Princeton University’s ArcPrep Portfolio Day, which took place at Princeton’s School of Architecture yesterday morning, offered a chance to view some amazing portfolios prepared by Princeton ArcPrep students as part of a semester-long course introducing high school sophomores from Trenton Central High School to architecture, urbanism, and integrated design studio practices.

Trenton students present portfolios during ArcPrep Portfolio Day at Princeton University’s School of Architecture on January 31, 2019.

Princeton University School of Architecture provides programmatic support, and the Trenton Public Education Foundation provides funding for the program. Mónica Ponce de León, Dean of Princeton University School of Architecture, is Program Director, and Katie Zaeh, Princeton School of Architecture Architectural Design Fellow, is Program Instructor.

Similar to a science fair of sorts, students gathered at tables yesterday morning with their portfolios and presented to professors, architects, and design professionals who dropped by with words of feedback and encouragement.

“The event provided students a chance to get practice at presenting themselves and their work and to get some feedback on projects they should check out or concepts they should continue to pursue,” said Zaeh.

“There are many forms of learning,” said Ponce de León. “But learning through making is one that tends to be underrepresented in high schools across America.”

“This program teaches students to think about the physical world through drawing and model making and think about the impact that physical objects have on the world at large,” added Ponce de León. “We hope that through this exposure they will consider careers in architecture.”

As the former Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan, Ponce de León, along with her associate dean at the time, ran a similar program in Detroit that sparked passion for architecture and design among inner city youth. “When I came to Princeton, this was one of the initiatives I was interested in replicating in the city of Trenton,” added
Ponce de León, who credits Princeton University and Trenton Public Schools for being “100 percent behind this effort.”

A rigorous academic program, Princeton ArcPrep helps participating students develop skills, knowledge and awareness related to careers in architecture and to aid in college readiness. The inaugural class comprises of 15 Trenton Central High School sophomores selected for their academic standing and interest in architecture.

The level of design quality among these Trenton students, according to Ponce de León, is really high. “It’s freshman college level work,” said Ponce de León. “In their first semester, these student are already doing extraordinary work, but they’re doing it with knowledge and insights from having grown up in Trenton; something that they carry into every project.”

“There are a lot of kids out there who may be interested in pursuing architecture and design as a profession, but they’re uncertain because they haven’t been exposed to it,” noted Ponce de León. “In this profession, there are no right or wrongs, instead, there are many solutions. Some might be better, some might be worse, but it teaches you to think critically and ask questions as you work through a project and decide for yourself if it’s the right approach.”