If innovation is the goal, then thinking outside of the box isn’t always enough. In fact, it may be best to do away with boxes altogether.
That’s the organizing principle behind the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State University.
By removing walls that once separated majors, MSU is helping students build collaborative skills that are highly valued in the professional world while multiplying their opportunities for career success.
The college allows students in art, architecture, building construction science and interior design to learn from each other by working together on projects. The open, cubicle-free dynamic deepens their appreciation for different perspectives and prepares them to excel an industry powered by diverse teams of creative professionals.
The industry also has experienced a surge in entrepreneurship. Today’s business environment is ripe for creatives who are interested in launching start-ups and teaming with other professionals to develop new products and services. By focusing on problem-solving, the collaborative studio model generates more questions, answers and ideas — a fertile combination for entrepreneurship and innovation.
For students who are serious about becoming business owners, MSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Outreach offers a variety of resources for all majors, including access to funding, training and mentorships.
“We’re seeing more entrepreneurship across all disciplines and more pathways to a professional life in the arts, design and construction,” Bourgeois says. “Incoming freshman will be getting jobs that don’t even exist now. The most effective way to prepare students for the future is through problem-solving, which teaches them to keep asking questions rather than learning the right answers. It’s a framework that drives innovation.”
The MSU experience also prepares students to be leaders. Architecture major McKenzie Johnson of Fayetteville, Ga., first heard about MSU from her high school counselor, who recommended that she attend the Design Discovery Workshop hosted each summer by the architecture school. A few years later, Johnson was the workshop director.
“It was an incredible opportunity to plan and lead the Design Discovery Workshop for 45 high school students,” says Johnson, who also has served as campus affairs chairman for the Student Association Senate and president of MSU’s American Institute of Architecture Students chapter. “My MSU experiences have shaped me into a strong leader who appreciates the value of time management, communication and hard work.”
MSU’s School of Architecture is ranked in the top 25 nationally and is the only one where architecture and building construction science students share a full year of curriculum. The distinction won over Hunter Bullock of Nolensville, Tenn., who considered several universities before choosing MSU’s building construction science degree program.
“I didn’t want to sit in a class all day learning about one topic. I’d rather learn about several topics and implement them all at once,” says Bullock, a third-generation builder whose father specializes in hospital construction. “The collaborative environment brings knowledge. You have to work through projects with people who have different mindsets to reach a common goal.”
Even though working with his dad has given Bullock a head start in the construction business, his MSU experience along with internships have helped hone his project-management skills and build confidence in his knowledge and capabilities.
“I love the healthcare industry, and I definitely want to build hospitals,” he says. “I know when I graduate, I’ll be able to walk onto a job site or into an office and know exactly what’s going on and what I’m there to do. Thanks to MSU, I’m more prepared to be successful in my profession.”
For new students, the collaborative studio concept is not only a learning technique but also a way of life. The CAAD Living-Learning Community comprises two freshman residence halls located near the college’s studios. The community creates a context in which students can network, study and work together while acclimatizing to a unique learning environment.
As they progress, students practice their collaborative skills in a series of competitive projects that address real-world scenarios. Architecture student Sarah Hoing worked with two fellow architecture majors and a building construction science student on a project that ended up winning a design excellence award.
“It was our first experience working with a contractor and creating a design that would ultimately be priced and phased,” says Hoing of Randolph, Miss. “The collaboration among my team members was remarkable, and it was enlightening to see the logistics side of construction that I don’t cover as an architect.”
In choosing to attend MSU, Hoing was drawn to the low student-to-professor ratio and opportunities for international travel and research. During her senior year, Hoing won a $20,000 Aydelott Travel Award, which allowed her to study buildings in England, Rome, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.