Views of the World

So today was another example of how different secondary education and higher education is in other countries as compared to the United States.

I cannot imagine being tracked into a mathematics or humanities system. For the longest time I had been in school looking to work in a medical field or biosystems engineering. It was not until my 11th grade summer that I had even considered architecture as a profession, or drawing as a hobby or skill. That summer I had an internship with an architecture firm and found out I really enjoyed it.

I now love architecture and have continued into graduate school in an effort to become qualified to teach future generations about the potential architecture holds in creating environments for people, and how to integrate nature into buildings. If I had been tracked I could not have made the switch so late in my academic career, but at the same time I would probably become very prepared for work or education at higher levels, given that I had specialized at an early age.

Furthermore, what would happen if I had taken a test at a young age and then scored poorly? I have horrible test anxiety. Would I then suffer from that score for the rest of my life? The accumulated difference between students who scored well initially and then had more opportunities could increase as time went on. In the end, I am not saying that any system is right or wrong, it just seems that some of these systems are very stressful, and the social pressures associated with some of the national tests would be overwhelming for me personally.

When I hear about where international students come from and the things they have accomplished in order to have an opportunity to study with us at Virginia Tech, I am amazed. From obnoxious visa processes, to national scholarships in fully funded higher education systems, these students have had a truly unique education experience.



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a new story

So yesterday we had the Communicating Science class for the semester. I had seen the videos and read what was asked, but I did not really know what was going to be asked of me during the session. Would I understand the improvisation style? Would I clam up and not engage?

What was fascinating was that everyone was willing to give the night a shot, and stayed positive about the whole event.

My biggest take-away from the whole event was how to communicate my “science” to another person. I am in architecture, and this skirts the line between an art and a science. My original story was not so interesting. After learning new methods about communicating with others, here is what came out of the last charade or exercise:

So architects are always a few degrees off-center. Some might call us odd. But it is that which allows us to flourish. I had a professor speak to us about a topic (she had not told us the subject, she just began to describe it). After a while she told us that it was a wall. She had used so many different words that none of us had used before to connect or describe a wall. I thought she was crazy, looking at a wall that way.

Funny things is: I study walls now.

She had been showing us how to describe and interact with something without preconceived notions of what a wall was or could be. Sure you can paint a wall white and have it be flat, but what kind of limit is that pushing, how is it different or engaging? I decided to study vegetated walls or simply: plants on walls.

How do these walls make us more comfortable in the space? How do the colors change our perception of the space. Do certain plants make a wall with greater depth? Why do we like some walls but not others?

My work is to look at and understand walls, so that I may later teach what I have learned to future students. That way they too can see walls in a different light and to continue to push the limits of architecture.

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International Education: Expectation vs. Performance

Hi everyone,

I really enjoyed hearing about all of the different experiences that were shared this week. We heard from Finland, Egypt and Korea. I found the different methods of instruction valuable in understanding how what we do in the United States relates to other countries.

We set a certain level of expectations to our students that then reflect our students eventual performance. From Finland it was helpful to hear that there are not as distinct lines drawn between different levels of students. The teachers then are even able to tailor plans to individual students. (this must depend on the situation and resources at hand) Then, to stress synthesis over factual regurgitation helps these student to continue to perform above others.

This attitude towards to students, teachers and education allows for a better system, if only the United States could scale the process to a much larger population. While we can be charmed by the ideal situation, we must be able to enact changes to implement it. how that will be done, I simply do not know.

It was interesting to hear from all of the countries in regards to the “entrance exam” process. In the US we have the SAT and ACT tests which really do not respond to the specific majors or colleges. The closest thing would be the SAT subject tests, but even these are not representative of the find institution.

While the SAT does serve as a factor in the potential of a student to attend certain colleges, it does not seem to have the same level of finality that some of the other entrance exams hold in other countries. To take a test that would continue to hinder or protect your future in a subject is disconcerting.

I have never tested well. The SAT and GRE tests were some of my least favorites, and they did not predict how I would perform in college neither at the undergraduate nor graduate level.

As a closing, here is the article I read about the, yet another, attempt to redo the SAT:


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International Education


I started to look around at the different websites about higher education. It is very interesting to see how similar topics can create a variety of different information sources.

The Global Edition of the University World News, presents the status of higher education in the form of news articles and current events. The European University Association is more specific to Europe, but it is geared more towards the discussion and information exchange in regards to higher education. Finally, the BC Center for International Higher Education show a particular take on higher education by Boston College. It is very interesting to see the different scales that each website engages in. Stating from a world view, to a view of a specific college outwards to the world.

