The Future Is Bright:
Meet three emerging lighting professionals
Enlighten Journal often features interviews with leading lighting designers, but in this issue we're introducing you to three emerging lighting professionals. All are recent graduates of the University of Colorado Boulder with Architectural Engineering degrees and an emphasis on lighting and electrical systems.
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university in Boulder, Colorado, founded in 1876.
The lighting program at University of Colorado Boulder has been in existence for over 40 years. The school is one of only a handful in the US that teach illumination engineering. Sandra Vásconez, MS, LC, IALD Educator, a faculty member since 2007, shares information on the program and how she and her colleagues are educating undergraduates and professionals on all things lighting-related.
The program resides in the College of Engineering and Applied Science within the Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering Department and offers a bachelor of science degree with a lighting and electrical systems emphasis or a lighting design certificate for students in the Environmental Design program. CU also serves professionals through a graduate certificate program and an intensive summer course at the Rocky Mountain Lighting Academy on the Boulder campus.
Vásconez points out that theirs is not a lighting design program, but rather a holistic program that incorporates both design and technical aspects of lighting and electrical systems. "Our students need to have a strong understanding of the medium of light - the why behind things. Engineers are problem-solvers. Our job as educators is to evolve problem-solving thinking into lighting design thinking. Students need to think with the left and right brain. It's wonderful to see their eyes light up when they're introduced to the creative end of lighting engineering."
Jackson Brogan was born to be a lighting professional. As a youngster, he found the magic at Disney World's Magic Kingdom not in the parades or Disney characters, but in the theatrical lighting. Jackson recalls crawling under bushes to find the sources of light directed on the parade. "I've been fascinated by lighting for as long as I can remember." Jackson embarked on his lighting career in fourth grade when he started a residential landscape lighting business. His first clients were his parents. "My parents said if I put together a backyard lighting plan along with a budget and fixture list, 'Then we can talk.' They probably figured that was the end of it. But I actually followed through. I gave them a presentation, walked them around the yard, and they said yes. From there, neighbors hired him, and the business spread through word of mouth. "It got me pretty far. I still get calls."
Allie Wilson was introduced to lighting through dance. "I was in a company where students produced the entire dance show, including programs, costumes, and lighting." She was drawn to light's relationship to architecture or, in this case, stage sets. "I think of lighting as a dynamic, fluid thing. There is a movement about the environment being lit. You want people to move through a space in a specific way, much like choreography. Through light we highlight certain things and help people negotiate a space."
Many students come to lighting and electrical systems by way of engineering, math, or other architectural engineering programs. Rachel Peterson came to lighting through a bit of chance, research, and trial and error. Thinking she'd pursue pre-med, she quickly realized science and biology weren't for her. She loved art and was skilled at math, so a little research on majors that integrated the two subjects led her to architectural engineering. And then she was introduced to lighting design. "It was an absolute perfect fit. I've enjoyed the analytical and creative side of lighting. It's such a visual art. You can design something and then physically see it. It's a unique art form - art that it is highlighting other art, whether architecture, landscape, or sculpture."
Jackson, too, "course corrected" during his freshman year. Knowing that architectural engineering and lighting were often paired with civil engineering, he enrolled in the civil engineering program at Northwestern University. But the curriculum was not what Jackson was looking for. He transferred to CU, knowing its lighting program was nationally respected. "I knew right away this was the right decision. These people are my people. From the start, my professors were incredible mentors and teachers."
All three students found that a curriculum combining technical and mathematical aspects of lighting with design played into their interests and strengths. "This combination of skills is important," says Jackson. "If you have one of them, you'll get by in lighting, but when you can bring both to the table, you can tackle the problem with the full set of skills. The design side allows you to make experiences, captivate people, and draw people into an environment. But you need a technical background to accomplish that experience."
"Lighting design is the perfect storm," says Rachel. "First you have to figure out the technical side of things...geometries to consider, codes, light levels, and so on. And then there is the design side that is about making something beautiful. There is freedom in that creativity."
All three students landed internships during their senior year, giving them the chance to rub elbows with lighting professionals and see firsthand the diverse opportunities a lighting career offers. Now with formal studies and internships completed, we wondered what sparked a passion in Allie, Rachel, and Jackson to pursue careers in the field.
Jackson looks at the work of a lighting professional painting with light. "My job is to enhance the environment. Light is the medium; it's not the equipment. It's about the effect I want to achieve and then the equipment follows. Lighting shouldn't call attention to itself unless it's intentionally decorative. Lighting is done best when you don't notice it."
"Lighting is a perfect blend of math and creativity, but it's also the icing on the cake," says Allie. "A building could be beautiful but you wouldn't know if it the lighting is bad." She is also motivated by her ability to make an impact on reducing light pollution and improving environmental sustainability and sees the potential in future lighting technologies to address these things. "People are thinking more about the environment and climate change, but the damage light is doing to the environment needs more attention. Excess outdoor light is hurting plants, animals, humans. We need to find better ways to reduce light levels or change color, maybe introduce adjustable light levels based on the moon's brightness, and increase awareness of what we can do as individuals and as cities."
Lighting outdoor spaces intrigues Rachel. "How do you highlight the beauty of the natural landscape without disturbing it? You could be lighting a large monument or a planted landscape, but either way you don't want to flood it with light. In the outdoors, you need to be able to see, showcase what you need to, highlight the beauty, and then leave the rest alone."
We wish Allie, Jackson, and Rachel all the best as they begin their careers in lighting systems and design.