#SoCaltech: Hillary Mushkin

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Hillary Mushkin is a research professor of art and design in mechanical and civil engineering, who says her focus is on teaching creative critical thinking to budding engineers and scientists.

As an artist working and collaborating with nonartists, I continually ask the question, "What is the role of the artist in society?" One role is to be a conceptual thinker, to be a provocative thinker, to be somebody who does not necessarily think with utility in mind but who thinks outside of that and can push the margins of how we expect things to function. I encourage scientists and engineers to think similarly. Creative thinking is often risky and impractical at first. It may, in the end, solve a problem, but it's not because you started off that way. Sometimes it was because you were starting off thinking in a much more blue-sky way about, "What kinds of ridiculous things can we do with this?" or "What kinds of possibilities are there for critiquing the way technologies are currently used in culture?"

#SoCaltech is an occasional series celebrating the diverse individuals who give Caltech its spirit of excellence, ambition, and ingenuity. Know someone we should profile? Send nominations to magazine@caltech.edu.