Who knew that a fine arts program could help you end up in a designer and software engineer role at one of the biggest technology companies in the word?

That’s exactly how School of Visual Arts alumna Christina Lidwin '13, M.F.A. '15, found success as a user experience engineer at Google. The interdisciplinary skills she learned in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative technologies program helped Lidwin fill a hybrid role of utilizing her computer science background to build prototypes of software, but then also using her artistic skills to design the graphic interface of those programs.

“Without the creative technologies program, I would not have known the words to describe what I wanted to do,” Lidwin said. “Being in creative technologies allowed me to learn that vocabulary, to learn the basic skills and then explore within that domain. I really found my passion for technology."

In the program, Lidwin learned attention to detail in the sense of being aware of the decisions that go behind what users see in a program. This skill helped her combine an artistic background and a technology background to feel really comfortable and able to contribute something meaningful to her work.

Lidwin credits her success with Google to the program’s ability to provide interdisciplinary skills. Students in the creative technologies program are able to take a wide variety of courses, including art history, the ethics and theories of new media, virtual reality, game design, installation, sculpture, painting, photography, 2D and 3D animation, and even coding as a form of creative expression, among many other subjects.

“Interdisciplinary programs like ours allow students to learn both technical and conceptual skills that they wouldn't learn outside of a transdisciplinary arts environment like this one,” said Rachel Lin Weaver, assistant professor and director of the creative technologies M.F.A. program. “We're not training our M.F.A. students to work in one single art or media pipeline. Our graduate students learn a broad variety of approaches to concept, practice, and skill at a level that makes them nimble in a job market where almost nobody has one career anymore.”

Animatronic art project currently being developed at the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech

A light and animatronic art project currently under construction as a part of the creative technologies master's program at the School of Visual Arts
A light and animatronic art project being developed in collaboration with multiple departments, including a student from the creative technologies masters program. Photo courtesy of Eric Schoenborn.

With the competitive advantage of having the flexibility and openness of multiple skills and arts approaches, the creative technologies M.F.A. program has attracted students that come from diverse disciplines. While some have traditional fine art backgrounds, just as many come from computer science, liberal arts, and other fields, which provides a wide spectrum of making in a very small, intimate community.

One of those diverse students is current creative technology graduate student Eric Schoenborn, who comes from a coding background and earned his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and worked in various roles at the ACLU and Knight Foundation, among other organizations. Schoenborn was never a trained artist, but he scratched a creative itch over the years by creating art through technology as a “creative technologist.” Looking to find a way to develop and expand his artistic skills, he found the creative technologies M.F.A. program.

“At Virginia Tech, we have the space to work on things in a timeline that you never do as a working artist or professional, and the amount of expertise looking at your work is just something you can’t get elsewhere,” said Schoenborn. “The fact that Virginia Tech allows someone like me to exist and not be one thing, one discipline, or another is why I’m here.”

Eric Schoenborn sitting in front of his current art project.

Craeative technologies masters student Eric Schoenborn sits in front of his animatronic project.
Graduate student Eric Schoenborn sitting in front of his current animatronic project he is developing during his studies in the creative technologies program. Photo courtesy of Chiravi Patel.

After graduating from the program, Schoenborn plans to continue with his art and storytelling by submitting projects to festivals and pursuing freelance work. However, he is also considering teaching or creating a studio that highlights creativity through technology.

Thanks to the plethora of skills and courses offered to Schoenborn and other MFA students in the program, there will be plenty of options to consider when looking to the future.

“Our creative technologies M.F.A. program gives students the flexibility to think about their futures and careers broadly. Whether they plan to go into academia, the art world, media, or technology, all of them have the chance to expand and deepen their individual creative expression with the community and resources Virginia Tech has at its disposal,” Weaver said.

- Written by Jared Cole