A Uniquely Amazing Semester of Athletics

By Josie Chapman

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.

The Carter Innovation Studio

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 studio.

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.

As shop manager, Alicia Wang maintains machines and trains faculty to use the CIS.

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.”

Architecture: A Hallmark of Experiential Learning at Athenian

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.

Distance learning 

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.”