Will Prescott (Naperville), Sandra Zenkeviciute (Darien), Joanna Ligas (Roselle) and William Smarzewski (Villa Park) are spending the 2012-2013 school year at the Ecole d’Architecture de Versailles located just outside of Paris. Each year, approximately 48 juniors at the University of Illinois are invited to study historic and modern architecture while exploring the cities and cultures of Europe.

Building a Future

 
College of DuPage graduates Will Prescott, Joanna Ligas, William Smarzewski and Sandra Zenkeviciute are experiencing architecture in a way they probably couldn’t have imagined just a few short years ago.
 
They are spending the 2012-2013 school year in France as part of the prestigious Versailles architecture program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The program, which the National Architectural Accrediting Board calls “one of the best study-abroad opportunities offered by an American university,” annually allows juniors to study historic and modern European architecture at the renowned Ecole d’Architecture de Versailles located outside of Paris. Students gain the experience of a lifetime studying architecture while exploring the cities of Europe.
 
But it’s no stroll along the Seine. Prescott, Ligas, Smarzewski and Zenkeviciute are finding a rigorous curriculum that is the trademark of the UIUC architecture program as they immerse themselves in an intensive, compressed program which includes architectural design, history and structure. It’s supplemented by guest lectures, field trips and directed independent-study/travel.
 
Ligas, who hopes to specialize in sustainable design, is finding equal value in the learning she gleans outside the classroom.
 
“We are forced to adapt to a new environment and that alone really teaches us how to think creatively,” she said. “I am growing and learning every second of the day.”
 
Prescott, who cites constructive video games like The Sims for his initial attraction to design, is similarly impressed with his new surroundings.
 
“I’ve been waiting for it to feel like real life. But when I notice the Chateau of Versailles on my walk to school, I realize that I am 4,000 miles away from normal,” he said. “I recognize how fortunate I am for this truly life-altering experience, an opportunity that COD helped make possible.”
 
The four students credit College of DuPage for providing a solid foundation of skills that they used to transfer seamlessly into the UIUC architecture program and will continue to use as they begin their careers. The students particularly praise the small class sizes and individualized support they received from instructors.
 
Zenkeviciute singles out architecture department faculty Jane Ostergaard and Mark Pearson as being particularly helpful and compares them to being “like a friend or a parent,” who provide one-on-one attention.
 
Smarzewski agrees that the faculty really inspire students to succeed. “My passion for architecture grew with each class I took. COD offered me a well-rounded architectural education with a program that’s relevant to what’s actually going on in the industry. The intensity of coursework really prepares you to transfer to a university.”
 
For her part, Ostergaard appreciates not only the great experience the students will gain in Europe, but also notes the value and opportunity provided by COD’s affordable tuition.
 
“Because students come to us first, they are saving money and perhaps have the resources to take advantage of the Versailles program. This experience allows them to actually see what they’ve studied in our classes,” she said.
 
Prescott added that there are less palpable advantages to starting out at COD. “More than anything, College of DuPage allowed me to take a risk. I came to COD in search of something that would interest me and get me excited about school again. And that’s exactly what happened.”