It's Never Too Early to Introduce Students to Architecture
As most of us know from experience, the average high school student will probably change their mind just about every week about the professional path they want to pursue. For Michelle Ryland, an associate at the architecture and structural engineering firm of Klein & Hoffman in Chicago, that was all the more reason to offer a summer internship to high school students.
“It happened very organically,” she says. A casual conversation with a friend who works at the UChicago Charter School in the South Side turned into a discussion of whether Klein & Hoffman would consider accepting a few students from the high school for the summer of 2017. “He asked if we would be interested, and I said, ‘probably!’”
At firms like Klein & Hoffman, employees work with subject matter that requires specialized schooling, so interns are typically in college or at the post-grad level. But Ryland understood the potential of exposing teenagers to not only architecture, but also a professional working environment.
An application process included two short essay questions aimed to determine the students' interest in architecture and building design. Thirty students applied. After narrowing down the list to about six candidates, Ryland visited UChicago Charter to conduct interviews.
“[The interivews] were informal, but I wanted to show them the process of applying for a job,” says Ryland.
The two students chosen were Sanii Terry and Joshua Banks. A strong background or interest in architecture wasn’t required, but both Terry and Banks had some knowledge of the subject. One day a week for six weeks in the summer of 2017, Terry and Banks came to the downtown office of Klein & Hoffman and shadowed Ryland and her colleague Julie Burke. Though the internship was relatively short, the students were able to get to know Klein & Hoffman’s employees, assist on projects, and learn about Chicago’s notable architecture.
One of the projects Ryland had begun that summer involved a wooden sukkah at the Anshe Emet Synagogue, a circa-1910 brick structure that had been home to another Jewish congregation before Anshe Emet moved there in 1929. After two decades of experiencing Chicago’s harsh winters, the glue connecting the overlapping strips of wood of the sukkah had dissolved, and the structure was swaying.
Traditionally used during the holiday of Sukkot, a sukkah is a hut or tent-like structure that symbolizes the makeshift dwellings Israelites lived in for 40 years after they escaped from Egypt. According to Jewish law, a sukkah must have three walls and a covering, which can only be made of natural materials grown from the ground.
At Anshe Emet Synagogue, the sukkah looks like a garden trellis, with wooden columns supporting overlapping strips of wood of the roof. Because the coverings of a sukkah must be unprocessed and natural, Ryland had to determine how to structurally reinforce it with materials other than metal.
“I needed to go look at the sukkah, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for [Terry and Banks] to go out in the field and see what we do,” Ryland says. Ryland, Banks, and Terry visited the synagogue for a day to evaluate the structure in person.
“There weren’t any drawings, so we needed to take measurements of all wood pieces and determine their size and spacings,” explains Ryland. Rather than simply telling the students to measure and photograph, she made sure to explain to them the reasons for measuring each piece, or why a certain detail of the sukkah needed to be captured. Banks focused on taking the measurements while Terry photographed the structure, making sure to note details and the overall structure.
“Them being in the field was really helpful because it would have taken me twice as long,” Ryland notes. And bringing the interns out of the office and into the field exposed them to an experience they wouldn’t normally have found.
On their last day, Ryland and a colleague took Terry and Banks on a river boat tour that explored Chicago’s architecture.
“It was history that, despite growing up here, they had no idea [about]. It was really rewarding for me to see how much of an impact it had on them,” she says.
Though high school students change their minds frequently on what they want to do when they graduate, Ryland hopes that spending a summer with Klein & Hoffman will help Terry and Banks—and future interns—have a clearer idea of their professional path.
“It was our first time working with young interns,” says Ryland. “We learned a lot, and we’re hoping to continue it this summer and make it an even more meaningful experience.”