The Boston Architectural College is Building Careers - Meredith's IPAL Story
Students are accelerating their careers through The Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program—allowing them to jump directly from graduation to work as a licensed architect.
March 09, 2023
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Fulfilling a dream to become a licensed architect can be an arduous process. First, students must earn a degree from an accredited school; then, they have to complete 3,740 hours practicing under a licensed architect; and finally, they are required to pass exams in six different practice areas. “All of that is very hard on people,” says Mark Rukamathu, faculty and Director of Special Projects at The Boston Architectural College (BAC). “On average it takes 12.8 years from the time somebody starts school to when they become a licensed architect.”
Making matters worse, Mark adds, in most cases, the state licensing laws do not allow students to take exams while earning their degree, but require them to figure out how to complete them on their own after graduation. “Especially if they have special circumstances, such as a family, achieving all of these requirements within a timely fashion can be very difficult.”
To respond to those demands, the BAC has implemented the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL), an accelerated program that allows students to earn their practice hours and take their exams while attending school, so they can apply for their architecture license upon graduation. The BAC joined the program in 2015, one of a small number of schools initially accepted by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and still only one of a limited number of schools nationwide to offer the program. Since launching it seven years ago, the BAC has graduated 13 IPAL students—more than any other architecture school in the country.
The reason for its success, says Mark, is the BAC’s structure as a concurrent education institution, which allows students to work professionally at the same time they take classes and studios. “We want you to work while you are going to school, and we provide the support to do that,” he says. “So students get the experience they need and are able to take exams much sooner.” The IPAL graduates come from all walks of life and types of work, but they are united by a desire to work hard while at school so they can start building their careers more quickly.
M.Arch'21 Online | IPAL Graduate
When Meredith Rutland was nine years old, her parents took her to visit Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina, which is the largest privately owned home in the United States. Entranced by the massive stone structure with its lavish furnishings and swooping central staircase, Meredith immediately started asking questions about how the home was constructed. “I’m a super-nerd about that kind of thing. They’ve got this ridiculously massive chandelier that just hangs from a singular bolt above the staircase,” she says. “It’s crazy they were able to engineer that at that point in time, and do it in a way that it still stands today.”
Her experience spurred a love affair with historical buildings that continues today. She now runs a design firm and works with Garschagen & Godwin, an architecture firm in southern Georgia, where she specializes in the preservation and renovation of historic structures. “There is something really special about the way these buildings were made that isn’t duplicatable today,” she says. “They have stood for centuries, and I think it’s important to preserve those things that are testaments to time in a way that allows them to continue to contribute to society today.”
After earning a degree in interior design at the University of Georgia more than a decade ago, Meredith started work as a draftsman for the firm, at the same time practicing interior design through her own company, Rutland Design Company.. She has always had to pause in her projects, however, for a licensed architect to review them. “I started giving some serious thought to, why am I not just doing this myself?” With a husband and three small children in rural Georgia, however, she couldn’t see how she could relocate for the time it took to earn a degree and architecture license. “I was already married, had already started my family, and was already established in a full-time job,” she says.
Applying for the online IPAL program at the BAC allowed her the best of all worlds: an ability to earn her degree and obtain her architecture license while continuing to do the work she loved. Initially, Meredith was a bit nervous about attending the 10-day intensive so far away in Boston—a city she’d never visited. But after walking around and gawking at city buildings with fellow “architecture nerds,” she felt right at home. “A couple of hours into orientation day, I just felt like I had found my people,” she says.
Though Meredith had an established practice as a draftsman and interior designer, she was impressed by how the faculty at the BAC encouraged her out of her comfort zone. “Especially the studio instructors were really invested in growth,” she says. “They weren’t satisfied with where you were at the time, they wanted to push you to get outside of the lines.” The experience encouraged Meredith to take chances with her designs. In one assignment to build a makerspace along the Charles River, for example, Meredith felt that the site would be better suited to another purpose. “Everyone else had their makerspace ready to go, but I thought, based on the research I had done, that it needed to be something that captures the essence of the Charles year-round, something with an athletic space, a playspace, and a restaurant.” She nervously presented her idea and supporting research in crits with members of local architecture firms, fearing the worst. “Instead of ripping me to shreds, they were like, we love it, it makes total sense,” she remembers. “I really learned through that experience that it's important to evaluate the space and respect the community around it, and to try to meet unmet needs rather than just putting in whatever someone thinks should work.”
Completing the coursework for her degree while at the same time studying for the exams to earn her license was challenging, especially with a family at home. “I found out really quickly that it takes a village,” she says. “It took all my village, and then some more to come to the village.” While she attempted all six exams for her license, she only passed four of them by graduation due to time constraints and attempting 3 exams in 3 days. Even so, she says, “it is definitely one of those things that feels surmountable now, and makes me feel closer than I ever would have been without this program.” She looks forward to the time when she can put the word “architect” after her name, especially in a rural area where the profession tends to be dominated by men. “Being able to have that stamp and say, I’m not just a designer, I’m an architect is a huge deal here.”
At the same time, Meredith continues to enjoy the creative challenge of her historic renovation projects, which currently includes a project to convert a historic downtown building into a multi-use space with apartments, offices, a café, and a hot yoga studio. In each case, she says, it’s a combination of trying to meet the needs of the community, while also respecting the legacy of the past. “Knowing what they were then and seeing what they can be now is just super-rewarding,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’ve definitely given these buildings new life.”
March 09, 2023
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