Making the Most of her Five Years at NJIT: Meet Erin Ross

Erin Ross: An Honors Scholar/Architect

Over the course of her five years here, Erin Ross has availed herself of much of what NJIT offers its students.  She is a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College and also a student in the New Jersey School of Architecture.  As an Honors College student, she’s taken honors seminars, attended honors lectures and worked on community service projects. And as an architecture major, she has studied with prominent professors, worked three summer internships, spent a summer studying in Italy and won two major design competitions.    

Her time here has been extremely fulfilling -- her education complete. And in this interview, Erin, who graduates in May, talks about how she was able to get so much out of her time at NJIT.

How did the Honors College further your education at NJIT?
The Honors College has opened up so many opportunities to me. Besides being able to take rigorous honors classes, the college has given me many chances for intellectual growth. I’ve gotten publicity for my architectural projects by displaying them during Honors College functions. I’ve participated in some terrific community service projects and attended fascinating honors colloquiums. The college brings in great speakers, who share their knowledge with students in addition to inviting its alumni back to network with and help current students. And because the Honors College is so highly regarded, after I graduate I’ll have the distinction of being an Honors College graduate, which means I’ll be seen as a hard-working, well-rounded and insightful student.

When did you first take an interest in architecture? Did you know architects when you were growing up?
While I didn’t know any architects while growing up, I have always loved design and knew that I wanted to have a life devoted to designing. Since I was a child, I always took art classes. I always liked creating, designing and building just about everything, from paintings to small furniture. I remember when my father used to buy my brother and me pieces of plywood when he went to the store. I’d have such a great time dreaming what I could make from that plywood, and then I’d just start constructing. Usually my projects ended up as small bookcases or shelves as my designs and my knowledge of construction were limited -- I was just seven. But my creations couldn’t have been too bad because they are still standing, till this day, in my parent’s house.

What do you like best about architecture?
What I like best about architecture is that it has the power to move people – to touch them emotionally and change the way they think. Great architecture can cause a shift in consciousness in absolutely any person, from the well-studied architecture buff to a six-year old child living in a remote village. The buildings and designs that I appreciate the most are the ones that change you, if only for a moment.

What has been your favorite architecture project?
My favorite studio project aimed to do what I mentioned above -- change people’s perceptions. I was given an assignment for a studio class to design a new city hall in the Old Town Square in Prague. The design needed to conform to Prague’s historic architecture, while providing an original way for the building’s inhabitants to experience Prague. It was especially important, also, that the building be fun. So my design included a tower with a public, open-air stairway wrapped around it. It also included numerous observation areas throughout the core of the building and on its roof. The only thing standing between the people using the stairway and the skyline of Prague was a constantly moving skin, made of pivoting glass panels that, like the feathers of a bird, changes according to mood and weather. For this project I eventually won the New Jersey School of Architecture’s Dean’s Design Award and the Best and Brightest Award in a competition known as the Vitetta.

Talk about the internships you've had and how they helped you.
Starting after my second year at NJIT, I was lucky to get great summer internships at architecture firms. I was fortunate in that three architecture professors here asked me to work at their firms. My first internship was with Professor Bryce Sanders, who has an architecture studio in Manhattan. I learned so much there about architecture and construction – it was an invaluable experience. I also worked for Matt Gosser, another professor here. I helped him prepare an art gallery exhibit on the now defunct Pabst Brewery in Newark. The exhibit was here in Weston Hall. And in the summer of 2007, I worked for Professor Richard Garber (and his partner Nicole Robertson) at their Manhattan firm, GRO Architects. I cannot describe the amount of knowledge and insight I gained from this experience. I was exposed to a variety of beautiful projects and was able to work on many aspects of the design process. I learned so many things about detailing and structure and am so grateful to have been given the chance to work with Professor Garber and his partner. They recently won a contest for their amazing design of a construction walkway. Architecture students are fortunate to have professors who are also working architects, as their knowledge of real-world experience is often passed on to the students.

How did studying abroad broaden your education?
During the summer of 2006, I was part of the Siena (Italy) Program, a study abroad program organized by the School of Architecture. We studied in Rome, Naples, and Siena and on the weekends I traveled to Rimini, Piombino, Venice, Milan and Elba. This experience was one of the best I had as a student. Not only did I learn about architecture and art, but the immersion in Italian culture was amazing. To be a good designer, one must be exposed to as much as possible. This applies to a country’s art, architecture and its local traditions as well as its film, language and landscapes. Design is universal; it comes from everywhere. The more design one is exposed to, the greater opportunity there is for inspiration in one’s own work. 

So you are happy with the education you received at NJIT?
I am extremely grateful for everything I have experienced at NJIT. The education I have received has been so important to everything that I have achieved thus far. I have been exposed to some truly amazing professors, both in the architecture program and through the Honors College. The lessons I have learned from the professors here and the opportunities that they have given me are truly priceless. Besides the professors, there are some incredible resources here at NJIT, including the Architecture Library and the Van Houten Library, both of which thoroughly enhanced my education. As with anything, your education is what you make of it. And I tried to make the most of my time at NJIT. 

What are you plans after you graduate?
After I graduate from NJIT, I plan to accomplish many things, one of which will be pursuing my license in architecture. This process includes working for certified architects and earning intern development credits, which takes three years or more. After getting those credits, I will then be eligible to take the Architecture Registration Exam and, once I pass, I’ll be granted the title of a licensed architect. I’m interviewing at architecture firms in Manhattan and in North Jersey, where I live. But I also plan to travel as much as possible. As I mentioned above, design ideas come from everywhere -- from all you see and all you do. And the more you see of the world, the more visual information you’ll have to call upon in your own design work.  I‘ll start by traveling to Peru, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Asia (all have great architecture), and after I earn my intern credits, I intend to circle the globe and experience as much of the world as I can.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)