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May 08, 2024

Angel Engineers Impress Professional

Concert-goers may take spectacular light shows for granted, but seven savvy engineering students from the Academy of the Holy Angels know better. With sage mentorship from engineering teacher Jing Loo, AHA’s Women in STEM collaborated on coding and circuitry to create three multi-colored LED “Dancing Lights” displays.


This year, Ms. Loo invited professional lighting designer Emily Cruz to observe the students’ works pulsing and lighting rhythmically to the beat of selected songs. The lights were also programmed to form intricate patterns and designs.


Cruz, who attended via Google Meet, was duly impressed with the work produced by Marina Poire of Dumont, Charlize Glaser of Old Tappan, Rachelle Wu and Gabriella Ragucci of Harrington Park, Julianna Dail of Saddle River, Stephanie Chan of Closter, and Katelynn Lee of Cresskill.


“It’s great to see the different types of motion that you all created,” Cruz told the Angels.

Marina and Stephanie (both at left) look on as Charlize and Gabriella demonstrate their “Dancing Lights” project.


AHA Science Department Chair Sharon Jureller praised the students for their projects, which went well beyond basic engineering.


“The code is more complicated,” Loo acknowledged, noting that her current students pushed their work to the next level.

Observers recognized that the Angels, who worked in three groups, had to coordinate with care to ensure that code written by different individuals would work once it had been combined. Loo also shared that only two of the seven students had prior coding experience.


“What was the collaborative process like?” Cruz asked the students.


Charlize Glaser responded that having partners was a great help, since those with more coding experience were able to provide guidance to their teammates.


Cruz agreed that working with others is an excellent way to “debug” a project.


Stephanie Chan noted that an unplanned element of her team’s creation ended up becoming a positive.


The guest speaker then commented on the importance of staying flexible when issues arise, and “accepting that accidents happen.”

Gabriella (standing) helped Julianna (right) prep for her demo.

Cruz, who received a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Middlebury College, is currently a controls engineer at TAIT. She is involved in the engineering and installation of lights and moving machinery for concerts, theme parks, and theaters around the world. While working on AJR’s “The Maybe Man Tour,” Cruz helped the band members “fly” through the air. She has also worked with Harry Styles, the Metropolitan Opera, a well-known cruise line, and more.


AHA computer science teacher Brianna Portuesi, who attended the engineering students’ demo, helped Loo’s group connect with Cruz. Portuesi and Cruz attended the same high school, and have a mutual friend.


“I believed it would be valuable for Emily to witness my students’ creations and offer professional insights to them,” Loo noted.


She was right.


At the end of the presentations, Cruz extended an invitation for the Angels to email her regarding her work and their future career decisions.