Jessica Gray smiles with a brick wall in the background

Jessica Gray said the School of Architecture’s new mentoring program will be especially valuable in a year when COVID-19 has created great uncertainty. Image Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Gray

The Clemson University School of Architecture recently initiated a student-to-student mentoring program that will help first-year students adjust to the rigors of design studies.

Architecture classes emphasize teamwork and long-term self-directed projects, offering new challenges to students who only recently graduated from high school.

More than 35 returning architecture students – juniors, seniors and graduate students – volunteered to mentor 132 incoming students this academic year.

“The response from student volunteers has been overwhelming,” said Jim Stevens, director of the School of Architecture.

Each mentor will work with three or four students, visiting with them in a studio class and being available at other times for feedback and advice.

“We’d been thinking about this for a long time,” said Sallie Hambright-Belue, associate professor and coordinator of the first-year architecture program. “The study of architecture is so different from other disciplines because it is so hands-on. It’s so different from what students have done before they get to Clemson. A lot of times students struggle with that difference. For instance, students have no exams but they work on projects that can last for months.”

Ryan Herron is sitting in front of a bicycle.

Ryan Herron said first-year students will benefit from the knowledge and experience of their mentors. Image Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Herron

Incoming students were able to select their mentors by perusing biographical information and other statements they had provided.

The school also hired Eric Peek, an Atlanta architect with 30 years of experience who will work on a part-time basis with the new students and their mentors.

The new program emulates the profession of architecture, which is based on mentorship, Stevens said.

“Even a licensed architect has to spend time working with a mentor,” he said. “It’s integral to the way we learn about the profession.”

Plans call for the mentoring program to become a permanent part of the first-year architecture student’s experience at Clemson.

Ryan Herron, a first-year student from Greenville, is excited that the mentoring program will offer students vital individualized attention.

“You can talk to mentors about your problems and some possible fixes,” Herron said. “They’ve been through this already, so their experience is valuable.”

The initiative should be particularly helpful for students studying remotely and facing other challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Help in a tough year

“I think students coming in this year have far more questions than they usually would,” said Jessica Gray, a new student from Lexington. “Just having a mentor who I can send a text to will help a lot.”

Sallie Hambright-Belue is pictured smiling.

Sallie Hambright-Belue, associate professor and coordinator of the first-year architecture program, is in charge of implementing the new mentoring program. Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Likewise, first-generation students should find the program beneficial, said Hambright-Belue, a Clemson alumna.

“When I attended Clemson as an undergraduate, I had never even met an architect,” Hambright-Belue said. “Some of our students are in that position.”

The initiative also is aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion. In the past, architecture students had opportunities to be mentored by upperclassmen but only informally through student organizations.

The new student-to-student program formalizes mentoring relationships. Hambright-Belue will be surveying both mentors and those who receive their support to gauge the effectiveness of the initiative.

The School of Architecture has won top national honors for its curriculum and faculty. Last year, the school was named one of “America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools” by DesignIntelligence.

This year, the school has one of its largest first-year classes ever with 132 students. Only about a dozen of those students are minoring in architecture; the rest are architecture majors.

Inspiring great things

When he first started at the School of Architecture three years ago, Nehemiah Ashford-Carroll participated in an outside mentoring program, and he credits it with his academic success today.

Nehemiah Ashford-Carroll is pictured in suit and tie.

Nehemiah Ashford-Carroll, a senior architecture student, looks forward to mentoring first-year students, helping them achieve great things. Image Credit: Courtesy of Nehemiah Ashford-Carroll

Now a senior, Ashford-Carroll volunteered to be a mentor to this year’s new students.

“I want to be a support system for students who can relate to me, and I want to help inspire some people who will do great things,” he said. “I think this program can be very fruitful, especially for students of color like me. I think freshmen will become more comfortable and feel at home in the architecture program.”

One skill every new college student needs is time management, Ashford-Carroll said. “It’s essential, especially in the first year of architecture.”

In designing the program this past summer, Hambright-Belue and Stevens approached student groups associated with architecture, including the Clemson student chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMAS).

“The first thing they said is that they feel incredibly supported at Clemson by their colleagues and their studio faculty,” Stevens said.

They applauded the idea of a student-to-student mentoring program, however.

“Design education is a very different mode of education,” Stevens said. “We’re asking students right out of high school to come into a studio and not just take on the assignments. We’re also asking them to find the questions and provide their own answers — and this is a discipline where there are multiple right answers.”