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Web site reeling in next class of architecture students

“Do you equate your need to build things to your need to breathe?” That is a question from the Mississippi State University (MSU) College of Architecture Web site, which is often the first place prospective students land when investigating schools.

The site includes an innovative feature called A Day in the Life of a College of Architecture Student, featuring a typical day of student Molly Matthews.

Jim West, dean of the College of Architecture at MSU, said the feature and the Web site as a whole are good recruiting tools. “We felt like this would begin to give people ideas of what they will do in this school because it is so very different from what they have done in high school,” West said. “Most kids do virtually nothing in high school that will prepare them for what they will do in architecture. They may have taken an art class, but have no experience designing buildings or studying how buildings are built. They have very little experience in drawing, building models and the studio processes we do in architecture.”

Most high school students haven’t been in a real studio. Almost all of the architecture classes have some type of studio component. That is a whole new way of learning.

“Our Web site tries to give them insight into what is a somewhat different world of education than what they have experienced in high school,” West said. “Architecture schools have a reputation of being difficult and consuming. Maybe our reputation is worse than the reality. We thought it would be a good idea to show how our students do this thing.”

The Day in the Life feature was developed by students, including Matthews and others. The thinking behind it is the students will better understand what prospective students might find interesting.

“Fundamentally this is a student piece of input on the Web site directed to these prospective students,” West said. “We think it is important because architecture is a career, but certainly a field of study students have to really like. We keep very few, if any, casual

students.”

In other fields such as fine arts, a student might say they plan to graduate in one field and work in another. For many this kind of broad education works and can be used in a variety of different jobs, but it isn’t like that in architecture.

“Architecture is time consuming because you’re not just learning architecture,” West said. “You’re learning a whole set of skills to produce the architecture. You are building models and gaining a technical understanding about how buildings go together. Our students do a lot of hands-on things. They actually pour concrete and lay up brick walls. We have found this hands-on learning a good way to teach them about what is going on during the building process.”

The College of Architecture takes student recruitment seriously. Twice a week, on Monday and Friday, student-led tours are available for prospective students and their parents. After the tour, prospective architects and their parents meet with associate dean Jane Greenwood.

“We try to show our facilities,” West said. “Then we have a whole video about the school we will send them along with written materials.”

During the meeting students are asked if they have visited the College of Architecture’s Web site, and nearly all have. A number say that is how they begin the process of looking at colleges.

“So we try to make this Web site one that makes information available at a variety of levels,” West said. “We want to please parents and an 18-year-old.”

Greenwood said the information on the Web site, the tours and meetings on campus are important because a lot of prospective students aren’t really sure what architecture is.

“They take drafting in high school and think that is what architecture is,” Greenwood said. “It is really more than that. It is more how you think about things, what kind of process you go through to arrive at some sort of product. The Day in the Life component of the Web page documents that.”

Lights stay on all night at the architecture studio. Students are there all hours of the day and night. Unlike other courses of study on campus, students aren’t there for an hour in the classroom before leaving to go somewhere else to study. “People spend a lot of time over here,” Greenwood said. “It is their home away from home. They are really sort of bonding and building community with each other. Architecture is about doing free-hand drawings, and constructing physical and digital models. But the fact is architecture is not created in a vacuum. We try to educate students in problem-based learning similar to what you encounter in the profession. There is a lot of dialogue that goes on with co-workers.”

Students are encouraged to talk to their classmates, peers and instructors about how to solve particular problems. Rarely do students start with one idea without there being considerable modification as the project evolves. Greenway said the culture of the architecture college prepares students for the culture of the profession.

The Mississippi State University College of Architecture is online at http://www.sarc.msstate.edu/.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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