The Rare, Delightful Major in Sustainable Design

Sonja Feinberg '17, loved earning her BA degree in Sustainable Design and is now looking forward to earning her Master’s in Architecture at Portland State University. In a Q&A, she talks about what she enjoyed while taking both environmental and art classes at Pacific and how she decided on which grad school to attend. 

What is your major and why did you choose it?

My major is Sustainable Design and I absolutely love it! For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an environmentalist, and it was in high school that I first learned about sustainable architecture. As I lover of Legos and The Game of Sims, being an architect with an emphasis on environmental health seemed like the perfect fit! When applying to colleges, I simply googled “Sustainable Design” and Pacific came up right away. I came to visit, talked to the Environmental Department, and I was sold! Although there are not a lot of people in the major compared to other departments, I found a wonderful community full of students dedicated to protecting the environment and professors who are finding creative ways to make positive change!

Although I do not have an official major or minor in Studio Arts, the Art Department has played an equally important role in my major and time at Pacific. Many, if not all, of the art courses I took at Pacific placed an importance on sustainability and environmental health. Taking art classes was a significant way for me to practice and fall in love with creative problem solving. Both the professors in the Art Department and the Environmental Department guided me through a large array of courses that helped me be creative and analytical in learning how to solve environmental and social issues – a perfect starting block for beginning a Masters in Sustainable Architecture.

When did you decide on your major? Did it play a major role in your decision to attend Pacific?

Yes! Sustainable Design was the exact reason I chose Pacific! Very few colleges offer such a unique undergraduate program. Rather than going to college that offers an undergraduate architecture program, I chose Sustainable Design at Pacific because I knew it would help me develop not only as a creative thinker but as an environmentalist as well. I wanted to be an Environmentalist first, and an Architect second. The ceramics studio and other amenities in the Art Department were the other huge draws for me to come to Pacific as well.

What do you enjoy most about your major?

I love the community and the dedication to making a positive impact! Honestly, the environmental field is a very depressing one. Climate Change is not a future thing we are trying to prevent, but it is a very prevalent human-made occurrence that is having detrimental effects on ecosystems and humans alike right now before our very eyes. This is a lot of weight to carry on one’s shoulders, and I have seen it crush more than one Environmental student. But in the Sustainable Design major I have found that all students and professors alike share a passion and dedication to problem solving no matter how daunting the task. When some of us start to lose inspiration while learning about the seriousness and intensity of Climate Change, there is always a professor or student willing to offer positivity and motivation. Of course all of us humans are facing this daunting occurrence, and the Environmental Department is just one of the many outlets at Pacific that has kept me motivated to make positive change.

Have you made a lot of friends in your major? Do you share many of the same classes?

One of my favorite things about the Sustainable Design major is its small size! After only my first semester I felt like I knew most of the students in the major across all four years, and we had a lot of overlap in classes. I got very comfortable with everyone in the major, and it was fun to be in tight community as we learned a variety of things together over the years.

What are your thoughts on focal studies, and do yours relate much to your field of interest?

My focal studies are Study Abroad in the Galapagos Islands (which is what I am doing now for my final semester as an undergrad) and People, Planet, Profit. I am absolutely loving my time in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and I am very happy that this experience counts as a focal study. For People, Planet, Profit I took Environmental Ethics, General Biology, and Economics of Social Issues. These are all classes I highly recommend! Although none of these classes were completely required for my major, I benefited deeply from all of them simply as human.

How has the Pacific Art Department been helpful in getting you into grad school?

The Art Department was key for me applying to Grad Schools. Although the Environmental Depart did a wonderful job setting me up for the environmental aspects of a Sustainable Architecture Master’s, I could not have gotten into my graduate programs without all of my art classes and aid from the art professors. Architecture schools require a portfolio that depicts a variety of design and art abilities. My portfolio mostly focused on ceramics, woodworking, landscape design, and permaculture projects. Not only did a large amount of art professors help me on individual projects for my portfolio, but the many art classes I took allowed me to develop a narrative as an artist that I could share with my grad schools. This narrative and an ability to display creative thinking is exactly what helped me get into Masters of Architecture Programs, and I cannot thank the Art Department enough for all of their help! No matter what undergrad degree or master’s a student is pursuing, I will always recommend taking art classes, because I think developing a creative process is key in any career.

How has the Environmental Department been helpful in getting you into grad school?

The Sustainable Design major helped me become a motivated and determined environmentalist, which helped me stand out amongst other architecture applicants. The Environmental Department equipped me with necessary knowledge in sustainability that I used to convey to my grad schools how I plan to apply a Master’s in Architecture to solving global issues. Without the Sustainable Design major, I would lack the passion and dedication that grad schools look for.

Which main things are you considering in your decision of which grad school to go with?

I have actually decided on Portland State University for a Master’s in Architecture with an additional Certificate in Public Interest Design! I chose PSU’s program because it met all of my desires for Sustainability and Design/Build. While studying at PSU, I will actually get to help design and build sustainable structures for underserved communities in the Portland area; which is exactly what I want to do for my career. Examples of this are building homes for the houseless community, designing community spaces for non-profits, and working with other marginalized groups that would benefit from sustainable design. From Pacific, I now have a vast background in sustainability, and a foundation in art and construction, so I am very excited to put them all together for my Master’s.

Other factors I considered when deciding on a master’s program were location and professors. Although the other grad schools I considered had their own advantages in sustainability or community engagement, ultimately Portland was the city I wanted to be living and working in, and the PSU professors are involved in projects that are making the positive change I am excited about.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017