Recap :: Fall 2013 Atelier Open Forum

Photo by Becky Anderson
By Anastasia Lyons, BDS Candidate

The week before Thanksgiving break, Atelier held an Open Forum for students to voice concerns and questions about recent changes in Practice. The panel of faculty and administrators was comprised of Ted Landsmark, President of the BAC, Julia Halevy, Provost and Academic Vice President, Len Charney, Director of Practice; and Ben Peterson, who introduced himself as the newly appointed Director of Practice Instruction.

A fourth year MID student opened the forum, stating, "As a self-sustaining person the BAC was perfect for me, because I was able to make rent during the day and study at night." Despite the issues that students were having with the Practice department, this student noted that the Practice Department is a resource that we have as students at the BAC, and is nonetheless worth celebrating. The administrators enthusiastically mirrored her sentiment, saying that Practice is at the heart of their mission at the BAC and making Practice work for students is an important, and ongoing project.

Marcus Hamblin, Past President of Atelier, and host of the Open Forum, framed the discussion within this overarching question of how is Practice responding to changes in the job market. He noted that while Gateway Projects were a great aid in helping students earn practice hours during the recession, many students are not working in traditional firms, yet Practice still evaluates students in the same way as previous to the recession. He asked, "How does Practice plan to change in response to that?"

Len responded by challenging the notion that they are giving full preference to only mainstream practice, but also offered this conciliation: "What constitutes practice is a moving target. We need to be more's clear this is something we need to be doing." Ben Peterson added, "I think students are frustrated with what is perceived as an archaic mode of evaluating skills...but...our method of evaluating is necessarily based on what licensing and professional organizations expect."

A student noted that they were told by Practice assessors that they need to leave their jobs, because they have been 'boxed-in' to their position and find themselves unable to gain the skills laid out in the Practice requirements. President Landsmark responded that the BAC is a professional school - not a training facility, or an employment agency - and because the BAC trains professionals, it is very important that they hold a standard by which they ensure students are earning the broad range of skills that design professionals need to have. "We don't train CAD jockeys," he said.

As a student, this was important to hear. What sounds like a Practice Assessor telling you that you may need to leave your job, really is that assessor's way of telling you that you need to round out your resume and skills. It was clear that the Practice staff and the administration care, and that they do not want students to be categorized as only having one or two skill sets. They want you to graduate with a degree, but also a resume of well-rounded experience.

Some students remarked about good experiences that they had with Practice assessors and their experience of working with the Practice Department. Students insisted on the need for requirements and expectations to be clearer, as well as that changes as a result of the transition into the new curriculum need to be communicated to students in a more accessible manner. The students talked about needing a different numerical system, and about assessors being confusing instead of consistent.

The Practice Faculty was clear - when something in your assessment doesn't seem right, students need to come into Practice, meet with Len or Ben, and they will work with you to resolve the issue. Practice is reworking the assessment process, and they have instructed assessors to be sensitive to that fact that what they are looking for is a culmination of skills.

There were more questions about the possibility of working with NCIDQ and IIDA in order for Interior Design students to earn credit towards professional accreditation. Ted Landsmark talked in detail about the rigidness of the NCIDQ requirements. Ted said that students need to put pressure on that organization to alter or change. Other questions arose about certifications for international students - and it was agreed that there should be another forum with international students within the Practice department to address these questions, since certification requirements really depends upon each of those students' countries.

At several points during the discussion, students brought up this issue of confusion about requirements and the need for more resources. One student talked about how great of a resource that she found her Academic Advisor, and this student suggested that Practice Department have, "...practice advisors to help us navigate moments such as applying for work, and persuading employers to take you on, despite relative inexperience."

Ben Peterson explained the strategy the Practice department is currently adopting in response to the problems students are having. "We are looking at a 3-part overhaul," he said, "First, a cultural change - which means becoming more transparent, being more available, having a more sincere and presence in the school. Two, a physical overhaul. If you've come into the department recently, we took down the wall and the 'shark-tank.' The third part is a virtual overhaul of the website, creating a framework that makes it easier to navigate." They want to make information more easily accessible while also cutting down on the number of emails, so the information is out there for students. Marcus Hamblin countered with the suggestion that Practice should begin sending formatted content to the Student Development Blog.

Overall the forum was a success in that students felt empowered to ask such critical questions and offer their own suggestions for improvement. The response from Practice centered consistently on the idea that they are in the midst of change, and that everything at this point is a work in progress. Practice faculty insisted on how much they value student feedback, and how this needs to be an ongoing conversation.