Upholding traditions

Former Texas A&M professor, alumnus heads Dept. of Architecture at Tuskegee University

Keith Everette Sylvester, a Texas A&M alumnus and former professor in the university’s Department of Construction Science, is wrapping up his first year as head of the Department of Architecture at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Sylvester, who earned a Ph.D. in architecture from Texas A&M in 1999, served on the A&M faculty from 1994 until his 2003 appointment at Tuskegee. A registered, historic and national landmark, Tuskegee University was founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington who was an early champion in the education of black Americans.

Sylvester specializes in photovoltaics, the use of semiconductor technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity. A solar energy system he designed at Texas A&M for the U.S. Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington D.C earned the professor recognition from the American Institute of Architects. Sylvester also has expertise in computer visualization, which has earned him and his students numerous awards both nationally and abroad.

As head of the Tuskegee’s architecture department, Sylvester serves as associate dean in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Physical Science. As an administrator, he focuses on capitol building projects, resource allocation and student and faculty development, but his real passion, he said, is nurturing his students to become conscientious leaders in their chosen fields of architecture and construction management.

“I want to give students real-world experiences,” he said, “and connect them with the professions of architecture and construction in a way that makes them more aware of the needs of society as a whole.”

Since joining the Tuskegee faculty, Sylvester has initiated several community outreach initiatives aimed at neighborhood rehabilitation and historic preservation. Through partnerships with community development corporations in Tuskegee and nearby Montgomery, Tuskegee architecture students are now participating in a variety of socially significant design and construction activities. The concept, Sylvester said, is in step with Tuskegee’s longstanding tradition of self-reliance and community involvement.

“Tuskegee was designed and built by professors and students of architecture. Since it was founded, the concept of self-reliance has played an integral role in the institution’s development. My charge,” Sylvester said, “is to revisit that role in order to effectively move forward in the enlightenment of a diverse student body.”

“We are committed,” he added, “to the development of conscientious students who are ready and willing to execute their individual visions of social change in the practice, research and service of architecture to all humanity.”

In addition to community outreach initiatives, Sylvester is also working to develop a visualization program to augment the study of architecture and construction management at Tuskegee. He is modeling the program after one he helped develop in the early 1990s as an assistant professor at the University of Houston. The program will introduce students to advanced computer-aided design, modeling and presentation techniques, animated productions, and research into the uses of computing when designing and constructing buildings.

Visualization skills, he said, will enhance the education of architecture students graduating from Tuskegee and make them valuable assets to architecture and construction firms.

The Department of Architecture at Tuskegee enrolls between 150 and 200 students. It offers a five-year, professional degree in architecture and a bachelor’s degree in construction science and management.

“My ultimate goal,” Sylvester said, “is to have all of my graduating seniors enrolled in graduate programs throughout the country.”

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Keith Sylvester