To Students, Faculty, and Staff at the School of Architecture,
In June, Jennifer Asselstine’s role as the Undergraduate Director came to a close. This fall semester, Jennifer’s absence in the School of Architecture will be acutely felt by all of us both in the undergraduate and graduate departments. We would like to assure undergraduate students specifically that we will continue to build on, and celebrate, the extraordinary legacy Jennifer leaves behind.
During the 17 years that she has been at the Academy of Art University, the last 10 years leading the undergraduate department, Jennifer has created a rich and inclusive culture. Principled, joyful, warm, with an unmatched ability for organization and implementation, she successfully led the undergraduate department from its early days to where we are today. Jennifer’s leadership, backed by inexhaustible enthusiasm and work ethic, invited faculty and students to be partners during big-picture strategic planning sessions, NAAB accreditation visits, yearly student work exhibitions, and continual curriculum design refinements. Under her leadership, and in collaboration with faculty, the student experience included the Ethics and Leadership Panel, B. Lab Collaborative Projects, Professional Preparedness Workshops, integration of design studios with building systems courses that earned recognitions of excellence, and the launching of a travel studio that brought students to NYC and Miami, among others.
She urged students and faculty alike to consider ethics in our design projects and in our career paths. She firmly believed in, and lived by, the prerogative to align our values with our actions. The identity of the undergraduate curriculum is powerful because of this trait that Jennifer imbued in all of us. The undergraduate culture is embedded with Jennifer’s belief that we must strive to use our skills and talents to do what we believe is right.
While Jennifer’s responsibilities as a director were wide-encompassing, one area brought her incomparable joy. Getting to know students, on an individual level, energized her. She devoted time to mentoring students and helping them succeed. With deep empathy, she gave individualized attention when meeting with students. She saw each as a whole person always making time to listen to their stories. She saw as her highest purpose understanding and meeting the needs of each student on their paths to become architects. When the world-wide pandemic shut down the campus, in her desire to connect and celebrate with graduating students and their families, she hosted a Zoom graduation party in which she applauded each student’s growth and achievement.
In the midst of the global racial reckoning last summer, Jennifer led by creating the initial drafts of the Architecture department’s letter and the strategic plan for diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Her steadfast support helped implement changes to the curriculum, mentor students, and diversify representation in faculty and guest speakers. This work is ongoing and we are more resolved than ever to honor Jennifer’s leadership.
This fall, the university has decided to keep most courses virtual and online. While the repercussions of the pandemic are still with us in many ways, the undergraduate department will continue to carry on with Jennifer’s legacy. We hope you will join us in congratulating Jennifer on her accomplishments and expressing our gratitude.
Eric Lum, Director
Mark Mueckenheim, Graduate Director
Karen Seong, Undergraduate Assistant Director
Braden Engel, PhD, History Theory Coordinator
Doron Serban, Emerging Technology Coordinator
Eva Chiu, Undergraduate First Year Studio Coordinator