Mathematic and Aesthetic Artistry in Lego Form

Dr. Chuck Cusack, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, turns playthings into works of art embedded with his academic expertise. His Lego art show is now on display in the 602 Gallery at Holland Community Hospital through Tuesday, July 30.

“Mondriacci” by Dr. Chuck Cusack

Cusack’s works are unique and approachable — combining his love for combinatorics, the study of finite discrete structures, with algorithms and Legos, into creative abstract pieces of art that draw the viewer in with vivid colors and interesting patterns. He has been constructing Lego art for five years, and three of his works have appeared in ArtPrize — the international art competition held annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His current exhibit at the 602 Gallery, organized by the Holland Friends of Art, reveals an artist who has evolved from a very rigid application of mathematics in his work, requiring everything he made to be a direct representation of a mathematical object, to one that has been inspired by Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers. The results have “loosened up” Cusack’s creativity as he now sometimes chooses the aesthetic over the mathematical, even using the underside of Legos to show off their unique artistic lines and order.

“Under” by Dr. Chuck Cusack

 “When I began, it was all about math and representing math using Lego. In a lot of my work people may not ever actually realize that there’s some structure to it other than the overall rectangles and colors,” Cusack says. “As people saw my art, particularly several people at ArtPrize a couple years ago, they would mention other artists’ names. I would look up those artists to see why people were mentioning these then. Mondrian is one that stuck out to me. I liked his work, but it was not very mathematical. But I thought, let’s just try something new and so I did a Mondrian-like Lego art and really liked it. I started doing ones that were more like Mondrian’s work but included some math in them.”

The works that Cusack creates do not come from a Lego kit found at your local retailer. Instead, his materials are methodically tracked down on the internet to meet his exact requirements. Between conceiving his idea, working out the math, ordering the Legos, sorting the Legos and finally creating the Lego art, Cusack says he can work up to 20 hours on a more complicated 13”x13” creation. For this second work in ArtPrize three years ago — a 6’x10’ Lego monstrosity that cost him “as much as a small new car” in materials — he cannot even begin to estimate its time value. What he can say though is that over the years, Cusack has purchased, handled and placed hundreds of thousands of Lego pieces. And he never uses glue.

“My works are vulnerable without glue but I prefer it that way,” he explains. “I’ve got to know exactly what I want to do and a lot of times I don’t and I want to pull them off. But more than anything, it seems wrong to use glue. It’s Lego. It’s meant to be removable.”

“Yes It Is” by Dr. Chuck Cusack

While there are 35 of Cusack’s works on display at Holland Community Hospital, several of his pieces are also hanging on Hope’s campus. His first ArtPrize piece called “Latin Square Squared” can be found outside the office of the dean for the natural and applied sciences in the Schaap Science Center. It is a 38”x38” grid constructed from many squares, each of different sizes and each of which is what is called a Latin square: every cell is a certain color (or shape or number) and every row and every column contains each color exactly once (like Sudoku). In VanderWerf Hall’s first floor computer science lab, Cusack takes a turn at participation art. “Yes It Is” is an orange-and-blue puzzle. To Hope fans, the colors alone may draw the viewer in. To computer science students, the work could pique their academic interest and, with a lot of work, increase their art collection, too. 

“If someone can decode the message in ‘Yes It Is,’ they get it,” Cusack says. “Decoding it requires a Vigenere cipher, shift cipher, understanding a magic square, debugging code, some sort of binary representation, and maybe a rotation here or there, not necessarily in that order.”

I hope the viewer will see that there is the beauty inherent in mathematics, and that serious art can be created using mathematical concepts and a very simple medium.”

In the 602 Gallery, those who see his art do not need any understanding of math or computer science to appreciate Cusack’s colorful and creative work, though knowing that a deeper level of artistic intention exists in them makes their creation that much more impressive. “I hope the viewer will see that there is the beauty inherent in mathematics, and that serious art can be created using mathematical concepts and a very simple medium,” he says. “And I hope that viewers will come away from the show inspired to create their own art using whatever medium they find the most interesting and taking inspiration from whatever they are passionate about.”

