University of Arizona Architecture - Caitlin Kessler

This interview is with Caitlin Kessler, an architecture major at the University of Arizona, expecting to graduate in May 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?
Growing up, I was surrounded by art and a love for the creative fields.  Both of my parents obtained Fine Arts degrees, and art filled up the spaces in our little adobe home. I always wanted to be an artist.  Architecture was not considered until high school, when I realized how much interest I held in everything – from art, to social sciences, to mathematics, and to the environment.  My father was the one who suggested architecture as a profession, admitting that it was more practical than art and that I would never become bored.  After attending the U of A Camp Architecture, I was hooked!  Architecture encompasses many various disciplines, and I know I can use these skills to help create a positive impact. 

What has your experience been like at University of Arizona?
While there have been some sleepless nights and hectic deadlines, my experience has been fulfilling, to say the least.  Beginning with hand drawing the first year, to learning computer programs the second year, and applying both techniques to the years beyond, I have certainly come a long way in understanding the importance of patience and persistence. Our program focuses a great amount on craft, and our school’s shop is definitely one to boast about.  In addition to craft, the professors are always encouraging collaboration with on another.  I call CAPLA my second home not only because I spend so much time there, but because I want to spend time there. The people, both students and faculty, have made the rigorous program completely worth it.  

Were there other schools you were considering?Caitlin Kessler
Like most of my peers in high school, I wanted to escape Arizona for college to experience something different.  I must’ve applied to a dozen schools, mostly in California.  After touring a few of the schools though, I realized none of them were as unique as Tucson, Arizona. The University of Arizona, settled in the beautiful Sonoran desert, offered an architecture program that was both hands-on (we have one of the largest shops in the nation) and sustainably aware.  I knew this was where I needed to be.

What is your favorite class so far?
Out of all the classes I have taken so far, the Land Ethics Studio during my third year is my favorite.  In this studio, we were able to focus on the design for the Sonoran desert, creating a unique church campus for Oro Valley, Arizona. I am also currently in a design/build studio, and we are in the build phase. The house is for a low-income family, so it’s great we have this opportunity to provide our skills to the Tucson community.

What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?
Architecture studio is unlike any other college class, and I love it!  Instead of sitting in a hall with hundreds of other students being lectured to, studio engages students in ways that foster great design and problem-solving skills.  Because the Bachelor of Architecture is a professional and accredited program, our core classes focus on teaching students how to be great designers when we graduate.  While there aren’t many exams, there are plenty of projects – projects created with your own two hands. The classes are very rigorous and real in the sense that we are learning skills that we will be applying throughout our careers.  

What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The most challenging aspect has definitely been time management.  While it was anticipated before entering college, the reality of managing your time is much more complicated when you are faced with your schedule of school, life, and sometimes work.  I am by no means a pro at time management now, but I have come a long way. The trick is to prioritize and always give yourself three times the amount necessary to complete the job.

Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path?
One thing I wish I had known was how much materials and printing costs for an architecture student.  With numerous project deadlines, it can be demanding on your wallet to purchase so much material to fabricate these projects. There are upsides, however.  We don’t spend hundreds of dollars of textbooks because the learning we do is tangible.  In addition, we have great pieces of work to take home, give to mom and dad, or use as weird furniture/sculpture pieces. The work is rewarding, so it’s important to be resourceful with materials and tools.

What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
I am currently chapter president of an organization that has transformed my school career.  The AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students) is a national organization that encourages leadership, design, and service.  Through opportunities of networking, outreach, professional development, and experience, AIAS has worked hard to give architecture students the best chance to succeed within architecture school.  We host events that allow everyone to come together and collaborate and mentor one another.  From dodgeball tournaments, to portfolio workshops, to national forums, we are able to network with each other, with other students across the nation, and with the professionals of architecture.

Have you participated in any internships?
I have interned at three architecture firms, including the firm I am interning for now.  Through each internship, I not only applied what I was learning in schools, but I also gained other skills that have benefitted me on a professional level. I even learned how to design a website!  Our school is always pushing us to create great work to add to our portfolio, and students are able to showcase these portfolios at CAPLA-hosted events, such as the Interview Fair.  While I did not gain an internship from this event, it challenged me to complete a portfolio.  I actually found out about these firms through faculty members emailing students about internship opportunities.  Tucson firms know to contact faculty at our school because we have the skills they are looking for.  It is a great network of professionals, faculty, and students.

What are your future career plans and aspirations?
While Arizona has held my heart for many years, I hope to move to the Pacific Northwest after graduation.  My plan is to work for community-based design firms.  These firms focus on creating positive changes within the local community, often to low-income clients.  I believe it is important to give back, and I know I would be most happy in contributing to the community.  I also hope to become a registered architect within the next five years.

What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
“Architecture is a marathon, not a sprint.” Be patient, persevere, and keep going.

What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
I would say remember to take time for you. So often with architecture school, we get caught up in the deadlines that we forget to take care of our bodies and minds. I go to the gym regularly to stay sane. Find what keeps you sane and make time for it.

How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
A college education is expensive no matter what.  To help alleviate these expenses, I apply for many scholarships each year, using Scholarship Universe as the main resource. I also work multiple jobs through the year, saving money to help afford materials and living.  The jobs I work are either campus jobs (they understand the schedules of students) or summer internships.  It’s all about balance, but school always comes first.

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