LSU Architecture Student Receives National McNair Research Scholarship

lsu architecture student atianna cordovaAtianna Cordova, a third-year undergraduate student enrolled in the LSU School of Architecture program, is the first LSU architecture student to be named a Ronald E. McNair Research Scholar.

The Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars program is a national program funded by a federal grant from the US Department of Education TRIO programs—grants made available to colleges and other nonprofits for the purpose of increasing post-secondary educational opportunities. Established to commemorate the lifetime accomplishments of physicist Ronald Erwin McNair—America’s second African American astronaut and one of seven crew members killed in the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986—the program includes thousands of McNair Research Scholars across the nation. McNair scholars conduct research under the mentorship of some of the most distinguished faculty in the country and communicate the results of their work through publications and workshops.

Housed in LSU University College, each year, the program provides 30 LSU students with the information and experience to become competitive graduate school applicants and successful graduate students. The program connects undergraduate students with faculty-directed research experiences, provides individualized advisement, and fosters knowledge of the graduate school application process. LSU McNair scholars are actively involved in hands-on research and scholarship on everything from sociological studies of the connection between crime and poverty to nanofabrication to analysis of the BP oil spill.

As a 2014 McNair scholar, Atianna Cordova has been directed to choose a faculty advisor and to establish her own faculty-based research question. In her application for the scholarship, Cordova proposed a multidisciplinary research project that would explore how cultural competence can help address the challenges of designing children’s homes within developing nations.

“It was the combination of Atianna’s history of excellent performance in difficult classes and her impressive list of academic achievements that first caught the attention of the selection committee,” said Joe Givens, director of the Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars program at LSU. “As she began to share her ambitions of improving the quality of life for parentless children through research, we were certain that she was an ideal candidate.”

Cordova is currently enrolled in Research Methods (ARCH 4700), a course taught by adjunct professor Kristen Kelsch at the LSU School of Architecture.

“The course is about the connection between research and architecture and is made up of third-year undergraduate architecture students interested in pursuing an independent research question,” said Kelsch. “The students are expected to develop an understanding of the major assumptions and methods of contemporary research. In addition to learning how to conduct research, Atianna and her fellow classmates work with the library to improve their ability to identify and evaluate literature sources or supporting information.”

During the spring 2014 intersession, Cordova will participate in Professor Michael Desmond’s “Footsteps in Berlin” study abroad program to pursue potential angles for her McNair research. She hopes to combine what she learns in Professor Kelsch’s class with her experience in Berlin to develop a cross-disciplinary research question that combines her interests in visual art—specifically the street-art scene in Berlin—and modern architecture with her desire to improve the quality of life for parentless children in developing nations.

“The street-art scene in contemporary Berlin is legendary. It began in the vibrant years immediately after the Berlin Wall came down and continues today with a spontaneity that expresses the city’s rebirth and artistic experimentation, creating new boundaries between art and text, architecture and urbanism,” said Professor Desmond.

Cordova said one of her key advisors throughout the McNair Research Scholars application process has been Associate Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator Greg Watson, who shares Cordova’s interest and background in visual art.

“Atianna’s selection as a McNair scholar, the first selected from the School of Architecture, is important recognition of her abilities as a student and her interests in developing connections between architecture and other fields of study and research. Her selection is also important given the school’s role in the university’s QEP program, focused on developing undergraduate research opportunities. She is an outstanding choice for the LSU McNair program and will provide an important model for students in architecture interested in interdisciplinary research,” said Watson.

Cordova grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and said she has been interested in visual art since the second grade. Upon discovery of her interest in art and design, her high-school counselor recommended she attend Tulane University’s summer high school program, Career Explorations in Architecture. Much like the summer program at LSU, Career Explorations in Architecture offers students a short, intensive introduction to architecture to help them make informed decisions about their career paths.

Cordova said the program opened her eyes to the possibility of pursuing a career in architecture—she fell in love with the unique blend of visual orientation, creative process, academic investigation, and professional training that forms an architectural education. Cordova realized her penchant for architecture was already evident in her high-school artwork—structured pieces composed of plaster putty and acrylic paint. In fact, her paintings were created to commemorate Memorial Hospital in Mid-City New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Eager to begin pursuing her career in architecture, Cordova participated in two architecture internships during high school. She was an intern with architect Ron Brown throughout her senior year, and the summer before she began the architecture program at LSU, she interned at Concordia, LLC, a community-based planning and design team in New Orleans.

Cordova continues to work hard to pursue her career and to establish an edge in a profession known for its competitive nature. She recently participated in an externship at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago, where, for one week during winter break, she shadowed professional architects and experienced, first-hand, the day-to-day life at a prestigious international design firm.

“Being in Chicago, surrounded by one of the largest centers for prominent architects and their works, was an amazing experience by itself. Having the chance to work alongside the world’s leading innovators in engineering, urban planning, and design was priceless. It was great to see how this international firm operates on a daily basis,” said Cordova.

Cordova plans to pursue a graduate degree in architecture and is interested in applying to the Pratt Institute and the Savannah College of Art and Design after she graduates from LSU in 2016. During her time at LSU and through the McNair Research Scholars program, she hopes to cultivate experiences that will help her with the graduate school application process.

“I am beyond grateful for this chance to be a part of the Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars program. With all of the resources and opportunities that it offers, I know that it will help enhance my candidacy for graduate school, therefore, placing me one step closer to accomplishing my dreams,” Cordova said.

For more information about the McNair Research Scholars program at LSU, visit

About LSU School of Architecture
LSU School of Architecture students develop a solid foundation of traditional design, hand building, and drawing skills and learn to use computer and technological resources. The architecture program at LSU provides a balance between broadening educational experiences and discipline-focused coursework. In addition to learning how to make buildings, students develop a sense of professionalism and leadership in shaping the world by learning how to see, think, and act creatively.