Architecture draws designer

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Jennifer “JD” Harper of Miami works on architectural drawings in Slaughter Hall. She is among the first students in the master’s program.

The mantra that Jennifer “JD” Harper says out loud quite frequently is, “I repeat: I’ve handed myself over to you.”

Harper has handed herself over to RIT’s new Master of Architecture program. She’s one of 10 students in the program’s inaugural class. The program, which launched in fall 2011, focuses on the areas of sustainability and urbanism. The 28-year-old from Miami exudes enthusiasm when talking about her experience. “I’m happy to give all my time to the program,” Harper says. “The first year was a lot of learning and I had to pull a lot of all-nighters. Every day is something different and you always have to be sharp. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most enjoyable.”

After graduating with an undergraduate degree in graphic and interactive communications from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., Harper spent time in the corporate world. She worked at Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and development arm of Disney. Harper was part of the design team that created the stained-glass window in the Wish Room at Magic Kingdom. At Apple Inc., she helped open company stores in Miami and in New York City, while working as a trainer for customer-centered classes and workshops on Apple products and software. She still works part-time as a specialist at Apple in Victor, N.Y.

“It was important to me to get real-world experience working for different clients. This helped me clarify my decision to go back to school.”

Harper knew she wanted her future studies to be in the area of sustainability.

“I wanted it to be a blend between the science world and the art world. I feel better when I design something that’s green because I’m always conscious of the lifecycle of products. I started researching schools and when I saw RIT’s architecture program had a sustainability focus, a light bulb went off. I thought, ‘Of course!’”

Harper recently started the Rochester chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students and serves as president. When not in class, the studio or working, Harper enjoys doing yoga and hosting bonfires.

“Every now and again you have to reset the clock because things can get so overwhelming and intense.”