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Omaha Magazine

Architectural Dreams Lead to Design Direction: How One Career Field Pushes Others

May 27, 2021 03:39PM ● By Lisa Lukecart
John Sova in bright industrial lobby

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Architects bring to mind the image of Mike Brady, the wholesome dad living in a midcentury modern home; or Kem Roomhaus, whom Batman called a “narcissistic creep but…also a genius”; or perhaps Flipper Purify, living an all-American dream that includes having an affair with his secretary.

Wealthy, powerful, artistic. It’s a career combination that’s attractive for many high school students trying to figure out their next step in that all-important journey called life. The reality, however, is that the field involves more than drawing buildings all day. Even before entering the bachelor’s degree program for architecture at Iowa State University, students are recommended to take trigonometry, physics, and studio art classes in high school.

Those STEM-heavy courses mean that students who are more interested in the art side of architecture don’t always enjoy the field as much as they thought they would. A study by the National Center for Educational Statistics in December 2017 mentioned 35% of college students who had originally declared a STEM major had changed their field of study within three years.

John Sova, president of RDG Planning & Design, knows “every brick and bone” of the Millard West school structure. After all, he helped build it. 

“I’m pretty proud of that and it makes me feel good,” Sova said. “This…this is why we need to get producing architects. It keeps this part of the economy going.”

Majoring in architecture, though, might seem daunting once those starry-eyed studio artists start looking at future career paths. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, known as one of the most talented architects of the 20th century, dropped out from the University of Wisconsin. Instead, he picked up the craft through on-the-site experience at a Chicago architectural firm.

That was in the late 1880s. Pencils and drafting papers of yore have now been replaced by high tech software and 3D computer graphics. Classes combine multiple aptitudes such as calculus and history. Critical and creative thinkers need to collaborate on projects from a diverse set
of perspectives.

David Karle, director of the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture, said an ideal fit for the profession would be “someone who values community, someone who respects space, and someone who respects the environment.”

Geneva Sinkula, 22, believes the major is worth the effort as she eyes the end of her fourth year at the UNL College of Architecture. She realized architecture merges her love of travel and art. The degree programs bring together different degree components the first and fourth years, providing an interdisciplinary experience. Fourth year students focus energy in the design studio, sometimes spending four to five hours working on projects. It shows them how firms in the real world work as a collective unit. Although she struggled a little her freshman year, mainly due to the high school/college transition, a mentor guided her. 

“A lot of people have a skewed vision of architecture. You are up all night every night, or it is the building that doesn’t close on campus. I think it’s the opposite. I have such a healthy passionate relationship with architecture and I never thought a major in college would be like that,” Sinkula, a mentor herself now, explained.

Those who are interested in the arts portion of architecture may end up in studio arts or graphic arts, while those who are interested in the construction part of architecture often end up switching to construction management. Those fields then have a bigger field of employees from which to choose.

Sinkula attended a summer discovery camp while in high school that opened her eyes to the field. The six-day Career Explorations in Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape Architecture Workshop at UNL allows interested students to really see what the major is all about before stepping through the doors. The degree program ranges from landscape architecture to interior design to community and regional planning, welcoming a mix of talent. Sinkula will graduate as a first-generation college student in her family and plans to head to graduate school with a focus in historic preservation. Most in the program devote at least six years in order to acquire accreditation.

The dropout rates in the UNL College of Architecture remain relativity low. The retention rate from the fall to the spring of 2020 held at a steady 97.4% while enrolling an almost even number of males and females. The college has a 96% job placement rate for architecture, a 96% rate for interior design, and a 90% rate for landscape architecture. 

Sova believes the architectural job market has recently become competitive for those newly graduated applicants. He typically hires a couple newbies each year, but graduates have had more choices these past two years due to an increase in demand. Sova, also a member of the advisory council at the UNL College of Architecture, is celebrating his 40th year at the firm. Those shivers of anticipation of walking into something he created still hasn’t left him. 

“I love every morning getting up and being an architect,” Sova said. 

Visit rdgusa.com or architecture.unl.edu for more information.

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann