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A Cause Beyond the Ordinary: Serving a Global Community

October 24, 2013

In pursuit of a meaningful career as a scholar and critic of the built environment, I have spent the last few years of my life searching for a unique perspective on the cities we inhabit and the houses we dwell in. The road I have traveled has taken me to a great number of places, each with its own traditions and aspirations; its own local and global identities. The time paradox that exists in our world today, fueled by a consciousness of the past and an ambition for the future, has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration to me; it has driven me to invest in an international career, aimed at researching the temporal dynamic that exists within the built environment, while constructing strategies to unify heritage and new development in the midst of a growing global community.

The interdisciplinary nature of this career has required me to draw from a variety of fields, including communications, economics, political science, media studies and, not to forget, architectural history. When the time came for me to look for an internship, I naturally gravitated towards a job that would equip me with the widest variety of skills. Through our Department Chair Dr. Robin Williams’ network of professionals, I was able to secure an internship with the department of Planning, Building and Development, and Economic Development within the municipal government of the city of Roanoke, Virginia—a pivotal moment in my pursuit of a career in the field of built environment studies and international relations.

I was able to work closely with the city manager, assistant city managers, economic developers, the historic preservation officer and other community leaders of Roanoke in an effort to better understand the relationship between communities and the built environment. I specifically worked on two projects, one conducting research and writing a report on Roanoke’s rich history of commercial and artistic murals, DSC05077_Fixed2and the other researching potential ways to incentivize surface parking lot owners to develop their land. Not only did I acquire valuable practical skills related to the functioning of government, but more importantly, I gained a greater insight in the dynamic which exists between government, advocacy groups, communities, and citizens—all in the name of improving the built environment.

As I approached the end of my internship—before I was scheduled to return to my home country, Belgium—I decided to plan a short trip to Washington, D.C. to visit a few graduate schools. Despite the trip’s brevity—a mere thirty hours—I still managed to work in visits to Georgetown’s, George Washington’s and Johns Hopkins’ campuses. Four hours after walking out of the GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, I already found myself on a bus to Dulles International Airport, finally heading back to Belgium after having been away from home for over thirteen months. Little did I realize my time in Bruges would be spent quickly bouncing back and forth between friends and family, because I soon found myself on the road to Geneva, Switzerland, where I was scheduled to visit Europe’s oldest International Relations school, the Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement.

Sitting opposite a senior representative of the school, I was taught one of the most important lessons for the future: “Here at the institute we are not interested in churning out the next engineer, doctor or lawyer; rather, we embrace individuals with unique profiles; individuals with a unique take on the world and a plan to change that world for the better.” What I had been struggling with for years, finally became crystal clear: rather than going through life trying to find the ‘right job’, I should focus on cultivating my own individual being and honing my own unique abilities. Preparing myself to work for a variety of organizations, resolving urban issues in both the industrial world as well as conflict areas in the developing countries, I am in essence granting myself the most meaningful career one could ever have: that of serving the common good of the people dwelling this Earth.

Editor’s Note: Olivier Maene is a senior B.F.A. student in the architectural history program at SCAD.

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