Going off of the concept of phenomenology, and how everyone brings a certain set of previous experiences to a given situation or interaction, I remember the different schools that were present when I lived in Spain.

There was a Department of Defense school on base that I attended, but we visited other local schools off-base for sport events, I remember how different the atmosphere and people were, even though the purpose of educating students was similar. Culture drastically changed the method of instruction. It was different enough that one of the classes we had in school was called “Host Nation”. This class was designed to inform American students how to conduct themselves and to explore and learn the history and culture of the nation in which you lived, in this instance Spain.

This concept of learning the culture of a place will be very helpful when we start to talk about specific experiences in class when exploring international education. Things that we take for granted when being citizens suddenly become apparent hurdles when outside of the country and in an academic institution.


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where you come from

We have talked about a couple topics that lead us to ask “where we come from”. This is not a existential question, it is asking, when we interact with a situation, what is our filter, our lens, that informs our course of action.

Everyone has a different set of experiences that leads them to be the person that they have become, are, and will become. Dovetailing off of the last post about our reputation, there is a combination of not only what we want to become (desires, goals), what others see us becoming (reputation) , and what we came from (experiences).  These three things show us how people make the decisions that inform their own lives.

Remember that we, are not statistics in a system, but that if we put in the time and effort, we have the opportunity to become an expert in or own spheres of influence. We struggle, but it is the goal of what we wish to become that drives most of us to continue. By pursuing our goals of what we wish to become, we slowly alter our impressions of that which is within. And as we change our own inward image, we see the outward image we project to others will change as well.

So, when we consider the history of the university, the history of the profession, and our own history, we can see where we can fit in, and how our experiences have changed us. For example, at the beginning of my undergraduate studies I had never drawn before – I chose architecture – and after five years, I can no longer imagine explaining something without images.

So when we start to hear the stories of others, we have the opportunity to see an entire lifetime of choices, actions, and learning infused into a person. These are lessons that can not only inform our own path, but can be transferred to others as we continue to teach, or practice our profession in the future.


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shaping our lives

We constantly mold our-selves throughout life. We also influence those around us by our words and actions. Question is, how can we find a balance, or an understanding of our place. In this specific instance it is a question of balance in academics.

This is not a guide or a cheat-sheet to how to do these things, just the beginning of a discussion on how our own influences, our presence affects others.  This presence or even reputation, is created by a number of things, but can include academic freedom and academic duty.

It is one thing to have a reputation, but it is how you mold it through action that can change others.



This TED talk is not exactly the same thing as academic freedom or academic responsibility. But what does the talk tell us about research and reputation?

Think about how technology can create trust among strangers. Empowering people to create meaningful relationships instead of empty relationships – but reinvented for technology. Our reputation is our economy in the future.

When we engage in the academic profession, our research and our interactions with students is how we form our reputation. This reputation is then how we form relationships with others even if we have not met them in person yet.

While we can have the legal right to perform research, we also have the academic duty to understand how our actions influence others. As long as our actions are done without malice, or the intent to harm others then it can be fine. If you maintain a solid, positive reputation, you can get a good deal of things done without fighting your own demeanor.

Your reputation can also then allow for more academic freedom and academic duties. If you are known for doing good work in a professional manner, more opportunities can occur. This then feeds into any kind of personal plan to advance and solidify academic positions and commitment to student populations.

So when we interact with academic freedom and academic duty, it is not what you can “get away with” but how to use these freedoms and responsibilities to enhance personal research and student learning experiences.


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Faculty Aspirations

We all aspire to be something when we get older, when we “grow up”. The question is what is our end goal? For me personally its not as lofty as others, but a goal is a target, something to achieve.

All of the discussion we had last class made me realize that “becoming a professor” was just a little to vague to be an adequate goal. There are so many different kinds of employment in academe, that I had not known existed. The list is extensive between all of the part-time, full time, tenure and non-tenure positions. Then there are administrative positions as well.

So, what would I like to do? What do I want to do when I grow up? I feel that if you are going to do a career for a lifetime, then it needs to be something that you enjoy, not a task or a job. Otherwise that days are going to be long.

I have found that  I enjoy helping others understand things they are passionate about. I enjoy teaching and learning with students. I enjoy watching students find the topics that inspire them and then apply or internalize them, defining their own professional views. I enjoy the fact that everyone approaches architecture differently. If you believe that you know everything about a subject, then not only are you mistaken, but closed off the learning potential. It is this potential that drives the learning process.

