It was the late 1970s and Frank Dittenhafer was almost finished with his Architecture studies at Penn State University before first encountering a professional architect— at the dentist’s office.
Frank vaguely remembers hearing something from the next room about a renovation, right before drifting off for wisdom teeth extraction.
“Back then I sort of thought I knew what architects did, but I’d never really met one,” he confessed.
These days, though, Penn State Architecture students have ample opportunity to meet professionals in the field from across the country while they’re still in school, and they have an array of resources at their disposal to get a better understanding of the job before they’re on it.
“Frank has worked earnestly to engage alumni as participants in a digital environment where current students can reach out to alumni for career advice, for information about a geographic area of the country and what it’s like to work there,” said Joyce Hoffman, Arts and Architecture Alumni Director at PSU.
A class of 1978 graduate, Frank was first elected to the Penn State Architecture Alumni Group board six years ago, serving for four years as a board member before being elected as that body’s president for two one-year terms. He remains on the board today, as the most recent past president as his tenure ended on June 30th.
Along with other Penn State Architecture Alumni board members, he’s used that platform to champion a 21st Century connectivity that allows today’s PSU architecture students access to a world of information and experience, all from the comfort of campus at State College.
Consider the department’s new online network, a tool that connects PSU architecture alums from across the globe with current students. Today, more than 100 graduates are available for advice, an office tour or for an informal meeting over coffee with students visiting a particular geographic region.
“We’re trying to break down those traditional barriers,” Frank said, “trying to answer the sort of questions these young people naturally might have when they’re just getting started.”
A foundation for a strong future
That years-long quest for more connectivity bore fruit in particular this past May in Philadelphia, with a reception for the Penn State Department of Architecture held in connection with the annual American Institute of Architects convention that saw more than 130 guests. And more than 100 of those remained even after the official end of the event, Frank said.
“People didn’t want to leave,” he said. “It was just a great dialogue between alumni, faculty and students — a great time.”
For the Department of Architecture at Penn State, it was a tremendously positive experience.
“The joint presence of departmental and school leadership and Frank as the alumni group president sent an excellent message to the alumni who attended our reception,” said Mehrdad Hadighi, who leads the Department of Architecture at Penn State. “Frank worked diligently at encouraging attendance at this event, and we were very happy with its success.”
Stay updated by liking us on Facebook!
Broadening the field
The hope is to build on such recent successes, and the interest from graduates who want to be on the group’s board is only growing. Going forward, Frank will remain involved via his immediate past-president position, working with others to broaden interaction between students and potential mentors.
Maybe it’s new architecture design juries, where professionals come to campus to critique students’ work and coach them through the design process. Or maybe an expanded career day – like gathering, offering stories and guidance from successful architects.
Whatever the format, Frank is excited to continue to broaden the field he first found years ago and still loves today. The more young people he can bring into the fold of the Architecture world, he said, the better.
“I’m very proud to have served on the Architecture Alumni Board. I’ve been able to help generate a higher level of interest in Architecture at Penn State — and that’s just thrilling,” he said. “It’s an inspiring field to be in, and to be able to share that passion has been a privilege.”