Will Wittig, AIA, LEED AP, is the dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy, a school that offers degrees in architecture as well as a Master of Community Development and Bachelor of Digital Media Studies. It’s not as much of an unconventional mix as you might think. Taken together, the school’s offerings acknowledge two things: that architecture continues to be a holistic enterprise, and that the transferable skills of an architect who graduates this year—or in 10 years—center on consensus-building as well as digital aptitudes.
The Master of Community Development degree was born here in the School of Architecture some years ago as a way to recognize the breadth of expertise at the university in that discipline, even if it was scattered in different departments—disparate expertise that could serve the real need for leadership development in Detroit’s public and private sectors. It’s great training for an architect or a planner, but it’s also been great training for executive directors of local nonprofits. We’ve had 40 graduates in that program so far, so it’s growing.
Digital Media Studies is a little different in that it first existed in the Communications Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Education—and was moved into the School of Architecture. It’s been a natural fit for us, even if it attracts a different cohort of students outside of architecture. But it’s proving to be a very valuable part of the culture here, and there’s a lot of crossover, shared faculty, and that sort of thing.
We want our students to excel at work after graduation—and I think these programs help them. Right now, the job prospects for architecture students are great, even in spite of a lot of the press we’ve seen over the last 15 months that’s derivative of the Georgetown study, which ranked majors by unemployment rates. What’s frustrating is that the data in that study were from 2009 and 2010—and our prospective students now will be out and practicing by 2019. So that data will be a full decade old at that point, even if it remains central in the public’s imagination today.
In the meantime, we’ve got to tell our story, as architects, more broadly. Regarding our local market here in Detroit, I’d say that most firms here are very busy and working very hard, if a little gun-shy in hiring. So I’m very optimistic. But the big picture here is not the job market, for me, which is a short-term and cyclical set of economic conditions. The big picture is about instilling the value of the built environment in the public over the longer term. —As told to William Richards