Jonathan Bessette

Jonathan Bessette

U.S.-U.K. Fulbright winner Jonathan Bessette, combines his love of engineering and art, in his education.

You are a mechanical engineering major with a minor in studio art - that is a really interesting combination. How did you discover those passions?

It started in high school, I did a lot of art. I’ve always been really passionate about that field and I didn’t want to lose touch with that when I when I was going through engineering. I really had a passion for looking at things differently and looking at things from a different perspective … I think it makes you unique in a way. It [art] can be a really nice break from all of the core engineering classes and keeps a mindset of creativity.

What clubs and activities are you involved in on campus?

Right now, I’m involved in the Design of Open Engineering Systems (DOES) lab. There, I’m working on some data analysis for this "cyber empathic chair design," [where] we’re combining server data and sensor data [in order to] figure out physiological and psychological constructs of the mind, and how those can relate to the users perception of buying a chair. How can we figure out why people do or don’t like a product based on sensors and their answers.

I’m still involved Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), which is very fun too. Outside of that, I play soccer and volleyball.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Honestly, my mom. She’s very hardworking, she works to maintain a family. She’s a single mom with myself and my sister. She works really hard and still [has time] to cook and clean. She gets up at 4 or 5 a.m. to go to work, gets out at 3 p.m. to pick my sister up from school and then works on the house. I think she’s always very determined and optimistic. She’s probably my biggest inspiration.

What keeps you motivated?

The possibility of there being something, the chance of creating something unique. Pushing yourself to be distinct. Getting to the point where you have the ability to help people with certain resources you’ve gained.

Tell me about the fellowships that you have applied for and won?

I applied for and won the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright. That was a fantastic time. It happened this past summer, I got the opportunity to travel to Scotland. I worked with two universities: a tech school, University of Strathclyde, and an art school, the Glasgow School of Art … I got to combine my interests and travel all over Scotland. I got to talk to amazing people. The [conversations with] local people was probably one of the best things that came from that [experience].

What was the process of applying for the Fulbright like for you?

It was really daunting at first. I looked at the application and it was very intimidating. I was like, “I don’t know if I can get this done.” I started over winter break, working really hard on it. I was doing essay after essay, just revising. Then I started emailing Meg [Stewart], she helped me out a ton. We started emailing back and forth, and she would send me comments. When school started back up, I went to her office two or three times and just kept revising to make it better. Eventually, I brought [an essay] in and she sat down with me and said, “I think you might be ready.” Later that night, I looked it over again and hit submit. It was a great feeling to have it done and I felt really proud of what I submitted.

What do you think set your application apart?

I think [my] passion and honesty. I was trying to articulate that I was a different person then what they had seen before. Just trying to bring out those idiosyncratic facets of yourself, I think that was the most important thing in my application, just trying to be true to yourself.

Do you think your background in both engineering and art helped?

I definitely do. The institute was technology, innovation and creativity. So, on the technology side, I’m an engineering student, on the creativity side, I’m also a minor in studio art. I think that definitely set me apart, having that diversity and perspective, trying to bridge the gap between two very separate fields.

What are your academic or career goals?

Part of me wants to go for a master's in engineering, but part of me wants to go for a bachelor's in fine arts, in [either] industrial design or product design. After going to the [art] institute and after thinking about big picture things, part of me gets worried about getting stuck on little details. I want to work on big picture things. When Apple puts out a product, for instance, they influence so many people. If I were to contribute to something like that or invent something new … that would be really rewarding.

Could you share some advice for students who want to go for various awards?

I would say, be true to yourself. It’s hard to talk about yourself, so ask people around you who you are and what they think of you. Pick out those peculiarities and articulate those, because they are what make you unique. Never be afraid to apply. Always, always apply. Take the time, it’s worth it in the end. It’s always worth it to write about yourself, because in the end, you [get to] identify who you are and that’s one of the most difficult things in life.

Interview with Jonathan Bessette conducted on February 22, 2018 by Deanna Buley.