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Recognizing Dr. Carlo J. Ninassi’s Business Acumen for Architects

By Ramiro Solórzano, Assoc. AIA

September 24, 2013

I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Carlo J. Ninassi, AIA who is our primary point of contact for The Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business. Their course, Business Acumen for Architects, addresses a need lacking in the professional development of practicing architects. As a practicing Architect and an educator, Dr. Ninassi’s course curriculum is specially designed for Architects to better understand the business aspect of practice. One of the fun things I do with AIA CES is Provider Recognition on best practices. I followed up with Dr. Ninassi to ask him about his course and his contribution to the profession.

To listen to our AIAPodnet interview please click on the link.

In what ways does your organization contribute to continuing education? What are your goals with your continuing education program?

“The Pennsylvania State University is an institution of higher education that is nationally and global ranked. The core goals of the University are: Teaching, Research and Community Service. The academic contributions the University has made since 1855 are extensive and are in a multitude of areas.”

“Since the 1950s when Penn State Executive Programs was among the first of its kind in the world, our faculty have worked with client organizations to address their most pressing business challenges and build organizational competitiveness. Our programs have been recognized for their outstanding ability to apply new knowledge to real problems for measurable results. In 2010 and 2011, CLO Magazine awarded the Chief Learning Officer Gold Award for Excellence in Academic Partnerships Penn State Executive Programs.”

“The goal of the Penn State Executive Programs is to aid the AIA in developing leaders among its membership and adapting the industry to the ever-changing business environment. We are people-oriented and intend to establish a professional relationship with each individual and their firm. We hope that Penn State will become the institution of choice that architects need to go to for professional leadership development as their careers grow.”

How do you implement distance education and what tactics do you use to engage adult learners?

“Penn State has extensive experience in distance learning. From the Penn State World Campus, offering a wide range of courses to the virtual MBA program to partnerships on nearly every continent, Penn State is able to offer a quality education almost anywhere on the planet.”

“We establish personalized Web-based access for all participants. Accessible anywhere a participant has access to the Internet, the personalized participant home pages serve as a learning hub to support all activities including enrollment management, travel coordination and support, communication, access to pre-program assignments, course materials and faculty presentations, evaluations/critiques (with feedback available to sponsors and speakers in real time), and ongoing post-program access to materials and resources.”

Does your organization focus education courses on specific architecture topics?

“Yes. We have successfully submitted our courses and have been approved to begin offering the program, Business Acumen for Architects. The program’s approach that will be delivered in two parts: 1. Learn-sharing Modules (courses) customized to the architecture profession, and will include:

• Basic Business Environment

• People Factors

• Leadership, Culture and Communications

• Strategy and Innovation

• Finance for Architects

• Client Facing, Marketing and Business Development

And, Part 2. The Business Charrette Studio (B-Studio). The B-Studio will deal with various business issues of the architecture industry and will be based on the traditional design studio format BUT address business issues in architecture not pure design issues per se. Various case studies, simulations or situational decision-making will be considered for each session. This will be tailored to the participant mix in attendance at the time so that we can address specific, relevant and applicable topics in the profession at the time.”

“The program fee includes ALL courses for one price – materials, room, meals and faculty (it will NOT include transportation to/from campus). Participants will sign up for a series of courses NOT just one. Other costs may be incurred if away from campus but the program is for all six courses and the business studio.”

Do you offer a variety of course formats to appeal to different learning styles? If you use only one course format, what are some tips or tactics for developing courses in that format? Do you have future plans to develop courses using other methods?

“Yes. There are various formats that the University uses including face-to-face instructor lead, web-based virtual and soon an app-based tool. In addition, Penn State Executive Programs has applied simulations, hands-on workshops, and institutional (University sponsored) engagements.”

“Tactics used are progressive and continuously improving the delivery of educational products and services. For example, we know that the balance of time is critical today; especially given the speed information is transferred. To adapt to this our programs are becoming more direct and available as needed.”

“Yes there are future plans to develop new courses and methods of delivery. Higher education is experiencing a new era in the exchange and learn-sharing of knowledge. Learning is different for all people. How and where we learn is also different. Schools cannot rely on old methods and must evolve to present new research and exchange knowledge more effectively and more efficiently. It must also be relevant and applicable to the person, the firm and the industry as a whole. What learn-sharing methods that are used for architects are different than for physicians, for example. We are aligning the course content to be general and specific but directly aimed at architectural professionals.”

“A key element in any course delivery is the location. We offer the program on Penn State’s beautiful main campus at University Park, or in a firm’s offices (given the number of attendees or specific customization), or in major cities (hub cities) where transportation and access are easier and more cost effective.”

What are your practices with course development? How do you refine/change your courses based on new research or technology?

“Penn State is among the top institutions of higher education. Research, teaching and community service are the core to the University. To maintain this level of commitment and dedication to education there is a regular review of courses and their delivery. In this case, Executive Programs reviews its courses and delivery methods approximately every three years but with regular ongoing adjustment and improvement. After every course’s delivery, course evaluations are reviewed, discussed and used to improve the course or the program in some manner. And, with the constant enhancements and introductions to technology we look at leveraging these tools as best as we can.”

What are the techniques or tools you use to market courses to AIA members as well as other practicing architects?

“Besides the traditional marketing techniques – emails, mailings, presentations, etc., we often hold receptions for those interested in our programs. Meeting people and the firms they represent is key to us establishing an on-going relationship. During these receptions we present a brief overview of the program and then talk with our guests to gather specific needs or requirements. We plan on traveling to major cities or hubs to meet the membership.”

In conclusion, I really enjoyed interviewing Dr. Ninassi. Learning about the challenges of his program and meeting the challenges head-on and making it a successful session. The quality of his course greatly contributes to the profession and engages Architects in a studio like setting to learn business. I would like to thank Dr. Ninassi for his contribution to this article and for sharing his challenges and successes to with the AIA CES program. To listen to our AIAPodnet interview please click on the link.


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