Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Choose Electives Wisely...

By Laura Thomas

All Graduate Students are required to have 42 credits in order to complete the Masters of Architecture degree. The 15 month curriculum is pretty rigid and allows one slot for an elective in the spring semester. However, in my case and a few others who attended SIUC before the Masters program was established, Professional Practice was a required course for the undergrad program. Now it is taught at the graduate level allowing me to have an opening in my fall schedule and in need of a class to take.

Back in March, I met with Mr. Dobbins to discuss the program and classes in more detail and what my options were for elective courses. Dobbins offered several great suggestions that previous students had taken and loved. Among his suggestions were ANTH 410K - Ecological Anthropology and PSAS 480-851 - Designing Outdoor Spaces. His other suggestion was to find a class related to my thesis that would provide additional resources and insight.

I knew that I wanted to take PSAS 480-851 as it would relate to my thesis and every project for the rest of my career. Since it is an online course that can be taken in the fall or spring, I had several options and a tough decision to make about what class I wanted to take as my *bonus* class.

I spent hours looking through every class offered across every major at the masters level. I didn't want a complete blow off class just to fill the hole. I wanted a class that would benefit me and give me an advantage over other candidates. What I chose was MFGS 550 - Project Leadership. The catalog entry description reads, "This course is designed to develop a graduate student's human relationship skills for leading project teams. Through the use of case studies and practical applications, students will learn effective leadership, team development, motivational, organizational planning, and conflict resolution practices." If this doesn't scream architecture, I don't know what other course on campus does (outside of the school of architecture or interior design that is). This course is required for engineering graduates, and should be amongst the top list of classes that architectural students consider taking. Project Leadership is something that architects deal with every day of their career, but my experience has shown me, most do not deal with it appropriately because they were never trained or educated about how to do it effectively.

I absolutely love this class. It is without a doubt my favorite course this semester and the one I look forward going to every time. The work load is light compared to the architectural courses but that probably holds true for every course that doesn't have ARC in front of it. Our main focus for the first section of the semester is dealing with the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encouraging the Heart.

So far, during class we have had open discussions on a specific topic regarding effective ways to be a leader, a mentor, and a follower. We do in-class exercises such as company memos to inspire your team, exchange a story with another classmate about a topic, and what they took or gave to that event. We have discussed what kind and level of work deserves additional celebration and what is appropriate for the work performed.

Our work load each week is to read a chapter to discuss for the next class and read a 3+ page article relating to the weekly topic and write a one page summary about the topic and how you can utilize the practices in your life. There are three "big projects", again in architecture terms, these "big projects" would be equivalent to our daily work that is assigned on Monday and due by Wednesday. They are a project manager interview paper, a personal leadership improvement plan, and a communication improvement plan.

Unfortunately, it is too late for any current grad level student to take this course as it is only offered in the fall. This blog is directed towards the undergrads who still have a choice in the classes they choose to take. I cannot stress how valuable this class will be to all of you in your future and your development in a firm to becoming licensed, especially when the time comes where you are no longer the intern, but you have become the leader and are a mentor for interns looking to you for guidance for their future.

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