Alex Philpott headshot

Alumni Interviews

Juliet Schleffer (LAE 2017-2019) joins our podcast host Jack Morin to discuss her life and creative work since graduation.

Paul Giessner

participated in Living ArtsEngine 2012-2016

Degrees: Bachelor’s and Master’s in Electrical Engineering and Bachelor’s in Organ Performance from the  University of Michigan

Current Employment: Power Systems Engineer at ANZA Renewables

Excerpt from an interview with Karl Ronneburg 

What have you been doing since graduation?  I graduated with my master’s in electrical engineering in 2018. After that, I took a job at an engineering consulting firm called MPR Associates out of the Washington, DC. area. I worked there from 2018 to 2021 during the pandemic. Obviously, a lot of people were reevaluating things with their lives, and I wanted to move back to Michigan. I ended up finding a new opportunity that allowed me to work remotely. And that’s the company I’m still with today, Anza Renewables, a Solar and energy storage company. We’ve gone through some different evolutions, starting as an Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) company which is basically companies that construct solar and energy storage facilities. Now we’re more focused on software platform/integration and procurement services. My role at Anza is as Power Systems Engineer. So, I’m focused on the design and comparison of different inverter products and different equipment that takes DC energy from either photovoltaic (PV) solar or energy storage and converts it to AC energy. I’m very much in the energy engineering world. That’s where I found my passion and excitement and I’m really enjoying it.

Why did you decide to join the Living ArtsEngine Alumni board? Living Arts holds such a special place in my heart and my life. Coming to college… It’s a new and challenging experience for a lot of people. Also, I was homeschooled in high school, and I think that it made it even more of a change for me. I feel like I had a community of people that were like-minded. They like exploring and playing and designing and being creative and being nerdy and wonky in cool and fun ways.  I think there’s just something about the people that are drawn to Living Arts, the programming itself and the people that created such an incredible experience for me. As I was a musician, I studied pipe organ performance, so I had both music and engineering going at the same time as an undergrad. Being able to meet people in both those spaces and live with them and work on projects with them just built really strong ties. So, I wanted to give back to the program that gave a lot to me during my first few years as an undergraduate.

Tell us more about your musical experiences since graduation. I’ve not played pipe organ as much since graduating, but definitely more on the piano side. I’ve done quite a bit with accompanying people like my wife Ali in a variety of performances and a few other smaller things here and there. One cooler thing I have done that is keyboard oriented was participating in a group called the Regenerate Orchestra. There are actually some former Living Arts members that are involved with that. It’s a cool kind of community orchestra that’s based roughly in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti. I’ve performed in that a couple of times as a keyboardist. It’s mostly ambient music and a very different kind of performance based mostly on timing. So, everybody uses a stopwatch or phone, to start a timer, and then, at different points in time you change your sounds and the performance unfolds more broadly.  It’s not the typical classical music that I learned in college, but it’s a lot of fun.  I’m always open to new musical experiences and trying to perform. 

Did the experience you had in Living Arts impact you professionally? Some might say, oh, well, you’re not pursuing the music side as much and that that’s the more creative side. I think it’s a little more complicated than that, because I think what Living Arts showed me is that your life can be embedded with these types of experiences. Just earlier today, Ali and I signed up to do a music performance for an adult care facility for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, so music is still a huge part of my life. From a career perspective, I think what Living Arts showed me is to really explore the options that you have available. As an engineer, I want to do things that come up with creative solutions and interesting approaches to benefit all of society. And there’s not, in my view, many better ways to do that than the energy system or the electricity systems and I think Living Arts has helped me kind of think about all the different ways that engineering and creativity more broadly, can impact people’s lives.

Is there anything you’d like to share? One of the things that’s been a bigger part of my life recently has been getting involved in the political domain and doing political advocacy work and campaigning.  That started in 2022 when I moved back to Michigan and did a bunch of door knocking and campaigning and stuff like that, and I really enjoyed it. This year some folks locally have convinced me to run for County Commissioner up here in Livingston County. It’s a new experience, a new opportunity and it’s something I really enjoy. I think it’s a really cool way to connect to a community and understand the local issues and challenges that are going on.

