The LSU National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) started an initiative called Light A Fire in 2012. Students wanted to get involved with helping to motivate young minority students to pursue careers in design fields. Today NOMAS LSU students visit at least three high schools with predominately minority students per year, hosting workshops that expose Louisiana youth to design. This year, LSU students have visited local high schools in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Visiting the schools is fun and inspiring, and a great experience for both the high school students and LSU NOMAS members, said Cecilia Gomes, BArch student and NOMAS vice president & chair of Light A Fire. “The students are always super excited and ready to create. Seeing these students so fired up about design is motivating for everyone involved, reminding us of that spark that got us interested in design.”
“Fifth year student Cecilia Gomes did an awesome job chairing this year’s Light A Fire initiative,” said Dana Mitchell, LSU School of Architecture recruiting & administrative program coordinator, and NOMAS advisor. She visits the high schools with the students, to help create connections with local educators and spread awareness about the LSU School of Architecture. Undergraduate coordinator and architecture instructor Kristen Kelsch also works with the students with project ideas for the high schoolers.
The focus of the Light A Fire school visits is a hands-on challenge, which allows the students to be creative and take charge of the design process, Gomes said. The high school students are split into teams and design a space with NOMAS group advisors, who work with them to conceptualize and present ideas. “By doing this exercise the students are not only exposed to the design, but also how architecture can effect change within their community.”
The NOMAS students introduce architecture and design in three basic principles: people, place, and connection. “Through a series of architecture examples in Louisiana, the students can see how these principles come together to create meaningful spaces,” Gomes said. “We then challenge the students to find a place in their school that they feel needs to be revitalized.”
“Many high school students may have never been exposed to the field of architecture or design. When I was in high school, I did not know any architects, much less any who were minorities. If just one student walks away from our school visit thinking, ‘Maybe I could do that,’ I feel our mission was accomplished.”
After the design competition, the high school students may ask the LSU architecture students about their college experiences. “Since we have such a diverse group, we can give a variety of perspectives about our educational journeys,” she said. “Our goal is to be transparent with students about where we come from, where we are now, and where we would like to go.”
“What surprised me most about the students was how open they were in sharing their struggles and passions,” she said. “Many of the students opened up about the stress and pressure they face in school and how their new space was working to alleviate some of their everyday problems. They were thoughtful and sensitive to underrepresented groups within their school, and that level of conscious design is something I personally feel makes for the best designers.”
NOMAS aims to create community and forge connections within and around the LSU School of Architecture, Gomes said. “It is important to give a safe place for our minority student body to help and learn from one another. NOMAS has allowed me to share my knowledge and experiences with the younger student body. Personally, I want students like myself, who may come from low-income minority families, to know that the journey isn’t easy, but it’s 100% worth it if you are passionate.”
“The Light A Fire Program is not simply about making more architects, but about spreading the word about what design really is,” Gomes said. “I want students to realize the positive impacts they can make within their school and community. I feel that the use innovative thinking and problem solving will make the students pioneers in whatever field they choose.”