GCA communications intern, Haley Sandell (H), sat down with Sephra Kolker (S), a recent graduate of the Gibbs College of Architecture Environmental Design program. Sephra shared her experiences as a student and representative in student government. Read on for highlights, or click the link below to access the full podcast.
S: Hi there! I am excited to be here! I hope you and all the listeners are staying safe and healthy right now. It’s a crazy time, but it’s especially important that we all weather through it together!
H: So, Sephra, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
S: For sure! So, first off, I am now officially a graduate of the College of Architecture and that’s pretty exciting. I grew up dreaming of attending OU, and I am now proud to call myself an OU alumna! During my time at the College of Architecture, I was able to be a part of the Dean’s Leadership Committee. I also attended the Mayor’s Development Roundtable as a student representative, and for the last three years, I’ve been able to attend the Study Abroad Benefit Night Dinner as a representative for the College.
H: So, when you decided OU was the place for you, what made you want to study urban design?
S: Great question, so I knew that I wanted to study something architecture-related from a young age. I grew up around a lot of art because my mom has been an artist for as long as I can remember. I was heavily influenced by all the work she did, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to merge creativity with my passion for the physical environment. Funnily enough, I have specific memories as a child of drawing out town maps and floor plans – I was particularly obsessed with that around fourth grade. So I think I’ve known for a really long time that I wanted to pursue an architectural field. Once I got to OU, I ended up changing my major a couple of times before finding the program that really works for me.
H: What do you think sets the urban design program at Gibbs apart from other programs?
S: I really think it has a lot to do with the great faculty/staff that Gibbs has. As students, we are lucky to work with not only great classmates but also faculty and staff that help us learn who we are as design professionals. The environment within Gibbs is definitely a supportive and collaborative one, and I think that it really helps students develop themselves and learn more about the kind of work they’d like to do.
H: Do you have a favorite project you’ve gotten to work on while at Gibbs? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
S: Well my favorite classes were my landscape architecture ones! I enjoyed pretty much every project we did, but I especially enjoyed the base maps we worked on in my junior year. However, I would say that my favorite project was a community improvement project we took on to improve walkability for downtown Blanchard, OK. My team and I were able to construct an interactive vision board of sorts that hung alongside a store facing the street. When I heard that we were creating something that was supposed to increase foot traffic and walkability in the downtown area, I immediately thought about a vacation I had recently taken to Alaska. So many of the towns and cities we visited were extremely walkable and highly community-oriented, so I really drew from that experience. I was inspired by the global interactive art project that I first saw in (I believe it was either Seward or Anchorage? called “Before I Die” by Candy Chang. Although our version looks a little different, the idea was similar. So basically Before I Die is a global art project that brings communities together by allowing individuals to reflect on what they’d like to accomplish before they die. In our version, we created chalkboard that asked residents to reflect on their vision for the town. The board was a lot of fun to make – there were lots of bright neon colors involved, and it was a showstopper for sure. I was lucky to be able to lead a team that was considerate of the residents’ input, worked well together, and was able to help bring my vision to life.
H: So, as I mentioned earlier, you’ve served as the representative in SGA for the college of architecture. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
S: Yeah! So I served as the College of Architecture representative in SGA for four sessions. It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I enjoyed being able to work on projects and legislation that affected the student body as a whole, but also things that were specific to the College of Architecture. One of the things I originally campaigned on was promoting a sense of collaboration and unity amongst Gibb’s many different majors, as there wasn’t a ton of interaction between students across different disciplines. This is something I am proud to say I’ve seen change tremendously over the last couple of years. The College of Architecture Leadership Committee that I have had the fortune of working with, has been really great about focusing on cultivating this sense of collaboration amongst the disciplines. Much of the work done on this committee revolves around planning events for the college – specifically events that are geared at promoting socialization between the disciplines. One of the traditions we’ve been able to keep over the last couple of years is the yearly College of Architecture mixer. It’s a completely student-led initiative, that happens every year around February. One of the things that was most important to me as a representative, was ensuring that the projects I worked on were impactful and important to both the student body that I served directly and the university community as a whole. My time in both the Human Diversity, Ways and Means, and Gibb’s leadership committee really helped me learn how to make an impact in a way that is meaningful to fellow students, while also including constituents in the process.
H: So, do you have plans for after graduation? I know it’s kind of a crazy time right now!
S: It really is! For me, its mostly going to be about getting ready for grad school. I plan on pursuing a Masters in Landscape Architecture, so there’s going to be a lot of prep work for that. I’m really appreciative of this downtime, not only to be able to spend time with family but also because it allows me to really focus on mapping out my plans for the future.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.