Architecture dean wants more support systems for women
While their children carefully sketched their own versions of Hearst Castle with a crayon in one hand and a cup of orange juice in the other, Patricia Oliver and her partners began working on the designs for their architecture practice.
Only a floor separated the two groups, which allowed Oliver to race up the stairs whenever she had to attend to her child. When Oliver, dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Houston, started her career in architecture, she experienced many of the obstacles that keep women from pursuing the discipline.
“There is a shortage of women who manage to stick it out and keep going,” Oliver said. “Early in your career you’re expected to work long hours, and it occurs usually around the time that people are starting their lives and having kids.”
However, she overcame these hurdles by finding creative answers to difficult problems. Oliver juggled the responsibilities of her work and private life by turning the second floor of her studio into a child care center.
Before starting her own architecture practice and having children, Oliver received a bachelor of arts in independent studies from UCLA in 1974. Like many women pursuing higher education, Oliver faced the challenge of continuing her schooling and starting her life at the same time.
After receiving a masters of architecture I degree from UCLA and earning the Dean’s Award for best thesis and overall student, Oliver overcame the demands associated with being a working mother to fill various positions as an educator.
She served as active dean of the California State Polytechnic University in 1988 and as senior vice president of educational planning and architecture at the Art Center College of Design from 2001-2008.
Additionally, Oliver was appointed as dean of the College of Architecture at UH in 2008. During her tenure, the number of women attending the college has increased, and so have their resources.
Women make up 384 of the 768 students attending the architecture college, Oliver said. But women make up less than a third of faculty members.
The rising number of female students may be due to younger generations being more open to shared responsibility, Oliver said. In addition to this social change, the University has taken an initiative in helping female students.
“In Houston, they started a year ago a Women in Architecture committee of the American Institute of Architects,” Oliver said. “That’s to encourage women to support each other in their careers and to give them an avenue for networking.”
Women entering the field of architecture at UH receive support that helps them complete their education and enter the workforce. If this continues, the current ratio of female to male faculty members may increase, Oliver said.
“The percentages in school are good,” Oliver said. “If that would just hold through the rest of their careers, we’d be in good shape.”