Area students explore Architecture 100 – and perhaps a career

Sarah Kopacz became interested in architecture during a field trip to UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning in November. That’s why she jumped at the chance to be part of UWM’s new online Architecture 100 class this fall through her high school, St. Joan Antida.

“Architecture combines STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and art – everything I’m interested in,” Kopacz said.

Mark Keane, UWM professor of architecture, came up with the idea of getting high school students like Kopacz interested in architecture and UWM by offering the course – which all beginning architecture students take – as a Limited Open Online Course (LOOC). The idea is similar to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which a number of colleges and universities offer publicly. The LOOC is limited to those who are invited – high schools, teachers, and students sign up at the beginning of the semester.

St. Joan Antida High School students Quannashia Nickelson (left) and Sarah Kopacz with the model chairs they built for Architecture 100.
St. Joan Antida High School students Quannashia Nickelson (left) and Sarah Kopacz with the model chairs they built for Architecture 100.

Keane approached UWM and the university agreed to try a pilot. Keane convinced administrators that the course could help young people consider architecture as a career. And, with UWM offering the state’s only degree in architecture, it may encourage them to enroll.

“I see this as part of our needed outreach to the community, and part of our recruiting efforts,” said Keane. Like many fields, architecture is trying to recruit more women and students of color, he added, and working with high schools like St. Joan Antida offered an opportunity reach these students.

Some students are already seriously interested in following up.

Quannashia Nickelson, a junior at St. Joan Antida, said that one of the projects the class did was to research a famous architect and build a bird house that could be sold at Walmart in that artist’s style. “I did research on Frank Gehry and I really liked his Dr. Seuss house,” Nickelson said.

Keane already had some experience in working with high school students. Students in 380 public schools across the state are eligible to take college courses for advanced placement through a program called Youth Options and nine to 10 a year have taken Architecture 100.

However, school districts, which have to pay for the classes, often don’t promote the Youth Options program, Keane said. Less affluent schools like St. Joan Antida can’t afford to pay for it. Thomas More High School is the other local school taking part in the pilot course this year through its Project Lead the Way STEM program.

“I really loved the whole idea,” said Cynthia McLinn, Science/Engineering chair and coordinator of St. Joan Antida’s International Baccalaureate Career-related program. “It was a way to get the program into our school as a beta test. We’d love to do it again.” McLinn was also the classroom teacher who facilitated the online class at her school.

The high school students took the same coursework as the college students and did the same projects and assignments. The online course incorporated Keane’s textbook, “Draw to Build,” which combines historical background and information about the field with sketching and design work. The 12 modules of the online class also included photos and videos. Like their older counterparts, the students did three design projects during the semester involving models. The students received high school credit for the course, and, if they come to UWM, they can receive college credit, Keane said.

In early December, the St. Joan and Thomas More students brought their final project – a scale model of a chair – to UWM as part of an exhibition and judging alongside the models built by the first-year college students. The St. Joan Antida students also attended a class with their college-age peers.

Bob Greenstreet, dean of the School of Architecture & Urban Planning, encouraged students to make a career of architecture. He talked about projects UWM students and alumni have become involved in that have helped improve Milwaukee and southern Wisconsin.

“We need to get more young people involved in the field so if this excites you, come back,” Greenstreet said. “When you build something, you can really see the difference you’re making in the world.”

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