Sunday, December 18, 2011


The University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture has offered me several opportunities over the years to teach at the school; however, due to professional commitments I was never able to accept an appointment. The stars have finally aligned, so for the Winter 2012 academic quarter starting in January, I will be an adjunct member of the faculty, assisting Associate Professor Roxi Thoren with Arch 4/517 Context of the Professions.

Roxi’s course description outlines the content of the class and its objectives:

The professional degree curriculum largely follows the historic model of the academy: history, theory, composition, human, and ecological contexts inform why we make places, and are taught through readings, lectures, and labs.

The professional internship largely follows the historic model of the guild: material technology, construction, and business management explain how we make places, and are taught through hands-on experience.

This course bridges between the academy and the guild. Context of the Professions introduces students to the professional practice of architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and related careers. . .

. . . The purpose of this course is to introduce students to key aspects of professional practice; to teach basic professional skills; and to provide a setting for students to discuss their careers and begin to create the documents necessary for a professional career.

The National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) mandates that schools of architecture include a professional practice curriculum to ensure continuing accreditation. NAAB stipulates the number of credit hours and the overall degree programs’ general content, and also periodically scrutinizes the schools’ curricula to validate conformance with minimum accreditation requirements. Every student pursuing a first professional degree from Oregon’s Department of Architecture must successfully complete the Context of the Professions course before graduation.

A class that prepares students for professional life by introducing them to the subject is clearly valuable. Providing students with the opportunity to interact with current practitioners would likewise be constructive. The Winter class will be the first Roxi has taught with assistance from a team of adjunct instructors who are practitioners. Previously, she relied upon graduate teaching fellows, some of whom did not possess significant real-world experience.(1)

Besides me, the members of Roxi’s new teaching team will be Travis Miller of atelier corbeau – art & architecture; Liza Lewellen of PIVOT Architecture; and Michael Sanchez of Shirmer Satre Group. Travis is an old classmate of mine (we attended Oregon together) who practiced for many years in Juneau, Alaska. He and I will lead lab sections for the students majoring in architecture. Liza will do the same with the interior architecture majors, and Michael will be assigned the landscape architecture students. Travis, Liza, and Michael have all previously held adjunct positions at the school.

The four of us sat down recently with Roxi to review our teaching responsibilities. These include attendance at twice-weekly lectures or panel discussions, as well as meeting with two separate groups of students in lab settings per week. Roxi estimates our time commitments as .2 FTE, or 88 hours for the course, divided among lectures, labs, readings, grading, course development, and teaching team coordination meetings. The lab sections segregate undergraduate and graduate students from one another (the school expects graduate students to engage in a higher number of hours per credit earned, primarily through a greater commitment to individual readings and lab assignments).

College kids look younger than ever to me.

My greatest concern is whether I will successfully connect and communicate with younger students.

Roxi commented about how "Millennials"(2) are so digital that those of us raised in an analog age do not always understand how their minds work. For example, fewer and fewer students choose to meet with faculty during open office hours. They are most comfortable text messaging, favoring digital interaction over face-to-face contact. They possess their own social rules and unique sets of values. Some social scientists even claim the minds of today’s students are wired to process information differently than older generations.

I haven’t spent a lot of time around college-aged kids since I myself was one more than a generation ago (I definitely stand on the opposite side of the proverbial “generation gap”). To say the least, the instructor-student dynamic will be revealing for me.

The University does offer a Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP). I’ll take advantage of TEP and its wide range of workshops and individual consultations to hone my teaching skills. The program will help me provide students with the education, guidance, and feedback they deserve.

It doesn't hurt that I have been a visiting critic at UO student design reviews for many years. I’ve always enjoyed the role of reviewer; my enthusiasm for academic exchange and the spirit of inquiry will now serve me well as an instructor.  

This will be an opportunity to share my professional experience with fledgling design professionals eager to make their way in a rapidly changing world. I look forward to instilling in the students a respect for the professions they will soon enter, as well as a greater awareness of the opportunities that await them. They should understand professional ethics, the legal context within which they will practice, and their duty as leaders of the future.

I want to fulfill everyone’s expectations: Roxi’s, those of my fellow teaching team members, and most importantly the expectations of the students who will be placed under my charge. I fully expect teaching will be a rewarding experience, one that will make me a better architect all-around.

(1)  Roxi did enlist seasoned design professionals to participate in lectures and panel discussions.

(2) Generally characterized as young adults born after 1982.


Anonymous said...

I think that's wonderful Randy . . . the students are lucky to have you!

jtravism said...


I have been meaning to come back to respond to your thoughtful post about teaching. I agree with "anonymous"...the students are lucky to have you! Your constant curiosity of the world that surrounds you is a big part of why you will do well once you find your comfort zone. Still, it's a bit nerve-wracking no matter what your experience level!

Your blogs are always a pleasure and often leave me ruminating on how you find the time to craft such thoughtful entries.

Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us!