When Brandon McBrien graduates this week, he will have accomplished something only seven other students are known to have managed in the UA's history.
You've likely heard of triple majors, but when Brandon McBrien graduates this week with three degrees in hand, what he will have accomplished is wholly different.
McBrien has earned three University of Arizona degrees concurrently – in architecture, regional development and business management – making him only the eighth known student in UA history to have done so.
An important distinction exists between earning a double or triple major and doing what McBrien and seven other UA known students have, said Beth Acree, the University Registrar.
It is typical for a double or triple major to pursue the same degree type, like a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts, which have similar credit requirements. But earning separate degrees require even more coursework.
For instance, McBrien is receiving a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in regional development, a bachelor of science in business administration and also a bachelor of architecture – programs in three different UA colleges.
UA data indicate that the first student completed three degrees concurrently in 1994, and the last student did so in 2011.
On top if it all, McBrien has received numerous honors and awards for his work. In 2011, he was selected on behalf of the Eller College of Management to represent the UA during a personal visit with Warren Buffett, along with a select number of students from across the nation.
Also, he has twice won the interior design entry for the UA Off-Campus Housing Guide. He has earned the George Amos Scholarship, a regional development award, and he has earned the Golden Key Academic Excellence Award for being in the top 5 percent among UA undergraduates.
And he is an Honors College student, so McBrien also was required to complete a thesis project for each of his three degrees.
In each case, he found a way to incorporate in both obvious and subtle ways the connections among economic, culture, the environment and pure function.
"People fall in love, plan their lives and experience huge transitions, and I get to design the spaces in which these things might occur," McBrien said.
Social justice and sustainable design
McBrien is committed to figuring out ways to merge economic interests with culture, the environment and function in a way that more readily engages individuals.
He said the only way is through holistic, sustainable and socially conscious designs and approaches.
Given this deep devotion to sustainability and social responsibility in architecture and land management, McBrien said the three degrees connect in an important way.
"It's important to think about these things – the quality and quantity of light, the quality of the air," he said, adding that his business degree enables him to critically consider finances and profitability. "You can leave a positive impression on someone just based on design. Sometimes, these things are overlooked."
Having served as McBrien's mentor, UA faculty member Sarah Moore said his investment in sustainability and social justice-oriented design and development are both important issues for contemporary cities to not only consider, but address.
"Brandon McBrien is a passionate learner and a dedicated doer," said Moore, an assistant professor in the UA School of Geography and Development.
Moore noted that environmental pollution and economic inequity remain critical issues in the U.S. and around the world.
"Brandon's intelligence, diligence and enthusiasm mark him as an exemplar for other geography and regional development majors, as well as UA undergraduates more broadly," Moore said.
McBrien hopes that, one day, the buildings he helps design and create will help lead to improvements in whole communities and also in individuals.
"I want to be able to produce accurate and thoughtful representation of the changes happening in our generation," he said, noting that contemporary generations have been cited as being more socially and environmentally aware.
"Thoughtful design endures changes in technology, with lifestyle and with culture," McBrien said. "It's about building for longevity."
Building a dream home and vibrant communities
It would make sense, then, that he would want his professional contribution to consider something beyond his income.
"Giving back has always been part of my upbringing," McBrien said, adding that it was through his mother's influence that he learned to think – and give – beyond himself.
His family also influenced his trajectory toward architecture.
McBrien was 12 when his mother, Lorie McBrien, asked him to draw his dream house. The following year, an uncle gave him a subscription to Architectural Digest.
"I have had the subscription ever since, and I actually still have every issue I have ever received. I read them over and over again," said McBrien, who also said he was already adept at drawing and interested in making models during his pre-teen years.
But he still has yet to finish designing his dream home.
No matter. McBrien said those two events have contributed to McBrien's life in important ways. He has consistently worked to be a better, more accomplished student while pushing forward in work that is more holistic and conscious of social impact.
In drawing the house, McBrien became attuned to space and human interactions with and responses to built environments. It was then that he began to question.
"It was mostly about aesthetics at that time, but it morphed into wanting to learn about the social aspects," he said.
"It was, 'How thick is a wall? Why is the window this high?' And measuring things and figuring out how things connected – I just had all these questions."
And it wasn't until he arrived at the UA and began his formal studies that he began to find answers and to draw inspiration from the likes of the late-Jane Jacobs, a strong proponent for integrating community-oriented design.
"How do you develop spaces and be conscious of private ownership? But you can," McBrien said. "We can blur the boundaries to begin to extend ownership beyond our front yards."
By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications, May 8, 2012