Architecture Student Finds Her Life Is Coming Full Circle
Raised in Zimbabwe, Jennifer Choto came to UC to earn her undergraduate architecture and interior design degrees in the nation’s top-ranked programs here. Now, as an architecture graduate student, she’s come full circle – designing a library/community center for a community in Kenya.
Date: 10/15/2007When she finally completed two undergraduate degrees at the University of Cincinnati – a 2007 baccalaureate in UC’s nationally number-one ranked interior design program and a 2006 baccalaureate in architecture, Jennifer Choto of Milford felt ready to turn a page in her life.
By: M.B. Reilly
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Photos By: Lisa Britton
And she quickly did just that even while continuing her education in UC’s nationally number-two ranked architecture program. Jennifer, 22, found herself designing a library and community center for the rural community of Sega in Western Kenya.
“The project grew from volunteer work I’d been involved with previously to fund scholarships for Kenyan school children. While providing scholarships, the group I was involved with also found that this farming community had a great many school building needs, including a library, a science lab, more classrooms, even a water-storage tank,” explains Jennifer.
Those needs were a perfect match for Jennifer’s skills, skills she’s honed not only in the UC classroom but also in her required cooperative education quarters and via part-time jobs for area architecture firms. She’d co-opped at GBBN Architects locally (where she now works part time) and for Interiors Architecture in Washington, D.C.
Her volunteer effort for the Kenyan community is merely an extension of this ongoing work experience. In fact, former co-op employer (and now her part-time employer) GBBN provided funding so Jennifer could visit Sega this past summer in order to do site research for her design project.
“When I was in Kenya this summer, I not only met with residents in order to better understand the needs of the people who will finally use this building, but I also measured the site and studied the topography. I studied local building materials because the structure will have to be built of locally sourced materials. I also met with local architects in the capital to learn how the project must be documented in order to comply with local regulations,” Jennifer states, adding, “It was a lot of work in differing locals. Also, it was eight hours of a very bumpy ride from Nairobi to reach the rural community, which is near Lake Victoria on the equator. That might have been the hardest part.”
The best part is simply stated, according to Jennifer: “It’s real. People are really counting on me. So, when I wake up every day, I know that today counts. Every day counts because every day, I’m doing some kind of research or work related to the project.”
That feeling of urgency in her work should last for at least the next two years since Jennifer estimates that the 9,000 square-foot, two-story Sega library and community center – which will be constructed by community members – will likely break ground in about a year-and-a-half. It’s likely that hundreds of students will use the structure in its first year, and many thousands will use it over the life of the building.
She says, “I’ll graduate in 2009 with my master’s degree, and this will be my thesis project. I’m really hoping that project will have broken ground before commencement, and then, I’ll be able to go to Kenya to see its completion.”
It will be the first project that Jennifer, enrolled in UC's internationally recognized College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, has shepherded through the design and construction stages in its entirety. In all her work up to this point – on co-op or her ongoing job – she’s only completed parts of any one project.
She adds, “This is a great opportunity for both the community and for me. I’m learning about the design process from start to finish and advancing my skills. I’m collaborating with architects I work with to obtain an experienced perspective, and I’m hitting the books and studying up on library design. I’m studying as hard right now as will any student who some day uses my library.”