Students work on project

Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning has become a national partner of Project Lead the Way, a program that emphasizes hands-on learning, collaboration, creative problem solving, and STEM skills for K-12 students throughout the country.

The partnership will include CAP instructors teaching design and build skills in special high school workshops and visiting classrooms along with students and alumni to talk about careers in the built environment. CAP’s inaugural Interactive City event in November drew high school students from Jeffersonville to East Chicago to a Saturday workshop at The Platform in Indianapolis’ City Market.

Guided by CAP professors, an alumna, and three current students, the high schoolers brainstormed design elements for an alley adjacent to City Market. The event marked the beginning of a partnership with Project Lead the Way, a STEM-oriented program that immerses high schoolers in engineering, architecture, and technology fields.

“Project Lead the Way helped me understand more about architecture,” says Kenzi Bekiares, who has already been accepted into CAP’s first-year program next year. “Then I went to (CAP’s summertime program) Design Works, and learned even more.” Gesturing to her sketches for the alleyway project, she adds, “This is definitely what I love doing.”

Students worked in groups to brainstorm, sketch, and then construct their ideas using cardboard, tracing paper, and markers. In the end, fountains, arches, tiles, metal sculptures, a swing, flowerboxes and canopies of colorful fabric were among the objects suggested to engage pedestrians to make better use of the busy alley.

Associated Dean Dave Ferguson praised the students’ work and said they’d just experienced a taste of the common first-year program. “There’s always more than one answer and each team brought their own unique ideas to the project,” he says.

A tightly-knit trio of friends from East Chicago, Carlos Lucio, Javier Carrillo, and Sonia Menchaca clearly enjoyed the design project and teamwork. Quiet Carlos has already been accepted to Ball State where he plans to study biology, while his more talkative friend Javier wants to study business. Taping their arch to the mock alley, Sonia said she wants to join CAP. “I’d like to work with cities,” she says. “I want to help places like East Chicago.”

A History at CAP

“The college is so excited about our partnership with Project Lead the Way,” says CAP Dean Phil Repp. “We believe CAP programs offer PLTW students challenging career options that will prepare them well for entering the built environment professions.”

It’s not every seventh-grader who gets to use a band saw and a drill press at school, but it was a common occurrence for Myrisha Colston, M.Arch ’18, and her classmates involved in Project Lead the Way’s engineering track in Indianapolis. They built racecars, model bridges, and model Rubik’s cubes, she recalls. She thought she might grow up to become a mechanical engineer.

Her interests changed at Arsenal Tech where by her senior year she wanted to become an architect in part because of an internship she served with Ball State alumna Debra Kunce, B.Arch ’93, then at Schmidt Associates.

“The design and construction industry is well served by this high school level program,” says Kunce about Project Lead the Way. “We need more critical thinkers.”

Project Lead the Way’s high school programs are focused on computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. Ball State sophomore Javan Johnson earned nine college credits by taking those engineering classes at Muncie Central High School. He said the experience prepared him for CAP studio classes. “I was already accustomed to having to work along my own timeline and manage myself and groups of other students’ work to get everything done on time and to a standard we were comfortable with,” he says.

Last year Colston returned to her old high school with Janice Shimizu-Coggeshall, assistant professor of architecture, to talk to Project Lead the Way students. “It was kind of surreal,” she says of seeing her photo on the wall next to the projects she crafted years ago. “It reminded me of where I was mentally at that age.”

Like Colston and Johnson, Nate Robert-Eze, a senior in Urban Planning, is a Project Lead the Way alumnus. “Project Lead the Way helped me to find my love for design,” he says. “We used programs such as AutoCad that exposed me to the profession. I would say they basically ignited the flame which was then fueled at Ball State University.”