Every day, students at the College of Architecture and the Built Environment at Thomas Jefferson University (Jefferson) are learning how to improve lives. From the get-go, future architects here are taught how to design and build things in ways that are not just sustainable, but that will ultimately contribute to a better tomorrow.
For international students, they stand to gain even more, from improved communication to the ability to work in new, diverse environments. With a strong architectural foundation from Jefferson, they are set to return home and contribute significantly to their home country’s sustainable growth too.
Ahmed E. Meselhy, a Master of Science in Sustainable Design student from Egypt, is one of them. The 27-year-old chose to pursue this programme as it’s well-known for producing leaders in this field, beating many top-ranking universities. Then, there’s the Jefferson campus itself, where three buildings are LEED-certified, walking the talk and setting an example to students.
Located in Philadelphia, international students have plenty of opportunities to soak up all that Pennsylvania’s largest city has to offer or head to nearby cities for a quick getaway. “The school planned a different programme each weekend, and some of them were even free. Jefferson allowed me to travel to Washington DC to see the National African American Cultural Museum, the White House, and Abraham Lincoln Memorial,” he shares.
“On another weekend, we went to the Big Apple and I visited Central Park, Times Square, the wax museum, the Jewish museum, and the Guggenheim Museum. In Philly, I’ve visited the Art Museum, Archeology Museum, John F. Kennedy Plaza, and other places.”
As for Yasaman Mahmoodkalayeh, a graduate from the Master of Architecture programme, the friendly faculty members and welcoming atmosphere were among the top reasons she chose this university over other offers.
“I was enrolled at a Master of Architecture programme in another school when I got an offer from Thomas Jefferson University,” she explains. “Although I was happy where I was, I thought I should just check it out. When I got here, my whole opinion changed due to the environment and the faculty here. They were very friendly and helpful which made a huge impact on my decision. As an international student who doesn’t have any family and friends around, it was very important for me to feel welcomed and not to feel like an outsider. The faculty, staff, and students definitely made this place feel like home for me.”
Supported by caring and inspiring mentors
There’s another reason why Ahmed is convinced Jefferson is the university that will give him the best international education experience: professors who will always go the extra mile. After emailing the university, he received a call all the way in Egypt from Professor Rob Fleming to walk him through the syllabus and made him feel comfortable about the environment he will be joining. “After the phone call, I cancelled the other five offers I got,” he says.
At Jefferson, professors make sure that every student gets plenty of support, guidance and experiential learning opportunities. Ahmed says, “My professors are always helping me with everything. They get me in touch with famous architects on well-known projects to help me understand the design better. Also, they were very helpful during office hours and even weekends by phone, emails, or Zoom to help me immediately when I am stuck in something.”
Always ready to bring their subjects to life, Jefferson professors often take students on road trips to explain theoretical concepts and visit notable buildings. For example, Professor Fleming took students on a six-hour road trip to explain the concept of falling water and to visit the Frick Centre in Pittsburgh.
Preparing students to become innovative and agile leaders in the workplace
Jefferson takes pride in producing graduates with real-world skills. It was among the first in higher education to offer stackable continuing education units for more flexibility. Students can earn their certificates in Sustainability Leadership, Design of Living Buildings, Resilient Communities or Green Building Operations; or they can take the entire MS in Sustainable Design degree. Plus, classes are offered on campus in East Falls, online or a hybrid of both.
The Jefferson Master of Architecture Programme prepares students for professional architectural practice through developing sustainable design and technology skills, acquiring project management knowledge, and collaborative experiences in an interdisciplinary environment.
Their unique programme also offers multiple starting tracks, which are chosen based on a student’s level of preparedness. For example, students without a degree in a design discipline usually begin the programme with a two-course summer programme in design basics before the fall semester. Students with a satisfactory portfolio and more experience in design basics can begin in the fall of the first year. As for students with advanced knowledge, typically from a four-year pre-professional architecture program, they receive advanced standing into the second year. Students with a professional architecture degree seeking to advance their studies at the graduate level, can enroll into the MS Architecture Programme offering advanced design research options.
Whichever degree they choose, all Jefferson students have access to a myriad of career-boosting opportunities. Surabhi Khanderia, another MS in Sustainable Design graduate got to join two internships in the realm of sustainability. “One was at Walt Disney Imagineering in their master planning team, which was a dream come true for me,” she says.
“My professors Rob Fleming and Rob Fryer did everything they could for me to be able to attain and make the most of this opportunity. Another internship was with the capital development team at Philadelphia International Airport, which again I was able to attain because of the guidance of my professors.”
Taking a six-month internship in a different city from one’s university can be challenging for international students. Luckily for Khanderia, university staff and professors worked together to make this possible for him. “Professor Fleming was so flexible with my coursework so that I was able to take up these opportunities and still be able to finish my course in time. Having courses available online put me at an advantage over other students whose courses were not available online at all,” she says.
As for Mahmoodkalayeh, she still feels grateful for her internship experience at Stantec, one of the top architecture firms in the famed city of Rocky Balboa and brotherly love, Philadelphia.
She says, “The university made this process much easier for me. Through a design expo that was held on campus, I was able to get a couple of interviews and offers. I chose Stantec as they are more aligned with what I had envisioned for myself. I did a full summer internship and a two-semester part-time internship there until I graduated. My professors were very understanding and supportive when it came to my internship which I’ll always be thankful for.”
Upon graduation and armed with newly-honed skills, international graduates from Jefferson are well-prepared to enter the architecture industry with confidence. Jefferson’s MS in Sustainable Design, MS in Architecture and Master of Architecture programmes are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) designated programmes. This makes international students eligible for a 24-month extension to their Optional Practical Training (OPT). The OPT programme allows F-1 students to gain work authorisation and receive employment experience in the US after graduation.
Khanderia credits the “practical approach” of her master’s for preparing her for her current role as an architectural engineer. She says, “Even when I went for my internships, I was able to get straight to the tasks given to me as I was so prepared.”
She adds, “Jefferson nurtures your ideas and provides the space to students to explore their own paths and excel at them. I have had the best classroom experience at Jefferson. It is the right place for self-driven young professionals looking for mentorship to advance in their career.”
Check out all of the professional and specialisation graduate degrees in the architecture fields offered at Jefferson.