Building beautiful things

At Yale, Amy Cohen found an outlet for her love of math and design in mechanical engineering, while still making time for drawing, baking, and more.

Amy Cohen (Photo by David Liebowitz)

Drop in on Amy Cohen and chances are you’ll find her creating something beautiful: an architectural frame, a laser-cut puzzle, a strawberry cake, an oil painting. The mechanical engineering student’s online portfolio also displays a music box, a ceramic bowl, even a menorah made of hex nuts.

My grandfather bought me an Erector Set when I was little — sort of foreshadowing that I’ve always loved making things,” said Cohen. 

A native of Gainesville, Florida, Cohen chose her major because it combined math and design — “two things I really like.” While completing a professionally accredited track with a near-perfect GPA, she worked with the acclaimed, woman-owned Hatfield Group as a structural engineering intern, designing steel-and-wood architectural frames and researching environmental and building codes.

Recognizing her enthusiasm for the field, the mechanical engineering department chose her as an undergraduate representative for committee and recruitment work.

It’s a small major — we’ve all had many classes together, so I’d say it feels like family,” Cohen said. “And I'm lucky to have several professors who have really taken an interest in helping me far beyond what was required in their class.”

Throughout her engineering education, Cohen also set aside time for creative work. She created quilled paper sculptures while learning from home during the pandemic’s early months. Back on campus, she used the architecture software AutoCAD to create a model of New York’s Lincoln Center, designed magazine covers, and joined her roommates in a bake-off (strawberry cake!).

For her electives, she chose art classes, taking field trips to draw and paint at places like the Yale Farm, where she captured velvety lamb’s-ears in shimmering green oils. (This and Cohen’s other creative work can be seen at her online portfolio.)

She perched in a hallway window in Malone Engineering Center to get a good view of her residential college, Benjamin Franklin College, located across the intersection. The result, an intricate graphite drawing of the college, now hangs over the fireplace in its common room.

The new colleges are so beautiful, and they don't have as much — well, they don't have any history,” she said. “So I made some old-timey drawings of them.”

Music is also important to Cohen, a classically trained singer who enjoys performing musical-theatre and classical duets with her boyfriend, a pianist. While at Yale, she’s thrived on the opportunity to make connections not only in her chosen field of study, but across schools and disciplines, and to grow both academically and artistically. She is part of a group advocating for the inclusion of a music room in new engineering buildings on Science Hill (an effort to which she also contributed a hand-lettered logo).

There are so many amazing musicians here who I've had the chance to interact with,” Cohen said. “I’ve really benefited from having the music school and the art school here.”

After graduation, Cohen is planning a pivot from engineering to architecture; she will begin as a designer with Apicella + Bunton Architects in New Haven. But she won’t be all work and no play.

I try to leave a lot of free time so that I can fill it with other things that are important to me, like my own projects, or spending time with people,” Cohen said. “The people here, their diversity of interests, I’ve just loved.”

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