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Co-op employer profile: Ann Beha Architects / making the transition from co-op to professional

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The co-op program has long been one of the distinguishing factors of Northeastern University and the integration of professional studio practice with academic study has been natural for the School of Architecture. As many of our faculty members are practicing architects working in local and regional firms, they are connected to the realties of what it means to be prepared for the work environment, which in turn prepares our students.

Many of the studio projects our students engage in are case studies in real world issues that include site-specific demands and limitations that must be addressed while seeking elegant design solutions. This type of thinking is one of the valuable assets our co-op students and alumni bring to the firms for which they work.

The relationship is reciprocal with the firm, offering another perspective on the realities of being a practicing architect and what it means to be part of a vibrant design team.  Ann Beha Architects (ABA), a distinguished Boston-based firm, has a long-standing relationship with the School of Architecture’s co-op program. The firm’s planning, design and historic preservation work has garnered local and national design awards.  ABA’s teams offer co-op students a compensated opportunity to learn, work, and grow through projects for academic institutions, cultural organizations and civic clients. In 2007, ABA was recognized through an Internship Program Leadership Award from Northeastern for its support of the co-op program.

“Dialogue around design is central to our studio, and participation from everyone makes the discourse richer. Our interns contribute in the studio, in the field, and their generation is an important voice in our profession.” Commented Philip Chen AIA, a firm Principal and member of the School’s Advisory Council.

Principal Phil Chen consulting with Art Campbell on his work.

Principal Phil Chen consults Art Campbell on his work.

This year, third-year student Art Campbell from Spotswood, NJ is the architecture co-op for the firm. This is his first co-op and he is right in the middle of all the action, manning the front desk while working on design projects.  He finds the day-to-day activity exciting because no two days are alike. The intensity of working in a firm full-time was an eye-opener for him but he found that it really strengthened his focus and drive.  Working where his contributions were appreciated and where he was “a name, not a number” has been affirming for Art. He has had the opportunity to work on Haverford’s Magill Library, which has been his favorite project and he notes: “ Seeing work that I have done being presented to a client lets me know that the firm has faith in my ability!”

ABA has demonstrated that it has great faith in the ability of School of Architecture graduates as it currently has three on its staff: Nealia Giarratani (M.ARCH 2010); Jacqueline Mossman (M.ARCH2011); and Melissa Murphy (M.ARCH 2013).  Of the three, Nealia, a Quincy, MA native is the most senior and has been at ABA since just before graduating from Northeastern. She did her final co-op at the firm and maintained her relationship with them, which lead to the professional opportunity.  Nealia is driven by the opportunity to create inspiring spaces for people to live, work and play in. She feels it is a privilege to have the opportunity to imagine and design environments that positively impact people.  She credits co-op, study abroad and the intensity of the studio courses she took in preparing her for the demands she would face once out of school. Each of the experiences taught her how to do her best work regardless of the situation she faced. Discussing her undergraduate experience she notes, “It taught me that I have to push myself out of my comfort zone to become better at what I do.”

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Melissa Murphy (l) and Nealia Giarratani (r)

Jackie Mossman, originally from East Northport, NY, echoes this sentiment. She notes, “The Northeastern co-op program was obviously a huge help. The amount of work experience I was able to gain while I was still in school was very impressive to many employers when applying for jobs. “ It wasn’t just co-op that prepared her for post-graduation life. She feels the instruction in both the studio and classroom settings helped her learn to think creatively, how to use space, and how to define formal relationships. She also pointed out one skill in particular that turned out to be very useful: “I also think one of the most important lessons I learned in school was how to diagram.  While sometimes diagrams may seem silly to students, they become an essential form of communication in the workplace.  You could have the best design in the world, but if you can’t find a way to communicate that to a client and have it speak to them, it’ll never get built.”

Jackie Mossman

Jackie Mossman

Jackie has always been drawn to design, whether it’s buildings, furniture, clothing, graphics, and even of food.  What she loves the most about architecture is designing space.  Although space can be an abstract concept, it can have such an impact on people and their daily lives.

The newest NU addition to the firm’s full-time staff is Melissa Murphy, of Chelmsford, MA. The aspect of architecture that is most interesting for Melissa is the combination of problem solving and creative thinking. “Not only are you tasked with thinking artistically to design something visually appealing, you have to recognize the core issues in a project to arrive at the best design solution.”

For Melissa, her co-op experiences helped her develop good working habits for practice as well as built her confidence as a professional. The exposure to real urban design issues in the studio setting was the right training ground for transitioning into practice. The constraints that initially seemed limiting pushed her to develop more innovative solutions to problems. It was exactly the type of training she needed. “This exposure to designing for real urban issues was particularly helpful when I started working at ABA, a firm that looks to revitalize historic architecture through complementary contemporary expression.”

All three designers credit co-op and studio training for giving them the skills and confidence to enter the work world, but they also note that being a full-time professional is a very different experience.  For Melissa, the big difference is about taking ownership of one’s own work. “During co-op your supervisor is ultimately in charge of checking that your work meets the standards of practice, as you typically have limited experience at that point.” She notes that once hired on the professional level: “you become a representative of your firm and therefore have an obligation to produce accurate and high quality work.”

Coop can often involve being assigned to several projects at one time. Nealia likes that she can become more committed and engaged with a project. “Although the varied experience was great, being able to invest in one project or building long term is amazing.” Jackie has found that she has developed a new set of skills in the collaborative environment of the firm and now interacts regularly with coworkers, consultants and clients. “It’s important to understand how to work in this type of environment, because once you’re out of school, it’s very rare that you are ever working alone to design and document a project.”