Led by Molly Andrus, parent of Emma ’12 and Izzy ’20, the Athenian Parent Alumni Group launched this fall. Its mission? To continue supporting current Athenian students, even after their own children have left the nest.
Its focus this year was the boarding community. Molly and team worked closely with Director of Residential Life, Emily Shinkle, to learn how they could serve this group. Many, due to COVID, were unable to travel home.
Julia Borchers ‘20 and Lexi G. ’22 made cakes for students celebrating birthdays and the parent group delivered the cakes to campus and provided festive décor. Birthday boarders also got candy vases and small gifts. The group sponsored catered dinners that allowed students to choose meals that served up flavors from home. Individual dessert boxes were also delivered–a student favorite!
The parent group is also underway with seed transplants and plant beds for a boarding community garden. A final event will take place in May, one which will allow members of the parent group to interact more with boarding students given the easing of COVID restrictions.
“This parent group has been amazing,” said Emily in praise of the program. “Molly does an incredible job mobilizing parents. I’m so excited the boarders will get to see the program volunteers in real life this time. They’ve been wondering who these generous parents are!”
Plans are underway for a final event of the year at the home of Board President Beth Borchers, and the parent group is already looking forward to expanding the scope of thier activities to a broader set of students on a reinvigorated campus in the fall.
The group is always open to new members; please reach out to email@example.com for more information if you would like to get involved!
International exchanges involve travel, but with restrictions due to the pandemic, how were they to continue in 2021? This is where the virtual exchange came into play.
Round Square and Athenian adapted to the new reality by allowing students to attend classes virtually at schools around the world. While the usual cultural immersion was not the same, it was still a rich international learning experience. Athenian has both sent students to other Round Square schools and welcomed them to our school, where they attended classes, took part in clubs, and befriended their host students.
“Is it as good as living in another country? Well, no,” said Athenian Round Square Director Mark Friedman. “But it seems like it went shockingly well, and some real connections were created.”
During Quarter 3, Athenian welcomed ten virtual exchange students: five visited from San Silvestre School in Peru, three from Markham, also in Peru, one from St. Cyprian’s in South Africa, and one from Vivek High School in India. While with in-person exchanges, there are some pairs that just don’t “click,” Mark said, all of the virtual exchanges got glowing reviews.
One of our wonderful virtual visitors was Bianca A., who participated in the eight-week exchange during her summer vacation from San Silvestre, an all-girls British-Peruvian school in Lima, Peru.
At first, Bianca wasn’t sure whether she would be able to attend Athenian classes during her summer break, but pushed herself to participate, and is glad that she did. She enjoyed taking Speech & Debate and ESL world History, where she gained an alternative perspective in both subjects.
“I chose the speech and debate class because at San Silvestre I take debate too,” Bianca said in a Zoom call from Lima. “I wanted to learn new strategies and my experience was really [fulfilling] because I got to learn more strategies that I am going to surely use.”
During her visit, she was able to shadow Athenian students as they prepared for a debate, learning skills she expected to be helpful in her debates at San Silvestre.
In ESL World History, she enjoyed the opportunity to focus on American history, which she was eager to learn more about.
Another highlight of Bianca’s time at Athenian was connecting online with her host, Chloe B. ‘22. “We had so much fun being able to connect via Zoom. It was really natural,” she said.
Chloe had attended San Silvestre virtually in the summer of 2020, where the main classes were in English and extracurricular classes were in Spanish. After this, Chloe was interested in hosting a virtual exchange student.
“That was really awesome, and I wanted to offer someone the same opportunity,” she said. “It’s just really fun to get to know someone that doesn’t live in the same country.”
Being a host, or exchange buddy, involves regular Zoom calls and messaging with the visiting student to make sure they feel welcome at the school. Chloe and Bianca initially connected via Whatsapp.
“We also used Snapchat a lot, it’s just easier to send videos and such,” she said.
The two enjoyed messaging, and Chloe met some of Bianca’s friends through Snapchat.
Midway through the exchange, their families also got a chance to meet via Zoom. While connecting virtually was different from it would have been in person, both students felt they had made a friend, and really enjoyed the exchange.
