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Roger Williams University: Where a great career in architecture begins

Stroll the streets of Rhode Island, and you will be amazed at the designs, colour and authenticity of buildings that have proudly stood the test of time. Linden Place, a Federal style mansion built in 1810 known as the “architectural crown jewel” of Bristol, was visited by four US presidents. Go a little further, and you’ll be impressed with the use of Shingle Style architecture on the exterior of Isaac Bell House, marked with wall panelling and wooden floors inside. Designed in the manner of the Louvre and Tuileries Palaces in Paris, Providence City Hall stands out with its highly ornate and stately look, synonymous with the city’s rich history.

All these incredible buildings and more inspire students from Roger Williams University (RWU) daily. Founded in 1956, and based in the safest college town in America, it offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Their top impact? Preparing students for professional success. 

The Cummings School of Architecture does this through industry connections and paid internships. Here, students receive a holistic education that combines hands-on learning, challenging projects, and real-world experience. Nestled between Boston and New York City in Bristol, Rhode Island, the school is in a strategic spot that lets students access practical learning experiences that connect the ideas they encounter in the classroom with situations in the real world.

Through its Master of Architecture programme, every student gets a guaranteed paid assistantship or internship through the award-winning Career Investment Programme. These can be completed at architecture firms anywhere in Boston, New York, across the US or internationally. 

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Applied learning brings coursework to life at Roger Williams University. Source: Roger Williams University

Practical hands-on learning like internships are only a small part of what this school offers. Stephen White, dean and professor of architecture, says one of the great things about this programme is the variety of ways that students get to elevate their knowledge and skills. “They have the ability to work alongside people who are not only faculty but who will be potential employers or colleagues in practise once they graduate,” he says. 

Students gain a lot from this. Carlye Cording is an M.Arch student who is glad of the many opportunities and support given. “The school pushes you to try new things, to try big ideas. They’re supportive of where you want to take your design but expect that you will figure out how it’s built,” she says.

Having worked with her professors Nathan Fash and Olga Mesa on advanced building skins research, she’s unlocked a new passion in this. Skins (also referred to as the building envelope) are the outer part of a building that can contribute to the global pivot toward sustainability. “I hope to find a job doing something with building skins and possibly green roofs,” she says. “Incorporating nature into our designs is an important quality that we’re going to be seeing a lot in the future.”

Such discoveries are common among M.Arch students here. “Students working with us often develop their own independent thesis beyond our studio,” Fash says.

Mesa agrees. She adds that studios here are a ground for collaborating and developing ideas. “It’s also a combination between having speculative ideas and materialising them in projects,” she says.

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Programmes combine architectural skills with training that addresses today’s challenges. Source: Roger Williams University

Teaching Firms in Residence offers more industry insights. Launched in 2007, this programme brings the highest quality educator practitioners to the school from the region, the country and abroad for semester long stays. Firms who have lent their expertise to the school include Boston’s Hacin + Associates, New Haven’s Gray Organschi Architecture, Baltimore’s Ayers Saint Gross, Amsterdam’s Tangram Architecten, and the multi-national firm Perkins & Will, who has a local office in Boston. They teach graduate architectural design studios and often provide additional seminars or workshops. Studio lectures, design studio review critiques at RWU and at the firm, visits to  firms and sites, and public lectures as well as exhibitions are also offered. 

“By doing this programme, we bring a different perspective or a different point of view than students may get in a regular studio,” says Sebastian Martellotto, a senior associate at Perkins & Will who recently taught a Teaching Firm in Residence studio. 

Martellotto says the university’s location allows for it to leverage the immense number of firms and resources between Boston and New York City. “Something that the school does very well is to tap into all these networks and resources of practising firms in the region. Many times what you see is that even firms that are working here are doing projects either in other places in the world or here nationally within the US and they do different projects in different cities. When you engage cities from the Northeast, you get a bit of a sample of architecture that is being designed for the whole world,” he says. 

The Cummings School of Architecture Event Series also regularly hosts lectures and exhibitions featuring known people within the industry from all over the globe. Combined with advanced facilities like the Architecture Design Studios, students have countless opportunities to learn from the best while practising independently.

Renee Parry can attest to this. She’s worked with team leaders and in group settings — with access to one-on-one time with people in the industry. “They push us to bend the limits. Anytime we have an idea, we are asked to think about how we can take it further and make it bigger,” she says. 

Not all schools do this. “Having your creativity pushed and finding value in your work is very interesting,” Parry says. She is appreciative of this. “It helps develop who you are not only as a student but who you will be later in the field,” she says.

The M.Arch is STEM-designated, allowing international students to continue gaining work experience even after they’ve graduated. International students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT) that’s on top of their 12 months of their OPT, temporary employment that’s related to their field of study.

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