Majoring in engineering seemed to be a no-brainer for Matthew Bourjaily. As a 15-year-old high schooler in Grand Rapids, MI, Bourjaily interned at Chaffee Planetarium, where he helped present planetarium shows using the Digistar fulldome digital theater system. At 16, he was hired on and worked with Digistar’s unique computer language, eventually becoming fluent enough to create laser light shows, including a dazzling 100-minute special feature set to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
In 2011, Bourjaily enrolled as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering. The core requirements proved challenging, though, because of Bourjaily’s dyslexia, a neurological disorder that causes the brain to process and interpret information differently. He was unhappy, not having the success he wanted in his engineering classes, and seriously thinking about dropping out of school.
At the same time, though, he was excelling in art history classes. It started with Kevin Carr’s Anime to Zen: Japanese Art through Contemporary Popular Culture, which Bourjaily took to fulfill general electives needed for the engineering program. “It was a huge step for me, to appreciate art and history in general,” he explained. “I learned so much. It was the first class I got a solid A in, and it was clear that I understood this and enjoyed what I was learning.”
Bourjaily’s parents encouraged him to pursue his interest in art history. Three years and many history of art classes later, he registered for Paroma Chatterjee’s Icons & Idols, which examined theories and instances of image-making and breaking from the classical world through to the early modern world. “The readings opened up the realm of interpretation and analysis that was just amazing to me,” said Bourjaily. The subject of his final research paper was Gothic automaton, a topic that, not coincidentally, combines art history with mechanical engineering.
Now officially a history of art concentrator, Bourjaily is considering pursuing a PhD. He is certain that whatever he does, the critical analysis skills and deep thinking he has learned from history of art classes will serve him well. As for his parents, Bourjaily says they continue to be supportive about his choices. “They’re extremely happy that I found something I love.”