Dalhousie University - Inspiring Minds


Making space for her values

- May 14, 2018

Architecture student Ruth Vandergeest. (Danny Abriel photos)
Architecture student Ruth Vandergeest. (Danny Abriel photos)

Ruth Vandergeest has always been intrigued by spaces. As a child, she would build with LEGO but wouldn’t continue to play with it. When her family went camping, she stuck around to arrange the site instead of taking off on her bike like her brother and sister.

“It just came naturally,” she recalls. “When my father suggested architecture and brought light to a lot of those things from my childhood, it was something that just made a lot of sense.”

Professional insight

Ruth’s journey started at Carleton University where she focused on Urbanism in her Bachelor of Architectural Studies. When it was time to take the next step, she says she put a lot of thought and prayer into her decision before accepting the offer to come out East to complete her Master of Architecture.

Dalhousie’s program appealed to Ruth because of its unique integration of the academic and professional — both among the faculty and in the curriculum. “I really appreciate how co-ops have been integrated into the program,” she says. “It's been really wonderful to get to know more professionals in the community.”

Her first co-op work term at Dal took Ruth to the offices of William Nycum and Associates for four months. There, she worked with Benjie Nycum, an adjunct faculty member at the School of Architecture. Ruth thinks his connection to the program made the experience even better.

“Benjie was very conscious of the fact that it was a work term for a student and was mindful of the experience I had before and wanted to expose me to different aspects of the profession, which was really beneficial to me,” she says.

Ruth is currently completing an eight-month work term with Ekistics Plan + Design, a relatively new firm in Dartmouth. She feels right at home in the office full of Dal grads and is thrilled to have a chance to work on some of their exciting local projects. “I’m learning a lot,” she says of her time with the firm.

The work terms have given her a chance to see what it’s really like to work in the field. “The stuff they teach you in studio in school is a very small aspect of what a project actually is.”

Changing perspective

While she’s getting ready to make her mark in the world of architecture, Ruth is also aware of how architecture has made its mark on her.

“I think architecture has shaped how I view my environment. I recognize how my own life experiences are shaped by the architecture I'm in,” she says. “I notice things now, like the fact that there are certain things in our spaces that we don't think about, like accessibility, when it's not a problem.”

Architecture is a demanding program. Though Ruth was able to make time for things that are important to her, including getting involved in her church community, she admits to spending several 12-hour days at the school. “It hasn't been easy but I thoroughly enjoy it. And people who know me very well, are like, yeah, she's definitely going to be an architect.”

Fortunately, Ruth is noticing that within the profession the work-life balance seems to be improving.

“Enjoy school while it's there,” she tells prospective students, “but the profession is very different from school. I mean we still do pull the long hours, but not every day.”


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