Fall 2020 Dean's Welcome Message

A very warm welcome back to students, faculty and staff!  

This week, we hosted our first ever online All School Meeting, with over 425 participants. It was also the first time that our Los Angeles and San Diego communities came together to launch the new school year. It’s inspiring to see how all of us – students, faculty, staff and alumni – are creating new connections, new experiences, and new ways of learning.

Excitingly, our School is growing! We are welcoming 129 new students to the School of Architecture this year, as well as a new program: Applied Computer Science – Media Arts. With a focus on emerging digital practices applied to interactive environments, experiential design and human interaction, this program introduces new modes of knowledge that brings a new level of engagement to our students and their future practices.

Classes Transformed 

As architects and designers, we have a unique perspective in translating our lived experiences into transformed spaces. This is an opportunity to rethink the ways we inhabit cities, to rethink the permeability of building envelopes, and to rethink human interactions with interior spaces and virtual environments. In-Flux, our online gallery of student work from the 2019-20 academic year showcases a level of rigor and excellence unprecedented in our school’s history.

The physical experience is, of course, new. Our team worked tirelessly throughout the summer to prepare for this fall. Classes are completely transformed. In line with State and County guidelines, we are starting the Fall semester with remote instruction, with very few exceptions. One-on-one in-person experiences, and campus resources such as the making complex, are still available for students and faculty through a scheduling appointment system. Each of us – faculty, staff, chairs, administrators – is wholeheartedly invested in making this extraordinary semester as wonderful as possible for our students.

Social Justice 

Ongoing protests such as those in Kenosha, Wisconsin are galvanizing and empowering our students and alumni in powerful ways. They have also prompted the University to implement new initiatives to ensure lasting equality, respect, opportunity and justice for all. I’m proud to announce that this summer, Woodbury University launched a new Social Justice Scholarship Fund that provides scholarships to students from underrepresented groups and those committed to eradicating social injustice. Thirteen of these Social Justice Scholarships were awarded to new students in the School of Architecture.

The School of Architecture also relaunched our Design Justice Committee which will be chaired by Sean Joyner, our new Special Projects Coordinator. We have already begun implementing a Design Justice Action Plan that incorporates initiatives from the WSOA Students and Black Student Association Statement. We will provide monthly updates as our plan progresses. 

School Leadership 

I want to thank all of the members of our School’s leadership team who share an optimistic can-do spirit and encourage a sense of possibility in all things. Heather Flood continues as chair of the Architecture programs in Los Angeles, Jose Parral as chair of the Architecture programs in San Diego, and Christoph Korner as chair of the Interior Design programs. Congratulations to Jose and Heather on earning the rank of full professor. They are joined by Mark Ericson as the new chair of the Applied Computer Science – Media Arts program.

I would like to take a moment to thank Dr. Ewan Branda and Ryan Tyler Martinez, who are stepping down from their administrative roles. They have performed generous and invaluable service to the School, Ewan as Associate Dean and multiple other leadership positions, and Ryan as Assistant Chair of BArch & MArch programs in LA and curator of our In-Flux platform, among many other projects. Ryan continues as Director of our Wedge Gallery.

I am excited to announce Aaron Gensler as the new Assistant Chair of the Architecture programs in Los Angeles. She will continue as a faculty advisor to the student organization NOMAS, and is already working on several new initiatives, including ‘The Buddy Program,’ which pairs incoming students with continuing students. We have three new Coordinators for the Architecture program who will work with chairs Heather and Jose on oversight of the Architecture curricula as we start preparations for our next NAAB visit: Linda Taalman will help coordinate the Building track, Dr. Anthony Fontenot, our Criticism courses, and Megan Groth our Practice courses.

It is an honor to announce two additional new members of our leadership team: Interior Design faculty member Dr. Branka Olson has been appointed Assessment Officer and will work with chairs on assessment and accreditation processes for all of our programs. She has a Ph.D. in Management and Designing Sustainable Systems, is founding principal of Sindik Olson Associates specializing in experiential workplace consulting, and spent the summer working with the COVID-19 Response Team to redesign studios and classrooms into safe physically distanced spaces. We are fortunate to have Woodbury alumnus Sean Joyner coming on board as Special Projects Coordinator to help lead alumni mentoring programs and chair our reformed Design Justice Committee. Many of you know him as a talented, thoughtful writer for Archinect. Prior to that, he worked as Project Leader at Architecture for Education, and as a designer at NAC.

The primary role for all of them remains teaching, and our students will continue to have access to their professionalism, experience and talent in the classroom.

Climate Justice Initiative

This year, we are launching The Year of Climate Justice, an initiative focused on climate change and environmental justice. Last year’s successful Housing+ initiative resulted in new firm partnerships with professional offices such as Gensler, NBBJ, & HDR, an invitation to the United Nations headquarters in NYC, and a superb array of student work. This year’s initiative will launch multiple new projects: $10,000 in student awards in the spring, grants for faculty whose research and coursework focus on the environment and social justice, studio sponsorships, and a lecture series with speakers ranging from technical experts to community activists. Thank you to Dr. Anthony Fontenot, Dr. Jason Rebillot, and Joshua Stein for working through the summer to launch this initiative. I want to thank everyone – students, staff, faculty – for participating in vital conversations as we collectively take critical steps to incorporate a greater diversity of discourse in our curricula.

News Highlights

In this newsletter, you will see examples of the continued excellence and vitality of our School. Our students continue to distinguish themselves in national awards, our alumni to blaze new career trails, and our faculty to shine. As a testament to our mission, we continue to receive generous gifts that support our students, such as a $75,000 Donghia Foundation grant for the Interior Design Junior Studio. Working with Advisory Board members Debra Gerod and Moshik Ma over the summer led to additional studio sponsorships from Gruen and HDR. I am also excited to announce two new members of our School Advisory Board, Germane Barnes (MArch ‘12) and John Leath.

Faculty member Jeanine Centuori is engaged in a design project that looks at campus use. She is Director of ACE, the Agency for Civic Engagement, which is dedicated to helping underserved communities. ACE projects connect students and faculty with nonprofit and governmental organizations through real projects for the public good. This fall, ACE is designing “light” wayfinding interventions on campus to reinforce and educate our community on social distancing strategies, working with graphic design faculty Cate Roman, and students on design and implementation. This project is supported by a gift from Advisory Board member Sonny Ward (BArch ‘08).

This summer, we also offered our eighth (!) summer high school studio, this year for free. The class was taught by alumnus Mina Greas (BArch, ‘09), who introduced architecture and design to high school students from across Southern California.


While a lot is changing, the essential qualities that define us remain beautifully intact. Thanks to the wholehearted efforts of so many in our community, and under the leadership of President David Steele, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Randall Stauffer, Vice President Natalie Avalos, and many, many others, we in the School can focus on what we do best: helping our students produce exceptional design work and crafting new pathways into the profession. More than ever, our community remains focused on the generous belief in the power of good design to effect positive change for others.

We want our students to feel optimistic about their time at Woodbury and hope for the future. Please join us – students, faculty, alumni, staff, advisors and friends – as we continue to build a joyful, safe and welcoming community.

With respect and appreciation, 

We don’t get to choose our circumstances, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, our ability to display courage in the face of the unknown, and the love we give.  – V. Frankl 

Feature Image: Untitled (Dunes), near El Centro, CA, 2010, Courtesy Victoria Sambunaris/Yancey Richardson Gallery

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