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Kent State University: Graduate programs that mould tomorrow’s environmental design leaders

Growing up in Slovakia — a country with many picturesque castles — Zuzana Kubisova had always been intrigued by architecture. Living spaces were something she valued and vyed to understand. She would spend her free time imagining, designing, and constructing tiny structures with anything she could lay her hands on from a young age. 

“I built places with paper, Lego, cardboard, and blankets,” she says. “I really did imagine what it was like to live in all of these places. Within my five-inch Lego homes, I selected wall colours, cabinets, and would wonder how my windows would shed light. I even imagined what I would see out of those windows.”

When the time came to attend university, she discovered that in Slovakia, it was uncommon to study architecture without an engineering background. Discouraged, she opted to pursue her undergraduate degree in product design before making her way to the US to study visual communication design at Kent State University

The College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED)’s Master of Architecture (M.Arch) program welcomes students with diverse undergraduate backgrounds. It was designed to nurture progressive leaders in architecture by helping them develop technical skills, professional knowledge, and design creativity through project-based learning. Kubisova knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up. 

True enough, CAED offered her an unparalleled learning experience. It exposed her to rigorous classes, out-of-state site visits, and a series of co-curricular lectures, exhibitions, symposia, and workshops. And the icing on the cake? Gaining personalized guidance from a distinguished faculty.

“All of my studio professors were valuable to me,” she says. “Kathryn Strand encouraged my creative instinct; Gregory Stroh pushed me to pursue my design ideas while setting discipline perimeters; and Steven Rugare made architecture history lessons a lively experience.” 

Kubisova lauds her professors for helping her “find her sense of belonging” while supporting her holistic passions for urban phenomenology, designing for climate changes, and using a human-centric approach for integrated sustainable development. With this knowledge, Kubisova plans to design affordable and uplifting spaces as a skilled architect. “I am certain this program is giving me the tools to do it,” she says. 

This is the confidence a CAED education aims to instil in its students through its offerings. The college was developed to produce a new generation of responsible professionals committed to improving the quality of life, enhancing the physical environment, and protecting the public welfare through the design of the built environment. 

The M.Arch program isn’t the only graduate pathway into these rewarding careers. Students who want to fuse their love of business and architecture can opt to pursue the  M.Arch and Master of Business Administration (MBA) Dual Degree. This NAAB and AACSB-accredited degree is jointly offered by the CAED and the Graduate School of Management to fill executive management positions in architectural practices. It is also an ideal pick for graduates keen on starting their own businesses.

CAED also offers a Master of Urban Design program, which aims to produce knowledgeable, industry-ready specialists who engage the complex challenges of demographic change, sustainability and equity in the development of cities. 

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Source: Kent State University

It features projects ranging from urban spaces to large-scale infrastructural and regional initiatives. The exposure teaches students to design urban forms while innovatively addressing cultural and environmental concerns. Courses in real estate and community development provide students with a practical grounding in the economic and social realities of the production of urban space. 

Upon completion, graduates are well equipped to spend their days solving the complex challenges of demographic change, sustainability, and equity in the development of cities and spaces. 

Just ask CAED alumni Alan O’Connell. Today, the full-time planner and urban designer at The Schreifer Group works on area development plans for US military bases worldwide. “Working for a small company provides opportunities to do things I wouldn’t get to do anywhere else – including a lot of urban design work,” he says.

O’Connell’s passion for urban design grew at the tender age of eight when he started playing SimCity, a city-building video game. Combined with his love of drawing and an obsession with maps, it could easily be said that O’Connell was destined to be an urban designer. 

Despite having a master’s degree in city and regional planning, O’Connell knew that an additional qualification would serve as a springboard in helping him achieve his dream of becoming the city planning director of Cleveland, Ohio.

With the technical skills he’s gained during his time at CAED, there’s no stopping him. When asked about the three most valuable skills gained during the Master of Urban Design program, he proudly lists: “Adobe Creative Suite, 3D modelling/rendering, and GIS.”

“These three skills –– along with my experience in facilitating community focus and design charrettes as the President of Downtown Cleveland Residents –– are the ones I use every day. I wouldn’t have gotten the job I have today without them.”

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