Published May 13, 2014
William Becker, a dual Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Planning candidate, balances a full schedule of courses while working under Associate Professor Samina Raja in the school’s nationally recognized “Food Lab.” He’s also the fi rst recipient of the Buffalo School’s Faculty and Staff Student Scholarship.
Planning and architecture students alike can learn a lot from William Becker; his enthusiasm, courage and time management skills are pivotal lessons for every young designer.
Becker did not start out in the fi eld of design when he entered the University at Buffalo – he was a pharmacy major. However, Becker always felt a certain draw to the realm of architecture and planning. He took a chance, switched majors and charted the course to a bachelor’s in environmental design with a minor in architecture.
Becker attributes much of his success to the guidance of his professors at the Buff alo School. One such professor was Kathryn Foster, former associate professor of urban and regional planning and director of the UB Regional Institute. After hearing an inspiring lecture by Foster in one of his planning courses, Becker took the risk and approached her. The connection would soon lead to an internship at the Regional Institute and a valuable mentor relationship.
“She gave me a lot of good advice, not to be afraid to take risks and take on challenges,” said Becker. “Observing her energy and motivation was inspiring. When I saw her teach her class with such enthusiasm, it wasn’t just what she said, it was who she was.”
Beth Tauke, the Buff alo School’s associate dean for academic aff airs and an associate professor of architecture, recently spoke about the scrappy spirit of Buff alo School students: “I would call our students ‘can do students’ — meaning, pose a challenge and they can do it,” said Tauke. "They have this kind of scrappy spirit, which is really about 'don't tell me I can't do something.'"
Raja’s Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. Becker fi rst met Raja, an internationally regarded expert on food systems planning, in his senior research class last spring. He knew right away he wanted to work with her and the Food Lab. When he asked to meet with her, Raja jokingly off ered 7 a.m. as the only open slot on her schedule. But the next morning Becker was there in the pre-dawn darkness, waiting for her outside her offi ce door. At the Food Lab Becker is part of “Growing Food Connections,” a federally-funded research, planning and outreach initiative to strengthen community food systems across the United States. Along with being on the team that put together the Growing Food Connections website, growingfoodconnections.org, Becker also works on the “Communities of Innovation” component of the project. He conducts telephone interviews and background research on communities that have demonstrated innovative food policy work.
In his work Becker emphasizes the need for collaboration, casting away the old planning protocol of forcing a solution onto a community. Indeed, his own path at the Buff alo School encompasses his philosophical approach to the design fi elds as collaborative endeavors. Becker speaks highly about the dual major and the importance for study across the disciplines. Quoting a common refrain of Dean Robert G. Shibley, Becker says, “We’re better together.”
Becker admits the MArch/MUP is a challenging program. He offers this advice: pursue an architecture minor during undergraduate study. With a background in the core design courses Becker was able to enter the MArch with advanced standing.
Still, logging 20 hours a week at the Food Lab on top of his academic course load, one might ask how he does it. Becker describes his balance by referring to a recent construction technology drawing assignment: “I just wanted to fi nish it, but I had to set limits. I can’t stay up all night when I have work in the morning. So I took a broad pass at it. I drew the bones of the axon and put the rest of the detail in later. You have to know your limits and take it in strides.”
Besides drive and humility, a key ingredient in Becker’s success is courage and a certain amount of gumption. While he acknowledges much of his success is due to the help of key members in the Buff alo School, Becker proves it takes a strong individual to pursue the help he or she needs:
“A lot of students don’t realize how supportive the staff is here. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people,” offers Becker. “It can lead to some great things.”