How partnering with university students benefits both future and current architects

January 3, 2019

Collaborating with University of Kansas master’s degree students inspires Doug King: “I’ve learned a great deal from these students and how they think”


The award-winning, student-designed Veteran Wellness Transitional Village started with an important student-adviser partnership. Our principal architect Douglas King and Hui Cai, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Kansas (KU), and core faculty at the Institute of Health and Wellness Design, have collaborated since 2016. This year, a group of Professor Cai’s students—Bhaswati Mukherjee, Mohammed Alsinan, and Shummer Roddick—had a strong interest in collaboration, helping the community, and helping the healthcare industry overall.

Professor Cai engaged Doug, who is a national expert on healthcare and Veterans Affairs, to collaborate with and advise her students on a capstone project for the Veteran Wellness Transitional Village in North Carolina. With Doug’s assistance and his connections to real VA projects, the students created a prototype for a facility that provides healthcare, housing, and job training for transitioning veterans to help address mental health issues while lowering unemployment and homelessness rates. The project won the Healthcare Design 2018 Healthcare Environment Awards in the student category.


An exterior rendering of the Veteran Wellness Transitional Village in North Carolina.


This type of project would not have been able to reach its level of complexity without the collaboration between Professor Cai, Doug, and the students. We sat down with Doug and two of the students, Bhaswati and Mohammed, to explore this student-adviser partnership in more detail.

Meet our collaborators:

  • Bhaswati Mukherjee: A recent graduate of University of Kansas Health and Wellness program who recently won the Healthcare Design Competition in the student category of the 2018 Healthcare Environment Awards.
  • Mohammed Alsinan: A recent graduate of University of Kansas Health and Wellness program who recently won the Healthcare Design Competition in the student category of the 2018 Healthcare Environment Awards.
  • Doug King: A technical director and principal at Stantec who has worked on several of the largest healthcare projects ever built in the US.


Q: What inspired you to be part of this collaboration?

Bhaswati: I knew there was going to be a final project and an internship as part of the KU’s Health and Wellness Studio, but I wasn’t aware of the student-adviser partnership until I got there. Once I learned more about it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it as it could only benefit my career and knowledge growth. It was very helpful to get a domain expert like Doug’s perspective and insight.

Mohammed: We had no idea that we’d have access to a practicing architect. The beauty of the Health and Wellness Studio’s capstone project was that it was up to us to determine the path we wanted to take. I started thinking about industry topics, and mental illness came to mind. Professor Cai informed me of partnership and competition opportunities with this topic, and I quickly realized it was the direction I wanted to go.

Something unique about this, is that we’re dealing with the “client” (Doug). When my group and I chose the topic of veteran mental health issues, we had a real client and a good resource. We had someone that was going to give us exactly what we needed to build the foundation of the project, which truly inspired me. From the very first week, Doug communicated frequently and gave us feedback. As the process went on, it became more natural and comfortable.

I knew this was my last semester and my last freedom zone of designing a project, and I wanted to take advantage of something that would benefit myself as well as the school. I’m glad I did something I’m so proud of that could have only been done through partnership with a real architect.

Doug: I met Professor Cai at the American College of Healthcare Architects conference a few years back, and we have been friends ever since.

_q_tweetable:I can honestly say I’ve learned a great deal from these students and how they think. I’m embodying what the healthcare industry would see as a comprehensive approach embedded in one’s practice._q_She offered the idea that I could be one of her student advisers as KU’s Health and Wellness Studio does a great job at integrating architecture firms into the curriculum. They are willing to explore different types of projects for the students. As much as they’re learning from me, I learn from them as well. These students are exposed to a significant amount of research going through this program, and they always bring innovative ideas to the table. The beauty of this is that you get to see three or four different variations of ideas, which inspires and excites me. I also get exposed to people who are very passionate about healthcare design and continue the relationship with them as they grow their career. This is a rigorous program—the students that we are working with are excellent at what they do.


Q: Why is this type of adviser collaboration important?

