Cornell Future Architect Award Recipients Given Full Funding to Attend Summer Architecture Program

students seated on stone blocks in a plaza
From left, CFAA students Alexis Torres, Nadiya Farrington, Juan Lopez, Naomi Hicks, Xavier Kendricks, Alyssa Rivera, and Tracy Eteh-Benissan. William Staffeld / AAP
a man holding an architectural model made of cardboard
Alexis Torres presenting work in the L. P. Kwee Studios during midterm reviews. William Staffeld / AAP
a man and a woman stand together in a modern concrete and glass building
CFAA program mentor and donor Michael Neumann (B.Arch. ’82), left, and Tracy Eteh-Benissan. William Staffeld / AAP
a woman wearing earbuds drawing at a desk
Alyssa Rivera prepares for final reviews in the L. P. Kwee Studios. William Staffeld / AAP
college students listening to a presentation by another student
Nadiya Farrington's midterm review during the 2017 Introduction to Architecture Summer Program. William Staffeld / AAP
October 31, 2017

This past summer, seven students from high schools across the U.S. were able to attend the Introduction to Architecture Summer Program at AAP at no cost.

The students were recipients of the Cornell Future Architect Award (CFAA), a merit-based award for high school students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who have expressed an interest in architecture.

The CFAA was established in 2016 with seed funding from Bill '69 and Catherine Perez. The gift was the result of a conversation that Perez, a university trustee, had with Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning, about diversity and the barriers to attracting underrepresented students to the college and, in particular, to architecture. Perez and Kleinman agreed that eliminating the financial barriers to attending a summer program could make a difference to talented high school students by offering them exposure to the field of architecture in a top academic setting.

The inaugural year saw three students in attendance. Thanks to additional alumni support, the 2017 program was expanded to include a total of seven recipients and offered features including a year-long mentorship and free supply kits.

Students in the summer program attend morning lectures and integrated workshops that explore architectural principles such as composition, history, preservation, landscape architecture, planning, and urban design. The afternoon architecture design studio puts into practice information learned in the morning lectures and workshops. The studio is taught by Cornell Department of Architecture faculty members and recent graduates of Cornell's esteemed bachelor's and master's of architecture programs and incorporates periodic reviews by invited faculty and guest critics as well as weekly field trips.

"It's incredible to learn so much in such a short amount of time," said high school student Nadiya Farrington, who lives with her mother and sister in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "The lectures taught me how to think like an architect and see the world through an architect's point of view. I know that I want to continue to pursue a career in architecture."

Tracy Eteh-Benissan, who is the daughter of West African immigrants, lives with her mother, grandmother, and younger brother in the Bronx.

"I was introduced to the art-based and introspective aspects of architecture and encouraged to push ideas that emerged in my sketches and models," she said. "I plan on using my knowledge of architecture — and hopefully urban planning — to make my community better for the people who reside there."

Along with an increase in the number of recipients, alumni support now provides two individual award designations and a new mentorship opportunity. Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) has funded The KPF Cornell Future Architect Award, to be given to two students annually through 2020. The Winston Perez Ventura Cornell Future Architect Award is a gift from Matthew (B.Arch. '79) and Lizanne Witte to support one student annually. It is named for incoming first-year architecture student Winston Perez Ventura, who died unexpectedly shortly before beginning his studies at Cornell.

In its second year, the program launched a new mentorship opportunity that gives CFAA recipients access to an individual mentor before, during, and after the summer program. The mentors will assist the students with preparing applications to architecture schools, help them prepare for interviews, and hone their portfolios.

The CFAA mentors include Kimberly Dowdell (B.Arch. '06) of the Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department; Mark Hill (B.Arch. '84), founding partner of Studio H Architecture, Planning, and Environments, and a graduate of the summer program; Michael Neumann (B.Arch. '81), principal at Michael Neumann Architecture of New York City; Nick Savvides (B.Arch. '14), a recent graduate of AAP; Stephanie Ulrich (B.Arch. '08), landscape and architectural designer at James Corner Field Operations; Lisa Zhu (B.Arch. '16), who works at SOM in Chicago; and Ricardo Zurita (B.Arch. '84), principal of Ricardo Zurita Architecture & Planning, P.C.

Neumann is both a mentor and program donor. His support covers the cost of the students' supply kits and provides a stipend for materials. For him, interacting with the students was significant.

"As both a past architecture student at Cornell and now an interviewer for applicants to the B.Arch. program, I have learned that the value and relevance of our education and profession are measured by the richness of the different cultures and viewpoints that inform it," said Neumann. "So many talented students are missing an opportunity to share in this potentially amazing dialogue either because of the lack of exposure to or preparedness for architecture. It is great to see enthusiasm and confidence develop in the CFAA students as they progress through the program and begin to realize the endless possibilities in the field of architectural design."

By Patti Witten