From Student to Teacher

As a recent graduate of Thomas Jefferson University and current architectural designer with D2 Groups, I am fresh into my career as a designer and loving it! Desiring to share that love of design I have with others, I decided it was time to get out—and get involved in our community. So, when the Center for Architecture + Design of Philadelphia approached D2 in early Fall 2022 with an invitation to participate in their Architecture and Design Education (ADE) pilot program—I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And to no regret, it would soon become one of the most wholesome, eye-opening experiences of my career so far.

The ADE program is dedicated to teaching K-12 students across Philadelphia about the design industry—introducing under-resourced youth to engineering, architecture, interior design, and other industries affecting the built environment, In turn, the program opens up opportunity and aims to diversify the career pipeline. The program leaves a positive impact on the quality of education in Philadelphia schools, and with a city-wide urgency to improve our education system, the program’s work becomes more and more critical.

A full circle moment

When I was in 5th grade myself, I participated in a similar program that was offered to our school through a local summer day camp. At the time, the lessons challenged me to engage my creativity in solving problems through design, which inevitably (and lucky for me) lead to my future career! I was inspired to do the same thing at Rhawnhurst Elementary—a vibrant, diverse school in Northeast Philadelphia, where I would spend the next several weeks co-teaching a very similar fifth-grade classroom.

The volunteer teaching team consisted of myself and Jennifer Grafton, an experienced architect who
works locally in the downtown area of Philadelphia, specializing in K-12 design, and 5th Grade teacher, Mrs. Natalie Franklin who warmly welcomed us into her classroom.

Inspiring Instruction

Through the 7-week program, Jennifer and I carefully crafted lesson plans with two goals: to show how design re-shapes the world’s spaces and to prove design as a valuable and achievable professional career for the students. With interactive lessons like re-designing their school with gingerbread house materials, students were able to creatively solve problems ranging from structural support to aesthetic design and proportion.. Not only did the students love the delicious designs, they also enjoyed the task of collaboratively re-imagining their environment.

Watching the students collaborate was truly inspirational for Jennifer and me. When asked to share challenges of design-building their re-imagined school, one student responded, “using the materials and only having a certain amount of them, so our group had to plan what we wanted to design before building.”  This is exactly what we were after—challenging strategic planning, that in the end, would build confidence and teach the kids  that they can be designers. We hoped students would have fun, learn something new and, perhaps, ultimately consider pursuing a career in architecture. Jennifer and I agreed that if just one of these students goes on to a career in design or construction, we will have accomplished our personal goals in volunteering with ADE!

Interested? Here are my takeaways:

Working every Thursday at the school while being a full-time employee naturally came with the challenges of balancing a healthy work life, volunteer life and personal life. Planning and communication between the teaching team was critical in implementing engaging and educational weekly lesson plans. That careful planning also made balancing my professional work and the efforts of co-teaching possible. I am beyond thankful to my D2 team for encouraging me to dive into the volunteering opportunity and to break out of the office and into the classroom.

In the end it’s said, “to love what you do, create what you love, and inspire the world.” A small mantra of mine which I hold dear to my heart that has guided me through some of the challenges, hard work, and dedication it’s taken to successfully partake in the ADE volunteer opportunity. To any design professional in the industry living and working in Philadelphia, I would highly recommend you take part in the Center for Architecture and Design’s ADE program. This experience will challenge your design thinking process and re-inspire your own design curiosity.

For everything Jennifer and I taught the students, they taught us just as much, if not more.