A large mural has been installed at Cabrillo College, created by students from the school's STEM and Art departments. —contributed

In the fall of 2013, Cabrillo College celebrated the opening of a remodeled and expanded Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) center in Aptos.

After years of being in various buildings across campus, the department now had a 5,000-square-foot hub that included free tutoring, faculty offices, workshops and more. The school was able to build it thanks to a $4.3 million HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and support from the Baskin Family and Monterey Bay foundations.

Department chair and instructor Jo-Ann Panzardi said that the new center has become “a home away from home” for STEM students.

“Within one month of opening, five new engineering clubs were formed by students themselves,” Panzardi said. “It’s been amazing.”

Not long after the center opened, Panzardi and others in the department saw an opportunity on a blank wall on the outside of the building. The 20-by-10-foot block of concrete held the heating and AC.

“Right when we moved in I said, ‘We need to put a mural right here,’” Panzardi said.

In May 2022, after years of planning, the mural was completed and installed. The artwork depicts a giant tree representing various disciplines of STEM. At the bottom, roots of the tree are labeled “Math,” where other sciences and engineering are born. From there, the tree branches off into the biological and physical sciences.

The mural also depicts the local region—from forests and coastlines to the agricultural fields of the Pajaro Valley—and sustainability advancements such as solar panels and wind turbines.  

To create the piece, Panzardi had reached out to the school’s art department. Together, they decided to create a new course, eventually dubbing it Ceramic Tile and Mosaic (Art 92). The departments waited for approval from Cabrillo and the state and eventually received a faculty grant from the Cabrillo Foundation. 

After a brief sabbatical, Panzardi resumed the push for the mural.

“There were a lot of things to do,” she said. “When you create a new course, it takes time. All of this took some patience.” 

The course finally began in fall 2019. Art 92 joined students from Engineering 25 (Graphics & Design) to start working on the initial designs and construction.

And then the pandemic hit, forcing work to a halt. Students, faculty and staff were unable to start working on the mural again until fall 2021.

Panzardi gave much credit to the hard work of art instructor Syliva Ross.

“She’s amazing,” Panzardi said. “She oversaw the whole thing. This was a huge undertaking, but she managed to create and install it with the help of some amazing volunteers.”

Rios said it was “amazing” to see how everyone came together to complete the piece. 

“During Covid, people were able to sign up as volunteers,” she said. “It was a really wonderful activity for people to have. It got them out of the house, with other people. Everyone was so excited.”

The mural was installed by East Bay mosaic artist Wilma Wyss and tile setter Phylece Snyder.

“It’s not just a bunch of square tiles,” Panzardi said. “Every piece of this mural is individual, completely unique. The installers said it was the most difficult thing for them to install, but also the most amazing mural they’ve ever seen.”

At the base of the artwork are lines of 6-by-6-inch tiles that represent the work of the engineering classes. Students chose an icon or symbol to represent important aspects of engineering, such as ethics, design and sustainability. Each of them 3D printed a stamp, which they imprinted into ceramic clay.

Panzardi highlighted student assistants Kerri Allen and Summer Yuxiao Zhang Wright for their extensive volunteering.

“It’s just incredible, to see what everyone has created here,” she said.

Added Rios: “It took a lot of people a lot of time, and they stuck to it, and didn’t compromise. The amount of tenacity, persistence was really noteworthy. We’re really proud of how it turned out.”

Cabrillo will hold an unveiling ceremony for the mural in September, when classes return for the fall 2022 semester.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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