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New architecture bachelor’s degree approved at Penn College

A new Bachelor of Architecture degree at Pennsylvania College of Technology, set to begin accepting students in Fall 2023 (and possibly sooner), will dramatically shorten graduates’ path to professional licensure and markedly broaden their employment opportunities.

With Thursday’s approval by the Penn College Board of Directors, the Construction and Architectural Technologies Division can pursue prestigious accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board: a multiyear undertaking and a long-held objective of the institution’s architecture faculty.

“It’s a tremendous step forward for us,” said Geoffrey M. Campbell, assistant professor and department head, who presented the proposal to the board with Ellyn A. Lester, assistant dean of construction and architectural technologies. “This has always been the goal. Any architecture program would prefer to be an NAAB-accredited program, and that’s always been what we were hoping for.”

The new major adds a fifth year to the current bachelor’s framework, effectively providing students with a steppingstone to career advancement that doesn’t involve postgraduate study.

Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Board of Directors has approved a new Bachelor of Architecture degree that opens the door to national accreditation and a shorter path to licensure for graduates.
Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Board of Directors has approved a new Bachelor of Architecture degree that opens the door to national accreditation and a shorter path to licensure for graduates.

“We get a few graduates each year who pursue an accredited Master of Architecture degree, and those students are typically spending two and a half to three years to get that accredited degree elsewhere. Now, it’ll just be one additional year here,” Campbell said. “They won’t get a master’s degree, but it will be an NAAB-accredited degree, and in terms of the impact it has on your ability to become a registered architect, there’s really no difference.”

“They’re both considered a ‘first professional degree,’” Lester said of the bachelor’s and master’s credentials. “So in the eyes of the accreditors and the eyes of the industry, they are relatively equivalent. To have our students do two to three years of extra education – more tuition, more student loans, etc. – just seemed excessive.”

“We’re not just adding credits for credits’ sake. We’re really thinking about the students so they can hit the ground running from day one.”

A clearer and shorter path to licensure is seen as a prime selling point to prospective students and their families, as only licensed architects (and engineers, in some cases) can sign architectural drawings.

“The salary is typically better for a registered architect; the ability to advance in the hierarchy of the firm will be stronger; and they will have a heightened ability to start their own business as an architect,” Campbell explained. “You can do some residential work as a designer for single- or two-family homes without being registered, but that’s about it. Beyond that, you need either an engineer’s or an architect’s stamp.”

All commercial work has to be “sealed,” Lester emphasized, so graduates are limited if they are not licensed.

“Pennsylvania is among the states that allows you to become licensed without a NAAB-accredited degree, but it’s a longer process, a much more complex process,” she said. “The documentation is more challenging, and if our students want to move somewhere later on, it could really inhibit them.”

The idea of an accredited Penn College program was floated in the past, but never with the success of this latest incarnation – attributable, perhaps, to the alchemy of a new administrator in sync with the program and its faculty.

“Ellyn was very instrumental in getting all of this to happen,” Campbell said, noting that the assistant dean – who holds a master’s in architecture from the University of Kansas and has been through accreditations as both a student and employee – met with faculty even before her official starting date at Penn College.

“We talked about certain issues that we had, and she came to the conclusion that, if we were to get this accreditation, it would solve a lot of them,” he explained. “So she started talking with the administration, promoting the idea that we should be NAAB-accredited. It wouldn’t have happened had she not taken that on.”

“I see part of my job – maybe the bulk of my job – is to help the faculty, empower the faculty, remove barriers and help us all be successful,” Lester said.

“It’s really about positioning,” the assistant dean said. “There are seven other accredited programs in Pennsylvania, some bachelor’s and some master’s, and some relatively close. But we’re different; we’re not trying to compete with anyone. We’re building on the strengths of what we have.”

Key to the strength of that foundation is a curricular pivot approved in 2009: an architecture and sustainable design degree that innovatively honed students’ design skills in the context of environmental consciousness.

“That is a really strong pairing, and we got there very early compared to a lot of other programs,” Lester said. “Our faculty is very knowledgeable about sustainability issues and sustainability in the building process. I love this program because it’s very focused on the technical … not to the detriment of design, but enhancing design, and really taking design from the realm of the purely aesthetic. They really have a good strong foundation in the reality of architecture.”

The accreditation process will take about six years to complete, with multiple site visits by NAAB personnel at various points throughout the five-year curriculum. Should accreditation be granted at the conclusion of that process, as expected, it would be retroactive to the new major’s first graduating class.

“Geoff and I have had several initial conversations with the accrediting board, so they’re aware that we’re in the process of doing this and thinking very strongly about pursuing it,” Lester said. “We can start that process now that this is official.”

“We’re going to put a lot of work on the architecture faculty, but they’re really up for it,” she added. “They’ve never wavered in wanting to make this happen, and they know what they’re in for. It’s not an easy process, but I feel confident that this program can get through it.”

Comprising that faculty, along with Campbell, are Dorothy J. Gerring, Tuna Saka and Robert A. Wozniak, associate professors; Naim N. Jabbour, assistant professor; and Daniel L. Brooks, instructor.

Some of that legwork was anticipated, Campbell noted: “In previous curriculum revisions, we were already influenced by some of the NAAB requirements, partly because our students were applying to those programs and we wanted them to get upper-level standing. We were doing things to accommodate that, and that took us along the path to where we needed to be.”

Also on board are members of the college’s Architectural Technology Advisory Committee – industry professionals who offer advice on curriculum and equipment, as well as sharing business connections and internship opportunities.

“They asked a lot of really good questions about ‘Why now?’ and ‘What’s the purpose?’ and ‘Where do you see this going so it is not like every program out there?’” Lester said of the group’s Fall 2021 review of the proposed new degree. “It was very impressive.”

Among those committee members is Anthony H. Visco Jr., owner of Anthony H. Visco Jr. Architects, who earned an associate degree in architectural technology from Williamsport Area Community College (a Penn College predecessor) and a bachelor’s from Kansas State University.

“I am excited to hear that Pennsylvania College of Technology is creating the new Bachelor of Architecture program, which provides graduates a clear path to architectural registration,” he said. “Penn College already provides a wide variety of architectural-related specialties, and adding the Bachelor of Architecture offers students a viable alternative to attending a large university.”

For more information about architecture at Penn College, visit the School of Engineering Technologies or call 570-327-4520.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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