Published August 18, 2020
The prospect of beginning a new graduate program, on a new campus, and perhaps in a new city, is challenging enough under normal circumstances. Add to that the disruption of an historic pandemic and social unrest across the U.S., and you have a recipe for heightened anxiety.
The School of Architecture and Planning is taking the uncertainty of the moment head on through an expanded orientation program designed to ease students into the ‘new normal’. Called PIVOT, the five-week program helps students prepare for the shift: toward life in Buffalo, toward graduate study, toward research and practice within our disciplines, and toward the questions of our current moment
Running weekly from July 28 to August 25, the series of faculty-led conversations and student peer panel discussions zeroes in on current debates within higher education and practice as the built environment professions respond to the pandemic and national call-to-action on racial injustice. PIVOT also features elements of the traditional orientation agenda – such as a virtual tour of Buffalo, meet-and-greet sessions with current students, and updates on what to expect for the fall 2020 return to campus.
Martha Bohm, associate professor of architecture and associate dean for academic affairs, says the program empowers incoming students by making them an active part of the conversation.
“Our new graduate students are facing the same disruptions from the pandemic, economic recession, and street protests as we are – all while embarking on a new course of study in a new place. PIVOT provides a space for them to grapple with the disorientation of our current moment even as they reorient their ways of thinking along the lines of their new disciplines.”.”
Participants have included nearly 40 students from around the world who are new to UB and will enter the School’s graduate programs in architecture, urban planning and real estate development this fall.
The program opened with a spotlight on the City of Buffalo – the center of the School’s place-based approach to teaching and research. Instead of the traditional walking tour students explored the city through two films that showcase the city’s urban landscapes – the School’s internationally exhibited “See It Through Buffalo” documentary short, and a recent feature on Buffalo’s world-class urban design and architecture.
Faculty-led conversations have considered the intersection of public health and social justice in relation to place and the built environment.
“Our new graduate students are facing the same disruptions from the pandemic, economic recession, and street protests as we are – all while embarking on a new course of study in a new place. PIVOT provides a space for them to grapple with the disorientation of our current moment even as they reorient their ways of thinking along the lines of their new disciplines.”
- Martha Bohm, associate professor of architecture, associate dean for academic affairs, Schoool of Architecture and Planning
Korydon Smith, chair and professor of architecture, discussed patterns of global migration in Buffalo and new challenges to emplacement due to the pandemic. A conversation on the relationship of place to racial injustice, led by Urban and Regional Planning Professor Henry Taylor and Architecture Assistant Professor Charles Davis, generated deep conversation with the participants as they considered their potential – and responsibility – to cultivate anti-racism in the way we study, conduct research and ultimately design and build cities.
Next week, urban planning professor Samina Raja will present research on the connections between human health and the built environment, and the particular challenges for people of color and low-income communities.
Dean Robert Shibley, who has participated in each of the sessions, says today’s global context presents new possibilities for the built environment professions to mobilize structural change on urgent societal needs. “We are not defeated by the current moment. We are energized by the opportunities for global citizenship that it presents. Health, equity and social justice are measures of our place on this planet. These issues have to be part of our daily conversation, as a School, as a community, and as a profession.”
Students have responded enthusiastically to the community-building aspects and intellectual rigor of the program.
Jeremy Sanford, who comes to Buffalo from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied conservation biology and environmental studies, said PIVOT has smoothed his transition into the MUP program. “I was uncertain and stressed about starting a new program and given the current situation we are in. PIVOT allowed me to put a face to the information I had been receiving and empowered me to be more confident in the next steps going forward. Especially helpful are the small group discussions which enable getting to know colleagues and their perspectives.”
Sanford is also particularly energized by the School’s engagement with Buffalo. “I appreciate the intricacies of the city and promoting the idea of knowing a city and where it can be improved. It’s really cool and inspiring to see I can get my ideas out there.”
Hali Sheriff, who will start the MArch program remotely from Peru, where she is currently a practicing architect, says the program has helped her feel more connected, despite being a continent away. “The PIVOT orientation program was very useful and informative, especially in the current world situation with remote education. I enjoyed learning new content and exchanging opinions with peers from different countries.”