A MODEL CITIZEN: Shaili Patel ’16
By Jacque E. Day.
“Rough hands, covered in ridges and valleys with small mountains, show pride in making. They are the hands of makers.” – Shaili Patel ’16.
When Shaili Patel ’16 completes a design project, she does a curious thing with her architectural models: stomps them to bits.
Model prototypes of design projects are a prolific facet of the landscape of Chaplin Hall, home to Norwich University’s Architecture + Art programs. Students build the models with painstaking attention to detail. They are tangible evidence of creativity, innovative thinking, and problem-solving. But a childhood spent moving taught Patel a valuable skill: travel light.
“Stomp, stomp, and into the trash it goes.” She shrugs. “It’s also kind of fun just getting rid of all the pain and problems it caused me.”
A life lesson if there ever was one.
Patel was born in Kenya, the home country of her father, Nilkanth. In 2002 her parents moved the family to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities when Patel, an only child, was eight years old.
She graduated from Norwich University in 2016 with a bachelor’s in Architectural Studies. The day after May commencement, she was one of two architecture students to receive Norwich University’s inaugural Advanced Leadership Award, alongside Michelle Lee ’16. She returned to the Hill this past fall to continue her education in the Master of Architecture program. In fall 2017, she will enter the U.S. Navy on a commission with the Civil Engineering Corps.
We are delighted to introduce this exceptional student who will go on to lead, by making.
“I was very hesitant to take the design/build studio because I’m not comfortable working with my hands in that manner,” reflects Patel. But like the leader she is, she overcame her apprehensions to become “critical to making the outdoor classroom the success it is,” says Matthew Lutz, the Norwich architecture professor who directed the 802 Lab project. “She often offered a counterpoint to our discussions, which helped the team justify its design direction.”
“At the end of the process, I loved it,” she beams.
Patel is much more interested in how a structure functions—what she calls the “guts”—than she is in the ornamentation, or outward presentation. A self-described process-oriented person, she takes interest in the aspects of a project that some would consider mundane. On the outdoor classroom project, she “coordinated the structural design with Professor Ed Schmeckpeper, co-led the budget and, like everyone else on the team, worked through a tough Vermont winter to get the project built by the deadline,” says architecture professor Matthew Lutz. The project was completed ahead of schedule by a few days, and under budget by a few hundred dollars.
• In her undergraduate work, Patel pursued a double major in architecture and history in accordance with the theory that to build the future, we must understand the past.
• An aspiring architect will need to log 3,500 internship hours and pass seven exams to earn an architecture license in Vermont.
• She once made a model using soap as the primary material. “By concept it was supposed to be very transparent,” she says. Did she smash the soap model, too? She laughs. “I think I might have just bow-tied it and given it to someone.”
• Patel’s mother, Chhaya, hails from a tiny Indian village whose patron saint gave Shaili her name. Pronounced SHAY-lee, the name means “style” in the Gujarati language.
Paying it Forward
So many of us born in the U.S. take our citizenship, and our culture of privilege, for granted. Patel, who relinquished her dual-citizenship status years ago, has chosen to be solely an American citizen and is eager to support this country by serving in the military. “How do I say ‘thank you’ to a country that has given me and my family so many opportunities? The best way for me to help this country, the best use of the skills I learned at Norwich, is to serve.”
The Outdoor Classroom Team