New Architectural Program in El Paso Targets Hispanics for Bachelor Degrees p a s o The way that architecture professor and discipline coordinator Ken Gorski describes it, El Paso Community College is a campus with its heart residing on both sides of Texas’ border with Mexico. This description, more allegorically than geographically accurate, pegs the character of a campus that is 85 percent Hispanic and located in a city largely defined by its close proximity to Juarez, Mexico. “El Paso is a bicultural city,” Gorski says. “It is a wonderful blend of the two cultures, and the bicultural aspect of our campus is important to our students.” Which is why a new partnership between EPCC and Texas Tech University’s College of Architecture could provide an important new conduit for tapping Hispanic talent and, eventually, helping diversify architectural design to reflect the broadening influence of what is swiftly becoming Texas’ predominant demographic population. The College of Architecture at El Paso allows architecture students who have earned their associate’s degree through EPCC to take upperlevel Texas Tech courses at the college’s Valle Verde campus. The program provides the first Bachelor of Science degree to El Paso students who can’t afford to relocate hundreds of miles away to finish a baccalaureate. With 16 students enrolled, the program officially began with the Fall 2007 semester. Students take a total 131 credit hours – 66 through EPCC and an additional 65 through Texas Tech in El Paso – an amount comparable to what they would take on the Lubbock campus. Since bachelor’s degrees are pre-professional, students still must attend a school outside the El Paso area to receive a master’s degree—a necessary step in qualifying for licensure. The par tnership was developed at the request of the architectural community in El Paso, which saw a need for a degree program in the region. El Paso and Juarez have a combined population of more than two million, yet the closest baccalaureate or graduate architectural programs were hundreds of miles away. Nicholas Markovich, director of the College of Architecture at El Paso, said all but one of the 16 students enrolled in the fall semester were Hispanic. Some of them hailed from Mexico and all of them were biling ual, he said, adding, “They are students who would
courtesy Texas Tech University
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not be able to or have the opportunity to leave the area.” The students also represent the possibility that the U.S. architectural profession might someday become a more accurate reflection of the nation’s demographic composition. According to current population projections by the Texas State Data Center and Office of the State Demographer, Hispanics are expected to comprise as much as 60 percent of Texas’ population by 2040. Similar gains are forecast by the U.S. Census Bureau, with projections from 2004 that show Hispanics comprising nearly a quarter of the nation’s population by 2050. Yet statistics do not reflect that growth within the architectural profession in Texas or
Students viewed building models during an open house held at the new architectural program in El Paso.
the U.S. In fact, both the American Institute of Architects and the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners show only single-digit percentages in Hispanic ethnicity brackets. The AIA study – a diversity audit conducted in 2005 – found that roughly two percent of its architect members were Hispanic. The TBAE, as of last November, reported that roughly three percent of its registrant base (which includes interior designers and landscape architects) claimed Hispanic ethnicity during registration or renewal. Those statistics are not definitive for the profession. The AIA, for example, maintained race/ ethnicity information on 75 percent of its architect members when its study was conducted. The TBAE included caveats with its numbers, such
as the fact that 26.6 percent of registrants didn’t respond in the voluntary self report, and that it includes records of people who are deceased or have had their license revoked. However, Carolina Weitzman, president and CEO of Houston-based Natex Architects and former president of the Houston Hispanic Architects and Engineers, said those statistics seem to fit with what she has encountered in the profession. “I can name the Hispanic architects I know with one hand, two at the most,” she said, adding that only a few active HHAE members who are architects, with the balance being engineers. And a 2006 statistical report by the National Architectural Accrediting Board estimates that 218 of 2,184 bachelor degrees awarded in the U.S. went to students of Hispanic origin, while 101 of 1,674 degrees were awarded to Hispanics at the master’s level. Michael Monti, executive director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, said he has seen partnerships spring up between universities and community colleges in Hispanic-dense states such as Florida as a way to foster enrollment. In Texas, schools such as the University of Texas at San Antonio serve a significant number of Hispanic students. UTSA is deemed a Hispanic-serving institution, and approximately 52 percent of its College of Architecture’s 1,082 total graduate and undergraduate students this fall were Hispanic. “The fact that Texas has programs such as the one at UTSA is significant and it speaks well for the (Texas Higher Education) Coordinating Board,” says Andrew Vernooy, AIA, dean of Texas Tech’s College of Architecture. “However, I think it’s important that we not think the job is done. We have to continue to diversify our programs.” The El Paso partnership has proven popular already. Both EPCC and Texas Tech have seen enrollment boosts that officials attribute to the new program. The percentage of Hispanic architecture students enrolled at Texas Tech has leapt by seven points over the past four years, from 13 percent in fall 2003 to 20 percent this fall. Vernooy credits the college’s presence in El Paso in part for the increase. EPCC’s Gorski said his community college tripled its number of architectural course sections available in Fall 2007 to accommodate student growth, which exceeded his expectations. C o r y
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The writer works with Texas Tech’s media relations office.
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