“It was definitely different than in person—in person would have been better, for sure, but it was pretty good, too,” she said. “I feel like we definitely became friends.”
In recent weeks and months, our school community and our nation have been deep in conversation about the importance of Black lives. In America, and at Athenian, conversations have focused primarily on social injustice, and on Black pain. One consequence of such conversations is that the joy of Black lives can be easily forgotten. It was the wish of the current BSU, led by Esther A. ’21, Hudson S. ’21, and Chad M. ’22, that we not allow February to pass without acknowledgment of the amazing, purpose-driven lives pursued by members of our own Black Athenian community.
For the past three weeks, we profiled more than a dozen members of our community, from current faculty and staff, to current students, to alumni. In this spotlight, we celebrate the lives, loves and contributions of several Black alumni. Please take the time to read these profiles, to enjoy this series, and to appreciate the members of our community who are doing amazing things in the world!
Jamahn Lee ’94
Alum Jamahn Lee attended Athenian throughout middle school and high school, went on to earn a B.A. in Spanish from Tulane and, later, a M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Passions for youth services and multiculturalism led him to the nonprofit world. He has worked with the Spanish Speaking Citizen’s Foundation on afterschool programs; with the Fred Finch Youth Center on in-home and therapeutic programs; with Policy Link, a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, on programs for Black boys; and with the Oakland Unified School District as its community school program manager. Jamahn is now nearing his fourth year as a Program Coordinator with SFJAZZ, where he shares his passion for jazz music with middle schoolers in Oakland and San Francisco. In response to challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, he has adapted and developed virtual jazz education programming that is now accessible to students throughout the country.
Britney Davis ’04
Britney has played integral roles in some of the music industry’s biggest recent successes, and has emerged as a strong voice for industry change. She has led marketing and artist development for Lil Baby since he signed to Motown Records. Now at Capitol Records as the VP of Marketing, Artist Relations and Special Projects, she has worked with artists like Migos, City Girls, Queen Naija, and on the “Queen & Slim” soundtrack. She was recently named as one of Billboard’s Hip Hop Power Players, 40 under 40, and as a Variety Magazine Woman of Impact. Britney graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications.
Pen Harshaw ’05
Pendarvis Harshaw ‘05 is the host of KQED’s, Rightnowish, a radio show and podcast that highlights artists and activists on the frontlines. The show focuses on Black artists from across the East Bay. In 2020, he received a $50,000 grant from the Oakland-based Akonadi Foundation, which partially funds the show’s production. He is also the author of OG Told Me, a coming of age memoir about a kid from Oakland who listened to his elders. “Pen,” as he is known among friends, seeks to increase community understanding and awareness of Oakland’s Black cultural diaspora.
Kelia Human ’15
With a goal of improving healthcare and its accessibility, especially for underserved and minority communities, Kelia currently attends Columbia University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. “Healthcare is moving towards more personalized service and providing access outside of the hospital and clinic. I think this provides an excellent opportunity to explore ways to break down the barriers that have made healthcare difficult to access for underserved populations. Additionally, by focusing on patient-centered devices there is an opportunity to give control and better understanding about one’s own health, further empowering people to engage with their healthcare providers.” Kelia’s study of biomedical engineering has been applied to two projects this year: the first was a fast diagnostic test for COVID. The second is a bioactive patch to accelerate wound healing. She is a staunch believer in mentorship, which she says “can really help people see new possibilities; I was on the fence about pursuing grad school and being able to talk it out with older students was helpful.”
Eli Feierabend-Peters ’16
Eli “Feier” is a Black mixed-race, gender-questioning musician and Stanford alumnus who believes in the power of art to foster radical healing, change, and love in ourselves and our communities. They were a 2020 recipient of Stanford’s VPA Senior Grant. Their project–the production of their debut album–found them quarantined in California, turning closets into makeshift studios as they worked on music steeped in the traditions of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and indie-pop and informed by their academic studies of sociology, poetry, fiction, climatology, and history. They guest-taught hip hop and social justice to Advanced Choir students this year and will return again to Athenian this month for a broader conversation on social justice.
