Dance + Civil Engineering = Senior Andrew Niedbala

From his hometown of Sterling Heights, Michigan, to Hope, to Australia, to France, and then back to Holland, Michigan, Andrew Niedbala has been dancing his way around the world for a few years now as a dance major. But dance is not the only thing this senior does. He also majors in civil engineering.

It’s an academic combination rarely put together. One an art form, the other an applied science. But Niedbala couldn’t see doing one without the other. As a double major in each, he pursues two creative passions and taps into each side of his brain. And as he does, in many ways, his two seemingly-opposite pursuits become more similar than different.

“They are both creative fields and force you to deal with the physical reality of the things around you and within you.”

“Both fields ask you to solve problems and there is a lot of gray area,” Niedbala says. “However, they feed off of each other very nicely, allowing creativity from dance’s freedom into engineering and the more concrete problem-solving of engineering into dance. They are both creative fields and force you to deal with the physical reality of the things around you and within you.”

Niedbala landed at Hope College in the fall of 2015 planning to major only in engineering while continuing to feed his love for dance through co-curricular opportunities. “That’s the nice thing about Hope,” he says. “Even if you don’t major or minor in something, you can still take those classes.”

The switch from a single major to a double major happened about halfway through his college career. Being involved in Strike Time Dance Co. — Hope’s interactive performance group for children — and H-2 Dance Co. — Hope’s pre-professional repertory group — Niedbala began to face a reality he didn’t initially see coming. He wanted more from dance than he was getting solely as an engineering major. Performing for children created a new passion that hadn’t existed to him before.

In Strike Time

“There is something so genuine about performing for a young audience,” Niedbala says. “With an audience familiar with dance, there are expectations of what the art is supposed to look like, but with children, you can just move for movement’s sake and witness the wonder in their eyes.”

In Dance 45

Niedbala’s favorite dance performance, though, came while performing in Dance 45 this past spring. In “Chair Study Two,” choreographed by Hope dance professor Linda Graham, he was challenged and inspired. The piece is performed while moving on or around two chairs in complete unison and interaction with a partner.  The nuanced and stimulating artistry in this piece captivated Niedbala as he worked to perfect connected movement, making two bodies seem unified and cohesive in opposite chairs.

As a result of all his dance world exposure and dedication (he also performed with Strike Time in Australia), Niedbala has proved himself in the dance department to be immensely gifted to his craft.

Andrew celebrates the opportunity to take in knowledge and ways of knowing,” says dance professor Nicki Flinn. “His openness and inquiry is evident in all he does. Andrew’s work ethic and drive to make connections among subject areas, while sharing different perspectives, makes teaching and learning with him fun.”

Aside from his dance companies and dance classes, Niedbala has another major project on the other side of campus in the engineering department. As a civil engineering major, he has been working on his senior project which involves creating systems of energy optimization in a 1940s house in Coldwater, Michigan.

This Coldwater home where Niedbala worked on his senior engineering project.

Civil engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector. The goal then of Niedbala’s project was to make the Coldwater house more energy efficient without changing the structure of the home so as to keep its historical build and character. From working with solar panels to geothermal energy, Niedbala and his group have offered solutions to make this house more efficient and sustainable as possible.

Niedbala, right, and his civil engineering team in Coldwater

Andrew is very easy-going but at the same time a very hard worker,” says Dr. Courtney Peckens, assistant professor of engineering. “It is a lot of work to balance two majors, especially with one of them being engineering, but he makes it look relatively easy.”

And Peckens was often reminded that Niedbala was fully engaged in both. How?

“One of the things that I will remember most about Andrew is that he always carries around a rather large container of water which probably holds at least 30 ounces,” she recalls. “Maybe this is a typical thing for dancers, but it is a fairly unique accessory for engineers. I taught him every day for two years and don’t think that I ever saw him without the same container.”

After graduation on May 5, Niedbala is excited to start studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam in the fall as well as gearing up for summer dance performances in France as part of the Paris May term with Hope College. More auditions of the dancing kind will follow in the near future. As for the engineering kind, Niedbala says he’ll wait and see. Right now, he is eager to set out into the “real” world and engineer a career in dance.

Uncommon Class on Common Grounds

It’s the second-leading commodity traded in the world after oil, with a worldwide consumption of 2.2 billion cups per day. And, the United States is its leading consumer at 400 million cups daily. Yet, few people are aware of the scientific, political, historical and cultural implications swirling inside their cup of morning joe.

