For the second year, I have been co-leading a co-op program in which architecture students from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo spend a ten-week internship at the WATG-Irvine office. The program offers students valuable work experience and, at the same time, an opportunity to complete a design studio project that was developed for the internship. At the end of the program, the students return to Cal Poly and present their project to their peers, professors and WATG mentors. Subsequently, they are graded and credited for their work just like any of their design studio courses.
The students arrive at WATG filled with enthusiasm. For them, it's an adventure away from architecture school. They are very appreciative of the opportunity to test the waters and learn about WATG, its projects, its people and culture, and architecture in general. Interestingly, their time in the office is not just an abridged glimpse of their future careers, but it’s also an opportunity to learn a little bit about them selves—their disposition, character and passion as future architects.
It is within this premise that, perhaps, in the process of mentoring the students, I have hoped to also learn something along the way. Indeed, I discovered lessons about mentoring.
I have learned that teaching, in many ways, is like telling a story. A good storyline requires an engaging start that identifies the necessary and fundamental components. It needs to evolve in a clear direction, with opportunities to divulge what lies ahead and opportunities to tie new ideas with those discussed in the past.
Quite often, lessons from years of experience can be too overwhelming to young minds. When crammed in bursts of discourse, there's a tendency to muddle the basic ingredients of a particular lesson. As such, I have found that it is important to listen to myself now and then and place myself in their shoes. There is a finite amount of knowledge that can be covered in a short amount of time; yet, at the same time, I found that I always need to allow provisions for the times when their exploratory minds challenge my customary expectations.
Young and inexperienced as they are, the students are free from the so-called "architectural baggage," allowing them freedom to explore from what may be, at times, obvious and time-tested design solutions. It is always invigorating to look at a design problem in fresh new ways. For the students, this process allows for growth, self-learning, discovery and experimentation, with time and schedule as the only limitations. For me, it’s the continued search beyond the obvious: it is an opportunity to reintroduce and rediscover architectural thoughts and ideas along familiarized paths, while maintaining enthusiasm, momentum and the unrelenting passion for architecture.
I have found that the students constantly challenge and put to test the teaching methods I have built from the previous group. Simply put, different students have different needs. Although this appears to make the mentoring process more taxing, it actually unravels opportunities in improving the teaching method and raising the standards that exceed their predecessors.
I have found that the internship program can become a perfect venue to understand, identify and test a structured means of disseminating WATG's vast library and wealth of knowledge and experience to its young staff. Through the process of carefully developing lesson plans, comprehensive week-by-week schedules, milestones and mini-deadlines for the students, it provided me an idea of what it would take to train young designers in the office.
Mentoring students and teaching them about hotel design, architecture and the creative process is no doubt a very rewarding and invigorating endeavor. The opportunity to mentor students is also an opportunity to appreciate the exemplary and creative environment at WATG. Sometimes, it is through expounding on such things that I am reminded, once more, the many things that make WATG a very exciting and cool place to work.
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