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Student-Choreographer Layla El-Khoury Receives Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award

A student stands on stage to receive an award.
Layla El-Khoury (left) receives the 2023 Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award from Keith G. Tinsey (right)—photo courtesy of Laura Riddle.

The American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) named student-dancer and choreographer Layla El-Khoury, the 2023 recipient of the Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award for her choreographed piece titled “Force of Flows.”

Established in 1986 by Bonnie Stewart to commemorate her husband, the Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award recognizes a student’s contributions toward advancing the interaction between the humanities and the agricultural and biological engineering profession.

El-Khoury is a current doctoral student in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and a member of the Department of Performing Arts and Technology’s State Dance Company. In 2021, she began to explore how she could use her art form to educate the public about her research.

“For most of my life, I was torn between pursuing a career in STEM or dance, a passion of mine since early childhood,” El-Khoury recalls. “I gradually learned I didn’t have to choose between my two passions, but rather, could use the skills I had developed within each discipline to my advantage.”

El-Khoury’s master’s thesis and doctoral research focus on quantifying and predicting streambank erosion in North Carolina and Virginia. Using her understanding of the stream bank erosion process and her skills as a choreographer, she created “Force of Flows” to demonstrate the basic concepts behind her research. The piece debuted in NC State’s 2021 Fall Dance Concert and later represented the university at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) Mid-Atlantic conference in 2022. El-Khoury believes that interdisciplinary works such as “Force of Flows” can make modern performance art and STEM research more accessible to general audiences.

“As a dancer and choreographer, I have an additional form of communication to share research in my field that will reach audiences that biological and agricultural engineers may not reach,” she explains. “It was not until I watched the piece as an audience member that I truly began to understand the power the humanities has to make STEM research accessible and relatable to the public.”

The ASABE presented El-Khoury with the Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award in July 2023 at the organization’s Annual International Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.

Watch “Force of Flows” by Layla El-Khoury

“Force of Flows” (2021), choreographed by Layla El-Khoury. Thumbnail photo Courtesy of Jillian Clark.