Students look around the Architecture exhibit with Dean Mónica Ponce de León

Aiming to diversify field, architecture school launches ArcPrep program at Trenton Central High School

Students from Trenton Central High School visit the Princeton campus as part of the new Princeton ArcPrep program. Aiming to diversity the field of architecture, the program introduces the students to the discipline through an immersive, semester-long course. The program was established by Dean of the School of Architecture Mónica Ponce de León (far left), shown here with students as they visit an exhibition in the Architecture Building. 

This fall, Princeton’s School of Architecture, in collaboration with Trenton Central High School, launched Princeton ArcPrep, a program introducing Trenton high school students to the discipline of architecture through an immersive, semester-long course.

The program covers architecture, urbanism and integrated design studio practices. Unlike other architecture high school programs, ArcPrep’s studio instruction is not an extracurricular activity; it is embedded within the high school curriculum and the daily schedule of participating students.

Princeton ArcPrep aims to diversify the field of architecture by providing comprehensive support, guidance, and academic and cultural enrichment to students who are typically underrepresented in American architecture schools and thus the profession. A rigorous academic program, Princeton ArcPrep helps students develop skills, knowledge and awareness related to careers in architecture and aids them in college readiness.

The inaugural class comprises 15 Trenton Central High School sophomores selected for their academic standing and interest in architecture.

Students doing drawing exercises in class at Trenton Central High School

Students engage in drawing exercises in class at Trenton Central High School. The inaugural class comprises 15 sophomores selected for their academic standing and interest in architecture.

Princeton’s Mónica Ponce de León, dean of the School of Architecture, is program director, and Katie Zaeh, architectural design fellow and a 2010 alumna who concentrated in architecture, is program instructor. The architecture school provides programmatic support, and Trenton Public Education Foundation has raised $18,500 to support the program with the help of LENNAR-We Care Foundation, NJM Foundation, West Windsor Gardens, Sharbell Development Corporation, Eckert Seamans Charitable Foundation, and Mary Jo and James C. Hedden.

Ponce de León said: “Princeton ArcPrep is introducing some of our region’s most promising students to architecture, a field that has historically lacked diversity. I am deeply committed to providing these students — all of whom have an aptitude for architecture but lack access to formal training and support — an opportunity to develop the skills that will propel them into a successful career.”

Of all registered architects in the United States, less than 2 percent are African American and only 3 percent are Latino, according to the American Institute of Architects in 2014.

Ponce de León launched a successful ArcPrep program in Detroit while she was dean at the University of Michigan. She created the program in 2015 with then Associate Dean Milton S.F. Curry; it continues today with over 200 graduates to date.

Students visiting Princeton School of Architecture’s Embodied Computation Lab

Students are greeted by Grey Wartinger (far right), manager of digital fabrication, technologies and research at the School of Architecture’s Embodied Computation Lab.

Zaeh spends three hours a day, four days a week in studio with the ArcPrep students at Trenton Central High School, engaged in a project-based learning curriculum. On the fifth day, the students participate in presentations by guest speakers and visit architecture firms, or engage in a career counseling module. They receive mentoring, prepare for interviews and presentations, create resumes and design portfolios, and prepare for the college application process.

As part of the program, students were shown architectural highlights on Princeton's campus during a tour led by Ponce de León. The visit included stops at the architecture school, including the Embodied Computation Lab, and a walkthrough of an exhibition in the Architecture Building.

“By nature, architecture is multidisciplinary and requires students to reach into their archive of knowledge and apply it to their projects,” Zaeh said. “It challenges them to reconsider their prior education in math, social studies, language arts and science from a designer’s perspective. Knowledge becomes an active asset instead of a static memory.”

After completing the program, Princeton ArcPrep students may continue to pursue their interest in architecture and design through an after-school Architecture Club. Zaeh said it is important to keep supporting the students as they advance in high school in order help them make the transition to college.