An artist reception will be held on Friday, July 12 from 6-8 p.m. in the lower level lobby of Holland Community Hospital (green entrance). Cusack’s exhibit will be on display until Tuesday, July 30. Gallery hours are 24/7.

A Vital Partnership Becomes Vitalis

Purchasing a nursing textbook with required, additional materials can be costly at times. Realizing that students might be hard pressed to afford the extras that come with certain books and existing programs on the market, the Hope College nursing department decided to look for a cheaper way to provide a more basic but meaningful version of those educational necessities.

And they walked right across Hope’s Van Andel Plaza, located between the Schaap Science Center and VanderWerf Hall, to find their answer.

A new computer software program has been developed by two faculty members and four students of the Hope College computer science department, housed in VanderWerf, to allow the tracking and simulation of electronic medical records by students and faculty in the Hope College nursing department in lab experiences in Schaap. The digital platform, Vitalis, is the result. It simulates professional medical record-taking methods and aesthetics for Hope nursing students so that “real-world” experience can be realized at little cost.

In teaming up, the two departments created an educational experience that was mutually beneficial for students studying both majors.

Four of the five Vitalis student-creators at a poster presentation, left to right, Dane Linsky, Dennis Towns, Phil Caris, and Haoming Zhang

With prices for books and other expenses rising every year, Dr. Vicki Voskuil, assistant professor of nursing, and Trish Kragt, director of nursing laboratories, had been searching for some time for a way to mimic digital medical records for their lab courses in a cost-effective way.

Dr. Vicki Voskuil, associate professor of nursing

“We recognized the need within the last two or three years that while they [the students] have been doing narrative documentation in our classes, they really needed the computer piece to be able to electronically record [for the agencies],” Voskuil says.

The software development project was advertised to computer science students as one of the summer opportunities available in the computer science department’s Hope Software Institute. HSI provides rich, real-world software development experience to students interested in pursuing a career in industry as software developers. Three Hope students — senior Phil Caris, senior Dennis Towns and junior Jori Gelbaugh — were selected in the summer of 2018 to work alongside Dr. Ryan McFall and Dr. Michael Jipping, both professors of computer science at Hope.

The computer science students on the project recognized the privilege they had working with the faculty and used it as a growing, developing, and learning experience.

“It was my first time creating software that wasn’t in the classroom setting and interfacing with clients (the nursing department) gauging out what they want with those first initial steps of planning where you learn how the process usually starts,” Towns said.

Dr. Ryan McFall, professor of computer science

Not only was Vitalis a learning curve for students but also for the faculty leading the project. “Honestly, the technology we chose I didn’t really know either, and I took it as an opportunity to learn that as well,” says McFall.

The computer science students on the project recognized the privilege they had working with the faculty and used it as a growing, developing, and learning experience. “It helped a lot to see [Dr. McFall] who we all look up to, who is very clearly a lot smarter than us, struggling sometimes. [We realized] he doesn’t always know everything and that knocked us down a peg, too,” Caris said.

Sophomore nursing student Johanna Emmanuel takes vital on a clinical mannequin and records them using Vitalis.

The heft and complexity of it all meant Vitalis got created, tested, and recreated often. Every two weeks, those working on the project would meet with Voskuil and Kragt and others in the nursing department to hear critiques, suggestions as well as approvals. In these meetings, both departments had trouble communicating about the content required on both ends because of the jargon used on either side of the project. In the end, the two groups were able to bridge their communication gap by finding ways to share terminology.

Summer 2018 has come and gone, but the project is a continuous work in progress. In fall 2018, the project was handed off to a group of capstone students. Caris and Towns were able to continue on with additional teammates, senior Haoming Zhang and senior Dane Linsky. In spring of 2019, the project is still evolving and improving.

“One of the reasons we like these projects is because it’s what most people who are developing software have to do once they get out of college,” said McFall.

It’s been applicable for every job I’ve been called in to interview for, Phil Caris said.

Overall, the students and faculty from both departments agreed that developing Vitalis was a positive and beneficial experience. It’s been applicable for every job I’ve been called in to interview for, Caris said. These programs truly do create an experience for the student, preparing them for their “real world” opportunities.

