Ian Scheele is probably one of the most iconic people you’ll meet at Concordia. Even if you don’t know him, you’ve surely seen his work, and his eye-catching flare for style is hard to miss. Between his diverse areas of study and his involvement with Concordia Theatre and the campus greenhouse, there is little that Scheele hasn’t touched with his creative genius.
Scheele’s first encounter with Concordia was a tour with his mom. She is a school counselor back home who had brought a student to campus and invited her son along. Scheele took a liking to campus and, after hearing many positive things from his grandparents’ friends who had attended, his interest was piqued. He was excited about the smaller class sizes that Concordia had to offer, but it was the fantastic financial aid package that won him over. The size of the Fargo-Moorhead area was just his cup of tea, and the art scene close to the college has also helped him flourish during his time here.
Scheele knew what he wanted to do since first coming to Concordia. He started out double majoring in neuroscience and studio art and hasn’t wavered. He considers himself an artist above all but uses both art and science regularly. One might think that those two areas of study are at odds, but they complement each other more often than not. His interest in both has led to new ideas and realizations about the world we live in.
“We think of art as a uniquely human thing,” he says. “As a neuroscientist, I can say that’s not really the case. Art is not something that’s completely unique to humans.”
For example, birds create and decorate structures, and pufferfish draw circle designs in the sand on the ocean floor. Both are rituals designed to be aesthetic to attract the attention of a mate. Scheele’s take is that art is a result of the brain, and there has even been research on the neuroscience of art and creativity.
“It has been a fruitful path to take in both of my majors,” he says. “It’s been a nice way to go deeper into thinking about both subjects.”
Scheele says he is grateful to have been introduced to so many new experiences during his time at Concordia. Even religion courses for Core requirements didn’t sound exciting at first, but they ended up being the most influential for him. He considers art history integral to his education and has restructured his understanding of the world. While unable to choose one favorite course or professor, Scheele has thoroughly enjoyed and found value in his art history courses with Dr. Susan Lee and his religion courses — specifically Religion and the Body — with Dr. Michelle Lelwica.
“The study of art history has been eye-opening and redirected the way I think about the art that I make and conceptualize art as a practice,” he says. “It’s been invaluable in the process of growing up as a person who makes art.”
Being hands-on in both art and science has broadened his problem-solving skills, and having an art background comes in handy when constructing experimental setups. Scheele spent two summers studying fish behavior and found it came naturally to tweak different parts of the project, such as the fish habitats the research team was using, so they were well constructed and effective. His work in constructing props for the theatre has helped him gain skills in communicating technical ideas as well as managing a group of people and communicating without micromanaging — skills he also uses in all of his areas of study.
Scheele has completed both of his Pivotal Experiences in Applied Knowledge (PEAKs) and is even working on a third. His first PEAK was a ceramics class, which also fulfills a requirement for the general studio art major. His second was a research opportunity in Summer 2022 with Dr. Krys Strand studying zebrafish behavior. Using Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” they looked at the therapeutic effect of music on zebrafish and how it reduces anxious behaviors. He recently finished processing that data to present at the MidBrains conference in October 2023. His current research with Dr. Jason Askvig is looking at a specific protein in rat brains, quantifying the amount of protein in different areas of the brain and using a fluorescent microscope to look at imaging of tissue samples.
Outside of academics, Scheele works in the greenhouse located in the Integrated Science Center (ISC) maintaining the pond area. He finds this work therapeutic and enjoys being able to spend time on more long-term projects.
“My greenhouse at home certainly doesn’t have a pond in it, and it doesn’t stay warm year round. I can’t have plants in there all the time,” he says. “It’s fun to be able to do the things I’m interested in and work on them on a deeper level than if I were just working on it for myself or by myself.”
Having those resources available and being able to work with others who have the same passions has made the experience worthwhile.
Scheele has been heavily involved in the theatre department on campus as well, mainly working in the scene shop and creating props to be used on stage. He appreciates the traditions (and if you know theatre, you know that each has unique traditions and lore), but his favorite Concordia tradition is regarding the bell tower. Unlike most other Cobbers, he walks right under it. Since walking under the bell tower during his first visit to campus, he enjoys testing his fate and watching the looks of astonishment as passers-by witness his superstitious “crime.”
In the past year, Scheele also set up a huge art installation in the ISC titled Macroscope. The two and a half year project started on a whim during his sophomore year after a conversation with sculpture instructor Dwight Mickelson about the ISC needing something creative in the space. What began as an idea grew into not only his senior project but a full installation in the ISC.
Thanks to URSCA grants that allowed Scheele to fund all of the materials for the project and the blessing of ISC staff, he put together a prototype and began working. He found inspiration in vintage science illustrations, using different elements of microscopic organisms.
I like the conversation that happens between the organic and geometric elements.”
After considering creating pieces referencing specific organisms, he decided to create something that any student in the science building would be able to relate to. Scheele abstracted them so viewers could see what they individually understood. One of the most encouraging moments in the process for Scheele was when people asked about a part of the piece they recognized but he hadn’t had any of those elements in mind. Everyone sees something meaningful to them in abstract forms, even if what they see isn’t deliberate.
Scheele is excited that the installation is up for others to see and considers it his greatest accomplishment. It took a tremendous amount of work, two and a half years of thousands of hours, late nights, busy weekends, and a great deal of emotions. He chose the title Macroscope for the ISC installation because of the scale of the forms. A microscope allows you to look at something incomprehensibly tiny, but his work lets you see huge ideas.
“I realized that these shapes, these forms, these patterns and colors are present at a huge range of scale and in a variety of locations throughout the world, and even the universe,” he says. “So beyond just being giant versions of microscopic organisms, the sculpture itself functions like a giant macroscope. You get to see the connections and similarities between really different things.”
Scheele says he values the opportunities Concordia gives Cobbers to go above and beyond in the work that they do. Concordia has a unique network to form relationships with faculty, staff, and alumni to build connections.
“All of these opportunities weren’t handed to me, but I was able to do them because of the scale of our institution,” Scheele says. “I was able to form these relationships with my professors and demonstrate the abilities I needed to be trusted to work on these projects, and that’s such a hard thing to find at a larger university.”
Scheele’s advice to students considering Concordia is this: Be involved, but be selective about it and find where your passions lie, then put all of your effort into those few things.
“Find something you can sink yourself into. The rest of your life you’re going to have to do all sorts of things you don’t want to, so don’t do that in college,” he says. “You’re here to learn, broaden your horizons, and discover the things you’re interested in. Of course, you’ll have to take classes you’re not interested in for your degree, but you can find parts that are interesting. Keep an open mind and focus your energy where you feel like it’s worth it.”
Scheele has a few possible routes after he graduates in the spring. There are opportunities to work in theatre, but he’s also considering art school or a grad program at the University of North Dakota to continue a Mars analog project that he’s been working on this year. He has been assisting with a potential design of something that could be built on Mars for people to live on. He started the project during the summer and will continue working on it this winter.
Published November 2023