Studio Time: Prince­ton architecture dean Monica Ponce de Leon, right, leads Trenton high school students on a tour.

If any profession could be designated as a discipline in need of diversity, architecture could be first on the list. According to a 2014 survey by the American Institute of Architects, less than 2 percent of all registered architects in the United States are African American and only 3 percent are Latino. The This fall the Princeton University School of Architecture took a step to address that under-representation by establishing an “ArcPrep” program in conjunction with Trenton Central High School. The program is introducing 15 Trenton high school sophomores to the discipline of architecture through an immersive, semester-long course that covers architecture, urbanism, and design studio practices. Arc­Prep’s studio instruction is embedded within the high school curriculum and the daily schedule of participating students.

According to a university press release Princeton ArcPrep “aims to diversify the field of architecture by providing comprehensive support, guidance, and academic and cultural enrichment to students who are typically underrepresented in American architecture schools and thus the profession. A rigorous academic program, Princeton ArcPrep helps students develop skills, knowledge and awareness related to careers in architecture and aids them in college readiness.”

Princeton’s dean of the School of Architecture, Monica Ponce de Leon, is program director. The program instructor is Katie Zaeh, architectural design fellow and a 2010 alumna who concentrated in architecture. The architecture school provides programmatic support, and Trenton Public Education Foundation has raised $18,500 to support the program with the help of LENNAR-We Care Foundation, NJM Foundation, West Windsor Gardens, Sharbell Development Corporation, Eckert Seamans Charitable Foundation, and Mary Jo and James C. Hedden.

“Princeton ArcPrep is introducing some of our region’s most promising students to architecture, a field that has historically lacked diversity,” said Ponce de Leon. “I am deeply committed to providing these students — all of whom have an aptitude for architecture but lack access to formal training and support — an opportunity to develop the skills that will propel them into a successful career.”

Ponce de Leon launched an Arc­Prep program in 2015 in Detroit while she was dean at the University of Michigan. That program has more than 200 graduates to date.

Zaeh spends three hours a day, four days a week engaged in a project-based learning curriculum with the ArcPrep students at Trenton Central High School, according to the university statement. “On the fifth day, the students participate in presentations by guest speakers and visit architecture firms, or engage in a career counseling module. They receive mentoring, prepare for interviews and presentations, create resumes and design portfolios, and prepare for the college application process.”

“By nature, architecture is multidisciplinary and requires students to reach into their archive of knowledge and apply it,” Zaeh said. “It challenges them to reconsider their prior education in math, social studies, language arts, and science from a designer’s perspective. Knowledge becomes an active asset instead of a static memory.”

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