Noted architect returns to inspire studentsWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
“How many of you have dreams?” Terrence O’Neal asked an auditorium full of Start and Rogers high school students Sept. 24.
One-third of the hands went up.
“I’m going to tell you how to achieve your dreams. Pay attention, because there will be a quiz,” O’Neal said.
If the students didn’t realize the significance of the man standing before them, the teachers definitely did.
An award-winning architect with his own firm in New York City, O’Neal graduated from Ottawa Hills High School and received his degree in architecture from Kent State University. His mother, Brunetta O’Neal, still resides in Ottawa Hills.
“Why did you come back to Toledo?” a student asked.
“I came back to visit my mom. And to talk to you,” O’Neal said.
The audience of nearly 100 students immediately hushed. O’Neal recounted his own experience as a high school student in Toledo. Although he was just learning how to draw, he entered a design competition and met one of his first mentors, architect Charles Stark. In 1975, then “Terry” O’Neal was the junior runner-up in the Architectural Design Competition for area high school students sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
“When I entered the high school design competition, professionals came into our mechanical drawing class and gave us help,” O’Neal said. “When I met the first architect I ever knew, he helped with my project. Little did I know I’d be working for him years later.”
In his hour-long talk, O’Neal shared life lessons and how students could achieve their dreams, whether they are architecture-related or not. After answering the students’ numerous questions, O’Neal spoke frankly about the importance of having role models and mentors.
“Know how your role models got to where they are and follow their example,” O’Neal said. “When I started my firm 16 years ago, I had a group of five architects I would call whenever I had a question. Don’t go through life by yourself.”
O’Neal was insistent that students focus on staying positive and never give up.
“As tough as it is to get into these kinds of careers, don’t let anyone say you can’t do that,” O’Neal said.
Among the students in attendance were those in Richard Rose’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Architecture class at Start High School. Rose invited O’Neal to his classroom to see the work his students were able to produce after working with the software program Autodesk Revit Architecture.
“Students begin by learning to draw lines and circles, and by the end they’re drafting floor plans,” Rose said, showing posters his students had created for the 2009 AIA Competition.
This is O’Neal’s first visit to Toledo schools. Prior to his visit to Start High School, O’Neal also spoke Sept. 24 at his alma mater, Ottawa Hills. O’Neal has worked previously with other high schools in the New York area, including New York Foundation of Architecture’s Learning by Design program. His firm, Terrence O’Neal Architect LLC (TONA), designed a world-class 6,500 square foot robots lab for the Newark, N.J. public school system.
O’Neal was elected president of the AIA New York State Chapter in 2006 and now serves as the New York regional director on the national board for the AIA. Heather O’Neal, his wife, graduated from Pratt Institute and Columbia University and is the design principal at TONA. TONA recently completed a $25 million rehabilitation for Covenant House New York, and specializes in large-scale multi-housing developments, health care facilities, schools and community centers.
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