By Rita Saikali Carter and Israel Pena

Last month, we both met up with Gilbert Baez bright and early on a Friday morning at Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design in Pomona to lead the first in a series of workshops as part of an architecture education program that we had designed for high school students. Initially proposed as a Community Project in November 2011, our team received a $2,000 grant from the Designing Futures Foundation to support the creation of a program that would teach students about architecture and design, and inspire them to consider pursuing careers in these fields.

Our first step was to find a school, so we turned to Hands On Inland Empire, the volunteer arm of the Inland Empire United Way, to serve as our matchmaker. Allan Collins, the Director of Volunteerism, serendipitously introduced us to Fremont Academy where, unbeknownst to the group, HMC was working on a campus building project. Although we had originally planned to present a series of workshops at Fremont Academy, we realized after meeting with the teachers that they were more interested in getting their students off campus and into the community for a diverse learning experience. With dwindling budgets, schools have been forced to cut programs down to the bare bones. Many students no longer have access to art and music programs, and field trip funding is almost nonexistent. In reality, there are few opportunities for students to apply their learning outside the classroom.

Through a collaborative planning process with the teachers, we decided to lead a series of three workshops. The first took place at Fremont Academy and included an overview of the design process and a walk-through of the newly completed, HMC-designed buildings. The second workshop will be a career day event at HMC Ontario to teach students about the profession as well as architecture and engineering career pathways. The final workshop will be a field trip to Cal Poly Pomona to visit the College of Environmental Design, College of Engineering, and the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies.

Early in the planning process, Bright Prospect also came on board. A non-profit organization focused on college access and retention, Bright Prospect had received a grant from the Designing Futures Foundation and HMC Ontario hosted a career day event for their students last year. Since Bright Prospect had expanded their services to Fremont Academy, we saw an opportunity to create a mutually beneficial partnership, in which Bright Prospect would support and promote our architectural education program, while we would offer their students priority registration and leadership opportunities.

For the first workshop on January 19at Fremont Academy, we were a bit ambitious. We taught three back to back fifty minute workshops to three groups of seventy 7th – 11th grade students, with a focus on accessibility, fire life safety, and structural engineering. The program started with a ten minute introduction that included an overview of the collaborative design process for the entire group. Next we broke up into smaller groups to tour the site and learn about the codes, regulations, and ideas that informed the design decisions. At the end of the tour, we brought the students back together to debrief and share ideas as a group.

By using the HMC project as a case study, the Fremont Academy students learned about their environment and gained a new appreciation for their surroundings. They learned about all the thought and hard work that went into the myriad of design decisions and as a result, saw their campus in a new way. We wanted to help bring their classroom curriculum to life and to help the students to make connections between their textbooks and the world around them. Overall, it was an inspiring day and the students seemed engaged in the experience. Israel made an impression when he told the students, “If I had a program like this in high school and had been exposed to these tools, concepts, and resources before college, I can’t imagine how much further I could have gone.”

There are many ways we can give back to our communities. Having the opportunity to use our skills and expertise and to teach young people about our profession was particularly rewarding. We look forward to the next Fremont Academy workshop on Thursday, February 21, at HMC Ontario.

We want to thank and acknowledge the following individuals for their support:

Albert Tan, Assistant Principal Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design

Fremont Academy teachers: Jackie Cammon, Scott Lukesh, Frank Sakovitch, and Tony Cerda

Allan Collins, Director of Volunteerism, Hands On Inland Empire

Valerie Lord, Development Director, Bright Prospect

Maria Huerta, Program Coordinator, Bright Prospect

Teurai Nugent, Program Coordinator, Bright Prospect