Firm-based scholarships continue tradition of support, partnership


For the past 24 years, Barbara “Cookie” Kerxton, John Torti and Tom Gallas have met each spring at the Torti Gallas office in Silver Spring, Maryland, to interview finalists for the Jack Smith Kerxton Memorial Scholarship. The legacy of Cookie’s husband, Jack, is kept alive through the scholarship program and it has impacted generations of University of Maryland (UMD) students. This year’s Kerxton recipient, Ryan Banger, is a student in the Master of Architecture program. Ryan completed his undergraduate degree at Roger Williams University and spent a semester studying abroad in RWU’s program in Florence, Italy. The experience abroad allowed Ryan to hone his skills; perhaps what influenced the selection panel the most was his commitment to manual drawing and digital media throughout his design process. Ryan will work at Torti Gallas this summer and return to complete his thesis in May 2018.


The innovative idea of coupling an academic scholarship with a paid professional summer experience offers an unparalleled opportunity for a fledgling architect. Over the years, this scholarship has allowed the Torti Gallas firm to attract some of the brightest and most talented young designers that UMD has to offer. 


Scholarships like the Kerxton provide the vital opportunities that turn students into professionals. In today’s financial landscape, they are often what opens the door to continued education for students; coupled with internships and study abroad opportunities, they can uncloak the constructs of the outside world, providing fundamental and hands-on learning experiences. This year, four prominent area firms—Torti Gallas, Design Collective, David M. Schwarz and Gensler—continue their tradition of supporting future architects through scholarship. These investments are the product of UMD alumni who are interested in giving back while simultaneously nurturing the talent pool that feeds the profession.


Several UMD alumni at the Design Collective, an award-winning Baltimore firm, established a scholarship/internship through an endowment in 2000, initially to fill the need for quality employees. For nearly 10 years, the firm has been successful in this endeavor, progressing several of their UMD interns into employment at the firm after graduation. This year, the committee selected graduate student Lonna Babu from among three finalists. Lonna, who is currently participating in the newly established Maryland-in-Florence program, won over the committee through a Skype interview.  When she returns from studying abroad, she will join Design Collective for a paid-professional position this summer. Lonna graduated from UMD with a BS in Architecture in 2015 and will return to complete her M.ARCH thesis in May 2018.


For over a decade, graduate students have benefited from the David M. Schwarz Architectural Services Internship-Fellowship, which annually supports a graduate student with a paid summer internship along with a generous award to support summer travel that parallels the student’s research interests, often as a primer to their thesis semester. This year’s recipient, Peter Cunningham, is no exception. Peter, who received a BA in English Literature from Wheaton College, plans to travel abroad this summer to study urban space, with a focus on how other cultures integrate arenas and stadia into their urban fabric. He will also work in the Schwarz office, which no doubt will be essential to his thesis; among other notable projects, the firm designed the innovative Texas Rangers ballpark in Arlington, Texas.


“This scholarship is a tremendous opportunity to broaden my experiences,” said Peter Cunningham, who plans to travel throughout Europe with his travel stipend. “I am excited to take lessons from these ancient places for my thesis, but make them fresh and new. It is an honor to be selected as the recipient of this scholarship, and I am deeply thankful for the generosity of Mr. Schwarz to make my educational experience so unique and rewarding.”


The Gensler • University of Maryland Alumni Scholarship is a firm-wide initiative to create an endowed scholarship, and is guided by Maryland alumni who serve as leaders for this award-winning international firm.  Now, in its second year, the scholarship nicely compliments the practical contributions the firm often provides in studio, bringing the challenges of real-world clients to our students for fresh perspectives and enriching experiences. This year, Gensler has selected Josh Kilian as the scholarship recipient. Josh received his BS in Mathematics from Salisbury University and will complete his Master of Architecture Thesis in fall 2017. Josh will be working in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office this summer.


Beyond the obvious benefit to students and the significant residual benefits to the firms themselves, these scholarships make UMD’s architecture program more competitive, attracting curious, driven and talented students. When putting programs toe-to-toe, scholarship opportunities are often the deciding factor for prospective students.


“We greatly value our partnerships with the architectural profession, but these awards and professional experiences are particularly special to us,” says Brian Kelly, AIA, Professor and Director of the architecture program. “These scholarships enrich the lives and educational experiences of the students who receive them and they build strong relationships between the school and the profession it serves.  It’s a win-win situation!”

Posted on March 28, 2017 by Maggie Haslam