Glazing 101: Industry, Academia Collaboration Gives Students Hands-On Learning

Students from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture join the experts at the Southern California Glass Management Association (SCGMA) for hands-on instruction each year. The partnership provides future architects with a realistic picture of what the profession entails alongside hands-on experience courtesy of those already working in the industry.

The University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture has a decade-long partnership with the Southern California Glass Management Association (SCGMA) that provides students with hands-on learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of USC School of Architecture)

Douglas Noble, associate dean for academic affairs at the USC School of Architecture, says the partnership has been in place for approximately a decade. When COVID-19 doesn’t pose an obstacle, the school and association get together a few times each year to provide hands-on, one-on-one fabrication instruction for students.

“Two or three experienced leaders come in, and they give us the safety talk, the history of the glazier profession and example buildings that students might know about,” Noble says. “They talk about the work they do and how they do it.”

Students then link up with apprentices from the association for hands-on instruction.

“The idea is to get them to talk one-on-one,” Noble says. “The students are all relatively young, 21, 22, and come from entirely different backgrounds and skillsets. But they quickly bond together. They have a goal, and one group has done it, and the other group, my group, may not have ever used a power tool, like a drill, before.”

The students typically get hands-on experience making a couple of items, including one storefront piece and another scaled-down item such as a handrail. At the same time, Noble says glaziers cement the information they relay to students into their minds, making the relationship mutually beneficial.

However, with the impacts of the pandemic, a government shutdown and a few other factors, this year was a little different.

“This time we’re building pieces we can assemble together for Joshua Tree National Park,” Noble says, noting those pieces will then be assembled into a small structure at the California park.
The pieces to be assembled into the structure, and that the students worked on, were five 9-by-20-foot panels. Within a year and a half, those panels will be in place.

Deveney Pula, SCGMA CEO, says in-class instruction doesn’t always translate to the field. That’s where the partnership comes in.

“That’s sort of the missing piece to the whole puzzle,” she says. “They totally get it on paper and in theory, but by bringing them in and allowing them to learn more through an interactive program with hands-on experience, we think that they learn what they’re learning in class just a little bit better.”

“It’s just amazing to have glazier apprentices right here one-on-on showing how things are done and why,” Noble says.

Aside from benefits to individual students, Pula says the “boot camps” serve to improve lines of communication between the school and the industry. They also give glaziers a glimpse at considerations architects and engineers must take into account while working on a project.

According to Pula and Noble, both groups experience educational benefits from the partnership and enjoy the opportunity to learn how the industry’s different facets come together to bring a project to fruition.

“We’re hoping to keep this going for as long as USC will let us do it,” Pula says.

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