I feel that this can be achieved as an associate professor. I am comfortable saying that I would like to have tenure, some security in a position and then spend my days in the classroom helping those who will be our future. My professors have been helping me to become a stronger academic, and I would like to give that opportunity to others, wherever that may be.

I feel that, as a designer, if I have more constraints or parameters I can provide a better tailored, better defined product or performance. While this is only the beginning, I know I will at least enjoy the process of getting there (associate professor). This fits into how I design: that architecture is a process of making, to define a design.


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Potential of a Mission Statment

Sticking to the topic of mission statements, here is another perspective on their use and necessity.

Mission statements also reveal the potential that an institution has to influence a student. That the latent qualities or abilities can be developed within a student and lead to future success or usefulness. The student has not only the potential but also the possibility of becoming more.

With the freshman 15 students can also increase their GPE (gravitational potential energy). It’s all about what the current respective reveal to the viewer.

The question becomes what are we looking for in a mission statement? Are we seeking failure? (I certainly hope not) Are seeking success? Fame? Fortune? All of these seem a little cliché. But these subjects are in the back of a student’s mind when they read a mission statement. Will I get in? (failure) Will I be good at my major? (success) Will I be recognized for my had work? (fame) Will I get a job and make money? (fortune)

So it is not entirely unreasonable to think that a student might be using a mission statement, however vague or unassuming to help in a rather large decision in their life. For me personally, there really was not a choice. I could not go out of state and I wanted a professional degree in architecture. That left Virginia Tech and, well only that. But for someone who does not know what they want out of college (or if they should go at all) these statements leave room for a student’s potential to be guided by the institution.

In past blogs I have mentioned that the language of a mission statement can reveal the attitude of an institution, but these words can also reveals the potential that the institution can play in the student’s attitude and development as a young adult.

It is about looking a similar topic from multiple viewpoints and different scales of interaction, that we understand a mission statement’s impact.


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Mission Statements: Interdisciplinary Programs


In many of the mission statements colleges and universities I have read, desired to give students an interdisciplinary education. So interdisciplinary programs have attracted my attention when it comes to learning. After learning about teaching methods and how to bring back the desire to learn in education, I wanted to know more. The question I have had constantly I had since that class is: how do universities actually do what we are told is desirable?

First, what is an interdisciplinary program? And how do these differ from an interdisciplinary degree?

From the New York Institute of Technology:

Interdisciplinary Studies offer students the opportunity to put together their own degree program. Based on their interests, they can choose three concentrations in different professional and/or liberal arts areas of study, and sample a number of academic and professional disciplines. This multifaceted approach, which encourages a broad-based education built on a progressive core curriculum, offers the opportunity to tailor a student’s degree toward one or several career fields.”

U. Penn

“Interdisciplinary opportunities at Penn allow students to express their academic creativity and discover new ways of synthesizing information.”

I looked around, but could not find a “interdisciplinary degree” but students were encouraged to work within the system to make their own education more varying.

Virginia Tech:

“Virginia Tech is a premier research university, offering master’s and doctoral degrees through eight academic colleges including interdisciplinary degrees and certificates in a variety of disciplines.”

What was more interesting was that Virginia Tech operated on a program and individual degree level including this list of interdisciplinary doctorate degrees.

The difference I have found between an interdisciplinary degree and a program is that a degree is actually credit based and is a conferred degree upon graduation. An interdisciplinary program is a program that combines different styles of thought and study together to create an atypical learning environment. This can either be through an individual person’s education, or as a group of students working together on a project.



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measured by the company you keep

So continuing with the theme of mission statements, we can conclude that there is a set of language that is used when developing a mission statement. Truthful or not, the exercise of having a mission statement can begin to guide the vision of a college or university.

This brings us to the next question when looking at mission statements. Why? Sometimes you go to a place and they (the faculty or students) say one thing, but show you another. When visiting architecture schools I had varying experiences as compared to what seemed to be similar mission statements.

These statements are prone to vague language and otherwise subjective goals. But that is what a goal is. A goal is a personal mandate to achieve or avoid based on its language. A mission statement can be a simple as this:

I will hold myself to the highest standards.



Now all jokes aside, something like this is extremely vague and difficult to measure. But not all things need to be measured at all times.  This is specific to my field but, architect Louis Kahn said about architecture that, “A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.”

These institutions and their education want to be unmeasurable, that the experience, the force of their presence is great, beyond what can be quantified. That they hold themselves to a level of excellence and intention.

It is good to be cynical, but remember that these words can shed light into the possible and the potential to learn.


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