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After-school Architecture Program Exposes Kids to New Career Paths

Although RTA Architects is an architecture firm that focuses on large commercial projects like schools, hospitals and houses of worship, its principals recognized the broader impact that design has on communities.

To that end, the Colorado Springs-based firm created an after-school program for high school students that shows teenagers potential career paths, including architecture, landscape architecture and marketing. It’s offered in several local schools in Colorado Springs.

“It’s really open to anyone in a drivable area,” Valerie Jackson, senior marketing manager for RTA Architects, said. “We try to blanket every school district and inform all the counselors [about the program], and they in turn pass it on to their students.”

The program takes a well-rounded approach to design, covering architecture, engineering and landscape design.

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Students are introduced to design and architectural history, as well as resource conservation, sustainability and energy-efficient design. RTA invites consultants from different sectors to talk to students about their role in design and different aspects of the overall project team.

“A lot of people don’t realize the number of disciplines that go on around designing, not just a building but the entire property,” Jackson said. “Of course, landscape is so important because it’s the curb appeal, it’s what you see when you come in the building, but it also has to do with safety and security.”

One of RTA’s younger architects created the program several years ago. After she left, the firm kept it up.

“The idea was to expose high school kids to architecture because there’s a lot of misconceptions about it,” firm principal Stuart Coppedge said.

Students have a “client”—a real person who volunteers as a client who needs a project. Students create a design for the client and have to present it.

“The architects here ask them questions. ‘Why did you choose this? Tell me about why you have these trees placed here. Tell me about the drainage issues you might face,’” Jackson explained.

Coppedge noted, “It’s actually very similar to the college experience in presenting projects—except that we’re nicer. We recognize that these kids are 16, not 19.”

This year, the program had 20 students, including 20 who were on a waiting list, Coppedge said.

“It’s been the most popular year ever,” Jackson said.

Coppedge hopes the program will “help fill the pipeline for future architects,” but he sees value in it even for students who participate don’t follow that career path.

“Even people who are not going to go into architecture, hopefully they’ll understand it better and they’ll be better consumers of architecture or better clients or users of spaces; they’ll understand things a little better. Plus, it’s fun.”


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