Designing a Great Future
CU Denver International Architecture Students Excel
Ranked by Forbes as #4 in “Best Places for Business and Careers in the U.S.” and #2 by U.S. News & World Report in “Ten Best Places To Live in the U.S.”, 2018, Denver, Colorado represents a convergence of sustainable business development and fresh opportunities. At the center of the thriving downtown area, international students at the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), University of Colorado Denver, see the city as their campus and canvas.
“CU Denver is in a great location for building case studies, for field trips throughout the city, and most importantly, for networking with architects and instructors who also work in architectural firms within a few blocks,” explained Wei Zhao, MArch alumnus.
Since Zhao arrived from China in 2011, he has seen first-hand the ongoing fulfillment of Denver’s possibilities.
“I traveled a lot in the United States, and loved many cities, like New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans,” said Zhao. “But after all, I still make Denver home because of all of its amenities and the potential that Colorado has to offer.”
The city and the college share a vision for the future, both at home and abroad. In the downtown Denver area, 42 projects are under construction or planned, 23 companies relocated or opened a new office in the center city over the past 24 months, and there has been a 21% increase in employment in the private sector*.
“Colorado was on the top list for us,” explained Mohammed Alnaim, a CAP doctoral student; his wife, Latifa Alnaim, graduated from the bachelor’s program and is now in the Master of Architecture program. “We have had an excellent experience, from all aspects, starting from the school to the people we interact with to the institution.”
The Alnaims view their educational system in Saudi Arabia as being exemplary, and feel that it well prepared them with the “necessary skills to engage and compete with our colleagues.” They also see the advantages of adding to this knowledge through studying in a different system, and through gaining proficiency in critical thinking within a different language, as well as by building relationship skills.
The couple noted that traveling abroad pushed them out of the comfort zone of their own culture, which is highly oriented toward family gatherings and support. During their educational journey at CU Denver, they have discovered a home away from home
“We were lucky to be part of the CU educational system. Every member of the institution was helpful in different situations and circumstances, either personally-related or religious or in cultural matters.”
The Alnaims’s “biggest challenge” was having their newborn baby during the final weeks of school, which “put us under a lot of pressure between the family obligations and final deadlines.”
Along with choices of degree programs in architecture, urban design, planning, landscape architecture, and historic preservation, international students at CU Denver are accessing a variety of internship and employment opportunities.
“I have learned many things by being a counselor in the ACE Mentor Program/CU Denver,” said Sonal Desai, an architecture student from India. “Specifically, patience, new skills from the students, management, and leadership.” The ACE Mentoring program is an after-school program for high school students that teaches students about architecture, construction and engineering. CAP students earn course credit as junior mentors assisting in the program. They work with local architects, engineers, landscape architects and construction industry professionals to organize and deliver the program at area high schools and the CU Denver location. Many of the university’s undergraduates have participated in the ACE Mentoring program while they were in high school.
Throughout the year, participants plan and design mock projects on actual sites and work with professionals in the design and build industries.
The city and state’s weekend recreational opportunities have also captured Desai’s interest. “While taking education classes here, I have attended many cultural events like the Cherry Creek Arts Festival and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and have volunteered at a few events.” In the nearby scenic Rocky Mountains, she has enjoyed hikes, bicycle tours, snowshoeing, and white water rafting.
“To other international students, I would say, ‘Be open, learn as much as you can, enjoy each moment, and have fun!’”
Through the university’s study abroad programs, international and American students learn about architecture, design, and sustainability practices in countries as diverse as China, Turkey, Italy, Guatemala, Finland, and more.
Pekko Sangi explained that he heard about The Johnson Scholarship when CAP faculty member Taisto Mäkelä was visiting Sangi’s university in Tampere, Finland. Through a generous donation from Don and Maria Johnson, The Johnson Scholarship covers full tuition for one-semester of study in the MArch degree program at the College of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado Denver; it is open to applicants from Finland, Italy, and Japan who have finished an undergraduate architecture degree or who currently are in a graduate architecture degree program in Finland, Italy, or Japan.
“I always wanted to come to the United States, and Colorado’s central location and proximity to nature felt suitable,” he commented.
Sangi was especially interested in the Design Build program’s incorporation of architectural concepts with hands-on build experience. He also benefitted from a Wood and Tectonics class that investigated buildings and tools used in Finland. “It was the first time that I was observing my home country from the outside,” he said. “It gave me a totally new perspective, and actually shrank my picture of the world as a place.”
Following graduation, Sangi’s “dream job” is to design healthy and ecologically-friendly solutions, combining approaches that were invented hundreds of years ago with the newest innovations.
Leo Darnell, Assistant Dean of Academic Services and Extended Studies, College of Architecture and Planning, and Board of Directors member of the ACE Mentor Program, supports the educational goals of the international and American students in CAP programs.
“The doorway is open for international students to learn from a wide variety of programs and real-world projects offered by the College of Architecture and Planning,” explains Darnell. “The students bring unique perspectives about architecture, historic preservation, and sustainable design from all across the world.”
“CU Denver is welcoming and supportive,” commented Zhao. “I got a part-time job as a computer lab monitor in CAP a year before graduation.” He added, “Denver has been booming; I love the city vibe and the mountain life.” After completing his master’s degree, Zhao landed a job with a Denver firm; he is now working at Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects.
Mohammed and Latifa Alnaim encourage other international students to “not hesitate” in considering studies at CU Denver, with its “perfect architectural curriculum in a delightful state”.
“The first semester will be tough, as you are still learning and adapting to a new system,” said Mohammed. “Do not be discouraged; once you make friends and start engaging with the community, all the stress will fade.”