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Partnership Gives Arkansas Delta Students College Design Experience

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Students work on their designs.

By Angela Courtney

The Alex Foundation recently partnered with the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture (FJSOA) to give students from the Arkansas Delta an educational summer learning experience. Students from Dermott High School and Lakeside Middle School (Lake Village) were provided an all-expense paid award to attend a summer design camp in Fayetteville on the UofA campus, June 11 – 14, 2013.

The Alex Foundation was established in honor of Alex Courtney, who majored in architecture prior to his passing in 2010. His family, who administers the Foundation, wanted to continue Alex’s spirit of giving and keep his memory alive through others.

“Alex was always very giving,” said Arthur Courtney, a board trustee and Alex’s cousin. “He would share his last of anything to help others. He enjoyed art and math, and was studying architecture in college. We see his Foundation as one way to keep his memory alive.”

The Foundation contacted the FJSOA last year to inquire about their summer design program. At the time, the program, a day camp, was for local students in the immediate Fayetteville area. However, the Foundation continued to work with the university, and they worked out a plan to make the trip possible.

Alex FoundationJudy Stone with the FJSOA Advising Center said she wasn’t quite sure of what to expect with this new venture. “This was the first time we ever did anything like this with students attending the design camp from cities other than the Fayetteville area. We didn’t know what to expect,” said Judy.

The Foundation was eager to get students from the Arkansas Delta involved because throughout the year when the Foundation presented at high schools in the state, most students attending college fairs and other presentations about college were not familiar with the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture and interior design. As a result, even more were not interested in pursuing a career in the architecture profession.

“We wanted students to have some of the experiences Alex had when he was in junior high and high school,” said Angela Courtney, Alex’s mother. “He was exposed to so many opportunities. His best friend’s dad is an architect, and it was easy for him to gain access to the discipline through shadowing, internships and travels.”

To garner interest in the summer design camp from the community, the Foundation placed a public service announcement in the local newspapers in Dermott, Lake Village and Dumas to attract students and families, and later met with junior high school counselors. “We notified Mann Junior High School (Mann) in Little Rock of the camp as well, since Alex attended Mann,” Angela said. “Since we weren’t sure of the availability of our funding, we kept the enrollment number to eight students. Seven eighth grade students enrolled, of which five students were from Lake Village and two were from Dermott. And they were all boys!”

According to the Foundation, the process from beginning to ending was a labor of love and a learning experience in itself. Alex Foundation and FJSOA worked closely together to ensure the process was a collaborative effort. The Landscape Architecture Department staff facilitated the summer design camp program and activities. Angela said that everyone she encountered on the U of A campus was very helpful.

“The Landscape Architecture Department staff really rolled out the welcome wagon for us. Abby Davidson, who works with the Department, jumped right in and facilitated everything, from assisting us with housing to ensuring we had a checklist for a proper transition,” Angela said. “We could not have asked for a better and more professional team. They were much more than congenial. They have been a true partner.”

Project-Based and Cooperative Learning

The three design camp instructors, who are licensed professionals, Phoebe Lickwar, Aubrey Pate and Alison Turner, and their two assistants, Hillary Ramsay and Ashley Sullivan, gave the students the opportunity to experience interior design, landscape architecture and architecture. From blueprints and prototypes of actual projects to the study of nature and the environment, students were introduced to project-based and cooperative learning through hands-on activities. The four day design camp immersed students in the design process as they designed a trail-side reading room. They collected images that would inspire them for their collage board. They also aided schematic siting for the project approach; project site analysis; project site sketching and drawing; design development; visualizing the project; drawing the plan; and building a model. The students gave a presentation of their design projects as part of their final class and received awards.

The summer design camp instructors imparted words of wisdom to the students to continue learning about their designs. “You can learn a lot just by reading …Look at pictures of what people are making to be inspired. Think about three dimensional space,” said Alison. “Drawing landscapes and what’s around you, stimulates hand-eye coordination.”

“As a designer, we all have our own opinions. There are multiple solutions for any design project. One of the great things about the profession is that you see your work built,” said Phoebe.

Complimenting the students, Aubrey said the instructors enjoyed the experience as much as the students did. “We enjoyed having the students in our class. They were well-mannered and well-behaved. It was a great experience for us.”

As a follow up review after the students’ participation in the design camp, Judy Stone stated that she was pleased with the outcome. “I’m glad this turned out good for the students. I hope some were inspired to explore a design education further,” she said.

Beyond The Campus Experience

In addition to the design camp experience, students heard from motivational speakers, including Excell LaFayette Jr., president of Bentonville-based LaFayette Enterprises, LLC and former corporate Walmart executive; and Gabriel Golden, a police officer with the U of A Office of Public Safety. In both presentations, the speakers shared with the students words of encouragement and support. The speakers also gave examples of their life experiences and career choices to connect with the students and inform them of the importance of making the best of their summer design camp experience.

Students were able to participate in the FJSOA Summer Design Camp with funding, in part, by a generous anonymous donor and the Alex Foundation. Dermott and Lakeside students who attended the camp were chaperoned by Deborah Patterson, Lakeside Junior High School counselor; Ida Courtney, Alex’s 91 year-old grandmother; and Angela Courtney, Alex’s mother.

Alex Foundation, a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization, offers academic scholarship assistance and educational resources for students attending Southeast Arkansas Delta schools; Mann Middle School and Parkview Arts Magnet High School in Little Rock; and Crestwood Elementary School in North Little Rock. The mission of the Alex Foundation is to engage, engender and enlighten students to pursue careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in architecture, art and mathematics through mentoring, strengthening their capacity, and supporting their educational attainment and continued advancement to meet domestic and global challenges. The Foundation’s efforts are collaborated through a multiple intelligence approach to include: cooperative learning, experiential learning, project-based learning, and multidisciplinary learning. For information, visit www.alex-foundation.org

Fay Jones School of Architecture offers three professional degree options: the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.), the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA), and the Bachelor of Interior Design (BID). For more information, visit http://architecture.uark.edu.

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