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Once a Driver of Zambonis and Buses, Mike Goddard Steers New Path to Architecture Degree

May 10, 2011 — Since high school, Mike Goddard has been a Zamboni driver in Indiana, a wilderness expedition leader in New England, an outdoor science teacher in California, a photographer and film lab technician, bartender and most recently a bus driver, then operations manager at the University of Virginia's Department of Parking and Transportation. He's also traveled to Cairo, Istanbul and Egypt.

"I'm not a linear person who wanted to go to college right after high school," he said. "I decided to figure it all out before I went to college."

When he started considering a college education, part of his decision-making process included finding a place with a good university in a town where he would enjoy living. Charlottesville won and he moved here in 1998, but did not apply to the University right away. A year later, he started driving buses for the University Transit Service.

His interest in environmental issues led him to devote his energies to Parking and Transportation's biodiesel initiative. He received numerous promotions and was feeling comfortable with his life and a little apprehensive about going back to school and wondering if he would succeed.

"When you are working up the ladder, it's hard to step off the ladder into something else," he said. A few courses at Piedmont Virginia Community College helped allay his fears about whether he would succeed.

Architecture finally caught his imagination. On May 22, he will walk the Lawn and, at age 34, receive his bachelor of science degree in architecture.

The journey to his U.Va. degree was a slow but steady one. 

He began taking classes at U.Va. in 2004. Thanks to the University's employee education benefit, he was able to take one or two classes each semester and over the summers. (Since 2008, the U.Va. employee education tuition benefit, funded centrally by University Human Resources, has been restructured and is $2,000 per calendar year.)

"Without the benefit, I would not have been able to afford to take those classes," Goddard said. "I also am thankful my department understood and arranged my schedule so I could attend classes during the day."

He began his studies in anthropology and by fall 2006, he was taking classes in planning in the Architecture School. He soon learned that working with spreadsheets and attending city planning meetings was not for him.

"I've always been a spatial thinker and realized my interest was on a smaller scale – the building, the individual and how people use space," Goddard said.

Luckily the classes he had taken fulfilled his prerequisites, and in the summer of 2009 he entered the school's architecture program full time, with support from the AccessUVA financial aid program.

"U.Va. has been great finding a way to help me finance my education and help me reach my educational goals," Goddard said.

Now with a clear goal in mind, Goddard became enamored of ecoMOD, a partnership of the School of Architecture and School of Engineering and Applied Science. The program is a research and design/build/evaluate project that focuses on creating prefab, affordable housing using sustainable design criteria.

"I like to get my hands dirty, and it's a great way to learn how things go together," Goddard said. He appreciated the interdisciplinary aspect of the initiative, which provides a chance to work with other disciplines in the schools of Architecture and Engineering and Applied Science; the program's civic outreach; and the careful monitoring of the energy-saving features that are integral to the design.

Goddard spent his final semester in the school's ecoMOD studio working on ecoMOD5 with architecture associate professor John Quale, who directs the program. Goddard will be part of a cohort of workers funded by the University's Jefferson Public Citizens program, which combines academics and public service, that will travel to Falmouth, Jamaica, this summer. There they will build kitchen and bathroom additions to small wood frame homes in a neighborhood that was settled by free blacks. ecoMOD5 is part of the Department of Architectural History's Falmouth Field School, an ongoing program to document and preserve houses that were erected by historically economically disenfranchised, free black people in Jamaica.

Goddard believes it's a "good idea to have every experience you can have, because it all comes up and relates" at some point.

He said his life experiences have often come in handy with his schoolwork. An assignment one semester was to design a photo exhibition space. With his experience as a photographer and photo lab technician, he said, "I knew what it took, what was needed."

As a student he took every advantage to continue exploring, discovering and trying new things. In 2010, he participated in the Architecture School's summer program in Vincenza, Italy, and won a Murphy Fund Travel Fellowship to investigate the markets in Marrakesh where he studied the "soft surfaces in architecture." The streets and squares there are separated from the buildings by tall walls, but the market sellers cover walkways and create overhangs with their wares – rugs, fabrics and textiles – to make a "beautiful streetscape to entice shoppers," Goddard explained. Through sketches and photographs, he explored the flexible use of spaces and traffic patterns defined by the soft architecture.

Goddard will pursue an overlap of disciplines when he returns to U.Va. for graduate school in the fall. He plans to straddle architectural theory and the hands-on built environment, with an emphasis on furniture design.

"The U.Va. Architecture School is so good about letting you be what you want to be," he said. "And the faculty are so knowledgeable and helpful." 

— By Jane Ford

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