was one of the best students in my fluid mechanics class,” said Robert Handler, professor of mechanical engineering. “She was driven by a desire to understand the subject more deeply than other students in the class."