“It was good to experience the workflow of a regular software development process,” said Zhang.

From the nursing department’s perspective, programming with the computer science department is only the beginning of a resourceful partnership. With medical records almost strictly digitized, the need for college nursing software has become vital.

Vitalis could become something that gets used in more than just our school,” Voskuil said. “It is pretty unique.”

New App by Hope Students Provides the Freedom to (Easily) Read

A new web-based, plug-in application created by two Hope students gives those with learning disabilities the means to read online articles at a level that best suits their reading comprehension. The app, called Articulus (meaning “article” in Latin), allows for greater reading understanding and success in school and life. Senior Amber Carnahan and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh, under the supervision of Hope professor, Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science, developed the program during the summer of 2017. Though currently and primarily in use at Black River School in Holland, as a Chrome extension, Articulus is also available to anyone, free, in the Google Chrome Web store.

Senior Amber Carnahan (right) and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh (left) created the app, Articulus, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science.

And it all got started because of a conversation in a grocery store aisle.

“The more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

“I was in Meijer and I ran into a friend (who works with students with learning disabilities),” said Jipping. “And we were chatting and grocery shopping and he said, ‘You know what I would love. I have students who do research online and they always run into web pages that are above their reading level and it’s just so frustrating for them. What we need is a plug-in for Chrome that reduces the reading level of these web pages.’

“At first, I said, ‘Okay, thank you. That’s really hard.’ But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

So Jipping made the project a priority for the Hope Software Institute (HSI). A software development arm of the Department of Computer Science, HSI gives experience to Hope students who are interested in pursuing careers in the software industry while delivering applications to real clients, usually a non-profit organization that could not afford a professional developer.

They wrote code in Java Script and designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

Carnahan, a computer science and English double major, and Gelbaugh, a computer science and international studies double major, were hired by Jipping (yes, HSI pays its student workers!) to tackle the complex work of learning a new programming language to make the English language less complicated. Over the course of the nine-week project, they learned to write code in Java Script and determined how that code interfaced with Chrome and Chrome extensions. They also designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

All of that, though, needed to precursor, a run-up to understanding how reading levels are measured and thus can be changed.

“As soon as we were hired for the summer, and before we started programming, we met with Professor Laura Pardo (of the Department of Education),” says Carnahan. “She gave us a number of reading metrics that showed us the areas in reading where people can get caught off guard. We settled on two…kind of. We worked with those for a while but in the end, we combined the two to develop our own metric… As an English major, I was excited to look at English language problems.”

Dr. Pardo also encouraged the two students to not just consider word and sentence complexity but also visual distractions that can be prevalent on web pages.

“So, we built into our app ways you can toggle images or just remove ads even before they load on the page,” adds Carnahan. “Those are some of the things we looked at as well as sentence length, synonyms options, and grammar.”
Besides working with closely with Dr. Jipping and Dr. Pardo, Carnahan and Gelbaugh also meet with their Black River clients every two weeks to discuss the app’s progress. From prototype to the (mostly) finished project, the feedback has been positive, says Jipping. And not only from Black River. The 2017 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) Midwest was also impressed. At their recent 2017 conference, CCCS honored Carnahan, Gelbaugh, and Jipping with the best poster award.

“I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

Though there are some changes the group would still like to make to the app, for the most part, they are happy with what they created for both technical and humanitarian reasons. Both student developers are delighted they were able to create something that helps others in meaningful, educational ways. Their product tagline — The Freedom to (Easily) Reading ‘Em — sums up what they wanted Articulus to do best.

“This process showed me how we can meet up with people who have a problem and then make things better and in this case, it was with reading,” says Carnahan. “I hope that students can now feel better in class because they are not worrying about falling behind. They can be grasping the content without having to lose as much time.”

“For me, I have a brother who struggled with reading throughout his education,” adds Gelbaugh. “So this was a very personal project for me. I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

CFL and SHI: Partners in Ideas, Innovation and Leadership

A unique and collaborative partnership between Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI) in Grand Rapids and Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership (CFL) is providing opportunities for both parties to glean the benefits that any good partnership seeks to achieve: combining ideas and labor toward reaching desired outcomes. For professionals at SHI, the objective is to create technically-feasible and market-desirable health care products that meet the needs of patients and clinicians alike. For students at Hope, the goals are leadership development and experiential learning. It’s proving to be a win-win association.