Nia Warren ’16
Nia Renee Warren is an African-American filmmaker, photographer, and actress who recently graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. While studying at USC, she became an active force in the black community, serving as the Co-Director of the Black Student Assembly and member of the African American Cinema Society. After graduation, she completed a film titled “Son of Oakland: A Tribute to Victor McElhaney” where she served as the Co-Director and Producer. The film is a dedication to her friend and fellow Oakland native, who she lost due to gun violence near-campus in 2019. It has since been featured in, as well as won awards, in multiple festivals. She looks forward to the film officially premiering at the Pan African Film Festival this month. While enjoying the journey this film has allowed her to take, Nia has been focusing on furthering her acting career and has recently signed with Central Artists Agency for commercial/print work.
More Excellence to Come
Black History is not limited to the month of February, and our Black Excellence series will be ongoing. Look out for periodic profiles posted in various places online throughout the end of this year. We know there are more Black members of our Athenian community who could and should be highlighted! Please nominate or self-nominate by reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Starting with a definition of politics and political discourse, Hudson S. ’21 and Humanities Teacher and Department Chair April Smock get philosophical in this discussion about democracy and the 2020 election. Have we lost our ability to communicate with others whose views differ from our own? Are we shutting each other out by isolating ourselves with people who think like we do? How can we be more open to others’ complexities, seeing each other more holistically? Hudson and April break it down in this fascinating conversation.
This track was originally published on The Pillar on January 10, 2021 and is part of Hudson’s yearlong podcast series featuring interviews with Athenian faculty.
Over March Term in 2020, I was fortunate enough to do an internship with ARM of Care for a second year. ARM of Care uses the creative arts to restore and empower individuals who have been commercially sexually exploited through human trafficking or are at risk for being trafficked.
Despite the unexpected social distancing a week into my internship, it went smoothly overall, and I was ultimately able to accomplish all that we had planned. I am really grateful for and owe a lot to the experience I got working with ARM of Care since March the previous year. Because of that connection, I got to know the organization and its mission a lot better, which helped me with self-motivation and helped deepen my level of consideration for my work this March Term. There were a few major changes in my internship this year, which brought new challenges, different perspectives, and more introspection.
One difference was the increased independence asked of me. By “independent,” I don’t mean “remote.” A lot of my work with ARM of Care last year was remote, so I luckily did not have to go through a big a learning curve about that. This year, I got to experience a different meaning of “independence.” For instance, my artwork this year has been all on paper by hand, rather than online last year, so errors could not be as easily undone. I was given the creative freedom to choose my own mediums for the cards and gift bags I was asked to decorate. At first, I felt stuck between choosing something that would yield the best possible quality versus something that would be more forgiving towards mistakes. In the end, I decided that I wanted to put as much care as possible into making something really nice for the girls (the gift bags) and representative of the organization (the thank-you cards). I chose to use watercolor, a medium that is not very forgiving, but looks great if done well. As a result of this choice, my work took a lot of patience. I had to be even more attentive and cautious than last year. Sometimes the painting did feel tiring, both physically and mentally, but I learned to understand that working “independently” is not just working remotely. It’s also being able to work through challenges and motivate oneself even without a supervisor or mentor always there.
Because of current events and social distancing, I also had a lot of time for reflection and introspection. Although my age and skills limit how much I can help ARM of Care as a whole, I realized that even small things–like painting gift bags for some of the girls they serve–can bring joy and aid in the organization’s mission. I also realized how much my consideration for my work has grown since last year. Last year, I did a lot of digital marketing work, but I did not know much about how the organization operated and I knew almost nothing about the girls they served. Over the past year, as I continued to work with ARM of Care, I was able to hear a victim speak. I heard first-hand about what happens to a lot of the girls they serve and about the organization’s philosophy in facilitating the healing process.
I didn’t really realize how much my perspective had changed until one day during my internship this year. I was adding paint splatters to gift tags for artistic effect, when I was suddenly worried that the dark pink-red splatter might be triggering for some of the girls. I immediately went back and modified all the splatters into tiny flowers. It might have just been me nitpicking, but it’s not something I would have considered last year. I realized that motivation and care for work comes from an understanding of and commitment to the underlying purpose.
Angie and I have talked about continuing to work together, which I am also looking forward to.