This is not the case for Hope students who take Dr. Tom Bultman’s new class, The Science and Culture of Coffee. They are getting a thoroughly flavorful education about everything they ever needed or wanted to know about coffee.

True scientific experiments are conducted using coffee as the vehicle to construct hypotheses, make predictions, collect data and evaluate outcomes.

Angelique Gaddy measures the acidity of coffee using a pH meter.

Offered for the first time this spring, Bultman’s two-credit coffee course is just one of two of its kind taught at colleges and universities in the U.S. as far as he can tell (the other is offered at UC-Davis). While there are dozens of barista schools in the country that teach their students how to roast, grind and brew the perfect cup of coffee, this new class for college credit goes much deeper than that. True scientific experiments are conducted using coffee as the vehicle to construct hypotheses, make predictions, collect data and evaluate outcomes. How do acidity levels change in beans due to varying roasting times? What happens to the mass transfer of water and grounds during the brewing process? What is the anatomy of a coffee cherry fruit and how are beans harvested from within?

There are history lessons, too, about the global trade of the Coffea arabica beans and bush — a plant native to Ethiopia that helped create early agricultural routes throughout the sub-tropical world.  Bultman, a professor of biology, also covers ground on the way coffee affects national economies, personal health and policies on fair trade and human rights. And knowing how much college students love their coffee for its social and caffeinated benefits, Bultman’s course is listed under Hope’s General Education Math and Science offerings which target non-science majors. It’s gives its pupils one truly eye-opening experience.

“This class has definitely increased my appreciation of coffee, especially in the roasting of it,” says sophomore Sarah Kalthoff of Carmel, Indiana. “I see all of the work and love that goes into the process. Coffee really brings people together throughout the world and I now recognized that when I go to a coffee shop here. So many people around the world — farmers, families, fair traders — are affected by the cup of coffee I’m drinking so it’s been great to see how coffee brings cultures together.”

From left to right. Sarah Lundy, Kirsten Kettler, and Savanah Stewart roast green coffee beans using a air popcorn popper, tin can, cooking thermometer, and iPhone timers. Coffee chaff from the roasting surrounds the popper.

Students in the class roast green coffee beans nine times during its half-semester schedule, using makeshift roasters that consist of an air popcorn popper, a tin can, and a small cooking thermometer. As the chaff from the beans pops like confetti from the contraptions’ tops during the roasting process, the lab becomes the best smelling classroom on campus. Students monitor the time, temperature, color and odor of the beans. Then later, they’ll brew and drink their roasted creations, experiencing the process of “cupping” to learn to how to discern and evaluate the taste of flavor notes — chocolate, butterscotch, molasses, raisin, for example — that are subtle but evident in good beans.

Gerrit Immink cools his beans.

As if getting free morning coffee isn’t benefit enough (the course is offered at 9:30 am on Tuesday and Thursdays), Bultman even sets aside a class period for his students to learn how to create their own coffee mug in Hope’s ceramics studio under the guest tutelage of art professor Billy Mayer. Field trips to area businesses that roast and retail are also on the course syllabus.

Not surprisingly, this class on coffee has grown in popularity quickly. It’s been full to the brim each time it’s been offered (twice thus far) and the buzz around campus is that more students are clamoring to get in.

In this class, because all of us drink coffee, the knowledge is applicable to us. And we’re taking a class we’d never expect to take in college. This class to me is the definition of a liberal arts education.”

“It’s been a blast,” say the middle-aged Bultman who took up drinking coffee just three years ago and now admits to being a coffee geek. “Everyone who enrolls drinks coffee so it means something to them. And so many students don’t think about where coffee comes from or how it’s grown or brewed, it’s just one of those things we easily take for granted. Now they are more appreciative of all the work that goes into coffee before they sit down and drink a cup.”

“I technically didn’t have to take this class because all of my science requirements were done but when I saw the poster about it, I knew I had to take it,” comments junior communication major Sarah Gallagher of Chicago, Illinois. “A lot of college students who are not science majors say science and math classes are impractical to their lives but in this class, because all of us drink coffee, the knowledge is applicable to us. And we’re taking a class we’d never expect to take in college. This class to me is the definition of a liberal arts education.”