In the Summer of 2012, five members of the Keene State College Architecture Club traveled to Washington, D.C. to make their pitch to host the biannual American Institute of Architects’ Northeast Quad Conference.
“We made a video and a big PowerPoint presentation, we came up with a mock schedule and ideas of who could come in and speak,” Michael Helmer, a club member who made the trip, remembered. “The big thing was setting our school apart and showing why KSC should host it.”
Even with the help of a brand new Technology Design and Safety building to flaunt, KSC was no shoe-in to win the host bid. The most recent schools to win that honor (Penn State, Syracuse, Roger Williams and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) clearly had more flexibility in terms of class size, campus space and means of funding.
But the five students, all of whom graduated last Spring, returned from the trip with astonishing news: KSC would be hosting the prominent conference in the Fall of 2013.
“Since then, we’ve been preparing for it, more-so in the beginning of last semester,” club treasurer Ethan Seaman said. “This semester it’s been nothing but working on getting this conference ready.”
So when conference weekend finally arrived last Friday, October 11, there was a degree of relief in the air. “It’s exciting to see it finally happening because we’ve been planning for such a long time,” architecture club advisor Bartlomiej Sapeta said. “There’s a number of alumni that have had a hand in this and they are here to see all their hard work pay off. It’s great for them because it shows that they left a legacy of passion here.”That passion is certainly shared by members of this year’s architecture club.
“This conference is just making you more inspired about the industry, or cementing your idea about being an architect,” freshman architecture club volunteer Alex Monteforte said.
Evident upon arriving at the conference is just how student-run it is. Sapeta, the one professor overseeing the event, was calm and trusting in his students on the first day of the event. Similarly, the AIA takes a very hands-off approach to planning the conference. “The whole thing’s a student-run conference. They selected speakers, conferences, and workshops,” Sapeta said.
But student control extends even beyond that. Students selected the theme, “Regeneration: Redesigning for the Next Generation,” after weeks of consideration and debate. Even the very location of the conference is determined by a student vote after each school has made its bid in D.C.
That’s a lot of responsibility for a conference that Seaman estimated over 150 students attended from around 40 different schools in the region. Helmer said that responsibility will help the students throughout their careers. “One of the skills architects really need to know is project management, we need to know how to schedule and budget and manage working with employees,” Helmer said. “Now they know how to make a budget and stick to it, how to talk to employees and schedule people at the student center.”
Sapeta also saw skills translated from the classroom.“ In a lot of ways, they designed this just like any other project that they would design in the architecture studio,” Sapeta said. “It’s all very professional.” Adversity is something else these architecture students are going to face after graduation, and they had their fair share of it in the months leading up to the conference.
With Penn State’s $20,000 conference last spring serving as a daunting and unrealistic figure to measure up to, the club reached out to various businesses around town looking for sponsors. When it became clear that would not be enough, they went to student government, who granted them $5,000, essentially doubling their budget.
“We had to fight a little bit for it but overall [Student Government] helped us out as much as they could,” quad conference chair Adam Beaulieu said.
Seaman admitted things were getting desperate before the grant.“There was a time when we were looking at going bankrupt, and student assembly gave us enough to keep us afloat,” Seaman said.
The club members focused on using the resources they had at their disposal. The workshops included a bench-making competition with scrap wood and a recyclable sculpture competition. The wood was supplied by Benson Wood while the recyclables were provided by KSC’s R.O.C.K.S. program.
“[The conference] has been really good, I really like the theme,” junior Christian Johnson, an architecture major from Roger Williams University, said. The architecture major at KSC has come a long way from being crammed in temporary trailers off-campus 15 months ago. After the successful conference, there is reason to believe it will continue to grow.
Helmer encouraged all KSC majors to have their voices heard and further the reputation of the school. “I would love to see the whole campus get into this, I want to see other majors do the same thing and bring conferences here,” Helmer said. “Just making connections with other schools is huge.”
Zach Winn can be contacted at