On April 16, 2020, Neal Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins Ice Cream, one of America’s leading grocery store brands in organic ice cream, announced that his business of 15 years would be ceasing operations as of April 17. Many were distraught to hear this news, as Three Twin’s iconic flavors of Lemon Cookie, Dad’s Cardamom, Land of Milk and Honey, and more, were staple ice creams in countless Bay Area homes. The reason for this abrupt closure was not unique to Three Twins; many other small businesses are also closing up shop due to the immense economic strain brought about by COVID-19.
When citizens of the United States were sheltered in place during the months of March and April, many were worried about the most pressing insecurity that COVID-19 introduced: the health and safety of their family members and themselves. However, a significant subset of Americans had other worries on their minds in addition to this basic concern. For the 49.2 percent of Americans who are owners and/or employees of a small business, COVID-19 was not only a matter of health, but also of livelihood, as the pandemic had a direct impact on the way in which these vital businesses function. Beyond the primary issue of many businesses completely closing down during March, April, and May, small businesses had to reevaluate how many people they could keep employed, and whether they could afford to stay open at all.
According to the latest research by Yelp, 72,842 businesses in the United States have been forced to close permanently due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. The food industry has been one of the most harshly affected by COVID-19. An estimated 15,770 restaurants have permanently closed in the US alone. One out of every 10 restaurants which temporarily closed in March, April, and May has since closed permanently. These intimidating numbers are concerning for small business owners, as they serve as a reminder of the looming threat bigger businesses pose in encroaching on their market share. For Gottlieb, this threat came in the form of companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs.
“The biggest challenge of the grocery side of the business even before COVID was competing with the likes of Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs, which are cheaper grocery market brands. It’s just really challenging to offer a clean and organic product, and to get consumers to pay significantly more for it,” Gottlieb said.
The concern of national chains eliminating small business may have been highlighted by the pandemic, but Gottlieb’s account suggests that it existed long before COVID-19. Most consumers opt for the more convenient and cheap option when it comes to food and other products. Supporting small businesses is becoming less of a priority for the American public.
Unfortunately, Three Twins’ business model was inherently harder to sustain due to their commitment to producing reasonably priced organic ice cream through environmentally friendly means of manufacturing. In the current consumer economy, it has become increasingly difficult to survive as a business while staying true to these values.
“I wanted to create a business that was organic and environmentally friendly, but appealed to the masses for reasons far beyond just being a green business. So I wanted to put that out into the world at an affordable price, which was something that had a lot of initial success, but that also proved to be very challenging as far as getting to a place where the business was sustained and profitable,” Gottlieb explained.
Then came the pandemic, an obstacle which introduced a new level of financial instability that Three Twins was unable to keep up with.
“The more established companies just have deeper pockets, and they have established profitability. So they are able to weather the storm when there’s a downturn, whereas we just didn’t have that. We were already running on fumes before the pandemic,” Gottlieb said.
The story of Three Twins Ice Cream is one of hope and resilience, but ultimately loss. The 72,842 businesses that have permanently closed in the recent months suggest that there are many other stories like Gottlieb’s. COVID-19 has served as a harsh awakening for small business owners who started companies from the ground up with hopes of providing consumers with unique products. Many of these businesses were ultimately unable to withstand the combined forces of an economic recession fueled by a raging pandemic and the competition created by bigger companies who have established profitability.
In a time where the average American’s trips to the grocery store are increasingly centered around finding the least expensive products in the shortest amount of time, many wonder if small businesses and brands still have a future in our world and consumer economy.
This article originally appeared in The Athenian Pillar on January 10, 2021.
Athenian’s film students have been taking the festival circuit by storm. Led by film teacher Peter Tamaribuchi, students have created short films and submitted them to multiple festivals, with results that have brought them recognition locally, online, and across the country, both pre- and post-pandemic.
Athenian’s film program emphasizes storytelling excellence and social change, and currently, most students are working on documentaries that will make a positive impact on their communities.
“It’s been amazing to see so many students do so well in so many film festivals. I think one of the things we have learned from this experience is that student filmmakers do extremely well when they have a story they are passionate about and are given the freedom and support to make that story into a compelling film,” Peter said.
