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Senior Spotlight: Natalie Pellette finds art in civil engineering

Faith Zhang / Thresher

By Chiara Moretti     11/7/23 11:14pm

Artist, architect, engineer, rock climber and Pub general manager — Natalie Pellette nearly does it all. A Hanszen College senior majoring in studio art and civil engineering, Pellette has immersed herself in various academics and activities at Rice, though she didn’t have a typical start here. Hailing from San Diego, she first attended Scripps College, a liberal arts school in Claremont, Calif. before transferring to Rice. 

Pellette said she decided to transfer to Rice in 2020 for their engineering program — something that was more difficult for her to study at Scripps. However, she said Rice also gave her a new sense of direction and helped rediscover her commitment to art as well. 

“Art was the piece I was missing … in seeing my overall interests and life direction,” Pellette said. “I think I needed art to help me figure out what about civil engineering was interesting to me.”

At Rice, Pellette said she realized how art was intertwined with and enriched her other interests, deciding to add the VADA major shortly after transferring.

“Before I thought about [art] as supplementary to other stuff, [it was just] something to keep me sane and exercise the creative part of my brain,” Pellette said. “But as I started taking more classes [and] talking to the professors, I think I got a lot more confidence and realized how important it was to me in my life if I needed to take the classes to stay sane.”

This unusual major combination is a way for Pellette to foster both of her interests. As a “spatial-visual” person, she assesses the close connection between the two. 

“The way that they [engineering and art] connect for me in my head … they both exist in space. When I think about engineering problems and I think about creating art, I feel like they’re in the same realm to me,” Pellette said. 

In addition to visual art and engineering, Pellette said she also has a strong interest in architecture. Even before coming to Rice, Pellette considered pursuing architecture and was attracted to Rice’s program. 

“I wouldn’t even say I’m doing engineering and art to get to architecture. I had an interest in engineering and art and maybe the way they connect is directly through architecture, but I’m interested in all three,” said Pellette. 

Upon graduation, Pellette plans to go to graduate school for architecture, though she said she wants to work for a year or two first to hone her interests. She is currently interested in conducting research while using her background in civil engineering. 

“That part of architecture is what I’m most drawn to … [is] less on working for a firm and designing buildings and more studying the theory [and researching the boundaries] of architecture and civil engineering and how understanding that relationship better can help both fields function better together and more sustainably,” said Pellette. 

Pellette said her time at Rice has also been fulfilling through building community within various extracurriculars. Pellete’s history as a competitive rock climber in high school led her to work for Rice’s Outdoor Adventure Center, and she is also the general manager of Pub. 

“I really believe that [Rice] is one of the happiest campuses … people really work to form communities here, and they put a lot of care and effort into the things they’re involved in,” Pellette said. “I also manage the Pub on campus and that’s something that cannot exist anywhere else because Rice students are the ones that make it happen.”

Similar to Pellette’s academic journey, her artistic interests are also unique. Although she tends to focus on sculpting, she does not limit herself to a particular form of art. From taking photography courses and creating short films, her artistic philosophy shines through. 

“Naturally, I tend to work in sculpture. But I think when I say that most people think of clay or maybe like chiseling a statue … but [sculpting] is not really like that. It’s like wood and concrete and sometimes paper. It’s all kinds of materials,” Pellette said. “I’m definitely not limited to any one medium for the future. I’m never gonna say I’m not gonna paint or I’m not gonna work in photography … Rice’s program exposes you to all different kinds of art-making.”

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