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Success Stories

A Creative Way to UVA

Posted on June 23, 2015

Picture of Charis Armstrong

When Charis Armstrong was a high school student participating in local design firm Baskervill's Explorer Program, a Baskervill team member paid Armstrong a high compliment. "He told me that I think like an architect," beams Armstrong. To Armstrong, that means "thinking creatively, but rationally."

The recent Tyler graduate's track record proves the compliment right.

"In high school, I wanted to study interior design. But, when I got to Baskervill, it was really architecture that interested me. Interior design is all about putting your imprint on someone else's space. Architecture is about making the space itself. That's so exciting."

As Charis was approaching her high school graduation, she did her research. "Everything kept pointing to the University of Virginia (UVA). It had the two things I wanted: an excellent Architecture School and an impressive Asian Studies Department where I could continue studying Japanese." Unfortunately, after applying to UVA during the fall of her senior year, Armstrong was denied admission.

It was time for some rational and creative thinking.

Armstrong visited with a dean at UVA and talked about her transfer options for the Architecture School (A-School). The dean told her that she could attend a Virginia community college for two years, earn her associate degree, and if she met certain requirements, be guaranteed admission to UVA's College of Arts and Sciences.

"I knew there was no guarantee of being admitted to the A-School, but with guidance from the dean, I decided to adopt John Tyler Community College's General Studies Degree requirements to fit those advised by UVA's A-School for transfer students. The guaranteed admission agreement to the College of Arts and Sciences was my back-up plan."

With a solid framework in place, Armstrong enrolled at Tyler in the fall of 2013. She focused on her coursework and kept in close contact with both her UVA contacts and her academic advisor at Tyler, decisions that paid off. During a visit to UVA, Armstrong learned that the A-School had recently opened its summer session studio classes to visiting students. Armstrong quickly enrolled.

"The intense creativity demanded by the course made me sure I was on the right track," said Armstrong. "I met fellow students undergoing the transfer process. I even worked with a notable faculty member who offered to write a letter or recommendation for my application."

Early in 2015, Armstrong submitted a portfolio of art pieces from her art classes at Tyler and the UVA summer studio course, as well as her application and recommendations, to the University of Virginia. On May 1, Armstrong logged into UVA's online system and learned that she'd been accepted into the A-School's Class of 2017. In May 15, she proudly graduated from Tyler and celebrated her academic achievements - so far - with family and friends.

"This summer, I am headed to Charlottesville to complete two summer studios required of transfer students, and I'll begin as a third-year student this fall. In the fall, I'm even rooming with a friend I met last summer, only minutes from the A-School."

Best of all, Armstrong will be right where she knew she should be: deep in the creative process, surrounded by drafting paper, thin wood strips, glue, Exacto knives, mini handsaws and all the tools of the architecture trade at the University of Virginia. "With my story, I hope other students will see what's possible if you are willing to work for it."

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