Dream Building

Graduating architecture students Milou Teeling and Jordan Anderson


As a junior tennis champion in the Netherlands, Milou Teeling didn’t draw. She didn’t doodle. She fiddled with Legos, but she had nothing to do with art. Teeling was headed for the pros, and there was simply no room in her busy life for anything remotely artistic.

“It was always the subject that, as an athlete, you were allowed to skip,” she says with a laugh. “You were not going to need those skills anyway.” That’s what she believed until a series of injuries sidelined her, forcing her to find fulfillment in an unexpected place.

On a tennis scholarship at USD, Teeling had initially chosen to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration. But a freshman preceptorial in architectural history opened her eyes, and the next art course she took sealed her fate.

“In my sophomore year, I took my first architectural design class,” Teeling recalls. “I was sold. In love.” Now, she’s earned the very first degree in architecture granted by the University of San Diego. In the fall, she’s headed to Princeton on a full scholarship to pursue her master’s degree.

“She’s very driven,” says Can Bilsel, associate professor and chair of the department of art, architecture and art history. “She has this capacity of starting an idea and bringing it to completion, and she’s able to not sleep for weeks in order to succeed.”

Eight years ago, when Bilsel arrived at USD, the department didn’t offer any architecture courses. Since then, he’s been dedicated to designing a world-class program, assembling a curriculum that gives students breadth and depth to explore their creativity. Bilsel has also attracted a stream of respected academics in the program, who work tirelessly with their protégés. They’re certainly off to an auspicious start. “We’ve created an interesting niche for ourselves,” he says.

There’s no doubt that niche is expanding. The program’s reputation and the new major are enticing a slew of interested students. And success stories like that of Milou Teeling and her classmate, Jordan Anderson, have played a key role. Anderson, a 22 year old from Dallas, majored in art history, with minors in visual arts and architecture. As it did for Teeling, Anderson’s nascent love of design came as a surprise.

“I realized that I wanted more than just the history side of it,” she says. “I wanted to design buildings and deal with space in a more hands-on way.” La Jolla, California’s majestic Salk Institute is where Anderson says she goes for inspiration. “I want to learn how to do that, how to make space impact other people that way,” she says.

Next year, Anderson too will be seeking new sources of inspiration, as a master’s student at New York’s Columbia University. ”I think she’s going to take a leadership role in defining, or re-thinking how we inhabit spaces,” says Bisel. “She’s going to join an elite group of designers.” — Karen Gross