Valencia, UCF, UF Celebrate Orlando’s First Architecture Grads

For 16 students, graduating with their master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Florida this weekend was a huge step.

But for Valencia’s 2+2+2 program in architecture — a unique partnership between Valencia College, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida’s CityLab-Orlando — it was a monumental moment. Of the 16 students in the first graduating class from UF’s CityLab-Orlando, nine started their architecture education at Valencia College. The unusual 2+2+2 program allows budding architects to get their entire education in Orlando without having to leave for architecture schools in Gainesville, Tampa or Miami — or out of state.

At a ceremony held May 2 at the Orlando Museum of Art, the Central Florida architecture community celebrated along with the students receiving their master’s degrees.

“The Orlando architectural professional had talked about having a local architecture school for decades,” said John Ehrig, an architect and project manager at HHCP Architects Inc. of Orlando. “The problem the professionals had was this: When students left Orlando, they usually didn’t come back.”

The graduates of the program can also boast about a placement ratio that may be the envy of every architecture school in the country: Each one of the CityLab-Orlando graduates is leaving school with a job.

“Everyone in our graduating class has a job,” said Chris Corwin, 25, who is  interested in designing structures for the entertainment industry — and has been offered a job at Universal Studios Florida. “The students in Gainesville are now looking for jobs. And up there there are only two or three architecture firms, so it’s harder for them to get an internship or get a job.”

Corwin opted to attend UF’s Gainesville campus after graduating from Valencia, but he returned to Orlando — and to UF’s CityLab-Orlando — to earn his master’s degree in architecture.  “I saved $10,000 a year on housing costs by living at home. Plus  I could get a job — not working at a restaurant like I would in Gainesville — but in my field,” said Corwin, who graduated from Boone High School.

Yuly Mojocoa, 27, a native of Colombia who graduated from Timber Creek High School,  wants to work in the field of health-care architecture, designing hospitals and other health-care facilities. She said that, by staying in Orlando, where there’s a large professional community of architects, it was easier to make connections.

The graduates who started at Valencia and earned their master’s degrees on Saturday at the University of Florida are:  Diana Ariza Ruiz, Gretel Castillo, Christopher Corwin, Jameson Deighan, Sefjo Jusic, Yuly Mojocoa, Andrea Saenz, Joel Setzer and Kyle Sheppard.

“These graduates have set a high bar for those who follow,” said Dr. Frank Bosworth, director of UF’s CityLab-Orlando. “Four candidates worked full-time throughout their course of study. And all 16 have permanent, full-time jobs in design and architecture offices.”

Nine Valencia grads were among the 16 students in the first graduating class from UF's CityLab-Orlando architecture program.
Nine Valencia grads were among the 16 students in the first graduating class from UF’s CityLab-Orlando architecture program.

Although Valencia has had a pre-architecture program for many years, Valencia graduates who went on to architectural school had to move to Gainesville, Tampa or Miami to continue their studies.  In 2008, after years of discussion, a task force of local architects met with Valencia College’s president, Dr. Sandy Shugart, who embraced their idea. After more discussions with UCF and UF, what emerged was a 2+2+2 program. Students could start a two-year pre-architecture program at Valencia, take their second two years of undergraduate study at UCF’s architecture program (which started in fall 2010 and is housed on Valencia’s West Campus). After that, they could audition for a slot at the University of Florida’s new architecture program at CityLab-Orlando (which opened in 2012).

When the first class of students enrolled at CityLab-Orlando for their master’s degrees, they were taking a chance on a program that had no track record, noted Ehrig.

“Those of us from the profession had the faith that this would work,” Ehrig said, “but the students didn’t know that. They also had the faith that this would work.”




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