“A liberal arts education is a journey that exposes students to different ways of thinking, to different possibilities in education and life.”

CFL students and mentors and SHI ideators and project managers have been working together since 2014 to create better health-care services in interdisciplinary ways. It is this convergence of teaching, learning, innovation, and scholarship that makes CFL and SHI perfect partners. SHI provides the ideas and technical input; CFL students provide the labor and processes to idea validation. To date, more than 70 students with majors in accounting, communication, management, philosophy, engineering, religion and computer science have tackled 10 challenges. The most recent include a schedule software project, a neonatal ETT (Endo-Tracheal Tube) holder project, and a device to load a wheelchair into the trunk of car. Each melds multiple perspectives and breaks down disciplinary boundaries—a demolishing of silos, if you will, that results in these partners doing work on one big idea farm.

A Hope professor’s effort to save his students money has led to a national award. Dr. Steve VanderVeen, professor of management and director of the Center for Faithful Leadership, is one of only eight professors nationwide recognized through the Faculty Recognition Textbook Scholarship Contest coordinated by the Used Textbook Association. He was honored for reducing students’ book-buying costs by choosing to use an earlier edition of a textbook that he feels continues to be just as relevant in the material it presents - pg 17
Dr. Steven VanderVeen, director of Hope’s Center for Faithful Leadership and professor of management

“A liberal arts education is a journey that exposes students to different ways of thinking, to different possibilities in education and life,” says Dr. Steven VanderVeen, director of CFL and professor of management. “Our partnership with SHI is about just that. It gives students from several different majors experiences to discern and develop their gifts and calling on their timelines. They get to learn this in college, not after they graduate. This is what drives CFL.”

The scheduling software project is headed up by Ben Schipper, a communication major and 2015 December Hope grad. Schipper and 12 others—professionals from SHI, CFL mentor Jim Cnossen, along with economics and computer science students—are working to eliminate the time demands associated with manually scheduling patients for numerous specialist appointments for in-patient rehabilitation. Department managers are currently spending hours using an old-school spreadsheet methodology to schedule patients’ therapies, but the new software will automatically generate a patient’s schedule instead. The goal of its creation is to save valuable staff time, time that could be spent otherwise caring for Spectrum Health patients.  Numerous months, meetings, and program iterations later, with assistance from Dr. Ryan McFall of Hope’s computer science department, Schipper and his team are close to auditioning a finished product within the next several weeks.

Ben at SHI with CPSC team
Ben Schipper (standing) leads a Report-Out meeting at SHI

Meanwhile, the neonatal ETT holder team, with assistance from Dr. Roger Veldman of Hope’s engineering department, hopes to debut a prototype by the end of this semester while the wheelchair-loading device team just got started on customer discovery research.

“Hope students have great dedication to their projects,” says Lori  Henry, a project manager at Spectrum Health Innovations. “They are motivated to have an impact to create real-life solutions. The highlight of the semester for me is hearing them present their findings at the report-out (a culminating presentation). I see their passion and it makes me excited about what we do.”

Hope is one of four colleges and universities in the region that partner with SHI. Each semester, VanderVeen meets with SHI leaders to determine if CFL will renew or exit the partnership. To each partners’ delight, the computer science and engineering departments have become directly involved with SHI, too.

“In the end, these collaborations are all about patients and people.”

“Regardless of the project,” says Scott Daigger, manager at SHI, “we focus on a couple goals. We want to work together with our college teams to find viable solutions to the ideas we have. That is foremost for us. We also want to help solve bigger problems that could benefit health care as a whole.”

“We’re educating students so they know what their gifts are,” says VanderVeen of CFL goals. “How do you know if you are good at something? You get involved and find out. It is the discernment of gifts and calling, alongside leadership integrity, that this partnership is all about.”

While many projects fail to move from idea to finished solution—supporting the statistic that less than 10% of all new notions actually see a validated end—the CFL-SHI partnership provides a 100% great experience rate for all parties involved.

