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Department of Architecture

Summer Camp Provides Peek into College Life, Professional Challenges

Christy Mihalenk contemplated her next step.

Earlier in the week, as part of the Penn State Architecture/Landscape Architecture Summer Camp, she watched The Peach Orchard, a Japanese short based on filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s dream about a little boy who encounters the spirits of the peach trees that were cut down by his family.

In an exercise meant to show how inspiration begets creativity, her counselors—faculty and experienced Penn State students—asked her to channel her reaction to The Peach Orchard and other shorts into a collage.

Next, the students turned the collages into line drawings, and in the penultimate step of their studio project, they turned an element of those drawings into models. 

Then, in a move straight out of a reality show, the counselors dropped a surprise on them.  

They had to transform their models into an actual space, specifically a dorm room, church, theatre, petting zoo, cemetery, or garden.

Mihalenk, a 16-year-old from State College, was nearly finished designing her dorm room. Situated in the middle of a courtyard, it featured an overhang that could provide shade, as well as shelter from the rain. Mihalenk’s arms were stained with orange paint, which she used on the roof of the building to evoke the vibrant Japanese robes worn in the movie.

The end result just barely resembled the collage she started with a few days ago, proving a compelling lesson in surviving a professor or client who suddenly changes the rules of the game. “It was a curve ball,” she said of the project’s final challenge. “But those unexpected little hitches are what you have to get used to in work and life.”

For five days, Mihalenk and the other high school students in the Architecture/Landscape Architecture Summer Camp received a taste of what it feels like to be a student and a professional in the design field. The camp is held every July, coordinated by the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Penn State Outreach. 

The camp kicked off with the first stage of the studio workshop, taught by Reggie Aviles, instructor of architecture; Sean Burkholder, assistant professor of landscape architecture; and Jodi La Coe, assistant professor of architecture. 

The week continued with opportunities to interact with students, alumni, and professionals, and learn the myriad paths taken by architects and landscape architects. A visit to the construction site for the Biobehavioral Health Building offered a glimpse into construction management; a stop at a local firm illustrated the roles that mechanical and lighting engineers play in landscape architecture. A highlight for many was a trip to Fallingwater, where students had a chance to study Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic building, and contemplate the ideas that shaped it.

Garrett Craig-Lucas, a 17-year-old from Dalton, Pennsylvania, knew plenty about Penn State when he started camp. His father graduated from the University in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, and is currently practicing in the public sector. Yet Craig-Lucas said the camp gave him a better understanding of how he could turn his twin passions for the arts and environment into a career, in addition to giving him a peek at the life of a Penn State student.

One detail that he won’t soon forget: how students drag their sleeping bags into the studio and camp out overnight to finish their projects. “Penn State is an enormous campus,” he said, “but you get the best of both worlds: the larger campus life and the smaller family atmosphere in the Stuckeman Building.”

At the end of the week, the students presented their work in the Stuckeman Family Building’s first-floor jury space, a ritual that’s played out countless times throughout the academic year by actual students in Penn State’s Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs. The students started with the collages: personal expressions of the movies and their lives. One student made a tree trunk from a clock tower, symbolizing the passage of time; another drew on his knowledge of origami to portray rose petals as jagged edges. The counselors reacted to the collages and critiqued the models, explaining how a skylight could be used in a bathroom or why a mistake could teach you more than a lesson plan.

Camp ended with a barbeque lunch, and some final thoughts from Stuckeman School faculty, who addressed the high school students and their parents. In just a few weeks, the students would be back in their high school classrooms. But college and the professional world were right around the corner. 

“A couple of days here,” said Scott Wing, interim head of the Department of Architecture, “might change the career choices they make later in life.”  --story by Michele Marchetti, photos by Fred Weber