In film classes, students begin by developing their ideas, followed by pre-production and planning their film shoot. Students then shoot their films and edit them into a final product. While film students previously worked in teams with shared video cameras, they are currently working on their own solo smartphone films.
As students follow their passions and interests, their high-quality storytelling has audiences taking note.
Jeremy L. ‘21
In his film “instant,” Jeremy L. ‘21 portrays a man close to the point of death, chronicling his last few moments.
“Shortly before I made the film I went through a personal loss so that kind of influenced some aspects of the film, and I think in some ways I kind of made it to cope with it,” Jeremy said.
“As someone who uses creativity a lot to process emotions, I think the main thing that I wanted to take away from that was just turning something that was personal and turning that into something that not necessarily something that was enjoyable, but something that can be seen by others.” Jeremy said. “I wanted to turn something sad into something beautiful.”
Jeremy created the second film, “Adrenaline,” for the Athenian Film Festival. A more fast-paced combination of animation with live action, it shows a teenager doing math homework while pulling an all-nighter fueled by coffee.
“That’s a common experience most students have, so I thought it would be relatable,” he said.
“Adrenaline” won Semi-Finalist at Top Shorts, which is known as the world’s leading online film festival.
Jeremy has been admitted into the film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and will enroll in the fall.
“I think I’m just going to see where it takes me, I don’t really have any set goals but I think to some degree that’s a good thing, like to go in with as little expectations so I can kind of just be shaped by it,” he said.
When asked for his advice for other film students, Jeremy reflected on his own creative process.
“I think the main thing I would say is that anything can be a good idea. I kind of struggled with this when I was starting with filmmaking. I would come up with an idea and then immediately shrug it off as a bad idea,” he said, adding that he came up with the idea for Adrenaline while drinking coffee and doing math homework. “I feel like some of the most successful films I’ve made were the ones that just came out of the smallest observations.”
Matthew Y. ‘20
Athenian alumnus Matthew Y. ’20 caught the film bug in elementary and middle school, when he shot movies on his iPad with his brother and friends. His genre of choice is live action comedy, and he is very intrigued by the combination of action and comedy.
In Matthew’s short film, “Love and Time,” a guy asks a girl out over and over, in what he eventually discovers is a time loop. Once he understands the repetition, he evolves his approach each time, ending by meditating with the young woman he is pursuing.
“I was interested in the concept of reliving your day, and I wanted to explore that concept more.”
Matthew completed shooting the film in November 2018, and edited in the spring of 2019. The film gained recognition in multiple festivals: it was a semifinalist in the Top Shorts Film Festival, won the Best Shorts Film Award for the teen bracket, and won third place (and $500!) in the high school division of the Grand Foundation Student Film Festival.
His advice to upcoming students is to be persistent and to practice.
“If you want to be a good filmmaker, you have to experience filmmaking multiple times,” he said.
Now in his first year at the University of Rochester, Matthew is interested in producing mini-documentaries in college and hopes to become part of a film club.
Olivia A. ‘22, Frances F. ‘22, and Caitlin S. ‘22
Years after attending the Aurora Elementary School in Oakland together, Olivia A. ‘22, Frances F. ‘22, and Caitlin S. ‘22 found themselves once again together at Athenian freshman year in a March Term film class, Filmmaking for Change. During March Term, Upper School students take three-week mini classes of their choosing, diving deeply into a subject they would not otherwise get to experience in their high school career.
When Olivia, Frances and Caitlin gathered to discuss ideas for a film, one of the issues that came up in discussion was increasing gun violence in schools. With the knowledge that young students were participating in active shooter drills, they decided to return to the Aurora School to explore how the increasing prevalence and knowledge of gun violence in schools was affecting younger children. They filmed K-5 students during a lockdown drill and interviewed some fourth and fifth graders about their experiences with lockdowns, seeking to understand how the awareness of the possibility of a shooting had impacted their time in elementary school. Editing the material together as a team, they included clips from survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting in 2018.
“We wanted to further explore how the media coverage of school shootings impacts young kids,” Frances said. “It impacts us, but we didn’t necessarily remember a lot of having the knowledge of what was happening in the world when we were in elementary school.”
