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AUS leads critical conversations about the future of design education

Written by:
Samar Mahmoud

Design education must prepare students to be risk-takers with the skills to work flexibly across disciplines, both independently and collaboratively, in order to ensure their future success, according to a panel of educators, students, alumni and design professionals organized by the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) at American University of Sharjah (AUS).

The panel met in celebration of AUS’ 25th anniversary, as part of a symposium series focused on exploring the future of design education through critical conversations with students, alumni and the professional community. The series was organized by CAAD faculty members Kevin Mitchell, Professor of Architecture; Hala Al-Ani, Assistant Professor of Art and Design; and Dr. John Montague, Associate Professor of Architecture.

Following the success of the first symposium in the series, CAAD at 25: Taking Stock, hosted at AUS on January 28, a new panel was assembled for part two—CAAD at 25: Preparing for the Future. Held at Art Jameel on March 18, the event included two panel sessions focused on how design education should evolve and transform to ensure that CAAD continues to positively impact the arts, design and culture in the UAE and beyond. 

Event moderator Professor Mitchell stressed the important role that the symposium series plays in critically examining the ways in which CAAD can respond to future challenges.

“During the past 25 years, AUS and CAAD have made a significant contribution to design through the accomplishments of students, faculty and alumni. Developing and sustaining rigorous design programs is challenging, and the CAAD at 25 symposium series provides an opportunity to have substantive conversations about how we can navigate the future and continue to ensure that CAAD graduates can ​​communicate clearly, think critically and solve problems creatively,” said Professor Mitchell.

During the first panel session, Leila Binbrek, Director of the National Pavilion UAE, joined CAAD alumni Pallavi Dean (Founder and Creative Director, Roar), Ahmed Noor (content and creative director) and Ahmed Khadier (Co-Founder and Principal in Charge, Pragma) to discuss how their education had prepared them for their careers. 

Addressing the role that education plays in facilitating success, they considered the role that education should play in preparing students for taking risks, working independently and collaborating with colleagues across disciplines. The panel discussed the balance between addressing the fundamental skills and knowledge and fostering an independent approach to design work within studio-based degree programs.

A second panel session invited current CAAD students Marianne Breidy, Nujud Alhusain, Khaled Zaher and Omar Darwish to join the members of the first panel to engage in a dialogue about design education. After reflecting on their own experiences, the students addressed the tensions between a formal curriculum and the flexibility to pursue areas of personal and professional interest. 

The students also discussed the value of breadth through courses beyond their chosen major and the benefit of addressing issues that are locally and regionally relevant to the design professions. The panel debated questions related to career preparation, professional competence at the time of graduation, and the importance of the fundamentals of design.  

For more information about the symposium series and to watch videos of each event, visit w.aus.edu/caad-at-25. 

About AUS 

American University of Sharjah (AUS) was founded in 1997 by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed AlQasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Sharjah. Sheikh Sultan articulated his vision of a distinctive institution against the backdrop of Islamic history and in the context of the aspirations and needs of contemporary society in the UAE and the Gulf region.

Firmly grounded in principles of meritocracy and with a strong reputation for academic excellence, AUS has come to represent the very best in teaching and research, accredited internationally and recognized by employers the world over for creating graduates equipped with the knowledge, skills and drive to lead in the 21st century.

AUS values learners not driven only by academic success, but by those that embrace our dynamic campus life and embody our ideals of openness, tolerance and respect. This combination of academic excellence and community spirit ensures AUS is filled with world-class faculty and students, poised to become the innovators, thinkers, contributors and leaders of tomorrow.

About AUS’ Silver Jubilee

Celebrating 25 years of excellence, AUS is ranked among the top 10 universities in the Arab world, acclaimed for its academic excellence, multicultural environment and outstanding facilities.

Since 1997, AUS has been nurturing and equipping students to become award-winning architects, designers, scientists, journalists, engineers, innovators, researchers, successful entrepreneurs–and even leaders of the UAE’s space program.

AUS offers 28 undergraduate majors and 45 minors, 15 master’s degrees and four PhD programs in the areas of architecture, design, humanities, science, engineering and business. Formed on the American liberal arts model, all classes are conducted in English.

Students apply their learning through internships, research, conferences, competitions and professional collaborations. AUS graduates consistently secure roles with leading regional and international employers, and many pursue graduate studies at the world’s top institutions.

By Liliana Alvarez

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