Bhaswati: Our project was to focus on mental health, and we were trying to figure out what program/project would help us explore the world of architecture a bit further. Doug’s expertise with Veterans Affairs was integral for our project as he knew where our gaps were and how we could successfully move forward with this topic. We eventually came up with a new model, prototype of sorts. The fact that we were able to collaborate with Doug and leverage his rich experience on this topic was instrumental for us to arrive at such an important solution.

Mohammed: We wouldn’t have won the Healthcare Environment Design Award under the student category without Professor Cai and Doug. As someone from the industry with so much experience in architecture, Doug opened our eyes to so many things throughout the process. We were exactly a couple months from being in the industry and this prepared me to transition into practicing.

Doug reviewed our work and gave us feedback every other week, even graphic work. He knew what we needed—he gave us tips, advice, and ideas on how we could take our project and design work to the next level. All these details were very important to us and to the Board when we went to the competitions.

Doug: This type of partnership is important because I can guide students toward exploring ideas that I know are issues in the industry and help them better prepare for the issues. I can also assist the students on the technical side. I guess you could say I bring a level of “realism” to the experience. I’m external to the studio so I’m not in the day-to-day with them like their professor, which allows me to give a fresh perspective and insight. We found it is easier to advise throughout the process with the students while they’re working on it so they can continue to learn and make adjustments where needed.


Q: What new possibilities can be found with this type of partnership?

Bhaswati: This whole partnership gave me a better idea of all the possibilities of a professional architect. This idea of collaborating with students—researching and experimenting with different designs—is something I’m interested in later in my career. If such collaborations keep happening and people get deeper in design issues, it will help the world of architecture continue to investigate these issues and find better, more innovative solutions.

Mohammed: First, this partnership made me realize that I would absolutely like to become an adviser down the road. This opens so many doors for myself and my partners on the project. I’m already looking more deeply into how to work and collaborate with partners in the future. This not only helps you expand your skillset, but it helps expand your work on a social basis as well. I hope students acknowledge this type of partnership and understand they can use it to their advantage as well! I fear that many students are not aware of all these opportunities, so I want to continue to share my experience.

Doug: On a personal note, I’d like to make more trips to the school to have better face-to-face time with the students, as we usually meet over Skype. This would allow me to build stronger relationships with the students and guide them throughout the initial phase of their careers. I’m also looking at a few other innovative ideas for projects for these students to explore that I’m hoping will get the actual client more engaged with the students as well. This will allow the students to receive another level of feedback and access to the professional world.


Q: How have you seen this partnership impact your career?

Bhaswati Mukherjee and Mohammed Alsinan at the Healthcare Design 2018 Healthcare Environment Awards.

Bhaswati: Our project wouldn’t have been as developed if we didn’t receive the expertise from a practicing architect. The collaboration contributed to our award-winning project which helps strengthen our resumes. I believe this experience helped me stand out in the interview with my current company. It also helped me begin to network and create relationships with practitioners that I wouldn’t normally have had the chance to meet. I now have a broader network of people at an early start in my career.

Mohammed: It opened my eyes to look at projects from different perspectives. Even after winning the award, I went back to the project and was looking at it again and I have found even something I can improve upon for next time. It has opened my eyes to continue to strive for the best and excel in every task I complete. When you accomplish something of this magnitude, it pushes you to do better the next time.

Doug: I can honestly say I’ve learned a great deal from these students and how they think. I believe there is a relationship here with Professor Cai and her students that could help grow our research capabilities—something I am very interested in. I like what I’m doing these days where I’m balancing practice, research, and education. I’m embodying what the healthcare industry would see as a comprehensive approach embedded in one’s practice. We’re growing this threefold approach in Stantec and this partnership has only helped strengthen it.


About the authors

Originally from India, Bhaswati Mukherjee came to the United States two years ago to get her Master of Architecture with the graduate certificate in Health and Wellness Design at the University of Kansas. She recently graduated in May and decided to stay and work in Kansas City.

Mohammed (Mo) Alsinan is a recent graduate from University of Kansas with a Master of Architecture with the graduate certificate in Health and Wellness Design and is currently working in Chicago.

Doug King is a leader in Stantec’s healthcare practice with extensive experience in healthcare design for institutions covering a broad range of delivery including the Veteran’s Administration and Northwestern Medicine—a top five academic medical center.

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