At EDRA42 in Chicago, I did something for the first time: I brought one of my graduate students. She had been doing some interesting work related to the design of a healthcare setting for alternative medical treatments for cancer patients. The fall prior I encouraged her to submit her work as a poster. She was thrilled when it was accepted. With some support from our faculty and scraping together whatever funds she could, she made it to Chicago in the spring to attend her very first EDRA. She gained friends immediately, sharing a room with another graduate student from Missouri Columbia and then another student from Savannah College of Art and Design she met during the graduate students’ session.
Watching her experience an EDRA conference for the first time reminded me of my first EDRA. Back then, I was a PhD student at The Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. I met some itinerate EDRA-ites attending an IAPS conference who encouraged me to submit a paper to EDRA. Although I had presented my work at other conferences before, when I got to EDRA I realized it was something very special. It was at that conference that I heard other scholars talking about something I deeply cared about, the people who inhabit the built environment. They were talking about how it could bring people to their knees, or raise them up to do great things. I knew about this, having spent my undergraduate years working as a research assistant working on barrier-free design building codes, learning that the width of a door could be the difference between someone being able to go to work or not.
The presenters at my first EDRA (and indeed every conference since) not only had something to say about people and their environment, they were able to say it from an extraordinary wealth of perspectives, that extend far beyond architecture and planning into the realms of anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, economics and ecology (to name but a few). It is inspiring, invigorating, and intensely motivating. Beyond this, however, is the generosity of these experts in sharing their knowledge and advice with even the lowliest of low – the shy and awestruck student, who stands trembling holding her presentation notes before an audience made up of her bibliography come to life.
So it was from this reflective position that I watched my own graduate student stand before her poster at EDRA42 explaining her work to a senior scholar and a practitioner who had stopped to take a closer look. She would later excitedly tell me how wonderful everything had been, the interest in her work, how much she had learned from the graduate student session, the tours and presentations she had attended, and the people she had met and the new friends made. She since has graduated and been hired with a firm in Quebec, committed to the development of environments that are healthy for people and the planet.
With harder economic times and an even chillier climate for academic research, it gets a little harder every year to find the money to get oneself and students to conferences. Yet perhaps now more than ever, our planet needs us to come together to share and grow our special knowledge, to widen the door and engage as many people as we can.
The deadline forEDRA44Providence student posters is 30 November 2012. If you are interested in sponsoring a student to come to EDRA consider becoming a Wayfinder or Placemaker member where the funds over and above your regular membership are placed in the EDRA Student Scholarships fund. You can also purchase books, T-shirts and other items at the conference in support of the fund. If you are a student needing funds the deadline for EDRA Student Scholarship applications is December 14.