Architecture co-op builds experiences for grad student Anshumi Dhingra

City Studios architectural firm offers UC student a holistic approach to profession

As a co-op student at City Studios Architecture — a firm in downtown Cincinnati — one of Anshumi Dhingra’s first assignments was to measure a historic building for the purpose of documentation for city tax credits.

“U.S. standards are very different from what I was used to in India. There we work in meters,” the graduate student of architecture said of challenges such as this and the many other assignments she undertook while at City Studios.

“It’s like a job, but they train you. I wasn’t only designing in my mind. I was always on site or designing in person.”

Which is the exact purpose of UC’s cooperative education program: to allow students hands-on, diverse experiences in their career field of choice. Co-op is an educational model in which a student alternates traditional academic semesters with semesters spent working full-time in the field. The work is paid, full time (at least 35 hours per week) for 15 to 18 weeks at a time, related to the student’s major, supervised and evaluated.

Co-op requirements

Dhingra came to UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from CEPT University in her home country of India. She says she chose to pursue a master’s degree in architecture through DAAP based on UC’s international reputation and co-op opportunities.

Anshumi Dhingra on the left standing next to her mentor Deanna Heil at City Studios.

Co-op student Anshumi Dhingra (left) with her mentor Deanna Heil, a UC alumna. Photo provided by Dhingra.

Graduate students of architecture are required to complete two co-op courses, and City Studios was Dhingra’s first.

“Hiring a co-op student is a chance to have someone young with new energy and new design sense and willingness to jump right in and join the team,” City Studio’s co-owner Deanna Heil says of the decision to hire Dhingra as a co-op for the fall 2021 semester.   

Heil, a 1990 DAAP grad herself, co-founded the firm in 2008. Most of the firm’s work, she says, is “urban work”: a mix of contemporary architecture with historic rehabilitation, often taking a building down to the studs and starting over.

Dhingra, Heil says, “dove in right away with an attention to detail and professionalism” required to sit in on client meetings, go on construction site visits, take photographs, prepare permit drawings and the like.

Every co-op experience brings mutual benefit and brings the student closer to finding their place in their profession.

Alexander Christoforidis UC’s Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education

Going in prepared 

Preparedness is the rule, not the exception in UC’s world-class co-op programs, says Alexander Christoforidis, a member of the graduate architecture faculty in UC’s Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education.

After all, UC is the founder of co-op, having established the first cooperative education program in engineering in 1906. The architecture program was established in 1922 by co-op’s founder Herman Schneider 100 years ago with co-op embedded in the curriculum.

“We front load our courses here to give students more than just an idea of what is expected of them in the co-op experience, whether it be classes in construction, workshops in finance, zoning and building codes or how to prepare design and construction packages,” Christoforidis says, which allows the students to walk into their co-op opportunity with confidence.

Students, he says, get their choice of the top firms in every sector of the profession: mostly traditional architecture firms, but inclusive of real estate development firms and corporate firms of all sizes.

City Studios, for example, has a team of 11 architects and interns but has made a bold impact on the city of Cincinnati. Examples of their work can be seen at Cincinnati’s Union Hall on Vine Street and the Alumni Lofts, formerly home to Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Mutual benefit

“We’re a small firm and we do everything collaboratively, so I tried to fold Dhingra into as many opportunities as possible,” says Heil.

The experience, Dhingra says, allowed her to be able to “see myself as an architect” with the challenges of converting historic buildings to modern use. One of her favorite projects was to help on the design of an awning that needed to be attached to a historic renovation building.

“That was the best part of the whole project for me…the details of it.”

Noteably, Dhingha's experiences at the firm were featured in a Nov. 2021 Cincinnati Enquirer article touting UC's co-op program which has risen to No. 4 in U.S. News & World Report’s latest rankings.

Dhingra has now moved into her second co-op experience at GBBN, a global architecture and interior design firm with offices in Cincinnati, where she will gain experience on larger scale projects.

“Every co-op experience brings mutual benefit, which is key to its success and longevity,” and brings the student closer to finding their place in their profession, says Christoforidis.

Featured image at top of Anshumi Dhingra and Deanna Heil. Photo/provided by Dhingra.

Beyond the classroom

UC invented cooperative education more than 100 years ago, and we continue to innovate all aspects of experience-based learning, including internships, service learning, virtual co-ops, community projects and industry partnerships. Learn more.