Non-background (design engineer) seeks info about US/EU grad programs


Hello Archinect,

I'm looking for input on grad programs. I've found this site to be a good resource and I am finally taking the plunge of sharing personal details with the hopes of getting some solid advice. Have a lot to cover so let's get started:

I have a bachelors in Manufacturing and Design Engineering from Northwestern (specifically, the Segal Design Institute), where some pretty storied industrial designers head up the product development program. I colored this interdisciplinary education, co-taught between the engineering school and Segal, with various interesting endeavors beyond the curriculum. Here's an example. Another is a data viz project with an SAIC student (see photos). I really enjoyed the studio format of that class, co-taught with SAIC, compared to the rigors of engineering. 

After graduating, worked at an electric car startup in SF for 3 months in craftsmanship engineering, which is all about perceptual quality, materiality, haptics, etc, before moving to Chicago to work at a nonprofit digital manufacturing research accelerator. I was a PM and oversaw projects related to metal additive manufacturing and digital product lifecycle management. Some nice images and renderings from that which I will definitely use in the portfolio.

I left after a year to find roles where I could be closer to design and fabrication, instead of just managing it remotely. I landed a role freelancing at a really high-end architectural model-making studio, where I've been helping finish and assemble (and getting some pretty great portfolio shots). 

I've grown interested in applying my human-scale design and fabrication experience to construction-scale applications, which led me to visit a bunch of open houses last fall including GSD, Yale, Penn and Michigan. Just visited MIT a few weeks ago. I'm seeking programs with strong digital fabrication / computational design components, so it was helpful to see how those schools varied in those regards. Also important to me, which I feel is actually worth stating, is that I truly want to learn how to design. I want to develop and execute a multitude of design projects with novel, visually stunning and practically-relevant outcomes, so I'm perhaps less interested in theory and criticism. 

Other info about me.. I'm teaching a class for middle school aged kids in a few weeks with a collaborator who hails from the new media scene about an introduction to 3D design. We've put together a pretty cool workflow involving drawing patterns by hand, generating surface maps in Fusion and giving the kids basic CAD knowledge to manipulate the output and build a 3D part. we're printing the parts then teaching them orthographic drawings and digital renderings. It's all about introducing 3D tools for non-objective form and representation, instead of, say, how to design your dream kitchen appliance. Hoping that I can find a visually compelling way to represent the development of this curriculum as a design project that I can include in the portfolio, along with the student outcomes. I'm interested in continuing to teach in the future. 

I'm starting a personal project where I'm hoping to use Grasshopper to analyze photos of, shall we say, political importance, generate data and algorithmically drive design of a few small objects, which I should definitely have done by the fall.

GRE: 164 v, 161 q    |    GPA: 2.9 (not great, but engineering average wasn't much higher)

So here are some actual questions, now that you know a little bit about me:

  • Can I even get in to one of these highly-competitive programs as a non-background? My understanding is that they evaluate the backgrounds/non separately, so my thinking is that if I can have a stellar body of work to show, I could be in better shape than somebody with a B.Arch because of my non-traditional background. 
  • I've narrowed my focus in the US to GSD, MIT, Michigan, Georgia Tech, and maybe Berkeley. Are there any other M.Arch programs I should be checking out based on my interests? 
  • Should I even be pursuing an M.Arch based on my interests? I don't think that I want to become an architect - I've spoken to a lot of people and it seems, simply put, like a bad time. I like design and robots but I'm not a masochist, I'm not going to spend a quarter million dollars on grad school for a starting salary of $35k. What other career paths might I consider with the M.Arch training that I seek to attain?
  • Beyond the US, what about EmTech, ITech and DFAB? Does anybody know what kinds of professional opportunities those programs lead to? I'm increasingly considering these MS programs as perhaps a better fit than an M.Arch (and the price is right).
  • Anybody familiar with the SMBT program at MIT or DMT program at Michigan? After visiting MIT, my sense is SMBT is not hands-on enough for what I'm looking for, but the Digital Material Technology program at Michigan is kind of seeming like my top choice at this point, as a dual degree with an M.Arch.

Okay, that's it for now. Looking forward to seeing what people have to say. Appreciate any and all comments! Don't be mean!

Jun 2, 19 5:11 pm

I think you have a lot of potential if you put in your best effort and the deciding factor would be using your weakness as your strength.

Jun 2, 19 5:58 pm

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