Concludes Lori Henry, “In the end, these collaborations are all about patients and people.”

Hope Shares Talent at ArtPrize

Four Hope College faculty and staff members — two musicians, a dancer, and a Lego artist — plus numerous Hope student viewers, some of whom attend as part of their social work course, will be among the many participating in ArtPrize, the “radically open, independently organized, international art competition” held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, annually.

Dr. Charles Cusack’s entry: Latin Squared Square. Photo credit: Steve Nelson, Hope College Art and Art History Department

ArtPrize opened its 2015 collection of more than 1,500 works yesterday. Now in its seventh year, the competition offers its artists and viewers an unconventional and intriguing way to discuss what art is and why it matters. The highly communal artworks, which are voted on by judges and the public alike, will remain on display throughout the downtown Grand Rapids area until Sunday, Oct. 11.

Dr. Charles Cusack, associate professor of computer science, has been a Lego enthusiast since he was a young boy. Now he’s putting that enthusiasm on display with Latin Squared Square, a 38” x 38” piece of two different types of combinatorial objects constructed with Legos. Located in the B.O.B, Cusack’s work is a simple, perfect square that has been squared. A Latin square is a grid in which every cell is a certain color (or shape or number) and every row and every column contains each color exactly once (like Sudoku). Cusack says the work took him over a year-and-a-half to conceive and create as he wrote computer algorithms to achieve his desired Latin square effect and spent much time shopping online to track down the Lego pieces he needed. “It’s harder to find pieces of specific Lego than you would think,” says Cusack, who admits he never thought of himself as an artist but has toyed with the idea of an ArtPrize submission for years. “Lego has to be one of the most expensive mediums, too,” he says, especially when those pieces are carefully and colorfully selected and arranged in a specialized, mathematical way.

Professor Angie Yetzke, assistant professor of dance, and Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship music in Campus Ministries, along with Pj Maske of Urban Garden Performing Arts, are uniting their talents to present a collaborative production entitled “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia.” The piece is a hybrid work of movement-based theatre and live music. “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia” is a critique of the historical American notion of Manifest Destiny, which asks “questions about collective cultural identity and memory,” explains Maske. “When popular art and culture blindly romanticize the past, how do we own the truth of a (troubling) history?” It will be performed at the Amway Grand Plaza‘s outdoor patio on the northwest corner, on Saturday, Sept 26 and Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1:30, 2:00, 3:00 and 3:30 pm.

Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered “New Hope” in 2015 ArtPrize. Photo credit: Juan Daniel Castro

Professor Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered an electronic keyboard improvisation piece in ArtPrize. “New Hope” was first commissioned by Julia Randel of the Hope College Music Department for the opening of the new Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts on campus this fall. Talaga says he created the celebratory work “on my home computer by layering successive tracks until I ended up with a result I liked.” Randel likes it too. “What I especially enjoy about the piece is that it evokes so many different sounds and styles, so it suggests the broad range of what we do in the music department,” she explains. “Being an electronic piece, it has ‘newness,’ but it also connects with multiple traditions coming together in our building.” The eight-minute piece is accessible to listen to through the ArtPrize website and via listening stations at St. Cecilia Music Center.

Students in Dr. Deb Sturtevant’s Social Interventions III class attend ArtPrize as a vital component of their coursework. In the gallery that is three-square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, senior-level social work students witness how art can revitalize organizations and communities, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. Sturtevant, professor of social work, has used ArtPrize since its inception as a vehicle to convey that the macro-practices of social work are “not just about soup kitchens.” Her students attend ArtPrize each year to see how art, especially in the Heartside Ministries and Avenue of the Arts neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, is created and viewed by those who might be homeless, for instance. “Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly,” she says. “Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” Her students must talk with the artists and viewers as well as simply observe. And while paper-writing and vote-casting are required, Sturtevant’s students come away from ArtPrize with an even greater realization that art provides value to communities beyond its beauty on a wall or in a park. They find art and ArtPrize informs and transforms artists and observers, neighborhoods and friends.

“Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly. Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” — Dr. Deb Sturtevant

If you’re heading to ArtPrize over the next few weeks, be sure to check out the entries created by members of the Hope community!