This interview is with Allison Merritt, an architecture major at Tuskegee University, expecting to graduate in the spring of 2017. We recently spoke with her and asked her about her experience within her program and what she's planning to do with her professional future.
What influenced you to pursue a degree in architecture?
My love for design started as a child with painting, drawing, and crafts. Around my teenage years, I started to develop a love for architecture after attending a few summer design programs. For me, architecture is the perfect combination of creativity and analytical process.
What has your experience been like at Tuskegee University?
I have had an amazing experience at Tuskegee University. Over the years I have met so many kind people that have helped me on my college journey. My peers and professors have become like family. I am so glad I chose to attend Tuskegee for college. I don’t think I could have had a better experience anywhere else.
Were there other schools you were considering?
I choose Tuskegee because I liked the “family” atmosphere and the wonderful history of the university. Tuskegee is a small, private university, which allows for smaller class sizes. Because of this, it’s easy to get a lot of one on one attention and develop real relationships with your professors and peers. All of the professors are very eager to help you succeed, and my peers are like family. I was able to see this first hand on a visit to Tuskegee during my last year in high school. This really stood out compared to some of the other schools I was considering. Most of the other schools I was accepted to were larger, and had a lot more students. I don’t think I would have been able to receive the same amount of attention, or develop the same close-knit relationships.
What is your favorite class so far?
I have truly enjoyed my architecture studio courses over the years. In each course we get to do a design project, as if we were licensed architects. I really love that our professors try to select real-world projects that help communities or people in need. At the end of the semester, representatives from the community our project is located in come to see our final designs. It’s so great to see their opinions on our designs as if they were real clients.
What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?
I think what’s unique about architecture is that it’s a lot more hands on and creative. As architecture major, you will have to do a lot of drafting or drawing, sketching, and even build models by hand. I have always enjoyed this aspect of this major. Instead of “typical” exams with multiple-choice questions and long hours studying from a textbook, you draft floor plan and section drawings, and build physical models showing the design you’ve created. Your grade is based off of your ability to produce an efficient design solution, not on how well you can memorize a bunch of information. I think that this is different from a lot of other majors.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The most challenging aspect of studying architecture, for me personally was learning how to manage my time wisely. Drafting, building, and solving design problems, can be very meticulous and take time to complete. Over the years I have had to learn how to manage my time so that I can complete my work and still have free time to enjoy other hobbies outside of class.
Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path or anything else you would like to share?
I was able to attend a few summer design camps for architecture while I was still in high school, which helped me to get a very good insight into what majoring in architecture would be like. Because of this I felt like I was very prepared when it came to college. If you are interested in majoring in architecture, I would encourage you to try to attend a summer architecture program, that way you are able to see if it is something you might be interested in. A short one-week experience can save you a lot of time and money in the end.
What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
For me, clubs, study groups, and volunteering have been the best ways to network with my peers. I also think that social activities like going out to dinner, or bowling, are also fun ways to help you get to know each other better outside of school.
Have you participated in any internships?
I was able to participate in my first internship last summer. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about the corporate world, and it also gave me the opportunity learn and talk to licensed architects. I found out about the internship through the university, so the school’s resources were definitely helpful. Trying to apply or interview for an internship can be very daunting, but just put yourself out there and have courage in yourself and your abilities.
What are your future career plans and aspirations?
In the future I would like to become a licensed architect. I hope to be working for a great firm that produces great works of architecture, and that shares my personal and design values. I hope to be working on projects that will help to improve people's lives and that use sustainable practices. I also hope to be able to continue to travel internationally, and study and learn about different cultures and architecture around the world. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo, Japan and Paris, France during my time at Tuskegee.
What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
One thing that I would advise when trying to select a college to attend for architecture is to look at the school’s accreditation. Tuskegee has a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program that allows me to become licensed without having to attend graduate school first. This was very appealing to me and was another reason why I chose to attend Tuskegee.
What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
If you were interested in pursing a career in architecture, I would advise you to try to learn as much about the profession as possible. I think a lot of people have preconceived ideas about what architects do, and its not always correct. So try to participate in an architecture design program, visit an architecture school, or an architecture firm –- anything that will help you to get a better idea of what architects do.
How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
I was very fortunate to have most of my education financed by a scholarship from Tuskegee. To cover the remaining amount, I have used loans. I am not familiar with any specific online resources, but I would recommend talking to the financial aid office at your college. They would be able to tell you about how to find scholarships, or even help you to see if you qualify for any scholarships from your school.