Valpo Engineering Student Explores Passion for Music

A mechanical engineering major, music minor, and member of Christ College—The Honors College, Alison Norris ’18 has forged her own path at Valpo, incorporating her love for music into an arduous academic schedule.20160922-jlh-music-quintet-007

“I chose to attend Valparaiso University for countless reasons — my mother’s alma mater, premier engineering program, and endless opportunity,” Alison says. “At Valpo, I have not only been able to explore my interests, I have been encouraged and inspired to do so.”

As an engineering major, Alison finds herself continually challenged and motivated to excel both inside and outside the classroom. When confronted with scholastic obstacles, she looks to her professors for guidance, relying on the close faculty-interaction that is a hallmark of a Valpo education. Through internships, research, and service, she has gained extensive, valuable hands-on experience in real-world situations.

Alison was connected with Valpo alumnus Scott Roller ’94, vice president of Texas Instruments (TI), who helped her obtain a summer internship at TI, where she honed her communication skills in a professional engineering setting and developed coding skills using the programming language Python.

Stepping outside engineering, Alison was a member of the Symphonic Orchestra her first three years on campus. She took initiative to create her own woodwind quintet, comprised of all STEM majors. Joining Alison (who plays the flute) are Brian Thomson ’17, math major, clarinet; Timothy Henderson ’20, electrical engineering major, oboe; Sarah Kuchel ’19, electrical engineering major, bassoon; and Janelle Wigal ’18, electrical engineering major, French horn.

Currently in its second year, the STEM Quintet has made notable appearances across campus. Most recently, the group was invited to play for the College of Engineering’s National Council meeting. They also performed pre-concert music for the Christmas concert and played in Abendmusik, the music department’s largest and exclusive chamber music performance.

20160922-jlh-music-quintet-009“As I’ve gotten to know Alison, it has become evident that she has multiple interests, often feeling compelled to pursue one or the other,” says Peter Johnson, department chair and associate professor of mechanical engineering. “In order to connect her interests, I enlisted Alison to work alongside me on a research project this fall. She possesses the engineering tools and strong musical background to really excel in this endeavor.”

The research requires Alison to write computer code that randomly generates sample pieces of music. Alison is challenged with the task of writing code that will determine when one piece of music is better than another piece of music. Through her program, Alison assigns a “fitness” value to each sample of music and feeds it different criteria that will improve their fitness value.

“Throughout my Valpo journey, I have had the privilege of working closely with professors who not only know my name, but know my strengths and weakness and guide me accordingly,” Alison says. “This research experience is the perfect opportunity for me as it combines everything I love — computer coding, composing, and music theory.”