Trenton Central High School students view an exhibit at Princeton’s School of Architecture; at left is Dean Mónica Ponce de León.
Katie Zaeh ’10
‘More choices for their future’

Hoping to introduce a wider range of students to the architecture profession, which historically has lacked diversity, the University is offering a program that replicates a college-level design studio course at Trenton Central High School.

“We believe there are students out there who would be phenomenal architects and that by exposing them to the discipline, they will have more choices for their future,” said Mónica Ponce de León, dean of Princeton’s School of Architecture.

A 2015 study found that 2 percent of the country’s licensed architects are African American and 3 percent are Latino. “If the discipline continues to exclude a big segment of our communities, how can architecture really serve society?” Ponce de León said. “We think it will do a better job if it’s more diverse.”

The course, called Princeton ArcPrep, features a mix of lessons, hands-on project time, and career-counseling activities like portfolio-building. During three-hour sessions five days a week, students also learn about the architecture, urban planning, and construction industries with presentations from local professionals and field trips to firms’ offices, the Museum of Modern Art, and more. Thirteen sophomores took the course in the fall; it will be offered again in the spring for a new group of students.

The program seeks to attract high-schoolers who may not have shown interest or skills in design in the past. None of the students in the class had prior experience in the field, but instructor Katie Zaeh ’10, a design fellow at the School of Architecture, said a handful have expressed interest in continuing their studies. ArcPrep plans to organize an after-school program so those students can keep exploring the discipline.

Students said the class supports their work in different ways. “I want to be a robotics engineer,” said Dasani Platt, 15. “I thought it would be helpful to understand design.” Others described it as a welcome creative experiment. “It’s something new,” said Axsel Salguero Esteban, 16. “I had no interest [in architecture before], but as the school year’s progressed, it’s been fun.”

During a December class session, the students worked on projects as Zaeh moved around the room to give individual feedback. Some focused on a journaling exercise about their career goals, while others interpreted a piece of music as a collage, drawing, model, and building design.

With the University’s support and $18,500 from the Trenton Public Education Foundation, ArcPrep offers a type of learning not usually seen in public schools. “The beauty of studio instruction is that there is not a correct answer,” Ponce de León said. “You only know if you’re going in the right direction by actually taking a risk and going down that path.”