CoA considers revisions in curriculum

The rumor mill is abuzz with stories of what’s happening in the College of Architecture. Students know something is up, but few hard details have been released and concerns and rumors are spreading more quickly than new information.

This has created quite a buzz around the College of Architecture because students are worried about the future of the college’s curriculum.

In a nutshell, the College announced recently that it will be reviewing its curriculum, with an eye towards interdisciplinary education, much like the College of Computing’s Threads program.

That “interdisciplinary” aspect has some students and alumni uneasy as to how the program will be changed, with fears ranging from students’ studies losing their flexibility to concerns that the College’s entire undergraduate program will be condensed down into a single degree.

Here, it seems like the COA might have made a misstep by releasing too little information initially, as students seem a great deal more panicked than may be strictly necessary at this point, and few seem to really have a solid grasp on what is happening.

All three of three students approached for this article had strong opinions on what was going on, yet all three gave vastly different answers for what they believed the changes would entail.

Rumors circulating around the college have students worrying that their education is going to suddenly become more generic, or that their field may even be non-existent when they return to Tech as alumni.

One large concern is how such a change would affect the employability of Tech’s graduates and the relevancy of their education.

Many are very concerned that, with the rumored degree changes, their degree will not be worth as much because the rumors state that the curriculum could become very general.

Olivia Kaye, a fourth year Building Construction major, says, “A lot of local employers have signed [an online] petition saying that they have always looked for Tech graduates, but since the degree isn’t as specific, they’re going to start looking elsewhere.”

Judging from what members of the faculty and staff are saying, however, this seems highly unlikely.

Alan Balfour, the Dean of the College of Architecture, said in a letter to alumni, “Let me be clear that we have no intention to eliminate any of the three disciplines; in fact, the intent is to advance the offerings in each of the disciplines to make our graduates the most talented in their chosen fields,” which would suggest that each of the three undergraduate disciplines will, at the very least, keep their individual integrity.

“The last thing we want to do is throw everything in the same pot and cook it till it’s just brown mush. That’s not the idea at all… Our goal is to see how we can make [each field] stronger; identifying what is core to them and making it stronger, then seeing what is not there, and bringing that to the table as well,” said Sabir Khan, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and the one spearheading the current happenings.

One student fear—that the College will move to a generic B.S. in Design—may even be a non-issue.

“The B.S. in Design is one possible solution; we’re not [necessarily] going that direction. We’re starting with a review of the core disciplines, and making them sharper… We understand the panic—no one wants their degree to go away—but there’s truly nothing to worry about,” said Teri Nagel, the Communications Officer for the College of Architecture.

Khan again explained that each of the three areas of study will remain intact.

The majority of the changes being made are designed to provide students with the chance to study more specialized, interdisciplinary topics.

Student will have the option of studying strings of cross-discipline, problem-based classes in fields like energy usage, sustainability, and material studies—topics currently only available at the graduate level— providing opportunities for students to work with other specialties within the college and even with experts from other colleges.

When asked about the reasons behind the change, Khan and Nagel said that, aside from providing students with several administrative benefits (like shared opportunities for scholarships and internships and a more streamlined advising process), the program aims to make Tech students stand out in their respective fields.

“The question is, are we going to graduate [someone] who looks just like someone from [any other university]? Or are we going to graduate someone with the core competencies, [who also has] the added pluses that can only happen at a technological research institution with dozens of other disciplines?” Kahn said.

Alumni in general have had their interest piqued by the program, both positively and negatively.

“I’m cautiously enthusiastic about the changes, [and] I’m eager to hear more. Not sure if that makes me for or against it,” said Travis Ekmark, Industrial Design 2009.

“On a selfish level, I know that a multidisciplinary design education would be what I would choose for myself if I could go back and do it all over. I’ve worked for architects, furniture designers, graphic designers, interaction designers…the fundamental critical thinking is largely the same. So, personally, I’ve loved the variety of my professional experiences. I’ve gotten to work with a wide variety of personalities on lots of different types of projects.”

Another major concern is the lack of student input into the process up to this point.

Students like Kaye state that there’s been little to no student involvement up to this point, and worry that their degree is about to change drastically without them having their say.

Judging from Khan and Nagel’s comments, though, students are about to have a chance to speak up.

Nagel says that while the College largely went to alumni and employers for what needed to be addressed, students will undoubtedly play a part in deciding how those goals will be achieved.

“We will be publishing newsletters every month to say where we are [with the curriculum] …There are so many ideas out there, and we want to hear all of them. While we’re reviewing the core curriculum for each of the undergraduate areas, we want to hear students, and we want to talk about their ideas,”said Nagel.

A method for students to get involved is about to present itself, as Khan will be leading two student-centric forums soon.

The forums hope to help clarify many of the rumors that have been confusing the students in the College of Architecture.

Regardless of what changes are in the works, everyone involved with the issue stresses that nothing is final yet.

An announcement on the College’s website states that everything is still very much in the planning stages, with the next step being a steering committee—made of professionals from all three industries—assessing market trends and needs, as well as various possible options for addressing these in the curriculum.

In any case, it seems unlikely that current students’ or even possibly next year’s entering class will be greatly affected.