For the past five years, the International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction's PDC Student Design Challenge has brought together students from universities across the country to gain hands-on experience in the health care field. The 2019 challenge was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects/Academy of Architecture for Health, McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., American Society for Healthcare Engineering, Aerocom Healthcare, Johnson Controls, Nursing Institute of Healthcare Design and Nashville-based architectural firm ESa., and is part of the PDC Summit.

The most recent challenge was held in March and included architecture students from Clemson University and Texas A&M, construction science and management students from Clemson University, engineering students from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and nursing students from the University of Arizona. Each interdisciplinary team of five students had two days to assess a vacant retail site in downtown Phoenix and create a plan to transform the space into a health and wellness center.

Eugene Damaso, AIA, NCARB, GGP, EDAC, design leader and associate at RLF, is the program’s organizer and chair. He says that the challenge offers a dynamic environment outside of the classroom where students collaborate across disciplines and work in teams, the same way they would in practice. “This experience also gives them the opportunity to focus on clients, so that they’re thinking about the end users of their buildings,” Damaso says.

Jacqueline Guerra, Assoc. AIA, was an architecture student at Texas Tech University when she participated in the challenge in 2016 in San Diego. Today, Guerra is a medical planning specialist and Tradewell Fellow at EYP where she is growing her skills as a design professional.

She says that the design challenge experience took many students out of their comfort zones and gave them valuable insight into the health care design field, an area that many of them were not very familiar with before the event.

“I had decided to pursue the health care facility design certificate at my school, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Guerra says. “This event encouraged my interest in health care design because I saw that I could work on meaningful projects and because I was able to engage with committed professionals and academics in the field.”