UM unveils architecture program for Detroit teens
Detroit – — There is a pathway that can lead others to the profession Monica Ponce de Leon loves so passionately. She and others at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning are determined to help Detroit students find it.
Ponce de Leon is the school’s dean and an example of where architecture can take someone — having come from Venezuela to the United States at an early age and rising through the profession.
Tuesday evening, Taubman and other UM officials, including UM President Mark Schlissel, introduced an Architecture Prep Program designed to expose students from Detroit Public Schools to the challenges the field has to offer. Students from the inaugural class joined parents and supporters for an open house at the Midtown center where it takes place.
The program is an opportunity to extend the possibilities of architecture to a student population, including women and minorities, that is historically under-represented. Children who grow up among social circles that don’t include designers tend to never see it as an avenue for study. And that cycle repeats itself generation after generation.
“The lack of minorities in this profession is perpetuating,” Ponce de Leon said. A 2008 study showed that only 1.5 percent of architects in the United States were African-American.
That is where the Architecture Prep Program, or ArcPrep, comes in. Starting in January, the program will engage 38 juniors from three Detroit schools in an environment that approximates the approach of a real-life architecture firm. The students will meet at Taubman’s Midtown location and earn four high school credits for their work.
The program is a boon to architectural enthusiasts such as Joshua Powell, 16, a Cass Tech junior who crafted elaborate Lego structures with his twin brother as a child.
He hopes to someday open his own architectural firm and oversee major projects. Learning more about the field while attending the program, he said, “it’ll definitely give me a better start in college.”
Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin agreed the early push “will give them a leg up. This level of exposure will help them work harder. ... This drives it home for them.”
Instruction will be provided by architectural teaching fellows who are already doing research in Detroit.
“We expose them to design and we expose them in the same way our college students are exposed to design,” Ponce de Leon said. “They will be in a design studio. ... They all have their own drafting table. ... We give the entire class the same problem to work on.”
Aisha Begum, 17, also a Cass Tech student joining the effort, has long been interested in drawing and design. Exploring how to capitalize on those pursuits while gaining hands-on experience in a possible career is “exciting,” she said. “You get to try new things, you get to develop things. … It’s a great opportunity to learn.”
Christopher Hendricks, another Cass Tech junior, said he relished “putting my mind to work and finding what I can create.”
Besides his school, students participating in the coming semester will be from the Detroit School of Arts and Western International High. The program has been organized by Taubman’s associate dean Milton Curry and with the backing of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.
“Architecture represents communities,” Ponce de Leon said. “And it’s important that we have the right diversity in the profession ... so we can properly represent those communities.”
Schlissel said the program also gives UM the chance to extend its community outreach while positively impacting the city. “To be able to contribute to the resurgence of Detroit while continuing our mission — education and serving the public — is wonderful.”