The Living ArtsEngine (LAE) Alumni Podcast is a new ArtsEngine program created to give past LAE participants an opportunity to share their experiences since graduation. This may include their career, educational path, personal projects or just life in general. In this podcast, host Jack Morin, a senior in SMTD, interviews our first guest, Clayton Zimmerman who participated in Living ArtsEngine 2015-2017.

Alex Philpott headshot

Alex Philpott

participated in Living ArtsEngine 2015-2017

Degrees: Bachelor’s and Master’s in Aerospace Engineering from University of Michigan
Current Employment: Working in mission operations for human space flight.

Alex Philpott is currently based in Los Angeles, where his job allows him to develop the technology used to send people to space. Alex says that for him, this job is very much oriented around web design. He did both degrees at the University of Michigan, and was involved with the freshman and peer mentor programs in LAE. Looking back on these years, Alex says “It certainly made my 4 years at Michigan a lot richer and I made lifelong friends.” He still keeps in touch with the people he met in our program, and was recently able to connect with some fellow LAE alumni in Los Angeles. Alex, like many other Living ArtsEngine alum, found the community aspect to be the most memorable part of his time here. He particularly remembers his first football game with Living ArtsEngine friends as a freshman. This was a new and confusing experience that was made into a fun weekly tradition by the LAE community.

Alex shared another favorite memory as well: his winning freshman- year CCP, which took place in Minecraft. They created an interactive mountain- climbing experience that allowed players to explore the journeys of others on their way to the summit. Alex has found that many of the creative and collaborative skills learned here with Living Arts translate directly into his work in mission operations. Such extensive projects require that he collaborate with many different people in many different specialties to create the tools needed for the mission. As for the future, Alex is not totally sure what is in store, but hopes to spend a little more time in LA, then eventually move back to his home state of Colorado someday.
Camille Charara headshot

Camille Charara

participated in Living ArtsEngine 2012-2014

Degrees: Bachelor’s in Art and Costume Design from the University of Michigan
Current Employment: Freelance costume designer, Master’s student and teacher at NYU Tisch.
Camille is a self- described “maker by nature”, who found her passion for costume design during her time here at Living ArtsEngine. She was an art major with a focus on wearables until her friend and fellow LAE member, Kayleigh convinced her to take a costuming class. The rest is history! After finishing her undergraduate, Camille did some work as a freelance designer and became a designer and instructor at University of Michigan SMTD, where she costumed 10 productions. During the pandemic, she worked as a commission- based artist painting on silk. She is drawn to costume design because of its deeply creative nature that allows her to explore travel, technology, problem solving, use of different mediums and techniques, and much more.  
Currently she is a masters student at New York University, where she studies costume design, teaches undergraduate students, and helps realize the designs of others. In her interview, Camille said she still keeps in touch with her LAE friends both personally and professionally. “Some of my best friends are from Living Arts.”, she shared. Some of her favorite memories are in the Creative Suite, fueling her “jack- of- all- trades” mind, and collaborating with friends. She even helped start an art collective with some friends from the program. Camille said that Living ArtsEngine and other MLCs “make such a large University smaller, so you can really have a space that feels like home.” After she graduates NYU in 2024, Camille will continue her journey as a designer, hopefully getting the opportunity to travel and to teach.
Karl Ronneburg headshot

Karl Ronneburg

participated in Living ArtsEngine 2013-2014

Excerpt from an interview with Karl Ronneburg 
Karl will present the premiere of his Chamber-Rock Opera “The Precipice” On Saturday April 29, 8:00 pm and Sunday April 30, 2:00 pm at the Riverside Arts Center Theatre in Ypsilanti.
Right now are you living in New York? That’s right.
When did you attend UM and participate in the Living ArtsEngine program? What degree did you receive? I did my undergrad in percussion performance, and I was there from 2013 to 2016 and participated in Living Arts (Engine) during the 2013 to ’14 school year.
What did you pursue after leaving UM? Straight after I graduated in 2017, I went to grad school for composition at The New School, Mannes School of Music in New York. And I did my master’s there working with Missy Mazzoli who was my professor and I’ve been in New York ever since.