The trio made the film, titled “Avoidable Trauma,” during the three-week March term period. They split the work evenly and each did some of each task, gaining experience with filming, and editing with Adobe Premiere.
While there were some frustrations related to editing on unfamiliar software, the group enjoyed working together, and at the end of the class, they were encouraged to apply to several film festivals. ”We applied to a handful of them that were just free,” she said, adding, “We actually forgot about it for a while.”
Little did the first-time filmmakers know that their hard work would gain them national recognition—“Avoidable Trauma” was accepted into the All-American HIgh School Film Festival, the largest high school film festival in the world. Over a weekend in October, they traveled with Olivia’s mother to New York City for the event.
“When students do well in film festivals, it’s so rewarding for them as artists to see their work celebrated and gives them the confidence to believe in their work and their artistry,” Peter said.
Despite everything that has unfolded since the start of school, given the realities of COVID-19, our athletes and coaches came to the fields, makeshift courts, and campus surroundings (with masks on) and made us all so proud. None of this would have been possible without our incredible coaching staff, bus drivers, and maintenance team. Day in and day out, they worked tirelessly to keep the Owl athletes safe, connected, and inspired to play during this unprecedented time.
Since this first semester was entirely clinic-based with no opposing teams or spectators, the Athenian Athletics Department wanted to share a few highlights:
The fall semester was broken into three sessions to represent the traditional three-season model we follow each year: fall, winter, and spring. Each session represented the appropriate sports, and athletes participated in four weeks of clinics as a team. We had over one hundred Owls on campus each clinic day, playing on the field, running the campus, on our makeshift parking lot tennis courts or basketball courts, and for a brief moment in the gyms.
Owls showed up with their positive spirits day after day, in the rain, during a heat wave, and after days off because of poor air quality. This positive spirit is what our Owls have been all about this fall semester of 2020 – simply an amazing display of resilience and community.
Josie Chapman is the Athenian School’s Associate Athletic Director.
Abuzz with invention in a typical year, the Carter Innovation Studio (CIS) is a focal point for hands-on work at Athenian. In its bright, airy spaces, students can be found focusing on their creations as they drill, saw, draw, create 3D models, or bring robots into motion for major competitions.
Home to the school’s engineering, architecture and making classes, the studio also hosts Athenian’s robotics and entrepreneurship programs. While it’s quieter now, plans that have been on hold due to COVID-19 are regaining momentum – a tiny homes project with the architecture program is in the works, and a hydroponic garden project is brewing.
CIS Director Vivian Liao is in charge of long-term planning for the lab, and is excited to have students back in person.
“It’s a nice energy to have students back. I like seeing them focus on their projects,” Vivian says.
At the beginning of of this 2002-21 school year, Alicia and Vivian spent time putting together kits for students in CIS classes so that they could work on projects at home. Now, with the school on an alternating-week in-person schedule, they are making improvements in the lab in preparation for its return to full activity. They are conducting maintenance on the machines and tools and have ordered a new professional-grade Ultimaker 3D printer.
With architecture and engineering back in person, small groups of students may soon be allowed to use the machines. One of the challenges now is to figure out the flow of people through the shop and the safe shared use of tools.
“We are just in the process of figuring out how we can let students do hands-on work while maintaining the hygiene and safety standards that COVID requires,” Vivian says.
Trained as a furniture designer at the Rhode Island School of Design, CIS Shop Manager Alicia Wang makes sure everything is running smoothly in the CIS, maintaining the machines and the facility. In preparation for students coming back to campus, Alicia has been organizing and labeling materials, and has cleaned up the hydroponic towers outside so that students will soon be able to plant vegetables hydroponically.
Alicia is interested in making of all kinds, and was drawn to Athenian’s experiential model.
“I feel like hands-on learning, this approach, is not the norm, and that’s also an experience that I’ve received in my own education in furniture design, so I want to see what it’s like to build a community that centers this type of education.”
While students are still learning online, using Arduino or online rendering software, Alicia notices how happy they are to be back in the shop.
“They pick up like nothing happened,” Alicia says. “They’d sit down and just start chatting and working on their stuff, and that’s nice to just hear in the background while I’m doing other things in the shop.”
