May 23, 2023

College of Distinguished Professors May Newsletter

Embracing Change: Students Are Where the Action Is

By Christine Theodoropoulos
ACSA Distinguished Professor and Dean, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, CalPoly, San Luis Obispo

Dear ACSA Colleagues,

Someone recently asked me what changed the most since I joined Cal Poly as dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

As I scrolled through the changes we experienced–planned and unplanned, proactive and reactive, continuous and abrupt, solidifying and destabilizing—all that schools of architecture have seen over the last decade, my answer landed…students. Students are where the action is. And students are powerful agents of change, especially in schools of architecture where they learn to envision the future of a better world.

Each new class of students brings new perspectives and experiences that reflect all they are, the communities they come from, and the learning communities they create in architecture school. My advice to faculty beginning their teaching careers is that students will show you how to teach them. Being observant and responsive to what they signal is best way to nurture your authentic, ever-relevant teaching voice. The educators I admire most do this.

I am enjoying our last days with this year’s graduating class. They are committed to tackling the great challenges–climate mitigation, housing, social equity, community resilience–as they explore the breadth of what exists and what is possible. As digital natives they engage in constant, and at times overwhelming, processes of self-directed, just-in-time learning. They ask us to support them personally and help them succeed professionally in ways that transcend curriculum. This is especially true when it is time to cross the bridge from school to practice. It is a path that schools, employers, and students share, and although we each do our part, there are gaps that make the journey less accessible and more difficult than it should be. There are the conventions by which we judge applicants, the salaries that cannot cover living costs while repaying student loans, and the stress of uncertainty as students search for a path among many that feels right for them. The ACSA helps by amplifying the changing voices of students and giving voice to their changing needs.

As you may have heard, I will be retiring from Cal Poly in the fall. My career as an architectural educator has been a true privilege for which I am deeply grateful. My path was enriched by the inspiration and support I received from countless colleagues who have become my ACSA friends. At meetings, on the Board, and in committees, the ideas we explored and the advice we shared over all those coffees, receptions, meals, and walks have always been and continue to be an invaluable influence on my work and life.  I look forward to staying connected.

Best wishes!

Christine Theodoropoulos, AIA, PE, is Dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where she stewards five nationally recognized accredited programs in planning, landscape architecture, architecture, engineering and construction. As an architect-engineer working in the realm of structural design, she has explored ways to integrate architecture and engineering practice to improve earthquake-resistant design, address environmental implications of buildings, and advance architects’ understanding of structures. In collaboration with colleagues and inspired by students, she leads curricular innovations, supports research initiatives, and helps prepare graduates for careers that shape the built environment.