Parsons School of Constructed Environments
by Robert Kirkbride, Dean

March 29 to Staff, Faculty, Students:

Dear Parsons SCE students, staff, and faculty:

I thank each and every student, staff and faculty member in our Parsons School of Constructed Environments for your thoughtful words, excellent questions, patience and tenacity over the past several days and weeks.

As we transition from our “Study Week” into dedicated online learning tomorrow, through the remainder of the semester, I wanted to share a few thoughts in advance of several important and informative notes that students (graduating and continuing) and faculty will receive tomorrow from Parsons Dean’s Office, as well as a note from the university regarding a new, adjusted grading policy. The note to faculty will include two sessions this week that address working at home, quick links and resources. For our graduating Class of 2020 and returning/continuing students, these messages will cover important updates on:

-Remote learning

-Studio Instruction and Access

-Parsons Festival and Recognition Ceremonies

-Parsons Student Relief Fund

It has been profoundly rewarding and confidence-building during this past “Study Week” to experience the resilience and flexibility of our students, and the passion and commitment from our faculty and staff to maintain continuity and quality in the learning experience of our graduating and continuing students. In countless zoom sessions with students and faculty, the Parsons Dean’s Council, our SCE leadership, SCE’s Student Council, and Deans from across the northeast region, I have experienced a collegiality and unity that surpasses even the ingenuity and resolve demonstrated during our previous biblical disasters of floods (2014) and fires (2018) on The New School campus. As I’ve noted previously, the magnitude of our current crisis far exceeds any previous disaster in scale and complexity, yet I’ve been amazed and profoundly touched by our capacity to respond to our prevailing uncertainties, remain respectful and caring toward one another, and to adapt.

Adaptation is what humans have done for millenia, and the design skills we convey as teachers and acquire as students in the coming weeks will transform the ways we think and practice going forward, in ways that will be remarkably unique and world-changing. It is our agency and continuing mission to make a better world through the adaptations we make in the coming weeks, together. Yes, we will be changed. We cannot pretend we will not be. In our current position at the cross-hairs of COVID-19 in New York City, we have an incredibly poignant and challenging opportunity to adapt the innovative curriculum we have built over the past decade at Parsons, and channel it directly into the uncertainties we’ll encounter tomorrow and beyond. That requires courage and patience, and I again thank you all for sharing yours with me in the past few weeks and those that await as we discover more each day, week and month.

Understandably, concerns have been expressed about the impacts of transitioning to an online experience, as contrasted with all of our expectations for in-person, on-site learning. Fortunately, SCE is blessed with a number of faculty who have had experience teaching online, and others who are seizing this opportunity to expand our university’s learning infrastructures to address the very real forces at play in our contemporary world – locally and globally. Although we are now working remotely from one another in this new virtual terrain, which can be at times a bit disorienting and perhaps even isolating, SCE Faculty and staff have been working closely with colleagues across Parsons and the university. For anyone concerned that less is being invested in learning due to this online transition, it is truly astonishing to see everyone investing twice the effort to achieve our educational mission in spite of our prevailing conditions.

I also offer a quick thought in advance of the new university-wide grading policy to be announced on Monday. This policy has been carefully considered, and represents consensus from program, school and college leadership across the university, in tandem with university leadership. The guiding objective for this policy is to support graduating students to complete their degree work, on time, and to support the learning arc of continuing students into next academic year. For graduating students, our aims are to conduct end of year shows and commencement ceremonies that truly celebrate your accomplishments and steps forward into your futures, albeit in new ways. For continuing students, faculty have been making adjustments to learning outcomes for this semester that respect the range of challenges you may be facing, wherever you are. These adaptations – which have been compelled by reduced access to making facilities, technologies, and similar – are already being mapped forward to your upcoming semesters/years at Parsons to ensure skill acquisition and academic progression toward your own graduation, with as little disruption as possible.

Respecting your fears about losing the benefits of learning together, in person, we are also exploring ways to share knowledge in our new virtual environment to help inspire resilience and creativity during the remainder of this semester. In addition to the many innovative ways faculty are reframing their class delivery to ameliorate and even augment in-person teaching, SCE will invite, record and share faculty and guest lectures from across our programs, so that all our SCE community receives intellectual nutrition to help us grow and continue to contribute to the broader community of ideas. More on this to come.

This past week, I “met” with SCE’s Associate Dean, Timo Rissanen, SCE’s End of Year Show Faculty Coordinator, Barent Roth, and the Director of Events and Special Projects in Parsons Dean’s Office, Anthony Curry, and our SCE Student Council Representatives, who pitched exciting options to present our graduating students’ work in an evergreen online format. More on this to come, too!

To ensure that everyone knows who is whom at this moment, our SCE Administrative Leadership are:

Robert Kirkbride, Dean, SCE

Timo Rissanen, School Associate Dean, SCE

Barent Roth, Faculty Coordinator of End of Year, SCE

Mark Bechtel, Chair, School Curriculum Committee, SCE

Bethany Camarati, Manager, SCE

Alexandra Efimenko, Program Administrator (architecture, product, industrial)

Libby Goss, Program Administrator (lighting, interior)

Colleigh Stein, Senior Office Assistant, SCE

In addition, Timo has created [a] table… which includes all of our SCE program directors and the respective student council representatives, for your awareness.

Thank you all for your attention. Along with your faculty and directors, I am always available for feedback. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, and us. As difficult as it may seem at times, please take a deep breath, get some sun beams in your eyes, good music in your ears, and be patient and flexible with one another, and especially yourselves. We are growing new wrinkles in our brains, and that is hard work. And exhausting. Amid all our zooming around, please build in quiet down-time and simple pleasures to sustain. Heroic gestures can be modest – check-in on one another, help one another. Together we will not only make it through, we will continue to adapt and as a result, we will continue to learn.

Thank you,


Robert Kirkbride, PhD
Dean, Parsons School of Constructed Environments
Associate Dean, Parsons School of Design
Professor of Architecture and Product Design


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