Just past the small airplane under construction on the left as you enter Athenian’s Carter Innovation Studio (CIS), it’s nearly impossible to miss the rows of intricate architectural models that line the shelves on the far side of the room. From urban analyses to project proposals and the creation of these imaginative models, Athenian’s architecture program is a hallmark of the school’s noted emphasis on experiential learning, with innovation at its core.
“There is always this idea of invention in the end,” says architecture teacher Monica Tiulescu. “The way the class is evaluated is based on understanding that the students are developing a process and a method, and innovation is the goal,” she says.
The Oakland-based artist, who currently has work on display at the deYoung, holds a B.S. in Architecture from Cooper Union, an M.S. in Architecture from Columbia and a CTE in Architecture and Media Arts from UC Berkeley. Before coming to Athenian in 2016, she taught at the college and graduate level for 17 years, and her classes reflect that rigor. In a unique program that makes use of the schools’ idyllic studio space, she teaches Introduction to Architecture, Advanced Architecture, and Architecture Theory. Monica also teaches 3D art and Digital Art.
The Cycle of Design
With loyal students returning to retake her class after completing a year of her introductory and advanced classes, Monica treats her students like young professionals who are creating a product for a client. Her classes emphasize innovation, organizing information, and understanding of the principles and process of architectural design, with students learning practical skills such as drafting and modeling along the way. Structural feasibility matters, but creativity reigns as students learn to think about the cycle of design from idea to completion, with an acute awareness of the social, cultural, demographic, and geographic contexts of their work. Students change hats throughout the process, learning to approach the project as politicians, business owners, or other members of society.
“I run it like a design office, where they are able to engage at every stage of the process,” she says.
Her architecture classes lend themselves to working in person, but Monica and her students adapted to an online environment during distance learning. Students have been learning SketchUp and 3D Models at a distance, and have been working individually on projects that are typically collaborative.
“Starting a project online is always a little bit harder,” she says.
But with Athenian’s hybrid schedule, things are getting back to normal. Now onsite half-time with an alternating-week schedule, those who are learning in person are again benefiting from Monica’s expressive, hands-on teaching style.
Monica’s classes make use of many of the tools in the CIS to produce their models. While many projects are made with small, portable tools, particularly this year, in the studio they have used the bandsaw, the table saw, the laser printer, and occasionally the 3D printers.
Architecture Within a Social Context
Monica teaches architecture in the context of the world in which the building will be received. She considers the social construct of the city, its history, politics and other dynamics that can be used to better understand the types of architecture that we use.
The idea of the client is central to the class, with students building empathy toward that person or group. This year’s cohort has started a research-based urban analysis, and is now designing and drafting floor plans for a 40,000 square-foot library focused on antiracism. In both its informational content and its architecture, students are exploring how to build a space where racism cannot exist systematically.
Future projects will have a similar sense of social justice. The class plans to build a tiny house, where they will be fully engaging with all the tools in the CIS. From engineering to electricity and plumbing, this will be a major project requiring outside help. Before the pandemic they had been planning to build tiny houses together, and they are hoping to revisit this project in small groups. Monica hopes for each finished home to be fully functioning and to eventually donate homes to those in need.
Monica encourages students to bring in their interests as they work on their projects. One student, for example, is focusing on hip-hop music, which informs his design choices.
“I try to tap into personal narratives to drive a project,” she says.
Students stay with Monica, many taking a full year of architecture and an extra semester of theory, and even repeating classes to continue their work with her.
After two years in Monica’s class, including introductory, advanced, and theoretical classes, Odiso O. ‘20 is using theoretical concepts in her work in the way she organizes a project, analyzes a city and creates architecture.
“What I most enjoy about architecture at Athenian is that the courses are conceptually innovative. Students are pushed to see architecture as more than just designing buildings and become deep thinkers throughout the entire process,” Odiso says.
Chad M. ‘22 has had one year of architecture and has strong analytical skills, and shows a sophistication in organizing space.
“I enjoy studying architecture at Athenian because it allows me to express and explore my creativity in a way that I was never able to before.” Chad says. “My instructor Monica is a joy to work with, as her enthusiastic passion for architecture really brings the class to life.”