Grad school was an excuse to move to New York, but still, it was a great, also a chance to hone the compositional skills a little bit, get some formal training there. And then I started freelancing as a composer and percussionist here in the city, and I’m in the contemporary classical, experimental world a little bit.

Just over a year ago, I started working full-time at the Met Opera and I’m working as the assistant for new works commissions and dramaturgy. I work for the guy who’s the head of new works commissions and he’s the dramaturge, it’s one of those weird terms that means a lot of different things to every different theater. Basically what we do is we work with all the composers and librettists that the Met is commissioning and working with and help develop their shows.

We bring their shows from beginning to life on the stage, and we facilitate the workshops and give them feedback on drafts. And we also oversee the super titles for new productions. It’s been a wild job. I’ve really been learning a lot and getting into opera at that scale. New opera at that scale is a little different from the DIY type opera stuff that I’ve been getting up to with my friends. But it’s great to have that bridge in my life, an opportunity to see how things are working at that scale.

What initially attracted you to the interdisciplinary aspects of the Living ArtsEngine Program? How did this play out in terms of your overall experience in the program? Yeah, absolutely. I grew up outside of Seattle, in Redmond, Washington, which is the town that the Microsoft headquarters is in. And so my dad and a lot of my other friends’ parents worked in the tech industry in Seattle and the area. And so, growing up, there was always a, “I’m doing all this music stuff, but maybe I should just go to engineering school.” In high school, I was taking computer science classes and doing some things with electronics and some engineering … I was on the robotics team in my high school, for example.

There was some interest in being around people who weren’t just musicians and people who were engaged in those, as the Living Arts brochure I think, said, “Making disciplines.” And so that was one of the things that attracted me to the program is that I would be around engineers and artists and architects and others from the School of Music, Theater & Dance that would help. It seemed like a good place to go and find people who were interested in doing stuff that was cross-discipline and collaborative.

Would you say that being in a dorm with students from different creative backgrounds had any impact on you as a musician and the work that you create? It’s interesting. I only realized this many years later when I had moved to New York. But one of the things I think being a percussionist prepared me to do, or maybe trained me to do, was to approach lots of different disciplines with a methodical and technique-based approach.

[As a] Percussionist, you have to be able to play all these different instruments and being able to pick up something new and try and learn how to make music out of it. It turns out those kind of skills, like physical coordination and timing, in a lot of ways opened me up to be able to get into the worlds of dance and the world of performance art. And then, just doing stuff with technology. Percussion is so contemporary-focused and world music-focused. There’s drums from all over the world. And so a lot of those things were part of my percussion education as far as electronics and new music, contemporary music, and music from all around the world.

There’s a microcosm of interdisciplinary-ness just within the world of percussion. And so coming into the Living Arts thing and being like, “Oh, I can do dance and theater and apply some of these other skills to engineering , it felt very natural to really start expanding into those directions and really exciting…….when I got my acceptance brochure and they were like, “Check out these living communities,” something about that resonated.

As someone who’s walked through the university pathway in Music, what piece of advice could you give that student, say in their freshman year? I think the main one is to go to stuff. I encourage students to go to as many things as they can without maybe overwhelming themselves. There’s a lot of work to do –­ But to go to your friends’ shows, go to those wacky performance art parties, go to what’s happening down in the [Living ArtsEngine]lounge. Go to what UMS is bringing to Michigan because they’re bringing some of the best artists from all over the world. Go to your friends’ recitals and concerts and show openings and competitions and plays and as many things as you can. And talk to them about it and maybe do stuff of your own if you feel up to it.