Nelly Alandou: MEng Student and West African Artist

By Maya Rector

Nelly (center) discussing her artwork with guests

As a part of the Berkeley MEng communications curriculum, students were given a “Career Odyssey” assignment in which they were asked to use design thinking to approach career planning. They were tasked with coming up with three different branches of their lives over the next five years: current trajectory, alternative, and moonshot. As a result of this activity, student Nelly Alandou, MEng ’18 (CEE), pursed her alternative life of being an artist and hosted an art exhibition titled “Action Reaction” on April 7th at the International Hotel in San Francisco.

The assignment was modified from the Design Your Life curriculum from Bill Burnett & Dave Evans from the D-Lab at Stanford, and it was designed to be an exploratory project and presentation that could allow students to think expansively about their potential careers, talents, and interests. When asked about the project and her advice for students when it comes to their career goals, Berkeley MEng career advisor Julie McShane reveals, “Keeping an open mind and talking to people is extremely important. There’s power in saying yes to things, and you never know what’s going to happen. The more you talk to people, the more you learn and the more doors that open.” As a result of keeping an open mind to her alternative goals, the assignment made Nelly realize that she had all of the resources available to pursue her alternative life of being an artist, and she set her plan in motion by putting on an art exhibition of her work.

Keeping an open mind and talking to people is extremely important. There’s power in saying yes to things, and you never know what’s going to happen. The more you talk to people, the more you learn and the more doors that open.
Several MEng students and friends of Nelly were spotted at the event to show their support.

I caught up with Nelly at her event to learn more about her creative process and how her art exhibition came to be.

Art has always played a major role Nelly’s life and individual interests. Prior to the exhibition, she had been painting for eight years, but wasn’t quite willing to take the risk of presenting her art to the public until her recent career odyssey assignment inspired her to go for it. Growing up, her dad was an art collector, which meant that she was constantly surrounded by new and exciting art around her house. Although she has decided to go down an engineering career path, both of her parents tried to encourage her to pursue art as well, which she now does as a hobby in her free time. No matter what she has decided to do academically and professionally, she has always managed to keep art and painting as a satellite to her life.

No matter what Nelly decided to academically and professionally, she has always managed to keep art and painting as a satellite to her life.

Nelly revealed that she finds it useful to utilize art as an outlet to be more productive academically and professionally with her scientific training. As a Civil and Environmental Engineering student planning to go into transportation and aviation, Nelly hopes to work an airport consultant job after graduating this spring. Regardless of her career path, she is certain that her art will always be present in her life, even if it’s on the side. Art has always been a lifelong constant for Nelly, and she hopes to eventually return to the Ivory coast and open her own art gallery one day.

As a West African woman artist, Nelly’s background is important to her artwork. She makes sure to link the titles and stories behind her work back to her community, and she often uses French words when naming her pieces since French is her first language. She also stresses the importance of her art being subjective despite its ties to her community since she believes that every individual will find their own meaning and significance in her work.

Her advice for artists, and specifically artists of color, is, “The way people perceive your work can differ —be sure of the perception of your art regardless of how the outside sees it.” Ultimately, she concludes, “I’m still the medium, I’m still putting myself into it.”

The way people perceive your work can differ — be sure of the perception of your art regardless of how the outside sees it.

More about Nelly and her artwork: “Originally from Abidjan (Ivory Coast, West Africa), Nelfa is an artist and student. Living in Berkeley since August of last year, Nelly is influenced by the landscapes she grew up seeing and the diverse experiences she has had living in four different countries and being raised between two cultures. Inspired by her own history, she palliates the violence of unpleasant memories and feelings with art therapy. Nelly admits that communicating her deepest narratives is difficult at times but eventually, bearing soul out is a stimulating state to be in for creativity.”

Congratulations on realizing your goal, Nelly!

Like what you read? Give Berkeley Master of Engineering a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.