When Monica Scinto was a student at York Community High School in Elmhurst, she thought she would study engineering in college. Then her parents suggested she attend a summer Discover Architecture program at the University of Illinois School of Architecture.
“I didn’t even really know what architecture meant,” Scinto said. “(Discover Architecture) took you through the step-by-step basics: This is architecture. This is what your education would be like if you pursue this degree.”
Scinto did so, and she’ll graduate from the U. of I. in May with a degree in architecture.Likewise, Alexander Rivas, a senior at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago, thought he wanted to study structural engineering in college. But during the two weeks he spent last summer in the Discover Architecture program, he found he had a great love for design and architecture.
Rivas is now planning on studying architecture in college, and he’s been accepted to the U. of I.’s School of Architecture.
The Discover Architecture program started in 1988, with the goal of letting high school students learn about architecture and gain a taste of the experience of studying architecture in college. The program consists of two two-week summer sessions, and it attracts rising high school juniors and seniors from all over the country, as well as from places that include Greece, China, Mexico, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The program’s primary purpose was not to be a recruitment device, “but it’s ended up being our most effective recruitment effort,” said Lee Waldrep, administrator for undergraduate student services in the School of Architecture, who oversees the Discover Architecture program.
Of the 400 or so undergraduate students in architecture, about 10 percent of them have been through the Discover Architecture program, including 17 out of 99 current freshmen, he said.
The students learn how to “look” at buildings and understand craftsmanship and design, Waldrep said. One exercise has them working together in small groups, using spaghetti, marshmallows, tape and string, to build as high a structure as they can. Another project involves cutting and folding paper to create a unit of design, then repeating that unit several times to build a screen wall.
“I like how you can interpret it your own way. I like how I can really take my time with it … and really develop my ideas before I put my pencil on any paper,” Rivas said.
“I really loved the fact that we were given constraints to design a (space), and nobody in that room designed anything similar to anything anyone else was doing,” Rivas said. “That just really amazed me. You give a whole room of people constraints to make something and everyone comes back with something completely different. It was really awesome to see the end result of what everyone was working on.”
Scinto said the summer program was excellent preparation for studying architecture in college. One of the projects she did in the Discover Architecture program was nearly the same as a project she did in a class during her sophomore year.
“It challenged me a lot, and had me thinking in ways I didn’t know I was capable of thinking,” Scinto said. “I learned critical thinking and solutions to problems that I didn’t know existed.”
The program also gives the students a taste of college life.
“Aside from giving them exposure to Illinois and to us – because they are spending time in our studios and with our faculty – it gives them the opportunity to try on college,” Waldrep said. “They eat campus food, live in a residence hall, have a roommate.”
The School of Architecture provides scholarships to the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Mentor Program in Chicago for students to attend the program. Rivas learned about Discover Architecture through the ACE Mentor program, which helps high school students learn about careers in architecture, construction, engineering and related professions. The ACE Mentor Program in Chicago recognized the U. of I. School of Architecture with its Education Award in late February.